Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Note to the Commissioner from MDH Staff

Yesterday, I received a note requesting that I send the following message to all MDH staff. It relates to the passing of my wife, Sally. I was initially hesitant to send it because my experience of losing a loved one, is no different than the personal losses that many of you have faced. But, as I considered the “bold request” from an MDH staff person, I realized it contained a message from my wife that’s important for all of us to hear. Because of that, I humbly share it with you. My wife was a remarkable woman who enriched my life and the lives of many who encountered her. May the light that she brought to the world continue to shine through all of us.


Dear Colleagues,

Usually these messages come from the Commissioner to the staff, but by its nature this one comes from an MDH staffer on behalf of the rest of us and goes to the Commissioner.

You may have seen the note last week indicating that Sally Ehlinger died. Most of us did not know her because she has been incapacitated the entire time that Dr Ehlinger has been at MDH. The Commissioner with the support of home care nurses, hospice care, family, and their friends, cared for his wife of 48 years as she faded away.

Her life was a vibrant one full of many accomplishments, especially her two daughters who describe her as a wonderful, inspiring mother. Mrs. (Dr.) Ehlinger not only taught physical education, but she earned a doctorate in the subject using her skills to train teachers, develop programs for individuals with disabilities and chronic illnesses, and do research. She was also an active volunteer in all the communities where the family lived.

Her nieces, nephews, godchildren and friends marvel at her joy and hospitality and always mention her commitment to serving fresh fruits and vegetables. At her table she led spirited conversations about justice, politics, and inequality and served as a feisty role model for many.

No wonder Governor Dayton described Sally Ehlinger as “clearly a very extraordinary woman.”

A noted rabbi says that it is a mitzvah (good deed) to comfort mourners and to generously support the work they care about in the world. WE, as MDH staff, are in a unique position not only to offer our condolences to Commissioner Ehlinger, but to continue to work in Sally Ehlinger’s name to: teach; develop programs for people with chronic illnesses and disabilities; make sure all Minnesotans have access to fresh fruits and vegetables; be responsible researchers; be active members of our communities; and eliminate inequalities and injustice in our state.

The Ehlingers were very active in their faith community. Not long before she began to slip away, Sally Ehlinger wrote these inspiring words as part of an Epiphany (Three Kings) service:

“The story of the “Three Wise People” – how often we’ve heard it! How did they feel when a new, dazzling star that they had been expecting actually appeared as promised? How did they experience the preparation and leave-taking for this journey? Were their friends and families uniformly supportive of this star chase?

Once they were on the long road, were they faith-filled and certain each step of the way? Or like us, did they have nagging doubts or fears about the wisdom of the mission? Might there have been spirited discussions about whether to turn right or left? Were they always kindly received in each of the dusty little stops they made on the journey, with their unusual dress and different ways? Regardless, their knowledge of the star and their very presence on this star quest offered a lesson in living faith to those in their homeland and those along the way.

Whatever else, they stuck together. Like them, we all need each other. We need each other’s ideas. We need each other’s strength, experience and wisdom. Let’s remind one another that where we are in our lives at this moment is exactly where we need to be. May we encourage one another to follow our individual and collective stars! May we heed the voice within when we are assailed by the doubts and fears that are a part of being human.

Never are we alone, nor could we be! May we continue to be bright, wise and warmly encouraging stars for one another on this long and challenging journey!”