As I sit here tonight holding my mom’s hand watching family and close friends come for a final goodbye, I am wondering is this really it? How do we ever replace unconditional love? Why was I adopted by the best mother ever?
Without divine intervention, my life’s journey could have never started. I know it began with a 16 year old mother, who I still never met, with no place to turn, except to a Catholic ministry, deciding to take on societal shame and still have a big-headed baby boy on May 27, 1966.
Or maybe I would have been selected by a normal mother who would have provided a warm and nurturing home, but in the end I received the greatest blessing of all in a second miracle… a saintly mother, who never ever uttered a cuss word, said a single bad thing about anyone, and could make daily magic of simply nothing at all by just embracing the hardest Christian commandment, “love thy neighbor as yourself”. That one has been my Achilles heel for as long as I can remember… how did she do it with such ease?
All day today, I’ve kept the book of Psalms close by, even during our Board Meeting, because it seems so lyrical and perfect to randomly read, so I could just hold it together and try to make it through this important meeting fearing this may be it. I knew she was in great hands because she was at Signature of East Louisville, with one of our most compassionate and skilled teams anywhere in the Revolution. Late this afternoon, Fran Stahl called my cell to give me an update. Intimately, he said we are near the end.
This evening, as the room filled with the Mary Louise Steier Fan Club, Sony brought the kids in to make one last visit, unless another miracle happens quickly. After Ava, Luke, and Jackie entertained the other residents with a little coaching from Aunt Betty, they sat on our laps close to Grandma, realizing how sick she really is.
Then it happened… it was time to go, and each precious Grandchild walked up to her left ear with one hand clenching Sony’s and the other wrapped beautifully around their Grandmother’s open hand. Each in their own voice told her lovely things. Two said beautiful prayers in her ear. Several told her they loved her to the moon and back. All of them told her they had the best Grandmother ever. The two oldest told her that they would never ever forget her, and told her to send them a signal about how great heaven is. Finally, one said, make sure you tell Grandpa hi. It has been almost exactly three years to the day since I felt this familiar pain. How do we ever say goodbye? If our faith is so great, then why does it hurt so much?
Prior to COVID, I think we all felt like we spent more time with work, work partners and peers than our own families. Was it good or bad? For me, I worked with some of the most talented people in the country, so I loved it. And obviously I love my family too! I had the blessing to work with a friend, brother, Savant, Mensa member, and so much more for nearly a decade and a half – Stephen Stocksdale. To say he was talented with an amazing range is honestly a great understatement in a world full of the opposite. Stephen did so much intellectually, professionally, and personally that for the first three years of working with him, I assumed it “all could not be true”. But time and time again I learned the opposite was true. He served our mission-based organization in every role (field leader, controller, administrator, VP, strategy, consultant, start-ups, etc.) and whatever else we asked of him. Despite having more professional success himself, he just wanted to help us grow in all ways.
One day 5 ½ years ago, Stephen was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and we grieved with him as you would expect. But he was a determined guy and decided to not just learn all he could about cancer, but to master it. He decided there had to be a path he could carve out for himself that no doctor had considered, or he would locate new research that would help him beat it. With a scientific mind and unparalleled IQ, he found a clinical trial he was approved to get in. This trial’s treatment regimen was so potent, and Stephen was the only one that survived. He learned about transfusions, blood structures, and cancer interventions. Cancer kicked his ass often, but he always beat it back up and won again!
We cheered, prayed, and cried often over the past years, but learned three great lessons from Stephen that we all cherish today:
- “Be a Lifelong Learner” because we can always master new things and age is just a number, but lifelong learners never get old. Stephen mastered EMT services, police work, cancer research, hospital administration, heart transplant programs, high level statistical methods, travel, long term care, teaching, and many other degrees, certifications, and accomplishments over 65 years, so let’s all keep Learning and keep growing!
- “Never Give Up” because we grow everyone around us in our struggles and sufferings in ways that impact everyone around us and Stephen knew that and wanted us to get stronger, be more grateful and relearn presence, which we all did! When he came back home, he rarely missed a day at the office and taught all of us new things daily up until the moment he passed last week.
- “GOD IS SO REAL” Stephen had historical expertise on religions, studied theological premises, and had a metaphysical outlook, but in this battle, he felt like he met the Lord and had to share it with all of us. He knew he beat something that is nearly unbeatable, and he wanted time to share his story, his walk, and his private time with the Lord. He watched prayer groups with people he barely knew praying 24/7 that he receives a miracle, and he did receive one that he could share with all of us.
Our organization is going through a very painful time as a mid-size nursing home organization that has stakeholders who worked under unbelievable stress and pressure for so long and had to endure seeing some of our residents pass away. We have lost half of our team, and we are still trying to rebuild stronger and better. I think after serving through the pandemic for 2 ½ years and struggling with how to bring it all back together in this changing workplace and overworked healthcare system, and after suffering so much pulsating unknowns for so long, it was Stephen who gave us the best reason to not look back. He taught us to enjoy the struggle as something that can deepen us all and stay prayerful that God is with us during times like these. We need to rebuild and have new passion as learners, which Stephen demonstrated everyday making our lift just a little easier. And lastly, when you beat cancer four times and die from something else, how could we ever give up? It’s time for us to just “STOCKSDALE IT” and grow by learning, fighting harder and believing in our purpose!
Stephen’s office will remain untouched for now because when he left work on Monday with his ambitious assignments on his wall, we never knew we would not see him again. However, we can certainly feel his presence and we are all better people for his amazing lessons that he taught us until his last hour!