I’ve never been very good at saying goodbye, especially to someone I really like. So when I heard that one of my very favorite staff members at the animal shelter where I volunteer was planning to retire this month, I didn’t react well.
First I tried to convince her to stay. When that didn’t work, I tried to convince management that she wasn’t really old enough to retire yet. Sadly, I never did figure out how to forge a fake birth certificate that would back up my claim, so that didn’t work either. All I had to fall back on was denial, but as the day of her actual retirement crept closer, that stopped working as well. You can’t help plan someone’s retirement celebration without also recognizing that they actually are going to retire.
I know my friend deserves to retire and that she is ready for this new phase of her life, and I also know I need to support her in this decision. That’s what friends do. But the problem is that knowing she won’t be at the animal shelter anymore just makes me incredibly sad, and even a little bit lost.
She taught the volunteer orientation class I took when I first started at the shelter over fifteen years ago, and I still remember what a great job she did of preparing us for the realities of volunteering in an open-admission animal shelter. It wasn’t long before I, along with most of the other volunteers, learned that she was an excellent source of advice, guidance and support when we needed it. I saw how protective she was of the animals in her care, and how compassionate she was towards the people she worked with, and how helpful and patient she was with people who came in to adopt a new pet.
Lots of people are good at their jobs, but my friend was one of those who always went the extra mile, both for the animals and for the people around her. She sent regular texts and emails, letting volunteers know that a favorite dog had finally been adopted so we could celebrate the good news even when we weren’t at the shelter. She listened to us when we needed a sympathetic ear, and cheered us up when we were down, and was rather well known for her habit of breaking into an impressive “happy dance” when she thought the situation called for it.
My friend was a fixture at the animal shelter and her departure is going to be felt deeply by all those who worked with her. I suppose our grief over her retirement is the proof of what a terrific job she did during her time there and what a wonderful friend she was to all, of both the two-footed and the four-footed variety. We only miss what, and who, we truly value. And we will miss her very much.
I still can’t quite imagine what the shelter will be like without my friend, and I know that the next few weeks are going to be a major adjustment for many of us. But we will continue our volunteer work, doing our best to help the animals, celebrating the successes, and offering support to each other when we need it. And I can’t think of any better way to honor my friend’s legacy than that.