Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Sticky Notes


Since I posted my very minimalist Remembrance Day post a week ago, I’ve been kind of in shock, trying to cope with some terrible news that came in a phone call on the morning of the holiday. My boss, Tim, said, “You know if I’m calling you at this hour in the morning it can’t be good news,” and went on to tell me that one of my co-workers, Jeff, had died suddenly overnight. He had been at work the day before, apparently in fine health, so it was a complete shock.

(this is a pic of Jeff and me with our student Emily … it’s rare for staff to be in pictures together, though we get a lot taken with our students, so I’m grateful to Emily for pulling us together for this shot a couple of years ago).

This is the second time in just over a year that we’ve had this kind of news at work — another of our teachers, Bren, died suddenly on the Labour Day weekend last year.  Both men were dedicated teachers who were dearly loved both by colleagues and students. Jeff’s loss really made me reflect on what phenomenal teachers I work with. I know there are extraordinary teachers in all areas of the profession, and I’ve taught with some great ones. But before I came to my present job I had never met teachers who were so willing to go the extra mile for students, and who engaged with young people on so many levels.

It’s kind of funny to me that after years of teaching in Adventist church schools where we were all talked so much about our role as “Christian teachers,” I ended up at a school formerly run by a Catholic lay order, where the present staff is made up of devout Catholics, lapsed Catholics, a few not-at-all-religious Protestants, and me. In this setting, religion is rarely ever spoken of openly. And it’s here that I’ve found the most amazing, truly Christlike people, always going above and beyond expectations to meet their students’ needs.

Jeff was one of the best of a brilliant lot.  Since his death, tributes to him have been coming from all over — not just from his students and his large family, but from other community organizations with which he was actively involved. When someone is so loved and admired, people often say “I knew from the first minute I met him that we were going to be friends.” This was not the case with Jeff, who hid his tender heart under a very gruff exterior. Almost everyone who knew him here at our centre, myself included, said of him, “When I first met Jeff, I thought, ‘What is wrong with this guy? Why is he mad at me?'”

In my case, I had come to work at the Centre as an unpaid intern during a year when Jeff, one of the founding staff members, had been laid off along with a bunch of other people due to severe funding cuts.  The following year, when funding recovered somewhat, he was hired back and I was hired on part-time, but for some reason I got the office that used to be Jeff’s. Every day he would come in, glower at me, and grunt a greeting (“What are you doing?” being one of his openers) and I would think “Wow, this man really hates me for getting his office!”

In time I found out, as everyone did, that he was funny, kind and incredibly generous — as well as being gruff and cranky. We became good friends and workmates as we worked together on several school projects outside of our regular teaching routine.  Now, trying to pick up the threads of some of those tasks again and do them on my own or with other people, I miss his sarcasm, his blunt  honesty, his perceptiveness, and how he always made me laugh. He had fewer pretensions than anyone I’ve ever met — he never had a facade to maintain or attempted to impress anyone. And by not trying to impress anyone, he made a huge impact on everyone around him.

I can’t help but contrast him with Bren, our other co-worker who passed away last year. The word everyone used for Bren was “gentle”; he was a soft-spoken, kindly man who never said an unkind word about anyone, even as a joke. The word everyone used for Jeff was “gruff”; he wasted little breath on pleasantries, but he was always willing to confront a student who was having a hard time and have the tough conversations that a gentler teacher, like Bren, might have avoided or sidestepped. The fact that both men were so different, yet that I admired them both so much and their students loved them both so much, reminds me that there is not just one right way to be a good person, or a good teacher, or a good Christian.  We are not called to become cookie-cutter saints, but to be fully and gloriously ourselves.

(This picture shows both Bren and Jeff, again with Emily).

One day earlier this fall I came back from lunch to find that one of our more exuberant students had covered my monitor with sticky notes saying “I LOVE TRUDY! BEST TEACHER EVER!!!”  Jeff came in, looked over my shoulder, and grunted, “How come nobody ever leaves me notes like that?”

“Because you’re so crabby,” I told him. It was safe to joke about because we all knew how Jeff’s students loved him, and how he loved them. It was true, he was the kind of person who wasn’t verbal or demonstrative in his affection, nor did he encourage that kind of response from others.  He showed his love for his students in the time he took with them and the attention he paid them, and they showed theirs in the respect they had for him and their love of  hanging out in his room and taking smoke breaks with him (he was the only smoker on staff).

But now, as I see the tremendous outpouring of tributes to Jeff on Facebook, the whiteboard in his room covered with messages from students who miss him, the giant cards people have made and signed in his honour, I think, maybe he could have used a few more sticky notes in his life from people saying “I Love You!  You’re the Best Teacher Ever!!” He would have snorted and laughed at them, but I think he would have valued them. The fact is, trite but true, we so often leave unsaid the things we should say to the people who matter to us.  Statements like “You inspire me,” “You’ve done so much for me,” and even simply “Thank you,” often go unspoken, because we always believe there’ll be time later on to say them.

I miss my friend and co-worker Jeff a lot.  I certainly never told him how much I valued him, because it would have seemed weird and awkward, and besides, I figured I’d have plenty of time to say stuff like that — maybe on a card when he retired, if he ever did. But there wasn’t time, and that makes me think — what other things am I leaving unsaid? To whom else do I want to say, “Thank you — I admire you — I’ve learned a lot from you” while there’s still time? What sticky notes do I want to leave where they can be seen?


