Friday, January 25, 2013

People Jean Knows through Work

May 2011: Get well card
from URS Colleagues after Jean's tumor resection
Card Page 2

Jean had 10 visits at the hospice between Wednesday Jan 6 and Sunday Jan 2 that would not have happened were it not for colleagues from the engineering consulting world. In pre-tumor days, this world sometimes felt like a hindrance, distracting her from gardening projects, and finishing her novel.  On weekends and evening she called this realm "work work," as in "After I work on the design for the berm in the front yard, I need to do a few hours of work work, that report is due Monday."  She called it something different when she was working twelve-hour days at a client site, and personal life mean brief phone calls, squeezed between meals, working, and sleep.  But the truth is, even on those demanding occasions, "work work" had its redeeming features.

One of last week's visitors described it this way.  This person worked with Jean at Dames & Moore in the '90s, before it was acquired by URS.  She remembers crazy hours, impossible deadlines, insatiably demanding managers -- and the interesting people she met through work, who remain her friends to this day.  Now she is a full-time telecommuter for an engineering firm whose corporate style puts a premium on gracious politeness.  One cannot fault that, but after several years on the job, she feels she has not made a single friend.  Did adversity bonding provide the ingredient she's missing now?

Card page 3

The card reproduced above certainly shows that her URS colleagues knew how to rally around her in a time crisis.  When it came to our house, when Jean was recovering from the April 2011 brain surgery, we agreed it was the greatest card ever. The gang is all there, being sensitive, being witty.

Card page 4
And it must be said, her work friends are not the only reason Jean found her work there satisfying.  URS works on large, visible engineering projects, like changes to airports and bridges, and the documents Jean edits are critical to describing these projects to technical and lay audiences.  Renowned for being able to zero in on the sole typo in a crowded page, able to read the 20th iteration of a technical document with the same fresh attention she bestowed on the first, Jean earned a niche of respect and accommodation in the corporate work place.  At the center of the process that creates the documents that guide the projects that shape the Bay Area, said niche is a better perch than many for looking out on the bustling world.
And now without further ado, here's a list are the "work work" ten, with some brief notes about the visit and the visitors.  It should go without saying that Jean had other visitors too, and focusing on her colleagues is not intended as a slight to their friendship.

Wednesday Jan 16
Pam Cory

Back in the Dames & Moore days, Jean hired Pam for the editing team.  Pam works at URS now, and over the years the two have become good friends. Note her immortal words on page 4 of the card:
There once was a lass from Ann Arbor,
who moved very close to a harbor.
She loved to grow roses
that stabbed at her toeses,
but that couldn't dampen her ardor!

Wednesday Jan 16
Jil Finnegan

Jil is a project manager at URS.  She and Jean became closer in 2011, when they ran into each other at the UCSF infusion center, where Jean was going for treatment.  In the summer of 2012, Jil started organizing family and friends to give us a helping hand, using the "Take them a Meal" web site for scheduling.  She brought over several tasty meals herself, which I can assure you were well appreciated.

Thursday Jan 17
Ian Austin and Ken Eichstaedt

Ian and Ken have both visited Jean at the hospice before.  Ian saw her on January 10, when she wasn't talking or opening her eyes, and Ken saw her before Christmas, during the time when we went together twice to the corner teahouse.  This visit was somewhere in between.  Jean kept her eyes open, but talked sparingly, in a quiet whisper.  A message therapist named Kim was there too, and while Ian held Jean's hand, Kim massaged her other hand and feet.  There was a quiet, gentle, meditative mood in the room that actually felt rather pleasant.

Friday Jan 18
Maria Barzowloski, Susie Dranit, Demetrious (Deme) Kousoftas
Left to right: Maria, Deme, Jean, Matt, & Susie
Maria and Susie remember Jean fondly from when they all worked together at Dames & Moore.  Just looking at Susie's face when she visits tells you special Jean is to her.  The souvenirs and decorations crammed into Jean's room at the hospice impressed Maria, who contrasted the hospice ambiance with that of another medical facility, where she visits a neighbor. That person is a widow, socially isolated by language barriers, and moved to a different room every day.  Each time she visits, Maria gets the same cold, institution feel.  Of course nobody dreams of a stay in a hospice, but if you need one, Jean's situation has some definite plusses.

Deme worked with Jean at Dames and Moore too, then at URS, then at his own geotechnical consulting firm.  He praised Jean for the way she always provided him the edits for his reports in exactly the format he found easiest to use.  Those who worked on complicated engineering projects know this is high praise indeed.  When he was left he said "I love you Jean," and she responded with "I love you," in one of her strongest whispers of the week.

For what it's worth, a couple of sidelights on Deme's visit.  He struck up a conversation with a hospice volunteer named Erbu, who it turns out was born in Turkey.  Deme told her he was born in Cyprus, on the Greek side of that painful divide, and they had a brief conversation that ended in a hug. I couldn't make out exactly what was being said, but the big meaning was clear -- as Frost put it, "something there is that doesn't like a wall."  And finally, a media note.  A geotechnical engineer is actually a lead character in a recent feature film, Another Year directed by Mike Leigh.  A good movie, if a very somber one.  (FYI, Mike Leigh has a special place in our marital pantheon for the way his ensemble-acting movies find the beauty in the ordinary, in everyday people).

Jean waving good-bye to Maria, Deme, and Susie
Friday, Jan 18
Catherine Gasparini

Catherine brought a lovely bouquet of pale orange roses, and a selection of English translations of Russian poetry (Jean was a Russian Language/Literature major at the University of Michigan).  We read the poems out loud, and this one by Vladimir Vysotsky was the clear fave.  Per Catherine, the 2nd version of the friend is how she sees one of Jean's key caregivers, and that person is indeed trying hard, and ardently wants Catherine to be right.

A Song about a Friend
 by Vladimir Vysotsky

If your friend just became a man
not a friend not a foe -- just so.
If you really can't tell from the start
if he's strong his heart --
to the peaks take this man -- don't fret!
Do not leave him alone, on his own,
let him share the same view with you --
then you'll know if he's true.

If the guy on the peak got weak,
if he lost all his care -- got scared,
took a step on the frost, got lost,
tripped and screamed in exhaust -
then the one we held close is false.
Do not bother to yell, expel --
we can't take such abroad, and in short
we don't sing of his sort.

If the guy didn't whine or pine,
he was dull and upset, but went.
When you slipped from the cliff,
he heaved, holding you in his grip;
if he walked right along, seemed strong,
on the top stood where he belonged --
then whenever the chances are slim
you can count on him

Saturday Jan 19
Tara McCulloch

Tara met Jean through her husband Derek McCulloch, now the editing/word processing manager at Jean's San Francisco URS office.  Tara has become a close friend, visiting Jean weekly since last summer.

Sunday Jan 20
Judy Gamble

We were introduced to Judy through Jean's Jill Irwin, like Jean a URS editor. Judy is Jill's sister-in-law, and had a good experience with the Zen hospice when she visited family there.  Judy graciously volunteered to spend time with Jean on Friday and Sunday mornings, and this was the first visit.  Judy read Jean from a book of Kay Ryan poetry, and both ladies said that things went well.

Addendum: The redoubtable Denise Heick, veteran project manager at URS, visited Jean at the hospice on Thursday, Jan 24.  On learning of Deme’s praise for the way Jean formatted his edits, Denise commented that Jean was the only person she know who could fully meet Deme’s exacting standards.  And Jean also met Denise’s standards, also known for their rigor.  Per Denise, Jean would often know how to fix a document without requiring any explanation from her, and would at times even tell her what needed to be done.