We laid my brother Mark to rest this afternoon, in a small, remote cemetery near Dobbin, Texas, under a canopy of oaks a near the graves of assorted Civil War veterans and other notables. An honor guard performed a 21-gun salute; the trumpeter played taps, and the flag was presented to his widow along with the thanks of a grateful nation.
Mark was 54 years old when he collapsed at work and died of an aortic aneurysm; something the coroner called “natural causes.” There were several trained EMTs in his classroom, and they were unable to help. I’m told that, even if he had suffered the ruptured aneurysm on an operating table under the care of a talented cardiac surgeon, his survival chances would have been minimal. None of that makes much difference to me, honestly, nor to his five children or his five grandchildren, nor to his wife, his parents, or his other two brothers. He’s gone, and there’s a gaping void there that I expect not even time will fill very well.
What surprised me most, however, was the outpouring of grief and support from his coworkers, customers, and even competitors. I’ve grown up hearing that, “No one, on his deathbed, regrets that he didn’t spend more time at work.” But few people, it seems, have so successfully made work a part of his life as my brother Mark. In all honesty, do you think that your customers would mourn your passing? Mark worked for ITT Goulds Pumps, and a huge percentage of the dozens of flowers at his funeral were from his customers and distributors.
The last time I saw Mark was, in fact, at a work function; his regional sales team had a meeting in San Antonio, and Mark invited me to join them at a San Antonio Spurs game there. We enjoyed the game, and, when it was over, I offered to shake his hand. He ignored that and hugged me instead, the last time I would see him alive.
There’s a phrase that’s popular with Human Resources departments: “work-life balance.” For me, that often meant a clear-cut separation between work and (so-called) life. For Mark, they blurred together, and coworkers and customers became friends and family, and friends and family members became people with whom he could do business. It hearkens back to a older era where a person was known by his profession. Tom, the miller, became known as Tom Miller. Bob, the carpenter, was Bob Carpenter. It’s an entirely honorable thing to be passionate about your work, and to let your work cross over into your life. When friends at work become part of your family, you haven’t lost part of your family; you’ve grown it, in fact.