I got an email invitation for a secret retirement party for one of my colleagues. She’s a nurse, and has been working in our field for as long as anyone can remember. I’ve collaborated with her on a few assignments, and she’s just an outstanding person all around. I hate these retirement parties that our hospital usually throws because it’s always a Friday afternoon tea and uncomfortable and awkward. But for her, though, I was definitely going to make it.
It was a happy little gathering, but I noticed my boss had sent an “informational meeting” request to our team before I left. It was scheduled for immediately after the party. Okay, I thought, so I won’t get lunch or whatever, I’ll just come back straight after. The coworker I do not get along with was already there when I arrived, chatting up someone in a similar print dress as she was wearing. You could feel how angry the woman, who is usually so flawlessly appointed, was sitting next to my coworker who was dressed just like her. Only not. I gave her a pointed look across the room, and she gave me a knowing eye roll back.
When I got back to the office, and sat down for the meeting in our conference room, my boss announced that the person who was retiring had little more than a few months to live. Turns out she’s retiring because she’s got inoperable, super aggressive cancer. I was sitting in stunned silence, trying to hold it together and failing. Tears began to slip down my face as he laid out what was happening. My coworker who was also just getting this same news at the same time, had an altogether different response. It was almost like she was enjoying the bad news, like she was feeding off of it. She wouldn’t stop staring at me, making references to me every time she spoke, as if calling attention to me would somehow give her more access to my growing discomfort. At one point she asked me directly if I’d signed a square of the remembrance quilt they were making for her. I didn’t answer. My jaw clenched as I looked right at her, daring her to say one more word to me. She didn’t.
For the record, I didn’t sign a square of a quilt for her. What’s the point? What good does some “funny thought” that they want to add to a pile of fabric going to do? In a month or so, she won’t be here to appreciate it, and someone will have one more thing to go through as part of her estate. I am not good with grief, but this kind of stuff just shuts me down. I’m lost to the futility of it, what good does it do? Why should I have hope when an amazing human being is being ripped from us, and the people who remain are the assholes like my coworker who seemed all to comfortable basking in another person’s pain?