When a Communicator Struggles to Make Meaning

hope moreSomeone I work with often says that as leaders and communicators our job is to help make meaning out of what is happening for others. I agree and strive to do my best to do just that. But yesterday – after learning what can only be described as some, incredibly difficult, shocking news – I came to a realization; there are times when even a communicator runs out of words and is incapable of bringing forth any sense of meaning.

About a month ago I was told that my friend and former colleague, a wonderful man named Peter Wolf, had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t even repeat it. I made a conscious decision to keep hope alive.

I then called Peter to give him my support and, on hearing his voice, I knew he was in a fight for his life. I later learned that they were going to start chemo and continued my focus to keep hope alive. I thought to myself, you don’t administer chemo unless you expect an improvement. I began texting and sending him all the positive energy I have.

Yesterday I got word that Peter had been admitted to hospice. I stopped breathing. My mind tried to make sense of this news and came up empty. How could this be happening to such a warm and dedicated father, husband and friend? Someone who had so much life left to live? As I picked up the phone to reach out to friends we have in common, I realized I had nothing to say. I couldn’t think of how to possibly convey what I was thinking or feeling. I realized that perhaps sometimes there are no words.

It was in that moment that I thought of the many qualities I admire in Peter. Among them, he is fully present, always. He is kind and funny and he tells a story better than anyone I know. It seems to come from every part of him – his booming voice, his twinkling eyes, his smile and his sincere and humble approach. It draws you in. Every time. Also, he genuinely wants to know you. Whether he knows the answer or not, it is so much more important to him to know what you think, to know a bit more about who you are and to engage in the conversation. As I already said, he is all in. Always. I think his wife, children and countless friends and colleagues from throughout the years would all agree. Oh, and he happens to give one of the best hugs around.

And so as I struggle to make meaning from what is happening for myself and others, perhaps I am realizing that the only meaning is something we continually are reminded of and tell ourselves that we will learn – life is precious and regardless of how long we will live, it will always be too short.

And so for today, in honor of my friend, former colleague and brilliant communicator, Peter, I am going to keep hope alive that I will make meaning for myself and others out of what is happening by celebrating life, remembering we are all human and know that perhaps that is meaning enough.

About Mindy Rubinstein

At Ketchum for 15 years, Mindy is the firm's Chief Communications Officer and a member of its Global Leadership Council. With experience in both agency and corporate environments, Mindy is passionate about all aspects of communications. In her free time, she can be found exploring the latest cultural event, walking in New York City or traveling to a new destination - usually with a camera in hand to capture the moment.