While I was in Canada I received an email through our NDSU faculty list that delivered the sad news that Dr. David Berryhill had passed away over the previous weekend. I must say, I was shocked. The email offered few details and the only additional information that was readily available was a very basic death announcement in The Forum. I have since searched The Forum every day trying to glean additional information about what happened. After all, David Berryhill wasn’t all that old and he was always so vibrant when I ran across him on campus so I wondered how could it be that he had died?
It is an unenviable phenomenon of aging that we become a bit more focused on the death of folks around us who we don’t perceive to be that much older than us or uniquely fragile. There is a greater need for sensemaking as without an ability to do so we are left with the thought that any given day the same thing could happen to us. It really is silly though because we know intuitively that any given day any one of us could leave this planet with virtually no warning. But we don’t spend our days thinking like that…we try and take care of our bodies and make smart choices and convince ourselves that we will be around for a good long time.
I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Berryhill early on in my time at NDSU. He was a part of our Disaster Resitant University planning team. His work with that team was so thorough and meaningful – he always was able to discuss levels of complexity with a nice lighthearted style. It is tough to discuss the potential of doom and gloom without becoming a bit depressed, but I remember Dr. Berryhill’s thoughtful reflection coupled with his sense of humor helping the team move forward in a way that produced both a strong product and a meaningful process. Dr. Berryhill’s work as a part of that team left such a strong imprint of intelligence and integrity on the graduate student tasked with working on that project, Jeanine Neipert, that she asked him to be on her thesis committee. I imagine that acknowledgement of his value meant more to him than a thousand accolades for being on a university planning team as Dr. Berryhill was the type of professor who was student-centric (which personally is my favorite kind of professor).
Today The Forum features Dr. Berryhill’s obituary. I must say it is lovely and clearly was written by someone who understood that folks needed to understand and make sense of his death, but also reflected the joy and dedication with which he lived his life.
Yet, one’s life summary cannot be truly captured in a short column on a newspaper page; indeed, one’s life summary cannot be captured in a novel either. The true summary of a life exists in the imprints it has left with others. Thousands of imprints that ripple across the lives of others and affect their path – sometimes ever so slightly and other times quite monumentally. That really is what a life is all about.
Dr. Berryhill left us suddenly with no warning and we should look at his unexpected death as a reminder that none of us ever really know how much time we have, but we should also be reminded as we reflect on his passing of all the lovely imprints he left across his lifespan that will live on in the hearts and memories of others. Those are the real evidence of a life well-lived and that is something that we can make sense of – the imprint he left with us.
Day seven hundred and thirty-one of the new forty – obla di obla da