I buried my 19-year-old stepson this week. It wasn’t unexpected, but it was a shock. As Warren and I went through the painful task of laying his son, Leland, to rest, I learned an important lesson about the importance of community along the way.
Community is something you don’t realize you have until you really need it. Community is what gets you through the tough times, and community is what helps you celebrate the good times.
Our community is much larger than we’d thought it was. Our community was overwhelmingly supportive, even when people didn’t know what to say. Now that I know how important it is to me, my community is going to take a more prominent place in my life.
Your community is an important part of who you are as well. You might be in the position of being unaware, of inadvertently taking advantage of it, or not appreciating what it has to offer. Change your perspective, and be more thankful you have a community. If it isn’t big enough, widen your circle. If you haven’t been there for your community – be there.
Community comes from different places. Naturally your workplace is a community. Your church, your family, your friends, and anywhere else people know your name; that is your community. Are you a positive force in your community? Are you a taker, or are you a giver?
Look around you now. Look at your coworkers, your family, and look in the mirror too. Your community is part of what makes you the person you are. Are you compassionate? Are you caring? Are you able to support others when they need it? Do you make your workplace/family/neighbourhood better because you are part of it? Are you adding to the lives of others, or taking? Are you bitter about what you don’t have, are you negative about others in your community, are you selfish and are you taking your community for granted – expecting them to help you when you need it?
I was under the impression that my community was strong but small. I know that my immediate family is there when I need it – and I needed it. My professional community is much larger, and spread across North America, and less “personal” than most professional communities. In my office there is just Caroline (my office manager) and me. Everyone else is virtual, and certainly the personal connections aren’t as strong. My family was suffering their own loss as well, so I needed the community that wasn’t related to me to help me be strong.
I needed to be strong for my husband and children, and I was worried about who would be strong for me. I’m the strong one, and I needed help to stay strong, so I turned to my online community for support.
Your community is what you make it. I posted a Facebook status after Leland passed, and I was absolutely astounded by the number of supportive responses I received. Some from people I had never even met! The support was overwhelming, and made an incredible difference to me.
Through the kind words I was reading, I was feeling stronger, knowing I could be the rock that Warren needed at this difficult time.
When we had the funeral, I think all of Warren’s coworkers showed up. Even some of Leland’s teachers came to offer their support to us. I am well aware that it is difficult to attend a funeral, it is hard to offer condolences, because no one knows what to say. I myself have (in the past) avoided these types of gatherings because they are awkward and uncomfortable. I won’t avoid them again, as I came to realize how important my community was to me in this difficult time.
I had friends of my mother-in-law come to speak to me, even though they were there to be with her in her time of need on the passing of her grandson. I didn’t know some of these people, but I certainly appreciated their support. I had neighbours of my parents, who didn’t even know Leland, offer support; and the golf partner of our good friend came – he had never met us before but wanted to be part of our support system. The support was incredible, because that is what community does – it supports!
As I read the names in the guestbook, I realized that I hadn’t had the chance to speak to all of them, but I certainly appreciated that they came, took the time to show support, and that they signed the guestbook. They became part of our community, just by being taking the time to be there, to sign the book and be available if we needed it.
I realized that you don’t have to be my best friend to offer support. You just have to smile at me, hold me hand, send me an email, or show compassion in your eyes, and it will make me feel better. Saying the right thing isn’t what matters, it matters that you show support.
In fact, just by reading this article and sharing in my feelings, you’re part of my community.
When all of Warren’s coworkers showed up at the funeral, I realized how much I missed having colleagues at work. Do you appreciate your coworkers? Are you there to offer a smile, a hug, or compassion if it is needed?
Today, I want you to look around at your coworkers and be thankful that you have them. I want you to smile at someone (even if they’re getting on your last nerve), and thank someone for doing something nice today (even if it was just making a new pot of coffee). Say hi to a neighbour, say thank-you to the teller at your bank or wave at someone on the street. Stay after church this week for five minutes instead of racing out to your car. Give someone support at the gym when they’re struggling to finish their workout.
Community is something you don’t appreciate until you need it. Don’t wait for a crisis to take the time to appreciate yours.
While my family became smaller with the loss of Leland, my life got fuller because of the appreciation I have for my community now.
Be part of someone’s community. Be the support that someone else needs, and you will be blessed tenfold when it is your time to receive support.
RIP Leland Alexander Munn Aug. 22, 1990 – Aug. 15, 2010.