Do you remember what you were doing on November 14, 2019? I remember that day differently than many other days in my life. That morning I woke up and went to work. I was sitting in a morning meeting when my mother called to tell me that my father passed away overnight. The call came at 8:22 am. My father had been ill and we knew his passing was imminent. I spent the previous weeks and proceeding days with him at my parents’ home in Westerville.
Before talking about my experience over the last year, it is important to know a little about my dad and the illness that eventually claimed his life. His name is Barry John Schirg and he was from Sandusky, Ohio. My father was a loving, caring, and hard-working person. He always extended his hand to those in need. If he thought he could help, he would. He was extremely athletic and loved sports. He played competitive basketball until the age of 63. He played basketball and baseball at Otterbein. He loved his wife, children, and grandchildren with all his heart. He fought fiercely for them in any way that he could.
As a young person I took my father for granted. In fact, probably like most children, I took both of my parents for granted. We spent a tremendous amount of time together traveling to club soccer tournaments, watching Ohio State games together, and going on family trips. My father and I became great friends during my adulthood. We did many of the same things we did together in my youth, but it was different. I recognized my father’s steady hand in decision-making, his love for others, and the things that drove him as a person. One driver was his family. His grandchildren changed him. He could not get enough time with them.
In the fall of 2015, he decided to retire. Over the previous several months he reduced his hours prior to a final retirement. In October there was a change at work and he decided it was time for him to leave his company. Two months following his retirement, he developed anxiety and depression. He became very recluse, not wanting to do things that had previously been staples in his life – gardening, golf, bowling, and going for walks with my mom. Over the next four years, there was a continued deterioration both physically and mentally. Our family went to neurologists, psychiatrists, and other specialists looking for answers. There were none for a long time and this continued to wear on dad. He knew something was wrong, but no one could tell him what it was. It was a vicious cycle. Finally, in March of 2019 Ohio State neurologists diagnosed him with Multiple System Atrophy (MSA). They informed us there was no cure, just strategies to address the symptoms. Hospice began coming to my parents house in late-August of 2019 until his passing in November.
The last year has been more difficult than I could have imagined. I tried to prepare for my father’s passing, but not being able to see him or share what is going on with life has been terribly difficult. In many ways, he was my center field. He was the model that I tried to emulate. He was the person who provided counsel. He was one of the few people in my life that was always there. He knew all of my faults and shortcomings, but never judged me harshly. People have shared with me that losing a parent leaves a hole in you as a person. I have to agree.
You may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with Fairbanks, schools, or my role as an educator? Education is the business of human beings. More specifically, we are imperfect adults trying to bring the best out of kids everyday. Our students and staff walk through these doors everyday carrying baggage. Some of that baggage we know about while others we do not. In many cases, we will never know. It is important for all of us to recognize this. If we do not care for each other and build trusting relationships, personal or academic growth will not be as strong.
This last year reinforced with me you never know what another person is going through regardless of how it may look on the outside. This last year has been tough on a variety of fronts, but the one area most people did not see or would know about is the challenge of not having my father’s steady hand. Each one of us has the power to be the difference maker in someone else’s life. That power to positively impact someone else can be as simple as a kind word or act. It could be to slow down and lead with empathy. In the end, to care for each other is the most important thing each of us does everyday.
Rest easy, pops. I miss you.