My husband, Skip always used to say “everybody has a story” and I’ve come to realize that because this resonated so deeply with him, his relationships with others were framed in compassion and empathy. He had that rare ability to actually walk in someone else’s shoes and grasp what they might truly need — not just in that moment — but some deeper human connection or kindness that might lift them up from places of hurt or uncertainty.
This rare quality made him an extraordinary leader and mentor. People wanted to work for Skip because they knew he would help them discover their strengths and potential. He recognized that sometimes people were simply in the wrong jobs not that they weren’t capable. Skip took great pride in helping others achieve their full potential, especially when he could see their passion and happiness come alive. I believe that Skip’s real passion and joy was derived from helping others see what he could see in them and for them.
It has taken me a long while to come to a stunning realization — Skip himself possessed such a painful life story that he could deeply feel and understand others often without even knowing their “story”. He had an innate sense of the balm that others might need to heal or feel valued. His beloved grandfather had shared rich guiding life insights into life, love and family — and it was those nuggets of wisdom from the heart that gave him courage and kindness through all the adversities he faced in his life.
Above all, he remained true to his authentic self and never let his own heartbreaking story get in the way of lifting others up, of being trustworthy and loving, and offering support custom made uniquely for each person he met. I believe he filled the empty spaces in his life story and broken heart with the warmth he received from helping others. He gave to others what he himself needed most.
When Skip and I came into each other’s lives, we both had a lot of gaping holes in our hearts and a strong desire to bring our best selves to our relationship and our marriage. What endeared me to him so quickly was his trust in me to share the full details of his own “story”. Skip possessed incredible writing skills and he was fond of sending cards and leaving thoughtful notes. Since he traveled extensively as an international banker, he spent a lot of long hours on a plane or in a hotel room alone. He began to use this time to write letters, pouring out his life experiences and their impact on him. He confessed that it was easier to write about them than to tell me face to face. He was often surprised at the things that would spill out onto the paper from his pen. Skip left me in to the deepest recesses of his heart, unafraid. There is no greater trust in all that world than this. This is the very heart of vulnerability.
There was a moment in our marriage when I looked into those sparkling blue eyes of his and told him — “When I say I trust you, it means even more than I love you.”
You see, my own life story was also painful and confusing. It left me with a lot of self doubt and insecurities. As Skip shared his heartaches, I could feel them with compassion and empathy because I knew just how that felt for me. Parental disconnection, family addictions and dysfunctions, life-threatening health issues — there were incredible similarities in our stories though our paths had been remarkably different. So as we both entrusted each other to see deeply into the scars on our hearts, we grew deeper in mutual trust and in our own self worth. We helped to heal each other from old wounds that we encountered along our life path. And we knitted together our own relationship safety net for life out of that earned trust, deep compassion, unconditional love and immense gratitude.
We used to laugh and say that “two halves became an incredible whole.”
When Skip died, I lost my life compass for a long while. It’s rather remarkable how some of our history and pains in our heart can seep back into our lives bringing self doubts and insecurities to the surface. As a result, I’ve added a few more chapters to my life story. And I have had to relearn some lessons about trust, love and self-worth.
The most profound lesson for me is this — The best gift that we can give humankind is to listen to another’s story with an open heart. You are sure to find something that really resonates with you as they share their life experiences. Let that be the connection to find a way to help each other.