The Evolution of Sympathy
A coworker had to say goodbye to his fur baby this week. It's never easy to lose a pet. The situation reminded me of where I was four years ago.
I'd just gotten a new boss. My old boss split our team in half, and even though he hired me to be a bridge between the two teams, he left me on the other side. I was on a team of resentful lifers who did not want to hear my new ideas. They didn't care about me as a person, and they did not give a single shit about my life outside of work. I doubt they even knew I had a cat.
December 29, 2015: Lemur went downstairs to feed the cats and noticed Amanda wasn't eating. She was shaking like she'd had a stroke. We both spent the morning with her, but then I had to go to work. Lemur had taken time off between Christmas and New Year's, but I, due to the recent job change, couldn't. That's how I ended up at work when my seventeen-year-old cat, the cat I bottle-fed formula and chicken broth when her mother abandoned her, breathed her last.
Not only did I have to work, I had to sit there and listen to another coworker bitching about her daughter's cat, who had puked on their bedspread during the night. "Why couldn't she get a hamster or some shit? I fucking hate cats." I spent a few long minutes in the bathroom that day, and then plastered on a smile for the team.
Shortly after this, my new boss lost her father out of the blue. One day he was fine, and the next he was gone. Nothing puts life into perspective like watching someone else deal with their grief. Sometime between when we lost Amanda and when we lost Tessa, I was able to tell her what happened, and how I felt like I couldn't tell anyone. When we lost our dog, she was included in my email to let everyone know I would be working from home that day, even though she was no longer my boss.
Fast-forward to this week. My coworker had taken his older cat to the vet for an illness, but she wasn't getting better. He had to take her back to the vet Wednesday. I saw him back online later that afternoon and hoped everything was all right. Yes, I'm the idiot friend who will reach out and say, "Hey, I'm worried about your cat. How did it go?" When he shared he had to put her down, I was a mess. It reminded me of that horrible day in 2015 when I had to sit at my desk and pretend everything was okay.
For my coworker, I took the first action I could think of. I picked up a sympathy card on the way home. They don't have a huge selection of cards at our grocery store, so it wasn't a special pet card, but it was "from us," and not religious, so better than nothing. The next morning, I reached out to our teams for signatures. We're virtual, so I offered to sign for them. Even though she'd also gotten a card for him, my former boss also signed my card. When my coworker went to lunch, I dropped the card off at his desk. Really, it was nothing, but just that little bit of effort was so important to me.
I'm grateful our team has evolved since December 29, 2015. I'm also glad I've evolved since then, too. I don't need to hide my love for my pets from my teammates. They all know about our two rescue doggos and our adventures in fencing to keep them in our yard.
I hope they also know now that I will be there for them when they lose a pet. No one should have to come to work and pretend nothing happened and nothing is wrong. Losing a pet is one of the hardest things I've ever experienced in my life. My teammates shouldn't have to grieve alone.