It takes community to grieve

In death, Derek Flowers-Johnson is changing the way we think about community.

It’s becoming more common to live in isolation from our neighbours.

We may be familiar with people’s faces, but have no idea of their names or anything about them. We may live close by, but have no idea about the joys and challenges people are experiencing.

In this, I think something important is lost.

When I was a child, neighbours knew the names, and often the business, of people who lived in their community.

As a kid, it wasn’t always convenient, as everyone took responsibility for the welfare and the behaviour of neighbourhood children. No one was anonymous. While I was busted for misbehaviour by neighbours more than once, I always knew I could turn to any neighbour for help.

It was comforting.

When challenges arose, as they did, it was the community we turned to.

One phone call was all that was needed for the local network to spring into action.

It felt good because it felt like we belonged.

The word community holds special meaning for me; it speaks of a common unity, a shared humanity, and coming together for common good.

Recently, I’ve witnessed the importance and power of community with the tragic death of Derek, an 18-year-old from Lake Country.

He was killed in a car accident on Highway 97 near UBCO on Feb. 8. In the blink of an eye, one life was ended and many lives were changed forever.

Derek was an amazing young man who was cheerful, humble, and inspiring. He was driven and determined, and received many awards when he graduated from George Elliot Secondary in 2018.

He planned to become a welder and was enrolled at Okanagan College. His life was filled with promise.

Derek was engaged with his community. He showed up. He served as a youth councillor with Lake Country city council and also with the youth firefighting program in Lake Country.  He worked at two jobs. Just like his Papa, he was a bright, polite go-getter.

Derek made a difference in his young life.

I’m blessed to know Derek’s family and have always been moved by the way they are so connected to one another.

To experience the hospitality and care of the Flowers-Johnson family is to experience something rather uncommon today. To be with them is to experience a felt sense of connection and community.

Also, uncommon and refreshing, has been the response of friends and the people of Lake Country. People have reached out and taken action to show their love and support through emails, cards, flowers, and food.

The people of Lake Country started a food-train, to ensure this family are nourished.

A young woman, a high school classmate of Derek’s set up a Go-fund-me page to help with expenses; she took action.They more than tripled their $5,000 goal within one day..

The response of the community has been amazing.

At a time when words fail, when there is nothing we can say to help others, there are things we can do.

Grief expert Alan D. Wolfelt wrote, “Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate,” and I believe he is right. But food is not the only way.

We may feel sad for people when tragedy strikes yet not reach out. People often underestimate the importance of their presence and support when the unthinkable happens.

We might think any small thing we could do wouldn’t matter in the face of tragedy. That’s not true. Even the simplest act can be of comfort to people, because they know they aren’t alone.

As Derek’s grandmother, Debby, wrote:

”Yes, we have had a tragic, tragic loss in our lives, but I want to say to the community, friends and family who have sent texts, phone calls, messages, cards, emails, flowers and food, it is because of you that we are able to get through this. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.”

It’s about so much more than the food, flowers, notes and calls. It is a powerful way of saying, ‘we know, you are not alone, we care.’

The family benefits, but so does each person who offers support.

When we come together as community in difficult times, we acknowledge our common humanity and become part of a force for good. Together, we can lighten the load.

Kudos to community.


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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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