October 16, 2009

Knowing Monique

You don’t need to know Monique to know Monique’s type, and to feel you know her well.

Heck, in all honesty, the only place I can say I know her from is the office. Well, that and unfortunately, bedside in a hospital room.

Our office lost a colleague to cancer this week. More than that though, we lost a friend.

When I first started my job in February of 2007, I was taken around and introduced to all the staff. I didn’t meet Monique that day. Nor the next, nor the one after that. When I started here, Monique was already off work, battling with breast cancer. So no, I didn’t get to meet Monique right away.

But I sure heard about her.

The Legal Office Manager here, Monique was clearly a friendly force to be reckoned with. Everyone talked about her, people took time to visit her after work and on weekends. People spoke of her calm nature, her soft-spoken demeanour and light-hearted way.

Finally, after months of my working here, she was able to return to work and by the time she came through my office door to introduce herself to me, I felt like I knew her.

I think, even if I hadn’t heard everyone’s stories about her, my first impression would still have been to say that she was a friend. And so it went from there. Monique was back. Happy, productive, with the aura of victory over the ugliness of cancer.

As I got to know her, personally this time, she came to learn about my mother’s battle with breast cancer, which was happening at the same time as hers. She also came to learn about my father’s passing from cancer a few Spring seasons ago. She lost her own father a year ago. As was Monique’s way, she did not dwell on her own trials and tribulations, but was always asking about others.
“How is your mom doing, Stuart?,” or “Any more follow-up appointments?” and “ So glad to hear she’s doing well.”

How could this woman care so much about other people’s woes when she had so much on her own plate? That was just who Monique was.

Well, Monique’s presence in the office didn’t last long. The cancer came back. Monique, forever faithful and optimistic was ready for the fight. With prayers and positive thinking, she was going to beat her cancer.

I saw her for the last time, on my birthday, when I went to visit her in the palliative care unit of Burnaby Hospital. Nauseous, thinned, tired and weakened by months of treatments and an unrelenting cancer, she was still impossibly optimistic.

I was able to visit with Monique one-on-one for a little while. No mean feat, considering the steady stream of colleagues and other friends in to visit her, and the presence of her seven siblings who had arrived in town to see her through her final stretch.

“How is your mom doing Stuart?” Even then, more concerned for others than herself. Monique spoke of her faith, of going to meet The Father, and of seeing her father again, whom she couldn’t wait to see again, just knowing he would be waiting for her.
“God has decided I don’t need this body anymore,” she said, and after a quick pause, “and at this point I agree with Him,” she said with a little bit of cheek in her voice.

We had our little visit--for a few minutes anyway--in the lounge of the care unit. She asked about my family, how my son was developing. We only had a few minutes to chat before she said she was tired and wanted to go lie down. I wheeled her in to her room and she lay down. I didn’t stay long after that, just enough time to say goodbye. When I say goodbye to someone in this situation, like I have in the past to others I prefer to say thanks rather than goodbye, so that's what i did.

“Thank you? For what?” she asked quizzically. My response was quick and to the point.
“Just for being you; for your life. We love you. You’re an inspiration, and I—and everyone—is better for knowing you.”

I followed that up by saying I was pretty sure it was the first time I’ve told a co-worker I loved them, but then, all of her colleagues have said it, and we all mean it.

She laughed a little then, as if she didn’t believe it I think.
“Take care, Monique,” I said on the way out the door.
“You too,” she replied. “Glad your mum is doing well,” she said again.

Her last facebook status, updated by one of her siblings, simply says “Today is the day I got my wings.”

You earned them Monique, no question. Thank you. We’ll miss you, friend.