When explaining what my office does to other members of campus, I often tell people that we have the pleasure of being the "warm fuzzies" department at the College. Granted, we do a lot more than hand out free smiles and donor thank you notes, but when it boils down to the basics, we're often here to share great stories of student success and strong causes with donors who want to make a difference with their financial "treasure". And when you give to someone without expecting anything in return, do you not get to feel all warm and fuzzy inside? It's joy in its most simplistic form. You have a need and I have a resource that can fill your need. When that need is met, we both get to feel the relief and the joy of living beyond ourselves. Warm fuzzies, right?
The hardest part of my job, outside of making the "ask" for support face to face or being told no, is when I meet with a grieving family who want to do something beyond themselves to memorialize their loved one. Although these moments are engrained in my mind as the most rewarding donor interactions, they are by far the most gut wrenching at the same time. There are real and very raw emotions involved. Often times the loss is very recent and fresh. Sometimes it was unexpected or many times it was a long and painful process that finally came to an end. Tears are always present. As the fundraiser in the room, it takes everything I have to not sit right there and cry with them. Alas, I am human so there have been times when I've shed a tear right with them, but for their sake I try my best to be compassionate yet collected so that someone is talking them through the process professionally.
Today held one of those challenging moments. This afternoon I sat in a meeting room with a widow of only 3 weeks and her sister, and tried to guide them as they decided what route to take to memorialize the man that they so loved. From the moment the wife walked into the building, I knew this was going to be a bittersweet meeting for her. On one hand, she's being given an opportunity to see her husband honored for the lifetime of the college, but on the other hand, the much more heavy and somber hand, her walking into our office with an envelope of memorial checks was just another reminder of what she has lost. When she could not answer my first question of "how are you doing", I just handed her a tissue and let her have the silence she needed before we moved on. There were stretches of her face being hidden in that tissue while the sister remained the strong one. And when they saw the memorial option that they would decide upon, they both wept together. It was a neat experience to see them both scanning their individual list of options and when their eyes hit one of them, thankfully the same one, they both cried at the same time independent of the other. I saw relief and grief on their faces at the same time.
I am confident that with time and a little acclamation to her new normal, although I hate the new normal for her, this meeting today will serve as the first step in her husband's lasting legacy on campus. Hundreds of thousands of students will see his name on a room within our campus and although they will not know his full story, full impact, and the great love that he has left behind, they will know his name and that someone loved him so much that they engraved it for all to see. His name and his wife's love will forever remain written upon the walls of the campus where he called home for so many years.
What is an open wound right now for his widow will slowly begin to heal with time, and with that time, my hope is that grief will turn to remembrance and someday, eventually, this moment will become a warm fuzzy.