Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Death of a Soldier

I had many different ideas for this post and many different titles to go with it. At first, I was going to write "On Grief", and take a closer look at the way different people express and cope with it. But I thought that sounded too formal and too sterile. "In Living/Loving Memory" was considered, but I thought that sounded a tad cliche. Another idea was titled "The Death of a Mentor", and would probably have focused simply on my feelings and coping mechanisms. But that wasn't right either. I feel that "The Death of a Soldier" fits, and I hope you will read on to see why.

His name was Jeff "Sarge" Regan. He was a Marine and a Vietnam veteran (he was sent 3 times). He worked for years at Wal-Mart, working his way from the bottom of the totem pole until he finally reached Support Manager position. In the time that I have worked with him, I came to care for him, as one does when they spend nine hours a day four-five nights a week with another.

He was funny. He was smart. And he never really seemed to be that old. He worked hard (probably harder than he should have, honestly) and worked long (I don't know how he managed not to go over 40 hours a week), but he always had a smile and a kind word. Along with a rapier sharp wit. I thought- we all thought, he would be around for years yet.

On Tuesday, February 12, 2013 during the daily meeting before work, we were all informed by the Shift Manager (Steve) that he had been contacted by Sarge's wife and that he was in the hospital. He'd had a heart attack. At that time, that was all that was known. Steve was going to try to see him/get more information in the morning, I assume after our shift. (Over nights 10pm-7am normally.) It came out of nowhere. We were worried, yes, but we went about our work as normal (minus Sarge). I think I was perhaps the least worried, as my grandfather, a man probably older than Sarge and definitely more frail, had a heart attack 2-3 years ago and is still kicking. In fact, my grandfather had three in a day. I believe he needed triple by-pass surgery. But I digress. I wasn't all that worried.

The night went by fairly quickly. Not ten minutes after I got back on the clock after lunch (around 4:15am), Steve called over the PA system, "All associates to GM receiving". It's the only place big enough in the back room that could hold all of us. I was confused. That has never happened. NEVER. While we waited, I heard a woman on my right (I don't recall who) mention she thought she knew what it was about. I had no clue. I didn't ask. Someone else did, though. She said she thought Sarge had passed. It was an aside, and no one else heard. I'd heard, though. I didn't want to think it was true. I prayed to God that it wasn't.

Once we were all assembled (minus two to watch the registers up front and a couple people who refused to come during their lunch break) Steve, now obviously unsettled, took a deep breath. He'd gotten a call from someone (I don't remember who, I think he said it was Sarge's daughter). He had passed away at about 2am. Reactions were varied. Sandy in Produce, who has worked with Sarge the entire time he'd been there, walked out. The door slammed behind her. Nobody else had yet to move. Many were crying, mostly silently. Steve told us that if anyone needed to talk... I quit listening. I was trying, and failing, not to cry.

I was more concerned with Terry. Sarge was like a father to him. They'd been friends for years. He took it the hardest of us all, and I don't blame him. He was the focal point of most peoples condolences and pity. I remember the way he sounded when he told somebody to pinch him and that it couldn't be real. I will never forget that in my life. It's not a feeling that can be put into words. He received countless hugs. Steve opened the bay door so the few of us that stayed behind with Terry could get some fresh air. More hugs. I can't count the number of times I heard somebody say "It's alright" or "You're alright", and I don't know how many times I said the same.

I told Terry I would take him home if he needed it. He was worried about his attendance, as he couldn't afford to miss anymore work. Or he could have been fired. Steve called me aside a little while later and let me know he was taking Terry home. Terry didn't come into work on the 13th either. Steve told him it wouldn't count against his attendance.

Here, I must say I was trying to put a positive spin on things. I wonder what all the customers had to have been thinking, three quarters of the associates walking around either crying or had been crying. The rest of that night had to have been the worst customer service in awhile. I guarantee you few associates greeted customers and even fewer managed a smile. I tried when I passed them, but I'm fairly certain it was more of a grimace.

The funeral services are to be on the morning of the 18th. I've never had anyone close to me die before. I'm lucky, all my family is fairly healthy. The closest that came was a friend of mine's older brother passed away some years ago. But I'd never met him.

I think Brandie had it right. She said, no matter how harsh it sounds, that at least he went quickly. Sarge didn't suffer through everything that heart patients do. No numerous surgery's. No days full of nothing but pain. He didn't suffer at all. And it's the way he would have wanted to go. He was a soldier. Here is what I add to that. It hurts. It always does. I don't think that pain will ever be gone completely. I hope it won't. But time does dull it. And we have to move on. So that night and every night on, we will continue cracking jokes, laughing at each others expense, and making fun of each other because that's what he would want.

We will never forget.

Rest In Peace, Jeff "Sarge" Regan.
Semper Fi.

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