It’s all gone. That was the message delivered by my friend who emailed to let me know that the home shared by multi- generations of her family had been lost to a devastating fire.
This news was heartbreaking, and what made it worse is it followed on the heels of other tough health and personal challenges she had faced with courage. It all just seemed too much. I was thinking, “enough already!”
My friend lives in another part of the country so we stay in touch via email and text, but I struggle to find the right words for her. I knew that as result of the fire the family had lost some valuable legacy establishing artifacts created by her father who had passed away a number of years ago.
The family had been busy working to curate and memorialize his work so that it could be shared with the world in perpetuity — a painstaking task. I had learned from another colleague who is overseeing her late husband’s collection of artwork that this kind of responsibility carries the weight of the world.
Honoring and protecting legacy while grieving is difficult.
I knew I wouldn’t have the opportunity to connect with my friend in person, so I planned a video Skype call just to check in and make sure that I could see her face to gauge how she was holding up. She is really skilled at sounding strong over the phone.
This news happened to correspond with a trip I was making to Philadelphia, and I couldn’t help but think that if after spending some time in the City of Brotherly Love I would somehow be inspired to share words of love and comfort with my hurting friend. I had even thought of texting a photo of the famous LOVE sign in JFK park to let her know her family was on my mind. Again, just the right words escaped me.
My original plan for this month’s Cause & Effect column was to share insights on the concept of brotherly love, which I had researched as part of my trip, and how it pertained to philanthropists and local nonprofits who shower love on our region every day.
But my plans changed when I Skyped with my friend. Surprisingly enough, I discovered it was she comforting me with the lessons learned from the fire and how it related to legacy and love.
With tragedy comes reflection and she was quick to share that the loss of the home and material possessions particularly those with financial and legacy implications had helped her focus on the true meaning of what matters after we are gone.
She made special note of the gratitude she felt that her loved ones escaped the fire and talked about the tedious and messy work of trying to sort through the remains at the site of the blaze, standing ankle deep in wet ash.
At one point the firefighters helping with the recovery of items from the home, opened a drawer of a nearly burned out dresser to find a single photo encased unharmed in an acrylic frame.
The photo was of she and her husband and their two kids and she said in that moment she knew that was the legacy of her father and that home. Not just the continuation of the family but what they give of themselves and their work in this world which includes their faith, and service to the local and global community.
Because she lived in our part of the world for several years she made a point to mention the work that happens through the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and more specifically the nonprofits and donors we have the honor and privilege of working alongside every day.
She said the fire taught her that legacy developed by helping our fellow man, our environment and our communities lasts forever, because love endures all even when belongings and heirlooms do not.
So in a hotel room in the City of Brotherly Love, on a Skype call with my friend in the Midwest, who had returned from sorting out a family tragedy in the Northeast I learned a lesson about creating and sustaining love and legacy in our backyard.
A special thank you to all the nonprofits and the incredible people who support them, work in and with them for creating a legacy in Southwest Florida that can never be destroyed.
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, last year the Foundation invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.