Darlene was one of my first friends at the company I worked for in Fremont, CA. She took me under her wing, invited me to parties, placed me on the Activity Committee, and introduced me around. Older than me by about 20 years (in fact her oldest boy was my age), she treated me as if I was a daughter.
Sometimes Darlene could be annoying. Overbearing. She had opinions about everything, many of them uninformed. However, she was a workhorse, and she supported not one, not two, but three very demanding executives. She kept them all in line, on time, and organized. She made sure the President sent birthday cards to each employee, and wasn't afraid to stand up to him if he was sluffing off.
Darlene always was and still is a thoughtful person. She never missed anyone's birthday, and gave each employee (over 65 of them!) a birthday gift and a card on their special day. A gift she bought and picked out.
She decorated the office building for each and every holiday, from major ones (like Christmas) to minor ones (like Cinco de Mayo). She did this on her own time, after hours, and her decorations were always extravagant and whimsical. And, she made sure the Activity Committee had something fun planned for each holiday, from simple raffles to large parties.
Darlene was also very active in the community. When her kids were in school, she was a Scout Leader. Later, she was involved in a car group. And when I knew her, she was a community safety volunteer, and taught lifesaving classes.
A few years after I started working with Darlene, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought it valiantly and cheerfully. She was not going to let it get the best of her, and she fought back with every ounce of strength she had. She took delight in wearing stylish wigs and didn't let on if she was scared.
Darlene retired the year before I left the company, determined to enjoy retirement to the fullest. I was there to feel her loss. Holidays were never the same without her, and birthdays went by unnoticed. It was lonely and lifeless at work without her.
We kept in touch; I even visited her once at her new home in Lincoln City. However, with all the relationship drama in my life recently, contact from me drifted off into nothingness. So imagine my shock when I received an email today from an old work friend to tell me that Darlene is dying of bone cancer and has MAYBE three weeks to live.
I'm shocked. And saddened beyond comprehension.
Every work place needs a Darlene. Every community needs a Darlene. And everybody needs a friend like Darlene.
I felt safe and happy, knowing she was around. And after receiving that email, I feel scared and lonely knowing she might not be around for long.
I wish everyone a Darlene in their life. And if you are lucky enough to have a Darlene, cherish her. She might not always be around.