Levity in Times of Adversity

Finding joy in the midst of tragedy isn’t easy, but ultimately rewarding when it helps people move beyond the grief. I was hired to speak at an annual company retreat, and just prior to my introduction it was announced that a very beloved employee of the company named Corrine had suddenly died. When a woman came on stage to introduce me, she was in tears, and there were audible wails and moans emanating from the audience. She mumbled and stumbled through my introduction, and while still weeping said, “So here to talk about (sniffles) humor in the workplace (blows her nose)…Terry Braverman.” I walked on stage pondering a line from a Shakespearean tragedy: “Oh death, where is thy sting?”

At a total loss for words in that moment, I took a long pause and a deep breath. Finally the words filtered through me: “I know this is a difficult time for all of you, and I want to acknowledge the sadness and the grief you are feeling right now. This must have been a very special person who touched all of you in some way. I was wondering if any of you would like to come up here to the microphone and share some of those special moments you had with Corrine, shared moments of warmth, joy, humor, or maybe something she said that lightened up your day.”

After about 15-20 seconds, a hand went up, and I asked her to step up to the microphone. She spoke of a time when Corrine was promoted to supervisor of the department, and how Corrine was concerned about becoming the boss to people who had been her co-workers. So she decided to call a meeting with her former co-workers the next day. When the room had filled up, Corrine strutted into the room, wearing a pinstriped suit with a Yankee Doodle hat and said, “This great department is a democracy, and I run it now.”

The audience broke up laughing at her story. Then several hands went up in the audience, and I had four or five more people share uplifting and/or funny experiences they had with Corrine. Tears of sorrow for their deceased colleague transformed into tears of joy, and I was able to thankfully carry on with my presentation.

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