No one is indispensable, they say. It’s probably true. Life certainly goes on when we leave and when we are left. It’s one of the hard lessons that grief teaches.
For those left behind, the problem is what to do with the empty space. After my mom died, a grief counselor told me that a window opens when someone dies, but it only stays open for a little while. Through that open window we can, perhaps, see some things we couldn’t see before.
Many years ago, when I was newly hired at a university, I met a colleague in philosophy, I learned that his wife had died fairly recently. She was a beloved English professor, who had also served as a dean. I didn’t know her, but everyone referenced her. She was mourned by many.
Another colleague, who considered this woman a mentor, reflected one day that she felt the woman’s death had allowed her husband the philosopher to step into the spotlight, to “come into his own.” It was said without judgment. It was just something grief’s opened window had shed light on.
Today at my institution, we welcomed some new hires, each replacing someone who had retired or moved on. There was lots of talk about filling big shoes and the challenge of following big personalities.
I am, without doubt, looking forward to getting to know these folks, but my thoughts today lingered on the folks we lost.
Two of them, Randi and Betsy, retired after decades in higher ed. Both served on the administrative side of the house, or “the dark side” as we faculty like to refer to it. Though I didn’t know them well, I consider them friends.
In the unlikeliest of places, we can find likeminded souls. In Randi’s case it was at a relatively boring admission criteria meeting. Let’s be honest, nothing can bond two people quite as well as a conversation about ACT scores. Even so, I saw in her a well of energy, along with humility and confidence, professionalism and humor.
When I spent time with her and her wife Betsy at a 50s/60s-themed party (think jello molds and canned meat), I wished our paths crossed each other more often at work.
The two of them, along with hundreds of other people, helped build and bring to life our first four-year program at GSU. I am proud to have been among those hundreds, and especially so to have had some shared projects with them.
They retired in May, and if Facebook is to be believed, they are currently in heaven on a river cruise in France.
And, while I know that our institution will continue to move forward, to build, and to grow, I want to acknowledge that their absence here matters.
My hope is to catch sight of what this open window has to show.
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