Why do tragedies happen? Is there any way to minimize them or stop them all together? How can we overcome them? Could they all be averted with free will and discernment? Why do they seem to usually injure the innocent or positively contributing people? There are so many questions that we could ask that the list would be unlimited.
I don’t know any human being who has not been impacted by some tragic event or circumstance
s, and yet meaningful relationships always seem to come out of them as our only way to cope, heal, or recover. It seems to remind all of us of life’s uncertainty, sacredness of human life, and the need to always pray daily for protection around anything you love or cherish.
Within my own personal experiences, I have been faced with a devastating illness to my older brother early in his adult life, the accidental passing of classmates while a cohort, a neighborhood teenage suicide, and a freak accidental killing of one of my life’s best friends at 39…..either way you never forget any of them and your level of pain is the scale of love you feel toward the injured party.
What about organizational tragedies that devastate entire teams? Can they recover, forgive themselves, and stay together, maybe even becoming stronger because of it?
Despite all of the amazing miracles, diligent work of teammates, great outcomes for thousands of customers that define what we perceive as success, I still have witnessed three tragic events as part of the current organizational team. Each one bringing all of us to our knees so that I will never forget the moment we realized what had happened, a loss on our watch, that never really goes away….
One was over ten years ago where a tragic fire, started by a resident visitor, that took a life during our bus trip across the country. That event unified much of our team, changed relationships forever, made our center a close knit family. After reviews by many independent outsiders, there was nothing we could have done, but the guilt and depression hit every teammate. Because of that event, many of the orginal on-site leaders are still together, as prayer partners and friends, adding many additional safety measures beyond any policy, just always keeping their eyes open.
Almost seven years ago, we lost a resident in a wheelchair fall down a stairwell that pained every team member, but boy did we all become close, grievingtogether, and realizing that even if you follow every healthcare policy for resident safety, something disastrous can still happen the second you turn the other way. Years later, the core team became one of our best, still together, serving hundreds and hundreds of people and impacting their communities like the Mission and vision said it would.
Several weeks ago, me and my team were hit again. A great customer that the entire team loved passed away in a terrible fall that we may never know all that happened. So many questions. Everyone in tears, dealing with hurt in different ways, memorial services planned, grief counseling for all, much of the team in group prayer, other centers chipping in, and investigations from every angle to make sure we did everything right, but in the end, it still is a crushing below either way because you always feel you own it or could have done something different and the looming disaster could have passed over you……..
My only solace in quiet reflection is to love everyone you can, watch for any signs of danger, keep your eyes open at all times, pray for protection around you and your team daily, and know that the deeper you grieve and embrace the personal hurt, the more you feel a part of it. We can at least start the healing process knowing we are never the same.
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!