Helping leaders emerge


We Do Not Honor the Dead by Dying With Them ….In the Midst of Difficulty, Lies Opportunity

“A Mindful Leadership Story by Rick Gardner”

One of the most profound experiences on mindful leadership I have known came out of a family tragedy. On September 26, 2007, my oldest son, Zia died suddenly of a previously unknown and undetected heart condition. He was 34 years old. Zia was home alone in the early evening and had called 911.  The apartment was a four-story structure and he was on the third floor.  Paramedics arrived but initially could not get in since the door was locked.  By the time they were able to break down the door and get to the third floor, Zia had died. I quickly called our son James to deliver the terrible news.  James was living about ten minutes away from us at the time. I told him we would bring our youngest son Jeremy over while Diane and I made the trip into town to see Zia. My wife and I now belonged to a club that no one wants to join, surviving parents of children.

While we were fortunate to have abundant support from family and friends during this difficult period, I realized that everyone would need to deal with this loss in their own way and I had no idea what that would even be for me, let alone for others.

So what did I do?

I slowed myself down.

I focused on helping others and doing the next right thing, even though I was not quite sure what that might be.

I allowed myself to grieve. Often, I was alone. Other times, my grief came out at random moments in the presence of others.

I gave everyone whatever space and time they needed to move forward.  At times it was just being present with them in the silence of the moment.  Other times, it was doing even the smallest of things together in a thoughtful way.

So what did I learn?

I discovered I could function well though certainly not perfectly during moments of extreme challenge.

I was able to provide comfort and stability for others by focusing my attention on them and being attentive to their needs.

While struggling for meaning, I could still be grateful.

One thing I had not anticipated was how many people would feel awkward around me after Zia’s death. They were unsure how to act, what was appropriate to say, or even the best way to be sensitive was. I simply said to them: “We do not honor the dead by dying with them…”

Indeed, it was devastating but not disabling.  I said that I wanted to turn this family tragedy into a source of strength.

I told them I appreciated their compassion and explained it would be helpful for me to go back to doing what we had been doing before all of this happened.  By stating my wishes, I was able to provide the acknowledgement and relief they needed to move forward and it certainly helped me in establishing a “new normal.”

I continue to live in the “now” and am ever mindful of the fleeting moments of life.

I choose to create high quality personal and professional experiences moment by moment for as many moments as I have left.

While I will forever grieve the loss of my son, Zia, I have never felt more alive and grateful for the ability to serve others as a coach and consultant. I am able to help people deal with their own personal and professional leadership challenges by drawing on this profound experience.

I hope that by sharing this story, it offers you a moment of thoughtful reflection and enables you to move positively and steadily forward on your own journey of becoming a more mindful leader.

I’d like to thank Rick for sharing his personal journey of how he lived through a family tragedy. I have had the privilege of partnering with Rick for the last six years facilitating workshops in the area of conflict management. Rick always shows up grounded, positive, insightful, kind, and easily able to connect with clients.  Rick Gardner, President at GEMCAP Ventures, LLC, works as an executive coach and business consultant with teams and individuals.