Mostly, I write about family business governance, succession, growth strategies and ownership transition. I believe in families and the power they have in our lives and society.
But, as we know, families are full of tragedies, and surviving them is not an easy formula. We can learn from these tragedies and the life lessons they bring. Here's a big one.
My brother, his wife and my nephew have operated a family business for nearly 30 years. They recently celebrated “gotcha day.” Anyone with an adopted child knows what that means – it's the day my brother and his wife picked up their adopted child Sam, and he was theirs.
They celebrated Sam's 24th “gotcha day,” but Sam wasn't there to celebrate. He took his life at 23 because he couldn't imagine living with the hell going on inside him.
We were stunned. He was a second-year law student on a full scholarship, tons of friends and a loving family. But depression takes no prisoners.
I wrote a blog in August that included something written five years ago in the online publication Reddit. It was written by “GSnow” in response to a post that read: “My friend just died. I don't know what to do.”
Not sure who “GSnow” is, but his or her response was as good as it gets:
“I'm old. What that means is that I've survived (so far), and a lot of people I've known and loved did not. I've lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can't imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here's my two cents.
“I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don't want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don't want it to 'not matter.' I don't want it to be something that just passes.
“My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. …
“As for grief, you'll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you're drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float.
“You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it's some physical thing. Maybe it's a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it's a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
“In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don't even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float.
“After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you'll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function.
“You never know what's going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything ... and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
“Somewhere down the line, and it's different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart.
“You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas or landing at O'Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself.
“And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you'll come out.
“Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don't really want them to. But you learn that you'll survive them.
“And other waves will come. And you'll survive them, too. If you're lucky, you'll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.” — GSnow.
In your business, there are people everywhere crying out for help. Some may be your family. Some may be your employees. Some may be your employee's families.
Raising awareness and looking for signs of depression are how we begin to beat it. If we start to face this disease head-on, we will make progress.
We can offer people who feel so lost and unloved an inkling of hope and a path to work through their demons and find the other side.
Because there is another side, and it doesn't have to come with death.
But if tragedy strikes, remember GSnow's advice – grief is a journey that can be survived.
We need to stand by our family, friends and employees and help them navigate the waves that will ensue.
Tom Garrity is managing partner of Compass Point Consulting LLC in Hanover Township, Northampton County. He is a certified coach with Gazelles International and a certified exit planning adviser with the Exit Planning Institute. Compass Point provides growth and business transition consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses. He can be reached at 610-336-0514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.