Honestly, I’ve never enjoyed a funeral so thoroughly.

Mel and Cherry were friends of my father in law. Members of the same country club and community, they golfed together often over the years. My wife and I came to know them through Dad’s annual Christmas party, where we were all regular attendees. Mel was a retired labor relations professional, having spent many years with a major Midwest manufacturer. Cherry retired from a beauty salon she had owned for years. Both were wonderful people.

Unfortunately, Cherry passed away two weeks ago after an illness. They had been married 63 years.

We attended the funeral services a week ago Saturday with my father in law. It was a “Home Going” ceremony, and the first time I had ever been to such an event. A Home Going Ceremony, also known as a Homegoing celebration, is a tradition of African American churches where the passing of a person is celebrated, as they have left the bonds of this earth and are “going home” to live with Jesus.

For my white-bread Methodist upbringing, it was a celebration of life and love like nothing I had ever witnessed. It was also a stark lesson in the pure power of faith and positive thinking.

Beyond the energy created in this highly interactive service, a couple things really stood out to me. First and foremost among those points was Mel himself. Standing before the assembled to deliver a tribute to his wife of 63 years, he spoke strongly and confidently about his joy that Cherry was now “home”. He recounted humorous tales from their past, and while he had some emotional moments, his faith and strength was on proud display for all to see. Honestly, I cannot imagine myself in similar circumstances maintaining any semblance of the composure he displayed. His strength was inspiring.

The pastor’s message was another strong takeaway. He boldly started the ceremony by announcing to wide applause, “There is a time and place to mourn our losses, but brothers and sisters, this ain’t it”. His lesson for the group was broad, but included the advice that “fear and faith cannot exist in the same place”. That simple concept; that those who are truly faithful could not in fact be fearful is a lesson we can apply to many broad areas of our life.

One of the meetings I attended last week during the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference was the third installment of the Workers’ Compensation Summit. This is the group many people will recognize as having been engaged in the “national conversation” on workers’ comp. The goal is to discuss, identify and provide solutions for weaknesses and problems within the workers’ compensation system.

While the concept of the “conversation” has met with overwhelming support, it has had its fair share of critics and detractors. Some people believe we are wasting our time; that the mammoth ship that is workers’ comp is so large and inflexible that we will never successfully alter its trajectory. Others believe it will fail because the “wrong people” are involved in the program. Regardless of their motivations, the skeptics have been vocal in their opposition and reservations regarding the effort. As with any new idea that threatens change, the “CAVE people” (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) have made their presence known.

I can’t tell you what the final result will be, or even if there will be a final result. However, my faith that we can make a difference and improve outcomes for all stakeholders remains unwavering. The third meeting, held in New Orleans, was a bit different than the first two. We ventured a little farther off course than we anticipated, and to some it felt a bit like the movie “Groundhog Day”. With the challenges of the format – limited meeting time to discuss a myriad of complex and at times controversial issues – it is a risk we must take. 

We will, of course, be writing more about this latest installment in the coming weeks, but for now I am comfortable predicting that this latest meeting will result in a report of some form that will not only review identified potential issues in workers’ comp, but will also discuss potential solutions that have been bantered around by the group. Strong ideas and solutions to our problems exist within the minds of these participants. The Summit is a format that can give voice to these solutions.

So, while it is not the same as boldly celebrating a life well lived, and the rewards may not be as profound as Heaven itself, the faith we have in our ability to make a difference is no less important when it involves fixing what ails our industry. The pastor, in his home going sermon was correct; faith and fear cannot co-exist in the same realm.

When it comes to the “conversation” and the future of workers’ compensation, I am truly faithful that we will make a difference; and am not fearful that the effort will falter. Workers’ comp today works as intended for many of those it serves. However, we can do better by fixing those situations where we fail. My experience over three fairly intense Summit meetings tells me that the answers are both within ourselves and within our grasp.

We can, and will, make a difference in our industry. We know it is true, because we believe it to be so. To borrow the words of the pastor in this tale, “There is a time and place to mourn our losses, but brothers and sisters, this ain’t it”. That is because there is work to be done, and improvements to be made. 

Have the faith, and it will be so.

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