WARNING: You’ll Never Sign a Card at Work the Same Again After This
The tradition of passing a card around the office is as timeless as the watercooler itself. It might be a birthday card, new baby congratulations, or a grief card. I had one experience in my career that made me never look at this process the same again, and I hope it teaches you a lesson too.
Fair Warning: I Cannot Stop Laughing about This
This happened many years ago in one of the various cities I lived in during my local news career. I won’t say names or locations to protect the embarrassed. The names wouldn’t make the story any less or more funny, anyway.
The Card Heard Around the Station
One of our beloved colleagues lost her mother. It was gutting for all of us who looked at this woman like a mother hen of our outfit. She had been with the station a long time and deserved to know her team was waiting to help her through the grief.
The card started in the newsroom. We all signed, passed it along, signed, passed it along, rinse, repeat. The card made its way to other departments and when it came back it was ripe with signatures front, back, and all empty spaces in between. Having lost my own mother, I didn’t read any of the comments out of respect. That was Mistake #1.
I left the card on the desk of the grieving woman, not knowing when she’d be back to claim it. I went home for the weekend and thought nothing else of it.
The Card Catastrophe
Monday morning I was in my office enjoying the silence of the newsroom before the hustle of the morning meeting got underway.
A panicked person from another department – a department that always comes in panicked like we have no other priorities aside from its needs – and I sighed to myself “Here we go again.”
“Do you still have that card for ((person who is grieving))????” she said, almost begging.
“No. I put it on her desk. Did you need to sign it? You can sign the envelope!” I said, as my “we-can-fix-this” nature kicked in.
She put her hands over her face, almost too embarrassed by the words that were about to come out of her mouth. “Oh no. I signed it HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” she bellowed, almost in agony.
“We can fix this,” I said to myself as I went to the desk – the keyboard, where I had placed it between Y and H rows, was empty. The card was gone. The employee had picked it up.
The now arms-flailing woman sat down in a chair in my office, lamenting about how embarrassed she was. I could solve this problem. I could at least pour water on the fire.
“Look. It’s a grief card and about 100 people signed it. I seriously doubt she’s going to read every single one of them”, I assured her.
I wasn’t prepared for the volume level that came from her mouth when he screamed “I WROTE IT REALLY BIG ON THE TOP OF THE CARD AND DECORATED IT WITH FLOWERS AND DOTS AND EVERYTHING.”
I know, I should have been in my compassionate, healing mode at this point, right? I wasn’t. “Didn’t you read the card? Or at least read other comments?” I asked, fixing my face to a compassionate version because the words came out salty. Mistake #2 was assuming everyone reads everyone else’s comments when signing a card.
“No! We were in a meeting, the card was passed around, I just assumed it was a birthday card. Everyone was acting normal when they passed it.” She was at the point of a nervous breakdown and started blaming her colleagues for not telling her. I let the irony slide right past when she said, “Didn’t anyone read my comment and feel the need to point it out?”
When You Care Enough To Send….
Luckily, I knew my team members well. I knew it was such a break from etiquette the person receiving it would not only realize it was an error, but get a good laugh out of it. You can laugh when you are grieving, it’s almost the first reminder that you are still here in the real world, despite the hell of loss you are experiencing.
It turns out, the employee did find it very funny. She even told me how the “Happy Birthday” employee was so apologetic she ended up consoling her, instead of the other way around.
Life Lesson? ALWAYS read the card.