Over the past few weeks, my emotions have been as unpredictable as Seattle weather. I leave my apartment in the morning and cover my head from the misty rain, and by the afternoon, the sun is out and rainbows arch over the sky. By evening the clouds have settled back in and it is pouring. (The weather was definitely on my “cons” list when discerning whether or not I would attend Seattle University).
I am learning that grief can be equally unpredictable. Tomorrow, it will mark four weeks since I learned that a former student of mine took her own life this summer. Although favoritism is discouraged, it happens naturally, and she was, by far, the student that most influenced my decision to enter the field of student affairs. *
I have pushed this away as much as possible to focus on my schooling and work, but the more I push it away, the more evident it becomes that there is a long road of grieving ahead.
Over these difficult days, I have felt everything from denial, numbness, guilt, anger, and overwhelming sadness. Denial has been the strongest – I simply refused to believe that it was true. But then I remember how I had to leave my class in order to walk her to the Counseling Center because of her suicide ideation, and how her comments reflected a low sense of self esteem and worth. And then it seems truthfully raw, real.
Most of all, I have felt very sad, and somewhat guarded. I am sad because I will never have the chance to speak to this amazing, polite, and kind young woman again. Sad because she could never see herself the way countless others did. Sad because she was one of the main reasons I decided the field was for me – and what’s the point if I can’t help the most troubled students? Sad because, as my mom reminded me this morning as I cried into the phone, “She is not the only student who will die.” I think that is the hardest lesson to come out of this tragedy: Not only can I not prevent things from happening to students and friends, I also cannot protect students from their own demons.
I feel guarded because I am in a position that works very closely with students, and as I get to know them more, the more invested in them I become. What if something happens to them? I have felt more hesitant in my work since hearing this news. I am at the very beginning of my graduate program, receiving training on how to work with college students. More and more often the question of, “What’s the point if I can’t help them?” runs through my head.
The point is, despite what the final outcome was, I helped her, and she helped me become the professional that I am today and that I will become.
The only thing I can do now is remember those things that made her so very special to me. I can express patience and self-care for myself by understanding that this is going to be a difficult process, and by seeking out the help that I need (just as I would advise my own students to). I can continue to write, reflect, and talk out my feelings with friends and mentors.
And, I can and will continue to serve and help students who have similar struggles as she had. She would have wanted me to.
*(Read more about her influence here: http://wp.me/p1hXHJ-v)