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Sunday, October 15, 2017
Goodbye to a #worldchanger
This blog is different - it is about the loss of Audrey Burger, the Director of Clinical Operations of Community Counseling Center, who recently passed away, way too early. Losing her is impacting my lived experience right now, as I work to grieve in healthy fashion. This blog references my colleagues Nic and Heather, and my daughter McKenzie.
Today, one week ago, you left this world. How do I say goodbye to someone who changed my world and the world of so many others? You were my boss, my friend and my mentor. You taught me so many important lessons. The amount of loss I am feeling is hard to put into words, but I am going to do my best.
I know that our paths crossed for a reason, even though I was resistant. The day I found out I was going to be working for you and I impulsively quit my job. I didn’t want to work for Audrey Burger. I remember that you did not react with anger. Instead, you asked if I would be willing to meet and share my concerns. During that discussion I realized several things. The reasons I didn’t want to work for you were based on the comments of less than stellar employees. I learned quickly that you had a passion to serve our community and to work towards making things better for the consumers we served. You would not accept anything less than the best for our consumers. So, I stayed. You were a leader. You became, hands down, my favorite boss.
You encouraged me to pursue my passions with suicide prevention. When I asked about having a suicide prevention and awareness conference in Cape, you were completely on board. This is when our true connection started. You shared the loss of your brother to suicide and the hurt you felt. Before I decided to make my lived experience of a suicide attempt known publicly, I sent you a copy of what I planned to say. I was nervous, afraid that you would see me as less of a person or not able to do my job because I struggled with depression and had once attempted suicide. You simply stated, "I am so glad you are here. We've got to do more." You saw my experience as a strength.
When I started to build our co-occurring program, you provided encouragement and support on an ongoing basis - it was a slow start. Today, October 15, is the four-year anniversary of the program. We are helping so many people.
I was lucky to get to work with you on many other projects and talk about future projects. Audrey, I will continue as will the many others you have touched. We will pull together, support each other and complete the goals you had: to provide better care to our communities, raise awareness and promote suicide prevention.
You were invested in helping me grow, not just as a professional, but as a member of the human race. You worked with me to find balance. You helped me understand the business side of what we do so that we can continue to help those who need it. You taught me it was great to have passion and to go for it. You provided support and encouragement when I doubted myself. I have reviewed many emails and texts you sent me and there was such a re-occurring message of support and respect towards me. You also promoted a balance of being with my family and having fun.
My 13-year-old McKenzie asked me what I liked best about working with you. I was able to narrow it down to two things: 1. You made tough work fun, we could laugh and joke, but still be working on serious things and, 2. You made me believe we really could change the world. I always wanted to, but often didn’t think it was really possible.
I never doubted you had my back. I also never doubted if I was wrong that you would let me know. But you would do it in a way that I still could grow as a professional.
One of the last emails I received from you clearly stated that you would look out for Heather and me, even if it was from Heaven above. That email was only five days before you passed, it is almost like you knew I needed to know.
On Monday, Nic shared an email that you sent him, that I was going through some tough times with my daughter and you were concerned. You asked him to look out for me while you were gone.
Those two emails help provide peace for me. It gives me peace knowing how you felt about me and knowing that you knew how I felt about you. I am so glad that we had open communication. I am so glad the last text I ever sent you was a meme declaring you the queen. I hope it made you smile.
Last July we were having dinner the night before our conference. We had a table full of passionate people eating together, joking around, and talking about things we wanted to do. Heather said something about "our table of world changers." That name stuck. Over the fifteen months we have included the #worldchanges on many social media posts, and you included it on the back of our conference t-shirts.
In addition to how you directly impacted me, you impacted my family. My dad repeatedly told me that I needed to keep working for you, that you truly cared, and that you seem to enjoy your work. You connected with my mom, providing her support as she was working on an Out of the Darkness Walk in Farmington. You donated $100 to help her reach her goal, despite having your own walk. I know my mom will miss you as well.
You also had a relationship with McKenzie and you have inspired her. You helped her get her song to music and recorded. This gift has increased her confidence and further increased her desire to be and advocate.
That’s just it Audrey, you inspired so many people. I hope when I leave this world, that I can leave at least half the impact that you have. So many of us are hurting because of your loss, but despite that hurt, we want to do more because of you.
Yesterday after the funeral, I went out to your house. I got to hear more Audrey stories, but I also got to visit with some of our work family. After leaving your house, I knew without a shadow of a doubt, your work will continue. You have developed an army of people who not only want to change the world, but thanks to you, believe we can.
I’m wondering as I close this letter, do I even really have to say goodbye. I know you will be looking out for me from above. I have it in writing. I also see so much of you in the people I get to work with every day. You are a part of so many people. I will let you know that I will miss you, your smile and your sense of humor.
Till we meet again – Rick (or as you liked to call me Ricky)