Navigating Grief: Ship, Shipmate, Self

Posted by Scott Allenby

07/12/2018

“Grief is the price we pay for love, and when you feel the weight of the grief we are all feeling right now, you recognize just how much love lived in the one you are grieving.” These words were shared by Proctor’s counselor, Kara Kidder, during an informal gathering for faculty and staff Tuesday morning in the wake of longtime forestry faculty member Dave Pilla’s sudden passing. Just as Proctor’s Maintenance Department approaches the tireless clean up of downed trees from Tuesday night’s microburst that ripped through campus, the path to healing for our community will take time.

Proctor Academy community

We each bring our own unique experiences with death to our community. For some, especially those young faculty brats who idolized “Sugar Dave”, this is their first real exposure to the painful realities of death. For most, we have had far too much “practice” grieving the loss of those close to us. Unfortunately, grieving is the one realm of our lives where repetition does not result in us becoming better at it. Each time we lose a loved one we hurt, we struggle, we bargain, we drive ourselves crazy with “what if’s”, we look around and wonder how we can take that next step forward.

Proctor Academy community

As the cause of Dave’s passing has emerged, our grieving process has deepened. His family has encouraged us to share that Dave survived for much of his life with mental illness; an invisible struggle to almost all of us. We each wanted to be a little more like our hero (who else could pull off wool pants and red plaid shirts on a daily basis?), but we saw only one side of Dave’s complex soul and did not know the fullness with which his daily, internal battle consumed him. His illness led him to take his own life Sunday afternoon. As painful as these details are to share, we believe it is critical for our community to understand the complex circumstances of Dave’s struggle and passing.

While national awareness of suicide spikes periodically throughout the year when notable celebrities succumb to their illness, the reality is suicide touches far too many communities on a daily basis. We must help create consistent awareness, education, and support if we, as a society and as a community, are to reach those struggling with mental illness. Our hope is that we, collectively, will honor Dave’s struggle by creating safe places to talk openly about our own invisible challenges, and welcome people to present their true selves rather than only their best selves. The resources linked below are a starting place for this support.

Click here for support and counseling resources.

For the past 24 years, Dave kicked off Ocean Classroom with an impassioned explanation of the adage: Ship, Shipmate, Self. The motto is more than a catchphrase, it is a code to which each student commits with the understanding that if you take care of Roseway, she will take care of you. If you take care of your shipmates, they will be there for you. As we navigate the grieving process, we must keep this mindset front and center.

Proctor Academy Ocean Classroom

Ship:

As we seek to take care of our ship (Proctor), we each have a responsibility to pick up the torch that Dave has set down; whether that be related to the sustainable management of the Woodlands, teaching Forestry and Wildlife Science students, advising, or directing the Ocean Classroom program. The comments on Monday’s blog number well over 200, each sharing a unique, yet similar message of the deep impact Dave had on our community, of how Proctor will never be the same without his presence. And while this may be true, we each have a responsibility to take care of Proctor, to steward the culture Dave stood for, and to ensure the Proctor of tomorrow has the same impact on its students as the Proctor of yesterday. If we take care of Proctor, Proctor will take care of us.

Proctor Academy Ocean Classroom

Shipmate:

Gathering in small groups, large groups, group chats over text, or even through social media, this community has done a remarkable job taking care of our shipmates over the past 72 hours. This intricate, informal support system of friends, colleagues, and strangers takes many forms, and as we work through the grieving process, it will be imperative that we be there for each other. We encourage anyone struggling at this time to utilize the resources linked above. Take care of each other. Pick up the phone and check in with each other. Surround each other with love, and never underestimate the power of simply listening to someone share their feelings.

Proctor Academy Community

Self:

Of all the soft-skills we hope our students develop during their time at Proctor, self-awareness is at the top of the list. During the grieving process, self-awareness is critical. As Kara Kidder shared with faculty and staff yesterday, “Grieving is a nonlinear process, and each of us will linger at the different stages of grief for different amounts of time, but if you ever find yourself lingering too long, reach out for help.” Similarly, as you seek to take care of yourself during this time, understand what energizes you, what sets your soul on fire, and pursue those activities. Maybe it is going for a run or bike ride in Proctor’s Woodlands, a hike, a book, painting, journaling, or simply gathering with friends. Regardless of what refuels you, be sure to take care of yourself and do not feel guilty for finding joy during a time of sorrow.

Splitter

Sargent Goodchild ‘89 shared Maya Angelou’s poem, When Great Trees Fall, in a comment on the blog we posted Monday. Thank you, Sargent, for sharing this, and may we all do our best to follow Angelou’s wisdom as we walk through the ever-lightening days ahead.

When Great Trees Fall | Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.


When great trees fall

in forests,

small things recoil into silence,

their senses

eroded beyond fear.


When great souls die,

the air around us becomes

light, rare, sterile.

We breathe, briefly.

Our eyes, briefly,

see with

a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,

examines,

gnaws on kind words

unsaid,

promised walks

never taken.


Great souls die and

our reality, bound to

them, takes leave of us.

Our souls,

dependent upon their

nurture,

now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed

and informed by their

radiance,

fall away.

We are not so much maddened

as reduced to the unutterable ignorance

of dark, cold

caves.


And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill

with a kind of

soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never

to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be

better. For they existed.

    

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