"Letting her go." Sounds innocuous enough. It is to business what "he passed away" is to the medical profession. As a hospital chaplain I learned quickly the inappropriateness of "he passed away". Part of a chaplain's role is to say the word "dead"; it is something we have in common with homicide detectives.
I gave up the chaplaincy, eventually becoming an executive director. I learned new jargon and innocently fell under its spell.
Jenny was her name. She was a counsellor in a co-ed residential program for emotionally disturbed and delinquent adolescents. The program was in an old red brick house on a quiet, tree-lined residential street.
Jenny was at once popular and neurotic. Her job was what gave her life meaning. There were four live-in counsellors who worked three twenty-four hour shifts in pairs. Jenny often stayed over into the next shift and arrived early for her own. She was burning her candle at both ends in a job which was intense. A job requiring someone to take care of themselves in order to have the personal resources to help others. Jenny was failing at the first and would soon fail at the latter.
I had decided to "let her go". Like the doctors in the hospital who could not use the word "died" I could not use the word "fired".
The night was warm in spite of the breeze, crickets could be heard as I approached the house on that August night and the full moon bathed the street in an eerie luminescence. It was the appointed time. Jenny's shift ended at 11 p.m. Intellectually, I knew it might be a "little unpleasant". Many years before, as a youth, I had been "let go" and could recall my anger and hurt. But I had been fired for refusing to do something which I perceived to be immoral. I had righteous indignation for support. I was letting Jenny go for her own good. My arrogance proved little support for Jenny to draw on.
Naiveté is an interesting thing. As I arrived that summer night to do my "good" deed my feelings of trepidation were placated by those of my moral goodness and paternalistic attitude. Jenny in all innocence entered my office.
Telling her took longer than I thought it would. Flowery speeches full of compliments, concerns and qualifiers take time. I had never devastated anyone so totally before. Jenny's response to my fine words and supportive gestures was soul wrenching sobs, tears streaming down a pale face and blubbered-pleadings: "Please don't. Please! Please! I don't know what I'll do. I'll die. This is all I have. The kids. All of you. Please! Please don't do this. Please!"
I had been right. There was no comfort in it. Only guilt. Only distaste. We talked the night. When we left together at 7 a.m. drained, the dew was heavy on the grass and the sunlight dappled our faces through the great chestnut on the front lawn. We were going to survive. She to get therapy. I to get drunk.
Over the years I have many times had the usually inordinately difficult, though sometimes pleasurable, task of terminating a person's employment. But since Jenny I have never just "let someone go".