What Can You Do for a Terminally Ill Employee?

Posted on October 6, 2013

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What do you do for a terminally ill employee? This is what I wrestled with as cancer took its ugly hold on one of our employees. What could I do for Christine? How could I encourage her? What could I offer her in this season of pending death?

Sure, there were trips to the hospital and small gifts. I called her to see how she was doing and did the same with her husband. The medical insurance our firm provides for all full-time employees certainly provided meaningful support as she battled the disease. The life insurance policy, also provided for all employees, undoubtedly helped to lift some of her husband’s burden and ease her mind about the lingering financial implications of the illness. All of this, I pray, was a source of encouragement. But, what more could I do?

Taking a Chance

After much thought and prayer I decided to take a chance and offer her a gift. The gift was a letter—a letter to her young son, Michael.  This “gift” was given, prefaced by a separate letter to Christine. I waited until I was confident she understood her fight was in the final rounds. This is a portion of my letter to Christine:

 Christine,

I continue to pray for you and your family. I pray for healing, hope, strength and a long prosperous life.  We think of you often. 

In trying to find a way to encourage you I came up with an idea for a “gift.” It’s a gift in the form of a letter. I give the gift to both you and, perhaps, to Michael. Enclosed you will find a couple of copies of a letter I have written for Michael. I give it to you and you can decide IF and, if so, when it can be given to Michael. He is far too young to understand it now. Yet, I hope it will be something he will treasure.

I don’t want to discourage you with the letter. Rather my aim is to express gratitude to you for your friendship and work at BIS. Please forgive me if I have overstepped any boundaries or have made any assumptions. I don’t know how I would respond if I were walking down your current path. However, I think I would want something like this for my kids. Again, please forgive me if I used poor judgment.

Please remember my earlier comments to you. If I can be of any assistance to you and your family as y’all walk this journey of battling this cancer, do not hesitate to contact me. I am not a great counselor or encourager, but I am willing to help wherever I can. I would be happy to help you, pray with you, plan with you or be available to assist in any way. Please let me know.

Sincerely,

Jack

Judging by Christine’s abundantly grateful response via a phone call, the letter to Michael was well received.

Letter to Michael

July 8, 2011

Michael,

Recently, I invited an old friend to lunch. I had not seen him in a long while, but I had a special purpose for this lunch meeting—I wanted to ask him about my father. He had worked for my dad 30 years ago and I wanted to learn about how my dad operated his business, how he treated his employees and how he engaged with the staff. It was rewarding conversation.

The “gift” of memories from this old friend is something I will treasure the rest of my life. In a similar way I would like to a give you this same gift. I had the privilege of working with your mom at BIS Benefits and want to share with you about your mom. As you grow older I believe you will treasure these thoughts.

I remember when we hired your mom. We received many resumes and conducted numerous interviews. However, when it came time to make the decision we had a dilemma—there were three good candidates. One of those was a lady by the name of Christine Carranza. As you now know, she got the job. How did she win it? What set her apart from the other top candidates?

The answer is found in one word that also characterized her years of service at BIS. That word is “determination.” She wanted the job and she made it clear she wanted it. She repeatedly thanked us for giving her the opportunity to interview. She eagerly told us she would be a dedicated and faithful employee. She was willing to learn the role and tackle new challenges. That enthusiastic determination is what I believe sold us on her.

In December, 2006 she joined the BIS Benefits family as a Marketing Associate. In this role she assisted one of our Account Managers in meeting the needs of clients. She communicated via phone and email to clients and gathered needed information from insurance carriers. The job required a lot of detailed focus and she gave it that focus.

The work your mom did was not easy, yet she engaged it willingly. Much of your mom’s work required highly detailed data. It was often very tedious work. Yet, John Schmidt—the Account Manager to whom she reported to—said, “She never complained.” If she completed her work she would ask “What else can I do to help?” She was eager to take on new responsibilities and learn.

