The five women took to the stage knowing they would be asked to unveil some of their rawest emotions.
Only the chairs, so plush they seemed more suited for a living room, offered comfort.
Everything else about the moment required them to leave their comfort zones.
They took on the challenge of addressing a female-dominated audience that came to hear inspiring words, but this group didn't gather to hear about female empowerment, glass ceilings or leaning in.
Rather, organizers asked this fabulous five to speak of journeys and legacies, decisions and destinies, blessings and gratitude, humility and kindness, joy and sadness.
And, of course, grief.
The LifePath Hospice Women of Philanthropy presented a program at its Spring Soiree certain to challenge its participants and its members. The group sought profiles in courage, and the presenters delivered perspectives that made every person reflect on their stations in life.
Forming the panel: Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment vice president Lorisse Garcia, Coca-Cola Beverages manager Lauren Rosario, Regions Private Wealth Management senior vice president Stephanie Stanfield, Julia Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees Foundation and my dear friend and retired teacher Martha Minahan.
They didn't shy away. Dare I say they showed remarkable bravery in speaking of pain, promise and the drive to carry on. Through tears and laughter, they shared thoughts about life and death, captivating the audience for more than an hour.
Garcia told of losing her 19-year-old son and his girlfriend in an auto accident. Rosario opened up about the decision to have a child despite potential medical complications. Steinbrenner also spoke of motherhood and Minahan told of how she not only lives through the loss of her husband, but helps others facing the same sorrow.
Stanfield proved particularly remarkable. She detailed being diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2018 and how doctors said surgery wouldn't help because it had spread. Today, she lives with cancer, upbeat and determined but not free from thoughts that make her reflect and contemplate.
How does she carry on? With a smile, Stanfield said she uses her "wet dog shake." It's a little shimmy that flings the drenching drops of sorrow into the air. She gets down, but she doesn't stay down. She's too driven to create a lasting legacy.
As the program wrapped up, Stanfield shared her mission. She took time to offer the women advice about financial planning. Too often in her role at Regions, she has seen women and spouses neglect the kind of estate planning that becomes far more difficult in the wake of a loved one's death.
Every word of care and concern Stanfield uttered left me shaking my head. A selfless act at a time when life invites you to be selfish.
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Yet it all made sense. Hospice, by its very existence, represents a selfless spirit of comfort in moments of grief. But understand, Hospice doesn't deal in death, it deals in life. It shepherds those leaving us and strengthens those of us who remain here.
On Friday, volunteers will gather at Bayshore Baptist Church to help send off kids who have lost loved ones to Camp Circle of Love in Brooksville.
The selfless thread of love that connects all of Hospice's programs again will be on full display at the send-off, with much of the support coming from the Women of Philanthropy.
Only a few men attended the spring soiree, naturally. As I sat there, however, I wondered if Hospice could form a complementary group for men. You know, we don't typically deal with such emotions in a public forum. We're generally tough, stoic, choosing to brood over such deep feelings in the dead of night. We might never consider opening ourselves to such a journey in a room full of supporters.
But maybe we should. It might be the first step towards being selfless.
That's all I'm saying.
Contact Ernest Hooper at email@example.com. Follow @hoop4you.