Before they leave, everyone gathers round them to wish them well and speculate about where they’re moving on to and what they’ll do there. They are laden with flowers, cards, and other paltry tributes, and in their final moments may discuss fond memories of their time amongst you.
Often they shed tears at their own departure. Even if they’re ready to move on to a better place, they don’t want to leave. They worry that maybe this isn’t their time to go, that there is still so much they could accomplish if they stay. They know the office will carry on without them. They know there will always be workloads, lunches, fire drills, socials and board meetings, and they know they will not be around to see them.
It takes some time after they’ve left for you to truly remember and accept that they’ve gone. Often you expect to see them, perhaps wanting to share something with them or tell them some news, but then you remember that they aren’t there any more, and it feels weird to let those words go unsaid, or to find someone new to share them with.
You find work that they’ve left unfinished, or perhaps a soda or sandwich they’ve left unconsumed. There’s random stationary and trappings in their drawers, all the things they couldn’t take with them when they left. With a strange reverence and uncertainty you clear out their desk, putting everything aside as if part of you expects them to return, while deep inside you admit to yourself that they’ll never be back.
Sometimes you think you see them. In the corner of your eye, moving from one room to another, or crossing the street outside. But it isn’t them, and you chastise yourself for projecting your loss onto some passing stranger.
Time passes, and you grow to forget what they look like, and with the assistance of others you smooth over the holes they left behind. Responsibilities and tasks originally belonging to those who have gone are picked up by someone else, and soon you wonder less about how you’ll get on without them, and more about where they ever fitted in to begin with.
Then there comes a day when it’s your turn to leave, and your turn to say goodbye. Uncertain of what comes next, somebody quips that you might see all those who have left before you, wherever it is you are going.
Maybe you will.