What thoughts come to your mind when someone says, “I am holding my own.” In my capacity as a board member for several nonprofit groups, one of the scariest terms I have heard is the phrase from an executive director, “We are holding our own.”
A consensus might believe that the term is reassuring, that things are not terrible. We may not be moving quickly forward but we are not sliding backwards. We are holding our own.
My fear of these words goes back to this date (November 10) in 1975. I recently checked my facts with a groomsman in our wedding who was the newscaster for our college radio station, WKCO, in Gambier, Ohio. Shortly before 5 pm that Monday afternoon, Peter Bianchi was preparing his script for his daily newscast in Dempsey Hall when the UPI machine began ringing. It rang 10 times which denoted a major event like a plane crash, assassination, or disaster of some sort. The event that day was the sinking of the giant ore boat, The Edmund Fitzgerald. Named for the president of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, she was over 700 feet long (a little less than two city blocks in Quincy). As Gordon Lightfoot sang the following year, “As the big freighters go it was bigger than most, with a crew and good captain well seasoned.”
No one will ever know what finally caused the ship to sink, although when the wreck was discovered, the ship was broken in two at the bottom of Lake Superior. Captain McSorley had reported to another ship that the seas were the worst he had ever seen, and he had over 40 years’ experience.
We visited the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in 1995 at Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (QHS basketball teammate, Terry Laaker’s sister worked there. There is always a Quincy connection when we travel!). Unfortunately we arrived just after a huge storm had knocked out most of the power in the Upper Peninsula, so the museum was closed. That was disappointing since the week before our trip divers had recovered the bell from the ship and it was on display. The wreck is not to be disturbed in any other way, and no human remains have been nor will be recovered.
So, why go off on the Edmund Fitzgerald tangent you might ask? The last communication received from the foundering ship was Captain McSorley reporting, “We are holding our own.” With his radar equipment ruined, ship listing, and who knows what else was going on, he still felt he could make Whitefish Bay where the seas would have moderated. “The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay if they’d put fifteen more miles behind her.” Very close, but still a disaster.
So when I hear those words from someone making a report on an organization, I hearken back to my college days and think “Is there a disaster looming?” I think you can look at these words personally, too. I have spent over 40 years as a licensed funeral director, seeing people go through some of the toughest times of their lives. Part of my job is to help point people in the direction of recovery. They will still have to navigate the rough seas of grief, but if I can point them in the direction of bereavement’s ‘Whitefish Bay’ where things are not quite so overwhelming, then I feel I have been successful.
One of the ways we try to accomplish this is to continue to be in contact with families at significant mileposts during their grief journey. Theresa sends out some initial grief information within a week or two of the service. We are currently preparing a mailing to all of our families with a booklet about grief during the holidays, one of the roughest seas to navigate. We will also be rolling out an entire video series by noted author, Doug Manning focusing on the first year of grief. You can go to our website, www.hansenspear.com and look for the ‘Resources’ tab in the coming weeks where you will be able to click on “A Year in Grief” to access this new content. And then that first anniversary of the death seems to reopen the whole process again, just when we thought we were beginning …”to hold our own.”
This time of year especially be mindful of yourself. Don’t try to do too much, but don’t lock yourself away, either. A renowned grief therapist, Doctor Alan Wofeldt once wrote that when words won’t do, have a ceremony. If you feel like you are ONLY “holding your own” figure out a little action to remember and celebrate the life that was lost this year. Light a candle. Plant a tree. Make a toast.
Today, 46 years after the wreck, they will ring a bell at the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral in Detroit “…twenty-nine times for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald” because words just won’t do for “…the wives and the sons and the daughters.”