It is Saturday, August 15. It must be around 2:30 p.m. We are standing in the open at Glen Oakes cemetery, and the sun is very strong. The temperature is close to 30 degrees Celsius. We are hot, and since most of us are wearing black, the heat feels even worse.
We are gathered around the casket. It is covered with flowers—beautiful, white flowers. In a few minutes we will have to leave, and the only thing left to do will be to lower the casket. My brother says, “I guess that’s it.” “I guess so,” I say. Everyone is very quiet and calm. William, my beloved nephew, has been brought to his final resting place. The very moment is a harsh and painful illustration of how fragile life can be.
Eight days before, we all got the news that, on a Friday afternoon, William had been murdered. We all got stopped in our respective tracks, of course. Not only because a 36-year-old was dead, but also because if you knew William, the thought that someone might want to hurt him seemed simply impossible.
The days that followed will be remembered as the most difficult week of my life. How Marie, William’s mother, managed to stand as tall as she did in the midst of all this is hard to comprehend, but she did. Where Gregory, William’s brother, found the strength to do what needed to be done to honor his brother whom he loves so much, I’m not sure. How Connie, William’s father, must have felt as he drove across Canada to be with us, is hard to imagine. How Jen, Gregory’s new girlfriend, didn’t run for the hills and stood by all of us still amazes me.
Our recent time together was the most brutal reality check one could have. My way of life involves finding something positive or helpful in each situation, which is sometimes easier said than done—especially in these circumstances. But amazingly, it was fairly easy to see how this dark and ugly cloud was lined with incredible humanity and beauty. The way William and Gregory’s friends gathered and supported us as well as one another was just inspiring. As a family, a reconstructed one, we were all together for the first time in many years, each of us feeling a responsibility towards making sure this challenging time was not made more difficult than it already was. And we all did. It appears that each of us knew by instinct what the right behavior was. We were there for each other like we have never been before.
Indeed, this ugly week was filled with unconditional love coming from close and distant family as well as friends, old and new. It was a tribute to the human spirit and what is so magnificent about it. It took many relationships to a level we never suspected possible, and for that I am very grateful.
As I flew home, I kept asking myself why it took a tragedy for us to be able to express our love for each other the way we just did. My dearest William, thank you for once again bringing the best out us. Our love for you will remain as strong as ever and I hope that you’ll be keeping an eye on us from “the other side.”
This post is my way of taking care of myself. I need to know that there will be a positive outcome emerging from this dreadful page of life. Please, find the strength to tell your loved ones how much you love them. Don’t be afraid of clumsy words, love does not police language. Don’t assume that they know, even though we know they do. Hearing it is like listening to the most beautiful piece of music: it is priceless. Be there for one another; it’s so easy to do.
There are two quotes that I have held close to my aching heart the last few weeks. One is from my friend Christine McLeod, who has been inviting us for a while now to “Live your best life.” We each hold the responsibility to do so. Are you living your best life? I appreciate that we are not always clear on what that looks like. One thing I can tell you with certainty is that it involves doing things we love and spending time with people we love. The other words I cherish and hold tightly might as well be my life motto: “Be kind to each other,” as Ellen DeGeneres reminds us every day.
Yes, let’s be kind to each other. I can vouch for the fact that when we do, it makes making your way through the impossible possible.
Some of you may wonder how this post fits with a blog focused on leadership. Here is the connection: the truth is, leadership is about human beings working with human beings. When I hear leaders saying that they expect employees to keep their personal lives separate from work, I call BS. We are each the full package, and leaders don’t get to choose the parts that suit them. When we hit a rough patch, both parties (the employer and the employee) have a role to play. We must self-manage to the best of our abilities and do whatever we can to minimize the impact on others while keeping open lines of communication. It is also our responsibility to understand that we might not be able to exercise sound judgment when experiencing tremendous distress. As for the employer, their role is to do their best to accommodate our temporary setbacks and figure out ways to minimize any negative impacts on us and our organizations.
Yes, it can be tricky, inconvenient and… it is what it is. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution when these things happen. We expect high levels of engagement from our people, and this is our chance to return the favour, within reason. This is about being human, caring, kind and empathetic, one conversation at the time.
When I found out about William’s passing, I was in the midst of producing important deliverables for a client. I reached out, asked for help, received it and as a result, the disruption was minimal. It truly was as simple as that. Granted, my client has well-rounded leadership skills and is a compassionate human being.
How will you show up next time you are confronted with a similar situation?