Your mom always expressed appreciation for her job. In my role of at our firm I was responsible for hiring. Out of the many people we hired over the past 6 years, no one showed more gratitude for “getting” the job than your mom. Furthermore, her gratitude didn’t stop there. Often, she would tell me how grateful she was to not only have a job, but to be able to work with us at BIS Benefits. We were blessed by her expressed gratitude. Even today when we talk she continues to express that same gratitude.

Not only was she engaged in her work, your mom was committed to doing her job right. Her aim was “No mistakes.” As the president of firm, Ray Bachman, once said, “She was extremely conscientious about her work; she wanted to make sure she did exactly what was needed.” She didn’t want to inconvenience anyone and even in her sickness seemed to be more concerned about us than she was about her own health.

Your mom was a “team-player.” If she was needed to assist others outside her specific role, she did it gladly and eagerly. When our receptionist was away, your mom was known for being the first person to respond to phone calls and to be the first to “jump up” and greet guests who entered our offices. One small example of her helpfulness was when she loaned her car to another employee when his car was being repaired. As one coworker said, “She would do anything for anyone and she wanted nothing in return.”This willingness to help others is one of the reasons why she is so well-loved by our team.

One of the amazing traits about your mom at the office was her positive attitude. In our business we sometimes have to talk to people who are not very happy with the cost of their insurance or the regulations of insurance carriers. Sometimes these callers are difficult to converse with, yet your mom would treat them with respect, patience and understanding. She represented us well with her professionalism.

This doesn’t mean she didn’t speak up when up needed. Your mom was known for speaking honestly and clear. I smile as I remember one conversation I had with her in my office.  She was rightfully upset about something that had taken place in the office. Instead of griping to other employees she came to me and spoke honestly and forcefully and with much fervor. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but a conversation that needed to take place. I gained a new appreciation for your mom that day.

Your mom wasn’t just about work. She talked of her former days with the cruise lines, sailing, and gardening. But, far above those conversations were the conversations about Michael. We knew about you, and not just from the casual mentions of a mom about her son. It was obvious from her conversations that you were the joy of her life. When I asked some of our employees to share some of their memories of Christine in our office, repeatedly one of the first comments was “she loved Michael.” One of her co-workers, Debbie Green, who worked near Christine said, “It is always so evident how much she loves being a mom and how much she loves Michael. She just glows when she talks about him. He is her reason for waking up each morning. She loved to share stories and cute things that he had said. She was very protective of Michael and if he was not happy she was not happy.”

Let there be no doubt, her love and devotion to you shone bright in our office. On a few occasions your mom would bring you to work where you would sit under her desk and color, or sit at another desk and “work” on the computer. It wasn’t difficult for us to remember your name either, for every time we opened the refrigerator we would see Christine’s lunch bag bearing the name of her son.

One of the things we at BIS remember most about the days your mom was working in our office was her commitment to BIS during her sickness. From the moment she was diagnosed with cancer to the day she left for her first major surgery, your mom was a committed and faithful employee, determine to do her best on the job and not to let us down. We were concerned for her, yet she wanted to make sure she wasn’t inconveniencing us. We had to remind her often that her own health took priority over the work in the office.

However, it wasn’t just her commitment to work that stood out. She was a friend; a good friend; a caring friend. Even in her sickness, the first words out of her mouth—to this day—is “How are you? How is your family?”

Your mom developed meaningful friendships in the office and we love her. When an insurance carrier first denied your mom the opportunity to have a surgery that could increase her chances of beating the cancer, her team of friends at the office pulled together. In dramatic fashion, they worked with the insurance carrier to get the surgery approved. It was a day of “high fives” when the approval was announced. I remember telling our team I had never seen us pull together so fervently for anything like what happened in making sure your mom got the very best opportunity to fight the cancer. She was well-loved by her coworkers at BIS Benefits.

Michael, I don’t know when, or even if, you will be reading this letter. However, if as you grow up, you carry these same traits into your places of employment I can assure you that you will have the love and respect of those with whom you work. For, that is exactly what your mom has among us. You have been blessed with a great heritage.

With much appreciation for your mom,

With hearts full of prayers for her,

Jack Bruce, COO,

BIS Benefits

ChristineCarranza

In Loving Memory

Christine Carranza

1961 – 2011

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