Learning through loss: Brandywine, Dowagiac remember community pillars

If there is one thing I have learned about loss, it is that when faced with losing someone we care about, our love for that person only grows stronger.

Unfortunately, I have often used the space reserved for my columns to mourn the loss of people close to myself or my community. Throughout my years at Leader Publications, I have been blessed by knowing countless remarkable individuals — people who have given selflessly to their communities, committed themselves to a specific project or organization, or who have been stewards of positive change. Unfortunately, these communities have also lost several amazing individuals, and, as we all know, it never gets easier.

Over the holidays, the Dowagiac and Brandywine communities said goodbye to two community pillars: Patrick Hamilton principal Heather Nash and Brandywine school board member and longtime volunteer Gerald “Jerry” Tibbs. Heather passed away after complications during a knee surgery, and Jerry passed away from complications of a long battle with a bacterial infection.

I first met Heather when she contacted me on a mission to create a series of Little Free Libraries in Dowagiac. I’m a huge lover of literacy so it wasn’t hard to convince me to donate some old paper boxes for the project, but Heather’s passion and excitement for the program and her students was so contagious that I’m not at all surprised by how successful the project turned out to be.

I’ve known Jerry most of my life through volunteer projects at Brandywine and could share dozens of funny stories about his efforts, but they all boil down to the same message: Jerry would do literally anything for anybody.

Once the Dowagiac community found out about Heather’s condition following surgery, they rallied together in prayer, hopeful that she could recover from the incident. They shared tears, stories, laughs and photos, all with one common theme: Heather loved people, and she loved to give.

In Jerry’s final months battling his illness, the Brandywine community also came together for him, returning the one of many favors he had done the district in the last several decades. The selfless contributions were reflective of Jerry’s giving spirit, proof that his good deeds inspired others to do the same.

As is natural with the grieving process, when we lose someone, we learn so much about them — and also about the people they touched. As we reflect on the lives of those individuals, we share stories and memories, recognize attributes and begin to fully comprehend the impact these people had on the world.

While our communities continue to grieve the loss of these special individuals, I am thankful for the opportunity to get to know them better and to see the mark they left on this world.

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