As many of you know, my father recently died. I’ve had to say the phrase to convince myself that his physical body and presence is actually gone. See, for those that didn’t know my father, he was something of a larger than life personality. He lived big and loved big, but his life was one marked by small, impactful accomplishments. While he had faults, I always admired his steadfast commitment to his beliefs and living a life of giving. And for those who knew my father and I, there is no doubt that I am my father’s daughter.
Through it all, I’ve been struck by the fact that death and grief are at once public and private. There are so many details that must be handled in public, from the funeral to cancelling prescriptions to changing names on accounts. The publicness of it is strange and disconcerting, but it also made things real in helpful ways.
Yet, the worst part of grief is handled in private, in quiet moments alone. It is a solitary process of trying to figure out how to be, how to live without someone who has always been so present. As a society, we do not do well with death (or even illness). No one knows what to say or not to say. Compounding it all is that we are supposed to carry on as if nothing has transpired because everyday life and tasks still need to be done.
Therein lies the struggle. Grief is hard. Losing someone who was so important is hard. I am not at all unique in these experiences, but this event has forced to me look at life differently, from a different angle.
As I was trying to re-orient myself to this new skewed version of the world, Hurricane Harvey made landfall, and while much of the big storylines have focused on Houston (and rightly so to a big extent) there are hundreds of small towns that have been devastated. My hometown and surrounding towns, where all of my family and so many lifelong friends live, are devastated. I cannot fathom the amount of water. My mind has trouble processing pictures of places where just last week I stood and where today I would be under water.
But in a short conversation with my bother this morning, he reminded me of something so important. He was starting to find food to cook for 100s of first responders and those evacuated from their homes, and he was adamant in his response that they are a community where people come together and help one another.
Community. It is a powerful word and even more powerful relationship. Communities in public and in private and in personal and in professional realms. We shouldn’t ever underestimate that power of community. It can be stronger and more durable than grief and high water.
So this personal story is an important professional reminder. As we are all gearing up for the new academic year, be certain to reach out to those in your communities to lift up, to support, and to be a hand or an ear when necessary. To be present and to be prepared to give is sometimes the most important gift of all.