Co-workers have a way of abruptly leaving your life.
It’s not like how it used to be with classmates; you knew when your time together would come to an end, and you knew it would not be a matter of getting left. But co-workers are like bubbles. They just disappear.
I have a job with high turnover. People are perpetually on their way out.
Sometimes co-workers stop by my office to apologize after putting in their notice. They worry that they are letting the team down.
“Don’t apologize,” I always say. “Never feel guilty about leaving a job. It’s just a job. This is your life, and you should absolutely do whatever you need to do to be happy.”
And I mean that wholeheartedly. But it doesn’t mean I want them to go.
I know our relationship will not survive outside of the office. Without this office our paths never would have crossed in the first place, and without it they are unlikely to ever cross again.
Because these are just my co-workers, after all. They don’t know me the way my family or friends do.
But then again, in some ways, don’t they know me better?
They know how excited I was the first time I drove my new car to work. They know when I got that really nasty cold. They know what I did last weekend, and what I’m doing next weekend. They are the people who notice and worry if I’m late. They know which movies I’ve watched recently and which ones I liked or hated. They’ve listened to the ongoing saga of my mysterious carpet stain.
Eight hours a day, five days a week. That’s more time than we spend with anybody else.
Often, they don’t mention they are leaving until you get the email from HR announcing their resignation. You read it on your screen and gasp—sometimes silently, sometimes audibly. You realize that at some point, you became more attached than you’d realized. And now you will see them for ten more days, and then never again.
So what, in that situation, is one to do?
You pull yourself together. You walk over to their office and ask them what’s next and then you say Wow! Congratulations! That’s fantastic!
You do not say a lot of the things you are thinking. You do not say, “I can barely breathe at the thought of having to spend the rest of my time here without you.” You do not say, “I cannot believe you are leaving. You are the reason I’ve stayed.”
Instead, on the night before their last day, you bake cookies.
And you bring the cookies to their farewell potluck and you place them beside all the other plates of cookies that other people baked.
And you sit and you chat with all the other people who you will someday not know anymore. You have done this many times this year. When the emotion becomes uncomfortable, you go back to your office and close the door and bury yourself in paperwork.
At the end of the day, they stop by your office to say goodbye.
You smile sweetly and say something about looking forward to your paths crossing again in the future, even though you both know that they won’t. They seem to like that you say that, though. It makes things easier.
And after that, you simply say what is most expected.
And then you watch them go.