Office dynamics are weird. I mean, you’re spending upwards of 40 hours a week with people who are not your family or even your friends. You end up finding out things about your co-workers that you really wish you hadn’t, like that Nancy in Finance used to have a drug dependency, or Bob in Human Resources cheated on his wife 16 years ago and just found out he has a daughter from the affair. But the worst thing about the semi-intimate relationships you develop at work are the cards that are circulated for various occasions. Birthdays are not too bad, I guess. A quick “haha, you old!” and you’re done, right? Boss’ day; again, not so bad. “Thanks for not firing me,” has seemed to go over pretty well in the past.
The occasion that leaves me chewing my pen, at a loss for something, ANYTHING to say, is when a coworkers’ family member dies. In the year that I’ve been here, two of my office mates have lost a parent. Granted, my supervisor’s father was 96 and it came as no surprise, but I was still at a loss. My boss always comes up with something like “Keep him alive in your heart,” or “You are a testament to the person he was,” both of which make my lame, “So sorry for your loss,” look even lamer by comparison, even if I am lucky enough to be the first of my similarly tongue-tied coworkers to scrawl that trite sentiment on our group card. Even worse is when a card circulates for someone in our building who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup for a million dollars. How bad is it to write, “You and your family are in my thoughts,” when I know I most likely won’t think of them at all after I put the card in my office neighbor’s inbox for their signature?
The task of getting a memorial plant fell to me when an office mate’s mother died after a protracted illness. The office consensus was that we wanted to get him a tree that he and his daughters could plant in memory of their grandmother. Unfortunately, it was January, and every tree I found was dormant and looked like an ugly dead stick stuck in a pot. “Sorry your mom died; here’s a twisted twig we stuck in a pretty pot that may or may not bloom in a couple of months.” After reporting the dismal selection of potted trees at three local nurseries and 2 home improvement stores, my coworkers urged me to get the “best looking” tree I could find. For $45. *Sigh* I ended up getting the saddest little magnolia tree you can imagine, and putting a big white bow on it before putting it in his office. I cringed when I showed it to the office, and the silence and raised eyebrows that it was met with confirmed my belief that this was not the memorial any of us had envisioned.
Today I signed another sympathy card for a cowoker I have yet to exchange a single “hello” with. At this point, I’m not even sure what I wrote. I’m pretty sure I didn’t write “Happy Birthday,” but other than that, who knows?