This year my partner Phil’s mother, Linda Huron Guzman, who had numerous health scares over the last decade, took ill the week before Christmas and passed away. None of us saw it coming until it was upon us making a horrific event even more devastating.
“Happy New Year. How were your holidays?” I wanted to say “It was terrible. It was the worst Christmas ever. And we are still dealing with the ramifications. There is anger, regret, a deep sense of loss and an almost unbearable weight of sadness.” But that seemed too much to lay on anyone simply asking about my holiday. I settled on “It was a difficult holiday season as we lost a very dear family member.”
This statement was almost always met with the same statement I had too long offered up in similar situations. I would say I was sorry. I would offer condolences. I would tell them that I was here if they needed anything - just ask. This is all very well meaning, and I appreciated the intent, the genuine concern and the love that was represented by the comments. But in reality, these words did little to help.
As one of the newer members of the family, a member with personal experience in losing not one but both of my parents and all my grandparents, aunts, and uncles, I did my best to manage the grief of others. To confirm what they were feeling as natural and rational, to help them address their grief and help them move through the decisions and actions that were needed to be made right away. That role seemed to help me with my own grief.
In that role, when time permitted, I asked others and researched ways of dealing with grief. And I came across some of the best advice I had ever received on how to respond to someone grieving. They said, “Don’t tell me you are sorry. It is not your fault and there is nothing you can do to change what has happened. Don’t tell me that you are here if I need anything, just ask. Frankly, I don’t know what it is I need right now. Just ask me “How are you doing?” I know how to answer that question and the act of answering it helps me move through the grief.” It seems the best thing you can do, once expressing your condolences and sending a card, or a plant or a casserole, is ask “How are you doing?” And to touch base periodically over the next few days and weeks and months, in person, by phone or by text and ask that question again and again. “How are you doing?”
As I have moved though the shock and grief of dealing with this loss and helping those around me in the same situation, it has dawned on me that this question, “How are you doing?”, is applicable to most stressful situations and is something we should be asking periodically to all those in our lives - personal and professional - in times of stress, loss and change.
“Over the last several decades, there have been societal changes on a massive scale. We have seen high profile scandals, the great recession, terrorist attacks, the initial effects of climate change, civil rights, human rights, urbanization, globalization, new patterns of immigration and expanded means of communication. Traditional societal roles and expectations have been upended. Technological advancements are increasing the pace of change, and while they are creating new opportunities, these innovations are changing industries faster than most economies can adjust. Workers are being displaced and traditional modes of economic mobility are disappearing. With this change, divisions between winners and losers are being aggravated. A more interconnected world has increased rather than reduced differences over ideas and identities.”
Since then, we have continued to struggle to deal with the economic currents that globalism started, that things like Brexit complicated, that the once in a lifetime trauma of the coronavirus pandemic undermined and exasperated and that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has outright harmed. Global political, economic, and societal forces are realigning. And through it all, despite many efforts, climate change gets worse.
This is a stressful time in our society and just as importantly, within our destination organization family. Al Hutchinson, President and CEO of Visit Baltimore, has been a loud and on-target voice within our industry when he pointed out that the mental health of our population is being challenged, and the stress within our destination organizations needs to be recognized and addressed. And I cannot think of a better first step than to reach out to our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our peers within the destination organization community and ask that simple question, “How are you doing?”
If you are reading this, then you are part of my greater friend, family, and peer network. Know that you are in my thoughts and that my email address is [email protected] and I would love to hear how you are doing in these turbulent times we all live and work in. Wishing you all the best.