17 thoughts on “Sticky Notes

  1. Trudy, thank you for this reminder. So often I go through my days and make mental promises to thank someone or to encourage them. I think I will write up a sticky note to myself tonight and post it on my kitchen window reminding me to take time to tell others how important they are to me.


  2. Trudy,

    Your tribute to Jeff is beautiful and true. The last part really made the tears come.

    You are all wonderful teachers and human beings and I value the effort you put in to helping young people even know as a 2nd year M.U.N. student.

    Can you let me know when you’ll be decorating for Christmas? I’d like to come in and help and bring some pictures from Achievement Night (that was three years ago now I think!).

    Thank you for being you!


  3. And on another note, I meant “now” not “know”. 😉

  4. I “new” that, Aly! Decorating day is going to be Dec. 3, I think, and it would be lovely if you came by. I think it’s going to be a tough day for some of the staff — I remember during last year’s decorating day, there was a lot of remeniscing about things Bren used to do, decorations he used to put up, and I think this year will be like that with Jeff, only moreso because the loss is so recent, we really haven’t had time to get used to him not being there. Having some of our former participants show up to share the day will make it better — I know it helped a lot that several former students came back to the Centre after Jeff’s funeral, and visiting and remeniscing with them really helped.

  5. Once again Trudy I have learned something from you. Your tribute to Jeff was beautiful…hard to believe he is gone.

  6. Trudy, I am so sorry for the hurt and the loss you and the other students and teachers are going through. I keep trying to think of something else comforting or inspiring to say, but I’m coming up with nothing. Too close to home for me I guess. People leave such a giant hole in the world when they move on.

  7. I remember when Korey put sticky notes all over your monitor lol. I never wrote sticky notes to Jeff (I wish I did), but I did change the screen-saver on a computer in his room to say “Hi Jeff!!!!!” so that when the computer was not being u…sed for awhile it would pop up. I also changed the desktop picture on Jeff`s computer to a giant fish with someone holding it threw the mouth which Jeff found interesting and I think he liked it, it stayed on his desktop for quite a while anyway. I know though if I had known Jeff longer I would have put a sticky note or two up.

    (comment copied from Facebook)

  8. Beautiful and honest and so true 🙂

    (comment copied from Facebook)

  9. this is absolutely beautiful. i can just picture him now judging those sticky notes haha. such an outstanding man. he will never be forgotten!

  10. very nicely said. i’ve been thinking about the same thing lately… not wanting to wait till it’s too late to tell people i care.

    (comment copied from Facebook)

  11. Me and Skye made him a birthday card last year with all kinds of animal stickers , and whales and such on it , and you should have seen the smile on his face when he looked at it ! he was a little embarrased so he kind of ran off , but he put it next to the pictures of his family so it meant something to him. I still cannot get over the fact that he is actually gone, but it takes time to process. He will be very greatly and terribly missed by everyone who knew him, and i dont think not 1 person didnt like him , he was loved by everyone , and that counts for something right ? let us cherish the memories we have with him, and this christmas when we’re decorating, we can share stories , and laugh and cry, because he wouldnt want it any other way 🙂 ,Rest In Peace Jeff <3.

  12. I’m thankful for students like you, Christina, that DID take the time to let Jeff know how much he was appreciated. I know it meant a lot to him.

  13. Hi Trudy,
    Thanks for sharing your tribute to a co-worker. It is something I plan to save for those times when I catch myself wishing that I could be a teacher like someone else. I will instead thank them for what they do and reflect on what things they do which I can incorporate and what things I do which I can do better. That way I can both encourage someone else and foster my own uniqueness.

  14. Thanks Trudy for writing this.

  15. “We are not called to become cookie-cutter saints, but to be fully and gloriously ourselves.”

    Wow…that’s not how I was taught growing up in church. But then you came along and introduced me to C.S. Lewis where the idea that the more we try to be like Christ, the more truly ourselves we become. I’m not sure now how or if it works like that, but at the time it meant a lot to me.

    Obviously, I didn’t know Jeff. But I know you, and I can say to you that “You inspire me,” “You’ve done so much for me,” and even simply “Thank you,”. You’ve inspired and influenced me far more than you’ll ever know, and I’d be a different person today had I not known you.

    So there, I’m telling you that while there is still time left (even if that time is being eroded at a much more rapid pace than I’d like).

  16. Thank you so much, Jamie. I hope I’ve told you enough, how much your friendship means to me, but it never hurts to say “Thank you, I’m blessed to have you in my life” once again. Of course, in your case I’ve made a point of saying things that might otherwise have gone unsaid, because I know you have cancer. Jeff’s sudden death made me think a lot about the “best way to go” (since we all have to go sometime). If you drop dead of a heart attack with no warning, you’re spared a lot of pain, fear, dread, suffering, horrible treatments, etc. But neither you nor those who love you get any time to say goodbye. Hard to know which is “better,” if anything is. I’ve decided the ideal situation is to receive an email from God saying you will drop dead suddenly and painlessly on a specific date, about two weeks in the future, so you have a little time to make your arrangements and say your goodbyes, but not too much. However I’m sure we’d find some flaws in that system too if it was ever implemented.

  17. Having been diagnosed with a terminal disease, I CAN tell you that two weeks isn’t enough time to make peace…it took me a full month to be able to sleep normally, and that month was full of a lot of crying. But then things got better.

    On the other hand, even when things get better, a few days or weeks before the date we’d become basketcases again. I know this because anytime something happens that makes me realize that, yes, I really am going to die, I have a little breakdown.

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