January 12th marked the year anniversary of the death of my mentor at Bucknell, Fran McDaniel. I was unsure about the day was going to be like, how I would feel being out of the country and being unable to go up to Lewisburg during those days. However, I think it was good for me to be in Mexico; the trip was a good distraction. On the anniversary we went to the mercado de artesania, and after wandering through and buying some sombreros (not the huge traditional ones, more like a cowboy one) we found a candle store so that I could buy a candle, to take to the cathedral and light in Fran’s memory. The inside of the cathedral was grand and somber, and a mass or rezo was going on in one of the side chapels which added to the atmosphere. I recognized the sounds of hymn that I have heard at funerals before. I teared up as I lit the candle but didn’t feel I could fall apart in front of my grandparents (or a cathedral full of tourists) so swallowed it. I am glad that I could mark the anniversary in some way, and was thinking of Fran and all her loved ones throughout the day. Anniversaries are always hard, and this was no exception. I can’t believe that a whole year has gone by.
As many of you know, the Bucknell community lost someone very special this past January. Fran McDaniel, the director of the LGBT office passed away suddenly from a strep infection. All of us were stunned and devastated with the loss. Fran was such an important person in our lives, and I know I am not the only one who stayed at Bucknell in part because of Fran and her work in the LGBT office.
My first few days at Bucknell were a whirl-wind of orientation events, play fair in the football field, color wars, scavenger hunts. I was caught up in the excitement of meeting my hallmates and getting to know the campus. But I was also worrying about who I could come out to on my hall and whether it was going to be safe for me to be gay. One day during some free time I went for a walk through the grove. Bucknell Hall was open, and I went in and lay down in one of the pews, staring at the tall ceiling and tracing the bee-like wood carvings with my eyes. (Thus began my love of Bucknell Hall. It is such a beautiful space, whether for poetry readings, live music, or gentle reflection.) It was quiet in there and I was happy to have the space to think. I wondered if Bucknell was really the place for me, would I find a place to fit in? Would I make friends? I think these are questions that many college first-years ask themselves, but my fears were compounded by the fact that I was still in the beginning stages of coming out. (I was out to myself and my family at 16, but closeted in my home community and highschool).
Soon after this day in Bucknell Hall, I decided to go to the LGBT Office, which I had visited on our scavenger hunt, and had scoped out earlier. I needed a place to breathe, where I didn’t have to worry about myself. I walked into the office, and into the back lounge and sat down to look at some magazines. I don’t know if the office was empty when I came in, or if I just said hello to the student in the front and that was it. But I hadn’t been sitting there for very long, when I heard the converstation in the front. “Chad, who’s the girl sitting in the lounge?” I heard Fran ask.
“I don’t know” he said.
“Well, go and find out,” she said, “Introduce yourself, and find out who she is.”
This was my first introduction to this aspect of Fran’s personality, when she said something, you did it. And she liked to connect people and always made sure that everyone was okay. So Chad came in and introduced himself as the VP of FLAG & BT and we talked about Bucknell and orientation and I don’t know what else. Stephanie, president of FLAG & BT at the time, also came into the office and hung out with us for a while. It was great. I felt like I belonged, it was a safe space.
I didn’t interact much with Fran that first semester. Sometimes she’d be in the office when we’d come in for FLAG meetings, as she often worked late, but she would let us get on with it. Second semester I met with her and soon got a job in the LGBT office, which was the beginning of the wonderful, exciting, and sometimes stressful, three years in the LGBT office. The office and greater LGBT community at Bucknell became like family, and Fran was the matriarch at the head of it all.
Fran Mcdaniel. It is hard to put into words what a compassionate, tenacious, and loving person she was. She was there for all of us “kids” as we struggled to find our place at Bucknell, which was not always a great place to be gay and out, particularly when I first got there. Acceptance has grown in leaps and bounds since 2005, which has been amazing to see, and which is mostly due to Fran’s unwavering efforts to create change. She was there for those of us struggling to come out to parents and family, and helped pave the paths of communication. She helped me deal with homophobic bullying incidences on my freshman hall, and was the advocate who pushed for something to be done about it. She believed in my ability to lead FLAG & BT and to help train RA’s with the Safe Space training. When I was really sick my sophmore year, she was there, asking if the doctors had diagnosed me yet, and would send me home to bed when I showed up at work and she knew I really needed rest. (It turned out I had mono). Always pushing us to do our best, she was also the one who would make us take a break, even when we thought we were fine and could handle it. Even after I graduated, she sent emails and phoned to check up on me. She mailed cards and calendars, reminding me that I was still part of the office family. And whenever I visited Lewisburg we made sure to go out to lunch, and I’d have to make sure I stopped by the office at least a couple of times during my visit up there. It amazes me how many people said after she died that they couldn’t believe it, they had just talked to her that past week–she always kept tabs on all of her “kids.”
It has been five months [when I wrote this] since she passed away, and I am still struggling to accept that she is gone. I can’t think of the LGBT office without imagining her there. I keep thinking “I can’t wait to tell Fran about this!” and then remember I can’t. I can no longer call or email her when I am sad and lonely. I also find myself angry that she is gone, and upset at the unfairness of death. Fran is the sixth loved one I have lost in the last three years. Each death resonates with the earlier ones. Fran’s death has been one of the hardest because it was so unexpected. I have been doing a lot of writing, particularly through 750words.com, as well as reading to try and help me come to terms with this loss and to process my feelings. It gets easier with time, but I know that it is a loss that I will always carry with me. Oh Fran, I miss you so.
For anyone out there who is grieving a loss, know that you are not alone. There are others like you. Be kind to yourself and seek healing in whatever way that works for you. It doesn’t necessarily get better, but it does get easier to deal with.