Death in a Family is Found


by Marilou Halvorsen, NJRHA President

​​​Last month, I lost my mother.

Truth is I started losing her to her disease months before she passed away, after all treatments were exhausted and we settled into hospice care; or should I say after all treatments to which she was exhausted. My mom was a tough woman and unsurprisingly decided to leave on her own terms. She was my only remaining parent, and I her only child, so the pain felt amplified.

Experiencing a loss of this magnitude whether suddenly or through sickness is emotionally debilitating. There’s no saying how anyone will fare. Luckily for me, I found myself surrounded by family – but, I’m not referring to my household. Yes, my son, daughter, husband, brothers and friends were amazing beyond words, but we were all aboard the same rudderless ship navigating through the stages of her death.

I’m referring to my work family.

Little did I comprehend how much they cared and the actions they took to help me during this time, some not appearing until long after the situation was over, in fact, I’m still discovering gems. Without me knowing, my staff, board and business friends continually picked up the slack and solved issues normally tossed on my desk. When word got out, someone would call or walk in my office daily and ask how I was doing and if they could help. You know who you are; many of you didn’t listen to my brave response and still enveloped me with food, drinks, advice, gifts and hugs. (smile)

Never before has the word “hospitality” meant so much. I’ve uttered these words in speeches and dozens of meetings with NJ legislators, but the next time I do, it will carry more enunciation. Because it’s true -- this industry is a true community that practices what they preach.

It’s been a little over six years since I took the helm of the NJRHA, the day Sandy destroyed our shoreline and the first time I witnessed the generosity of this industry: Endless restaurants and hotels along the coast opening their doors, no strings attached, to become the corner stone of their neighborhoods; a place for the community to gather whether it was to charge cellphones and laptops, break bread, or just to hug each other and cry.

This was my second tragedy and although I’m still floating in the boat, I’ve come to realize I’ve had oars the entire time. For this, I am thankful.