I went to a funeral on Friday.Â Even now Iâ€™m trying to understand my feelings about attending, and why this internal conflict has rocked me a bit.Â The woman, Iâ€™ll call her “Ann” for blog purposes, was someone I worked with many years ago.
Ann began as a receptionist for the dental clinic soon after graduating from high school.Â Her mom, a hygienist at the office, had procured the job for her. Â Eventually her mom moved on to other offices, but Ann stayed and flourished.
Iâ€™m not sure how many years Ann had been working at the dental practice when I came along as a newby dental assistant, but it had been awhile.Â Â The office was niceâ€¦up-to-date equipment, a dentist that cared about his employees and patients, and a quality staff. Â Or so I thought.
It didnâ€™t take long before I came to understand the hierarchy that existed within the office employees. Â Letâ€™s just say as an assistant I was on the lowest of the lowest rungs.
Ann and one of the hygienists were co-conspirators and held the bulk of the power when it came to making office decisions.Â They heavily influenced staff policy, schedules, and the doctor. Â The term female dental mafia comes to mind. Â It was to the point that the dentist joked he had to check whoâ€™s name was on the door because he sure as heck wasnâ€™t running things.
Despite his mock-dismay I always suspected he was comfortable relinquishing some of his authority.Â Doing so made it easier for him to concentrate on patient care and the other areas of management he actually enjoyed.
I relished my job as it related to patient care, and tried to stay out of the power plays. Â Nonetheless, steering clear of staff trouble in a small office is a difficult thing to do. Â We were too close. Â As my credibility with the doctor and patients grew, my relationship with Ann and the hygienist became more and more tenuous.Â I wasnâ€™t staying in my place.
One day I was wearing a v-neck topâ€”a relatively nondescript shirt I had worn numerous times.Â It had a modest â€œvâ€ because as an assistant I had to bend over patients a lot, and I wasnâ€™t into free shows.Â Let me be clear, the girls were not showing, and the dentist had had no issues with my outfit.
So imagine my surprise when shortly after lunch the dentist asked me to come into his private office.Â He rather nervously said my top was too low cut and that I needed to do something about it.
I was stunned.Â The fact that he wasnâ€™t making eye contact as he spoke ignited my BS detector.Â I asked why he had an issue with my top now, and not before, and he just mumbled something unintelligible.Â Pissed, and wanting validation, I went to Ann and asked her if she thought my top was too low cut and inappropriate.Â â€œWhat? No! Not at all,â€ she said.Â She then went on to say the doctor got weird at times and to not take it personally.Â Well I did take it personallyâ€¦it was my shirt and my boobs after all.
About a month later I was chatting conversationally with the doctor while working on lab cases.Â I brought up the issue about my top again and said I was still baffled by what he had said.Â He finally admitted he didnâ€™t think there was anything wrong with the top. Â Ann, however, had come to him and demanded I stop wearing the shirt. Â She deemed it “too sexy” for the office, and therefore insisted he speak with me. Â Now I was really pissed.Â Believe me when I say the top was about as sexy as a baggy sweatshirt, but that wasnâ€™t the point.Â Ann had lied to my face, and I knew I would never trust her again.
Over our working years she stabbed me in the back many times, and I typically felt powerless to do anything. Â The doctor believed Ann could do no wrong, and I was just an assistant with little voice.Â It wasnâ€™t until he hired a practice consultant to work with our office that Ann and the hygienistâ€™s true colors finally became visible to the doctor.Â Both quit within a reasonably short time once they were held accountable for their office behaviors.Â The doctor confessed that Ann had been with him for so long he had failed to notice she had become more of a roadblock than an asset to the office. Once the mafia duo left, our office found work-harmony and healthy success.
That brings me back to Annâ€™s funeral and my mixed emotions.Â While I canâ€™t say we ever became friends, I felt a complex sadness when I learned of her death.Â She was only sixty-five when cancer took her, and that seems far too young from my vantage point.Â I had not seen Ann in over fifteen years, so in my head she hadnâ€™t aged at all, and that felt strange too.
Sitting in the church all those feelings from â€œback in the dayâ€ surfaced, but so did my need to forgive her. Â I saw her daughter weeping, her grandson’s confusion, and a church filled with people wanting to pay their respects.Â This was a woman with many, many, friends. Â Listening to the eulogy and the sermon, I realized how little I must have known her.Â Time and again people stood up and spoke about her kindnesses and selfless attitude.Â They talked about her joy in living, and how she helped others. Â The said how deeply she would be missed. Â And they openly cried. Â I did not know that Ann, but they did.Â And it got me to thinking, how much do we ever really know other people? How do we weigh our reality against someone else’s?
Iâ€™m still trying to sort through my feelings and to find peace with the past Ann and I shared.Â Like any Â of us, Ann had her failings and her strengths. Â I doubt Iâ€™ll ever understand her need to undermine me, but in saying goodbye to her, I intend to say goodbye to those hurts as well.Â Rest in peace, Ann. Rest in peace.