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Running to remember

Mother’s Day is difficult for Lynchburg, Virginia (LYH) General Manager Gaynor Drablos. In June 2019, Gaynor’s 27-year-old son Joshua was killed in a skydiving accident. Although Gaynor perseveres through her loss, she credits her team members at her station for supporting her grief journey inside and outside of work.

“After my son was killed in a skydiving airplane accident, it was difficult coming back to work for an airline,” says Gaynor. Upon her return to work, she was met with a decorated office door full of hearts and notes of encouragement. “If I started crying at my desk, they would ask if I needed a hug or if I wanted them to shut the door. My team learned more about grief than they ever thought they would and never made me feel like they were uncomfortable with my grief. I wouldn’t be able to perform well at my job without the support of my team because we are a family. The support my team has given me, my family and each other is something you don’t find in many workplaces.”

Gaynor shares that as a parent, her worst fear is that her son will be forgotten. One way she honors her son’s life is to do something that he was passionate about: running. “Josh was a collegiate athlete at the Naval Academy and enjoyed running,” says Gaynor. “When I decided to start training for a half-marathon, many coworkers began training with me. The team really pushed me to keep moving.” Her goal was to participate in a race that honored military veterans and servicemembers who were lost. To honor her son, commemorative blue t-shirts were created to be worn by the runners in the race. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the race was cancelled but that didn’t stop Gaynor or her coworkers from continuing to run together.

“During COVID down time, we ran at work and would meet on Sundays for longer runs,” shares Gaynor. Gaynor and her team continue to run races where they wear their shirts and memorial bracelets to remember Josh. Even LYH team members who aren’t runners support Gaynor and her teammates by volunteering at water and food tables at the race.

Through her loss, Gaynor has been touched by those around her who knew and didn’t know her son. “The number of agents and managers from my station, airport and TSA personnel who traveled from Lynchburg to Annapolis, Maryland for his memorial service was incredibly touching.” Gaynor shares that some of her coworkers, pilot and flight attendant friends have stopped by the crash site memorial when traveling to Hawaii.

“You don’t get over this kind of loss,” shares Gaynor. “You grow around it, move forward and learn that joy and grief can exist side by side. I will never be who I was before and that’s okay. As a griever, I want those around me to not shy away when I say his name, try to change the subject or look for a quick exit. This can happen to anyone and as a griever, I acknowledge how hard it is to walk alongside me.” Her team in LYH continues to support and encourage Gaynor and she is forever grateful to them for loving her where she is in her grief journey.

Gaynor misses weekly conversations with her son, his laugh and hugs and encourages others never to miss a moment with those you love. “Don’t get so busy with the things that won’t matter in the long run that you push off the things that really matter.”