Losing a loved one can be crippling. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows it’s hard and it takes great strength to move forward.
9Health Fair’s beloved Edith Thompson knows this all too well. She lost her husband in February of 2006. Later that fall, she lost her father. Then, in 2009 she lost her son.
Edith started volunteering at 9Health Fair in 1993 when her church hosted a fair for the first time. In those days, Edith was a full-time homemaker, and she loved every minute of it. She was raising her children, actively involved in her church and very happy. Her youngest son was finally old enough to get himself off to school on his own, so when her church decided to host a 9Health Fair, the timing was great for her to find another activity to dedicate herself to.
“The first station I was assigned to was Height and Weight (back then we did not include BMI – body mass index),” recalls Edith. “There were several older participants who attended and they had no problem with what their weight was but got quite indignant and argumentative when I told them what their height was. Come to find out because of their age they were ‘shrinking’ and they were not okay with that! The second year that I volunteered I asked for a different station and was assigned to the Vision screening. I found that much more enjoyable!” laughs Edith.
She had no way to know it then, but this small act of volunteerism would soon surround her with a community that would be there for her through the most difficult periods of her life.
Love, Loss and Community
Her husband suddenly passed away in February of 2006. At the time, she was volunteering as the Aurora District Coordinator. “The District Non-Medical Coordinator at the time (Kay) stepped in for me and let all of the Aurora site coordinators know what had happened and took over my responsibilities for two months as we were in the thick of planning the fairs,” says Edith. “The Aurora site coordinators were very supportive with calls, cards, food and helping me out with my father…” He was sick at the time and living with Edith so she could care for him. That same year in October, he passed away.
And then, when her son passed away a few years later, “my 9Health family stepped up and filled in the gap.” At that time, she was not only coordinating the Aurora district, but also working part-time at the 9Health Fair office.
“I could not believe when I saw all of the staff come thru the reception line and I asked Jim Goddard, the CEO at that time, who was taking care of the office? He said he had closed the office so everyone could attend the service. WOW! Words could not begin to express my gratitude to all of them,” explains Edith. “After my son’s death, I saw some of my friends and church family distance themselves from me as they did not know what to say or do. Once again, my 9Health Fair family filled a void in my life and continued to support, encourage and love on me and I really feel like they will be life-long friends.”
Dianne Pape, a fellow 9Health Fair employee, agrees. “We spend so much time working for a common cause – sharing joys, disappointments, challenges and successes, and you become friends and extended family.”
“9Health Fair gave me a reason to get up every morning and gave me a purpose!” Edith says with gratitude.
A Phoenix Rising from Grief
Remember, before the trifecta of loss, Edith was doing what she loved most at the time – being a homemaker and caretaker. “Since then I have reinvented myself,” she says proudly. Now she works two part-time jobs for 9Health Fair – one being a part-time receptionist and the other a fall fair liaison. But most notably different is who she is. “It’s hard to put into words as it has taken me from being a very shy introvert to being a confident ‘mature’ woman who feels like she can handle anything that comes her way! 9Health Fair has given me a purpose during this season of my life.”
Dianne was here to witness that too. “I would say that Edith has found her voice! She is exceptionally kind and caring, yet there is a steely determination in her leadership – you don’t mess around with Edith. If it’s going to be done, it’s going to be done right – no ifs, ands or buts!”
Prior to her loss, Edith says she didn’t have a lot of work skills. But now, “the skills I have learned from my involvement in 9Health Fair, not only as a volunteer but as an employee, are almost too numerous to count. Computer skills, good customer service when answering the phone at the office or when someone comes in the front door, helping my co-workers whenever I can. Being organized and prepared to lead meetings for volunteers. Training volunteers to offer a well-run fair. Learning to deal with some ‘difficult’ people in an appropriate way and ‘kill them with kindness to diffuse their dissatisfaction.”
“I find joy in Edith’s story,” says Dianne, “a phoenix rising from grief, sorrow and pain, finding and creating a new place for herself in the world through service to others.”
Seeing the Impact in Others
Edith says her volunteering and work not only heals her, but she sees how it touches others as well. “Seeing people line up to come into the fairs long before the doors open so they can take advantage of the affordable or free screenings almost brings me to tears. I’ve talked to women who have no transportation and take numerous buses to get to a fair for a free pap smear or the time an elderly gentleman walked several miles in bad weather to get to a fair for blood work and to take advantage of the free screenings. As one of the site coordinators visited and assisted him found out he lived in low-income housing and did not have a working refrigerator. The site coordinators felt so bad for him they took several boxes of non-perishable food to his home… Once I saw him I hooked him up with one of the ROTC volunteers who walked him thru the fair, once he had finished he was offered a ride home which he declined but after much persuasion accepted. I look forward to seeing him at one of the 2017 spring fairs!”
She also notes the many volunteers who may not be able to attend the fairs in person but give in other ways they are capable. “They still have a lot to offer and want to be of value so are willing to make phone calls to volunteers, ask businesses for donations or reach out to the many Interactive Education Centers,” noted Edith.
“Volunteering and working for 9Health Fair has been an amazing journey – starting with all of the dedicated volunteers who are willing to give their time, energy, expertise and resources,” remarks Edith. She says she has so much respect for them. “I feel like I am constantly being challenged and motivated by them.”
And Dianne counts Edith among the many amazing volunteers here at 9Health Fair. “I think she is a remarkable person who has contributed so much to our organization and the community at large over the years. She’s a wonderful role-model for anyone interested in helping to make a positive difference! I hope that brings her some happiness and satisfaction in life.”
If you find yourself suffering from grief, Edith offers this advice: “give yourself permission and time to grieve. No one’s journey is the same, you will get through it but you do not get over it.”