It was an odd farewell lunch. Odd but nice. And rare. You know how these goodbye things go when a co-worker is leaving the job. Awkward. Always awkward.
The farewell act comes in three main varieties. No. 1, the going-away guy or gal is somebody you didn’t know that well, and it’s awkward to say all the mandatory things about getting together soon and staying in touch—when you weren’t together or in touch the whole time you worked at the same place. Or, No. 2, you did know her … and you didn’t like her. Then you have to conceal your glee that she’s going. Worse, you have to say you’ll miss her. And you won’t, see.
The third possibility is that you really did like the person, and you’re honestly, deeply sorry that she’s leaving. She was your top go-to for office dirt and for commiserating about the boss. An actual work friend, right? And that lunch is awkward because you really will miss your friend, and you’re afraid you’ll get all weepy at a work event.
Of course, there is a fourth option: A co-worker is fired, and a manager stands beside the fired guy as he’s gathering his personal stuff from his desk. The manager is making sure the guy doesn’t steal paperclips or jam client lists down the front of his pants or delete master files using his computer. And all this is taking place right beside your desk. You fake like you’re getting a personal call on your cell just so you can get the hell away. Now that’s awkward.
Those are all work farewells, but non-work goodbyes are just as awkward.
Long before I was married, I used to travel with my buddies to the beach—spring break, of course, and even during a few springs after college. We’d inevitably connect with a group of girls and sort of run around together for the week, meeting at the beach by day and the bars at night. And we’d get to know each other in that intense way you do when you’re thrown together and every day is fun and crazy. And then it’s time to go home.
We’d always make the usual goodbye promises about staying in touch. This was long before email or smartphones, and everybody knew that staying in touch was a long shot. But that’s what we’d say. And then, after that—one hundred percent of the time—we’d come to the final farewell, and one person or another would say, “Well, good luck.”
I mean every time, there’d be that “good luck.” I’d always think, Good luck? Like, in life? Good luck for the rest of our lives? That’s one hell of a parting wish. I mean, that’s a long, broad expanse to cover with a two-word phrase. It got so that saying goodbye to beach friends was awkward, because I would start dreading the “good luck” thing days before it was time to go home.
All farewells are just damned awkward. Except for the lunch I started to tell you about earlier. My boss, who’s a very nice lady, offered to take our department to lunch at an excellent restaurant in honor of a departing colleague. She was one of those Variety 1 co-workers. I barely knew her, so saying we’d have to stay in touch would have been, well … you know. But I didn’t.
Because she wasn’t there.
At about 9:30 on the morning of her last day, the leaving lady had to pick up her child from daycare. A fever, probably, or perhaps a fistfight. At any rate, she sent a reply-all response to the email reminding us about her farewell lunch, and she told us all … farewell.
With no goodbyes hanging over our heads, no thinking about the lies we’d have to tell about getting together soon and staying in touch, lunch was delightful. In fact, I told some colleagues later that I’d like to go out that way, too. Everybody could just go to lunch on my last day, but I wouldn’t burden them with my presence. Of course, there’s a name for that situation: dead co-worker.
To put that plan in gear, I’m going to go ahead and encourage all my colleagues to come to my visitation—after they have lunch together—and they’ll need to say something good about me to my wife and kids. And then, when they get to my casket, each one can lean in a bit and say it softly: Well, good luck.