When giants fall, communities mourn together

Published 4:57 pm Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Grief is hard. It just is. When a loved one dies, individuals mourn the loss, and lean on one another through the pain.

Southerners, perhaps people everywhere, are prone to gather for mourning, to share memories, the good and the bad, and tell stories, some funny and others painful.

This is true when families lose a mother, father, sibling, or grandparents. It doesn’t change when the person was a friend, those considered as family by choice.

People grieve the loss of those who made an impact in their lives, but what happens when community giants fall?

Communities are organic bodies — moving, changing, and growing — celebrating life’s joys and weathering the storms together.

All members impact the body, in positive and sometimes negative ways. But communities boast their giants, the men and women who change their world for the better.

When giants fall, the entire community shakes a little. They leave holes – in lives, hearts, and organizations, that are not easily filled.

Like families, communities come together, mourn together, cry and laugh as they remember the shared moments as they honor the life of one of their own.

Recently, the Alabama Independent School Association (AISA) lost a giant when former executive director John Faircloth died on Jan. 7.

As the longest-serving AISA executive director, Faircloth impacted the lives of thousands of Alabama families.

And as headmaster and football coach at South Montgomery Academy, he was a well-loved, highly respected coach and administrator.

As a little girl, he seemed like a giant of a man to me. While interviewing those he coached and others who worked alongside him to strengthen the AISA, I learned others felt the same. Far and wide, those touched by his life and death, laughed and cried together in grief and shared memories of how he shaped their lives.

The laughter helps. The tears help too. Communities mourn together and inspire one another to fill a void the giants left behind.

They, we, are stronger for it as we move forward to honor the ones who helped shape the person we are today.

The Luverne community felt a similar shock the same week as a giant of a man, W.A. Neal, succumbed to illness.

Neal was a well-respected law enforcement officer and first responder. Hardly any Crenshaw County residents escaped earning their first speeding ticket from his hands.

Everyone knew Neal loved his community and strove to leave his world a better place than he found it.

First responders see and experience many hard things. As Crenshaw County Coroner Stae Sanders said in a recent article, they often attempt to power through the pain to help others in distress.

But upon learning that Neal was near death, 30 Luverne first responders gathered on Jan. 8, to pray and talk about the man, what he meant to each of them, and how his death would impact their lives.

Communities mourn as a family. They gather, at standing-room-only funerals, to say, ‘I’m here, and I care.’”