Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Widow Wednesday--Workplace support during illness

Ray loved his job. He loved kids and the ones that were difficult were the ones he loved the most. Why? Maybe because they reminded him of himself when he was in school or maybe he just liked the challenge. He would get up early and go into school for breakfast every morning to socialize and help out. He would spend hours downloading songs from playlists the kids had made so he could DJ the school dances. If he knew a kid would struggling at home he would do what he could to help make things a little brighter.

His co-workers were a huge part of his life. They weren't just friends and co-workers but truly family to him. I can tell he was seen in the same light by his co-workers and students when he became sick. The outpouring of support was incredible.

At the time Detroit Public Schools would allow co-workers to donate hours to other staff that needed the time off. They would continue receiving pay during their illness, but their insurance would be cut. Ray made this his mission to keep the insurance active arguing that insurance when someone is ill is more important than even pay. Doctors, hospitalizations, and treatments are all extremely expensive and insurance was needed. After a lot of back and forth they did side with him and implemented as long as they had hours they would continue receiving their insurance. He received more hours than he even ended up needing to use. This was a huge display of kindness from his co-workers.

Letters, phone calls, and visits were all very important to him. The union rep from his school also sent him a card/letter updating him continuously. They weren't get well cards but rather funny cards. They were updates in life and what was going on with the rest of the staff. He looked forward to receiving these. She even continued to send them when she was out of the country over summer vacation.

While he was sick the community he was in had a support walk in his honor. I was overwhelmed by not only the money that was raised but by the participation in the walk. The local community all came together and the students made signs showing support and walked holding them. He received photos of all the kids and the signs. I still look at them today and think about how the kids that he loved so much all came together to show him the same support.

I still remember the students that came to his funeral. Parents telling us how they drove from Detroit to make it because their child didn't want to miss it. All the messages on facebook from students that found my account and wanted me to know how he impacted their lives. I still will on occasion receive them...9 years later.

After he died the school planted a tree in his honor and put up a plaque. They had a ceremony that they invited us to when they planted it. A year or two after he died we went to tie a purple ribbon to his tree for stomach cancer awareness month and when we arrived the tree was being watered. It meant a lot to all of us that even a while later the tree was being taken care of and hopefully would be part of that school a very long time.

His school holds a cultural event every year and we were invited to it the first year after he died. They had a wall decorated in his honor. This event was always something he looked forward to every year. Halls were decorated and they had an ethnic luncheon. It meant a lot to our family to be a part of the event.

I know that he will never be forgotten by the people that he touched in his short time here and the impact he made on his students is something that will live on in them.

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