“Of Keys and Death”


The messages arrive a few times each year.  Emails, voicemails, notes from staff.  They are all similar.

“Vince, a woman called.  She has one of our keys and when her son passed away it was in his belongings.  She’s looking for help on what it may go to.  She’s hoping you can help her.  Can you call her?”

Usually the calls I return and the conversations I engage in focus on developing locking solutions to secure a new product line, improve the customer experience, reduce security vulnerabilities, address quality and reduce supply chain risks.  I sell locks–the very core (no pun intended) of the security products industry.

So, calls about death and keys?  Well, they don’t move the sales needle.  But sales needle be damned, these calls are far more important.

But sales needle be damned, these calls are far more important.

I always return them, and do so with a sense of urgency.

The voice at the other end of the line is often shocked that I have returned their call.  Their first sentence often comes out like the longest run-on sentence you’ve ever heard.  With the first part about her son passing away seeming miles away from the explanations about finding a key in his belongings and not being certain I can help, but wondering if there is a way to know what it went to, and it says this, looks like that, and has this stamped on it, and, and, ‘I am wondering if you can tell me anything about it?’

I always back up.  As easy as it would be to jump right to the key, I offer my condolences on the passing of her son.  I work to take the sterility out of the conversation–to humanize it.  Sometimes I learn more about the deceased, about extended family, and more–I don’t ask, but I listen.

I offer my condolences on the passing of her son.

I then share that I may be able to help shed light on the key and what it goes to.  I share that it likely goes to a locker.  Often a locker that one may use at work, at the community pool, or a fitness center.  And the mom opens up about where her son worked and that he did have a membership at a fitness center, and how she first thought maybe it was to a safe deposit box.  Based on the described key, I rule out the safe deposit box for her.  Her voice, now calm, shares a sense of relief and a tone of direction.  She mentions she’s going to contact his employer and check with the fitness center.  She profusely thanks me for calling and for the information.  Our call ends within just a few minutes.

Those five or ten minutes are the highlight of my week.  Sure, there is no sale to be made, no deal to discuss, no pipeline to build.  Yet, there is satisfaction.  It traces back to what keeps me in this game.  The work I do helps people.  The locks we manufacture and that I sell may be on a school locker that helps that kid keep his cell phone secure.  Or on a patient locker that allows some peace of mind for that grandmother who’s worry is on the MRI she’s about to undergo.  Or on a police vehicle securing tactical weapons.  Or the roof rack of a family vacationing in their SUV.  The desk drawer of a worker wanting to keep her purse secure.  And the list goes on…

We often take locks and keys for granted.  We interact with them nearly every day, yet we infrequently connect the dots on how they impact our lives, the stories they tell, and the peace of mind they provide.

In death, to the extent I can help fill in that blank for a loved one, I feel honored.

Photo by: Susanne Nilsson