When I first met her, she seemed amazingly put together. Well spoken, well traveled and well dressed.
She had raised three amazing children, and had corralled the sum total of 6 staff members, all without much blood or tears, between the nine of them.
She had done it all. Yoga to meet the physical needs, an amazing amount of volunteering and charitable work. Her husband put in his hours, yet balanced it all with time at home, and a bit of traveling.
We met for a chat, a talk. Officially, I guess it was a handover of the keys, so to speak. One employer to the next.
We had inherited her staff. The people that had made her everyday life ... manageable and enjoyable.
We met shortly after I landed, but so far into her time here. She had grown, stretched, suffered, learned, grieved and become someone she never knew existed.
She called me one day, just 12 hours before she was to turn in the keys to her flat. She asked if she could come by to say goodbye to her staff.
Of course, I said. We made tea. We fluffed the pillows and straightened up the guest bathroom.
This Madam was still the boss, even though my husband's company was already paying their salary. She still held their respect, and it was beyond evident.
We talked in hushed tones, in the living room. One of her long legs hanging over the side of our Laz-y-Boy chair from Ohio. Her opposite arm dangled across the back of the same chair.
She mentioned casually that she had some gifts for them. Wondered if I minded that she stayed a bit longer so that she could get a ride back to the hotel with a friend who would be passing by the area.
I noticed that our new housekeeper was in the kitchen, far past her normal departure time. With her hands clasped around her tea cup, she spoke in hushed tones to the cook. Tears were in their eyes and shoulders were slumped.
* * *
She decided it was time to go. After we said our goodbyes, and thank yous and exchanged courtesies, one by one she called her former staff into the entryway of our home.
She presented them with a small token of appreciation, thanked them for their years of service and gave a quick pat on the shoulder.
They cried. She did not.
I remember thinking to myself how bizarre a practice, how odd a behavior to have entrusted the care of your children, the health and wellness of your family, the safety of your lives on the road ... to these human beings, for so many years. Then to simply pat on the back, mutter a few thank you's ... and turn to walk away?
Three years later, I find myself placing "leaving bonuses" in envelope after envelope (you see, it's customary to give one month's salary to each employee for each year of service when a family leaves).
I find myself stressing out over whether I should be a stickler on the contract that remains unpaid, because our housekeeper needed to borrow money ($94.00 USD) to put her two oldest children through school for the next year.
I find myself wishing that I had spent a bit more time and made the effort to buy each one a parting gift. Something that meant something ... in appreciation of the time and energy they gave to our family.
But in the end, I simply handed them their envelope with their leaving bonus, patted them on the shoulder and thanked them for their years of service.
I had every intention of writing eloquently about what it was like to say goodbye to our staff, but it's too hard to verbalize anything deeper than that.