I gave my sister an "A"
In November 2002, you transformed everyone at the Legal Marketing Association New England Regional Conference. As LMA NE President, I had the honor of opening up the conference shortly after 8 that morning. We were all incredibly excited to have you as our key note speaker and emotions of the board and conference committee (especially Audra Callanan, who worked so hard to get you there) were running high.
I want to say thank you. Were it not for you, I would not have given my sister Lynn an "A," starting that morning.
Right before 8:00 the morning of our conference, I received what had become a typical, crisis call from my mother in New Jersey. My sister Lynn had not returned home during the night and my mother was panicking because she had no idea of where she was. For almost two years, Lynn had been suffering from a dual diagnosis of alcoholism and depression. She was in an intense downward spiral that involved serious legal, financial and health issues. She'd been hospitalized many times, we were unable to find a program anywhere that helped her and she had alienated the majority of her friends. We couldn't believe what had become of this vibrant, funny, beautiful, young woman who loved people, laughing and life so much. I was angry, sad, resentful, alternately hopeful and hopeless, exasperated and overwhelmed because of her.
I was shaken by my mother's call but opened up the conference. And something truly wonderful happened over the next couple of hours. You asked us to think of someone in our lives who was a problem. Images of Lynn collided in my mind...hospital visits in psych wards after a suicide attempt...late night conversations with a belligerent alcoholic who'd fallen off the wagon...the loss of an extraordinarily close relationship with my wonderful little sister.
You taught me not just to give Lynn an "A," but how to do it. That changed my feeling, thinking and approach. It also enabled me to teach other family members and Lynn's friends about giving her an "A." It entirely changed my relationship with my sister and brought so much positive where there had been mainly negative for a long time.
It is with great pain and sadness that I tell you that less than two weeks after her 36th birthday on March 6, my sister committed suicide by overdosing. I miss her terribly and mourn her loss more than words can capture. That requires music and I'm sure you know just the Chopin to play...
Had I not experienced your inspiring talk, I would have lived the rest of my life with regret and guilt, wondering what if I had been kinder, more forgiving? Why didn't I give her that "A?" But I did. And I know I was able to do more for my sister, myself, our relationship and my family because of it. I ceased to be judgmental of her. I embraced her wholly and gave her that "A!" She deserved it, for she did the best she could, especially with the diseases with which she struggled. In the last few months, it made a difference where it seemed no difference could be made.
So I thank you, Ben Zander, more than I could ever express, for a most incredible gift. I will always think of you with the utmost appreciation.
Catherine Alman MacDonagh
Back to Correspondence: Speaker Letters