My husband Dave and I were married 26 years ago. In our wedding party were five pre-teens, who served as junior bridesmaids and groomsmen-- my sister’s two step daughters and three of Dave’s brothers’ sons. Sadly, of these five, only two are alive today.
My sister and her husband lost both of their daughters. Nicole was killed eleven years ago by her husband during their first year of marriage. Jaci suffered with serious mental illness and took her own life this May, leaving two young boys. My nephew Andrew is the same age as my own kids, and we ache for his pain of losing both of his sisters. We wonder how my sister and brother in law even get out of bed, let alone go to work and function.
Dave’s brother and sister in law lost their son almost 3 years ago to kidney disease. His last months were painful and terrifying—his parents and sister were his caregivers and were at his side nearly all the time. The sadness has been excruciating for his parents and his sister and her family. Her son, only 6 at the time suffered with nightmares and anxiety after his uncle and best friend’s death.
This pain and grief is not just in my own family, or in your own family. It’s in those around us we see every day in our organizations. After I returned to work after Jaci’s funeral, I met one of my nurses, Kelli, in the employee kitchen. I asked her how she was, she could barely speak. I walked her into my office. She knew what happened in my family and opened up to me about hers. She was devastated that her niece and sister in law died in two different accidents the same weekend. She and her husband wanted to go to the funeral, but thought the family could better use the money they would have spent traveling. She pops in my office every so often and we give each other permission to vent.
That same week, there was a memorial service for Kyle Milliken, a Navy SEAL, who died in Somalia. Our office is located in Virginia Beach where so many people are connected to the SEALS. Kyle was the son in law our hospice chaplain; we were all struck and saddened. Several of our staff attended the memorial service to support our co-worker, who ironically had provided bereavement care to most of our hospice patients’ families.
Just a month earlier, my dear friend and co-worker, Michelle, lost her brother to cancer. He and his family lived in Seattle. She tells me she hasn’t had time to grieve, since at the same time she was starting this new job, moving, and taking care of her father. As I write this she and her family are finally having a memorial service in Michigan so they can come together and say good bye.
I expect that you could recollect many tragedies that have occurred among your employees and their families. We feel their losses and so do their co-workers. On top of the personal difficulties, our employees deal with death and dying at work every day. They love the people they serve—we know they do—it shows.
I remember witnessing that love when my mother died. She lived at Willow-Brook Christian Home, where Larry Harris is the CEO. My dad was in the hospital recovering from surgery. I went to tell him and bring him to see my mother. He was transported sitting up on a gurney through the dining room to get to my mother’s room. The dining staff knew she had died and when my dad was wheeled through the dining room, each bowed their head. Many had tears. It was such a comfort from my dad and me to see how much mother was loved.
What I have learned is to take nothing for granted. It is easier said than done, but unfortunately these tragedies serve to remind me. Every day is a gift. I have also learned to be very sensitive to the possibility that people I am around may be dealing with personal tragedies; and many times I’m not aware of them. And they, we, come to work with our game faces on for the sake of our teammates and those we serve. I have learned the importance of phone calls, visits, kind words, sending cards, going to memorial services and other signs of support. These aren’t just traditional gestures. They matter. They console. Knowing this has given me the courage to talk with the bereaved, share their sadness and their memories. Most of all, I have learned to judge less, and try to understand more.
Copyright Nancy Koury King all rights reserved