Sunday, April 29, 2007

Dealing with Death

As I looked into the casket today at what remained of Cyril, I could hardly believe that in the course of just 10 years he had gone from the vibrant capable man that he was to the skeleton of a man that he became with cancer. As he leaves behind a wife and two adoring children, I remarked to myself how grossly unfair it was that he had to die.

From the moment I picked Cyril up at the Potomac Avenue Metro stop, I knew I had to convince him to come work for me. He was working as an actuary in New York, but had applied for a government job. He was shy and soft-spoken, but there was something about him that let me know he was a genius.

Cyril grew up in Sri Lanka, getting his advanced degree in Russia on a full scholarship. His was an arranged marriage that actually worked quite well. It was a very traditional household where the woman cared for the house and her husband and children and the man went off to work.

Cyril did accept my job offer. Within just a few months of his entry into the office, it was clear that he was doing the lion’s share of the work. He never said no to an assignment, turning out finished tested programs as quickly as I could write the specifications. And he was always studying something new along the way, getting certifications in SAS, JAVA, and Oracle on his own.

While he was working for me, Cyril took another deeply troubled employee under his wing. This man suffered from chronic back pain for which he had to take narcotics and had a wife that was bi-polar and eventually committed suicide just after 9/11. Cyril quietly made sure the man’s assignments were done and looked out for him and his wife.

He adored his children. From their earliest years he took them to Kumon classes to enrich their education. His son was doing advanced math at a very young age.

At some point it became clear that he had outgrown the office and the challenges it could offer him. But before he left, he had found me another Sri Lankan with a similar background to take his place. He launched off on his own as a contractor and was in great demand in other parts of our agency.

When I first heard that Cyril was sick about a year ago, I hoped that he could fight the dreaded cancer and win. He tried everything, but stage 4 kidney cancer is really not beatable.

He has languished in the hospital for the past month, refusing to let go. His friend and former colleague with the back pain came from Florida to visit him one last time. This week he was finally released from his pain and suffering.

I felt quite out of place a the viewing without a sari. The women and men seemed to sit separately as incense burned and people sat with only a faint Hindu melody audible. His children had made a huge poster of pictures from their father’s life to honor him as people gathered to bid him goodbye. Toward the end the women in his immediate family all began to cry aloud in a sound much like a wail. The room was filled with grief.

Friends, relatives, and colleagues will forever remember Cyril with his big smile and shy dark eyes as the one who would do all the work and never asked for any of the credit. His passing marked a loss for so many.

His body will become ashes, but his soul will find a new life in the Hindu tradition I am sure. This is when a belief in reincarnation provides the only possible comfort. I only hope our future lives will cross paths.


Anonymous David said...

Sounds like he was quite a remarkable man. It's sad that his life was taken from him at such a relatively young age. It's also quite remarkable that the former colleague with the bad back came all the way from Florida to visit Cyril. Very poignant, moving post and a nice tribute to Cyril.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

I echo David's thoughts exactly. How old was he? In any case, it's always too young..we never want to see them go even when it is a release from a painful existence. I'm glad the friend came from Florida...that must have been a tough visit. I'm sure he would have appreciated your going to his service and perhaps you will cross paths again.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

This is a beautiful tribute to life, in the wake of death. Cyril sounds like a wonderful man.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

This is a beautiful example of friendship at its best...

6:36 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

What a wonderful tribute! Thank you for writing about him! May he rest in peace.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Having died a good person is, I think, the best epitaph for anyone.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Old Lady said...

Your life is so rich with good people.

12:35 PM  

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