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VIRUS DIARY: A friend dies but leaves something to hold onto

Darpan News Desk The Canadian Press, 04 Aug, 2020
  • VIRUS DIARY: A friend dies but leaves something to hold onto

My friend Greg died.

I am not alone in losing a friend to COVID-19. Some 46,000 people in this country have died, as have thousands more around the world. But none of them sat next to me at the office for the last decade.

None of them was Greg Katz.

So though I usually spend my time writing about other people, it’s time for me to do something I’ve always tried to avoid: tell a personal story. Please bear with me. I am not used to this.

There’s been a lot said in my circles about Greg since he died: his accomplishments, his fashion choices, his devotion to his wife, Bea, his pride in his daughter, Sophia.

But what I saw was this unfailingly social person who loved going to lunch and meeting up with anyone who wanted to talk. At the office, he wandered constantly. He was always searching for chocolate or cookies or basically anything to eat. He always said he had no self-control. Looking back, I think he was looking for human contact more than sustenance.

He loved to talk — about the Yankees or Lady Gaga or his certainty that the Beatles were overrated and that Elvis was king. It didn’t matter.

And it drove me to distraction. There were times I considered attaching a bell to Greg’s ankle so we could find him. Someone would call, and I could only shrug and suggest: Have you tried accounts? Or possibly sports? Call his cell, maybe? (Then it would ring on his desk, where he had left it.)

If I was in the office, he'd wander over and ask for gum. He would filch it if I wasn’t around. I would know how busy he had been the day before by how much he’d consumed. It was like a sibling who steals your toys. You’re mad for about five minutes. Then you forget.

We were a small office, scrabbling around trying to keep on top of the mayhem. Maybe the breakdown of boundaries emboldened me to ignore the fact that he was my boss. There were arguments. Loud ones. The adults had to be called. It wasn’t good.

The turmoil had calmed considerably in the last few years. But the sting of the shouting matches lurked in the background.

Then Greg got sick. He never told me exactly what was wrong, but I knew it was serious. He took a leave and promised to be back by Easter.

The following Saturday, he called me at home. I was surprised. He sounded like his usual gravelly self, but it wasn’t cheerful Greg that day. He spoke deliberately, asked me if it was an OK time to talk. I could hear him take a deep breath.

“I’m having surgery tomorrow,’’ he said. “And I wanted to talk to you.’’

And then he apologized.

He said he wished there hadn’t been so much tension, so many arguments. He wished things had been different. He wanted me to know.

He opened the door of forgiveness wide. Blessedly, I had the good sense to walk through. I apologized right back. I told him I had few regrets as big as this one. I, too, was sorry.

We had a good cry. We talked about starting again. We cried some more.

I told him I wouldn’t bother him or pester him with email. That I would wait to hear from him. Then COVID-19 began sweeping through Britain. We went into lockdown. No word.

So I didn’t honour my promise. I pestered him on email. I begged for a smoke signal. Nothing.

After he died, I kept thinking about that phone call, about the courage it took. So that’s what I wanted to share: Sometimes, you just don’t get another chance to say what is on your mind.

Greg’s last act in my life was to give me peace. I can only hope it did the same for him.

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