Volunteer Spotlight – Kelly Tilford

A recent addition to our growing volunteer team is Kelly Tilford who serves on our Development Committee and is our new Give Grief a Voice program manager. We asked her to share some thoughts on what inspired her to offer her time and talents to the Buzzy’s Bees organization.

Stories and big ideas energize me professionally and personally. Stories transform lives and big ideas drive change. In retrospect, it makes sense that I majored in English (stories) and Philosophy (big ideas) in college. Law school seemed like a good fit afterwards, but it wasn’t altogether on point. When I was a lawyer cog in a Fortune 500 machine, I discovered that those were not necessarily the stories and ideas that motivated or inspired me. My professional path to GGaV program manager has not been a straight road, but the detours remained consistent with the theme.

An interest in stories and big ideas is certainly reflected in my work experience. I had a stint writing grants for a nonprofit organization and a briefer stint doing legal research on behalf of a small for-profit company. I’ve authored newsletters and worked on fundraisers for local nonprofits. I’ve volunteered my time in places where I thought I could contribute to organizations whose missions were important to me. All of that was fun, fine, and good. 

My personal interests really began to coalesce with my professional experience when I was hired by a communications guru to assist in the strategic planning process for organizations. That’s when I first realized that there are professional paths where big ideas intersect with stories in ways that engage and motivate me. I was hooked. I learned about some creative and committed organizations in our country. Some were focused on climate change issues. Some were focused on politics generally. I attended and helped facilitate conversations about the future of democracy with academics, business leaders, and luminaries, and I dug that. It felt like meaningful work, and I was in the room when it happened.

GGaV is where stories intersect with big ideas in a way that inspires and adds meaning. The story part of the program is literal and powerful. Grieving families are invited to narrate the story of the loss of their child, and a professional writer creates a narrative that is forwarded to an artist. The artist translate these words  into visual art that preserves and honors the child who’s died. 

Amazing, right? I’m a seriously lucky person. It only helps that this small but mighty organization is driven by the volunteer energy of serious powerhouses. The Buzzy’s Bees people have a wide range of complementary skills. Some are big picture innovators. Some are detail oriented strategists. Many fall somewhere in between, and all of them are compassionate, bright, creative, and effective communicators. 

The GGaV project is one of big ideas, too, although maybe this requires additional unpacking. For starters, GGaV acknowledges that humans are fully human without regard to the length of time that they’re on this planet. This should be obvious, but some may be surprised to learn how people view the death of a child and the terrible things they say to grieving families. It’s devastating to think of the milestones missed by an early death: first days of school, birthdays, romantic partnerships. Life’s events shape a person but they don’t tell a complete story about a person. The essential qualities of one’s personality, and their humanity for that matter, exist whether or not someone gets to tick the “life event” boxes. Of course, these lives were impactful. Of course, the loss ripples through the community. Of course, these children and their place in this world should be preserved and honored.

Another big idea of GGaV is that maybe those of us who haven’t experienced the death of a child can be better at supporting our grieving loved ones. Maybe in our hopes that “it won’t happen to me,” we’ve given short shrift to the people who are in the muck of grief. It’s not surprising that people don’t want to contemplate the unexpected death of a child, but GGaV gives us an alternative path. What if we consciously and with intention choose to notice and honor these too short lives and the people who grieve their children? When we invite people to share their grief stories, and are receptive to listening to them, we add meaningful stories to the world and enrich our understanding of it. I think the GGaV stories add a compassionate dimension to some very big ideas. To me, that’s beautiful.