by Ruth Egan
After my mother died in 1985 I had to go home to California from Chicago to go through the grieving process all alone. None of my siblings lived near me.
Those were terrible days. I went to work and found that the smallest odd things reduced me to tears. My boss, a great guy, didn’t understand why I “just wasn’t getting over it”. People who had talked to me every day now seemed to avoid me and I couldn’t understand why.
The electronics shop where I worked at that time had about 50 employees. Out of those 50 plus people, there was only one other person who no longer had a mother. I’ve forgotten most of the people’s names that I worked with there; I will never forget Rod Sterkel.
He was the plant manager and although we worked toge ther, we really didn’t interact much on a one-on-one basis. I was the plant inspector, and it was my job to find things wrong with what Rod and the people under him did. All I knew about him was that he was about 35 years old and had a wife and three daughters.
But after I returned from my mother’s funeral, that changed. He came to see me every day and sat in a chair in my work area. He asked me questions about the kind of person my mother was. What made her laugh, what made her cry, what did she like to do? He talked me through my grief with his understanding and his patience.
He never made me feel like I needed to hide my tears or the grief I was feeling. He was the rock I leaned on to work my way through the sadness and never once did he ever make me feel like I was intruding on his time or his good nature.
Rod taught me that, in situations like the death of a loved one, just listening is sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone. Sometimes that is all a person really needs. Someone to listen and hear, and maybe even ask some questions.
When other people were afraid to talk to me, Rod taught me that when you don’t know what to say, you don’t say anything. You just listen.
I’ve used Rod’s gift to me to help other people through their grief. While I no longer know where Rod is, whenever he pops into my mind I wish he and his family the best.
I pay Rod Sterkel back in the only way I can — by passing it on. By not forgetting. Thank you, Rod, wherever you may be. I will never forget you.