Hot tears stung my eyes and blurred the words on the page. How could this have happened? They swelled over my eyelids and rolled down my cheeks. How could I not have known? As the words came in and out of my vision, understanding fell over me. Could this be true? No one writes about another person in the past tense unless she is no longer with them. But when? And how?
Some background: In December 1998, I interviewed with four people at Shore Country Day School for a position that I felt I had no chance of being offered but desperately wanted. Those same four people became my “bosses” when, against all odds, they chose me as the Director of After School and Summer Programming. Of the four, two of them oversaw my position the most – the Head of the Lower School and the Chief Financial Officer. I later discovered that each of the four had reservations about hiring me (as would I…I was only twenty-five years old at the time), but they also each had reasons to choose me. The Head of the Lower School and the CFO became wonderful, healing mentors over the next three and a half years as I had left a very unhealthy job situation. Who I am as a worker today is due very much in parts to their mentoring.
Back to present day: I sat in my car outside the car wash on Martin Luther King Jr Day and read the Shore Country Day School bulletin. The school continues to mail it to my Grand Forks address. As I had been in Grand Forks that weekend, the bulletin was in my car. I thought the car wash would be a great time to catch up. Boy, was I wrong! The bulletin was the 75th Anniversary Edition, and there were highlights of various staff people – all written in the present tense…until I came to the loved Head of Lower School.
I recognized right away that there was a shift in the tense of the article: this article was in past tense. As I drove into the car wash, I read and re-read the article…hoping that I was wrong, grasping at any explanation for the article besides the fact that my mentor had passed away without my knowing. She had given me a passion for younger children, had taught me patience and understanding, and had showered love on my own children who were toddlers when I started to work there. She believed in a restorative approach to discipline, but she held them accountable for their actions at the same. How could she be gone?
After pouring over the article several times and coming to grips with the fact that it was definitely written in past tense, I whipped out my phone and sent an email – through tears that would not stop – to my other mentor, the CFO. The two women had very different approaches to mentoring me. While the Head of the Lower School was much like a grandmother, the CFO is like a bulldozer. I learned efficiency and confidence from her in a trial by fire sort of way. I remember that I had asked her approval for several purchases within the first month of my hire. After one too many requests for that approval she told me, “Stacy, you are the director of this program. You are responsible for the budget, not I.” Wow! I learned that she would prefer that I make mistakes and learn how to fix them. What a gift…
In my email, I apologized, knowing that the email asking about her friend would bring back many memories, but I asked her if what I suspected was true. Within two hours, she responded. And I had been right. By then, I was in the parking lot at the music store where the boy takes guitar lessons. I again sat in the car as tears stung my cheeks as they ran down my face…sadness overwhelming me at both the knowledge that my mentor had passed away but also at the disappointment that I had not been able to know and mourn with others.
The Head of the Lower School had a tremendous faith in God, and – from what the CFO said in the email – she had come to peace with death as it approached. In the email, my mentor shared my sentiments, “She taught us all.” What a great way to remember the life and the death someone!
As I thought about this throughout the week, I have often thought, “What would I want others to say about me when I am gone.” There is so much that one could say, but that phrase – she taught us all – would be quite a tribute.
What do you think? What would like to have others say about you when you have passed away? And what are we doing today to make that possible?
Do I live in a way that I would like to be remembered?