Remembering a role model

terryYou’re always going to have people coming in and out of your life. They’ll all play different roles and remain in your life for alternate periods of time. The most valuable people tend to stick around the longest. Well, that’s actually not true. Not true at all. There are some people who can only make a brief appearance and leave behind the biggest impact. I had the privilege of knowing one such person.

I’m sure you’ve heard the stories about the teachers who made an impact on one or more of their students’ lives. These stories are pretty common, right? Well, this is one of those stories. She started out as my honors public speaking professor during my first year of college. During the semester she pushed each of us to exceed the expectations we’d set for ourselves. Her primary goal was to see all her students succeed.

After the semester ended she and I stayed in touch. She was one of the advisers for an honors society I joined. She kept pushing me to apply for an officer position til I finally agreed. She quickly became more than just a old professor – she was a friend, a confidant, a mentor and a second mother. When I look back at junior college she’s the first thing that comes to mind. That’s right – she made THAT big of an impact on my experience.

So you can imagine my horror when, during my first semester as a transfer student at Washburn, I received a message telling me that she had suddenly passed away. I now know why denial is the first part in the five stages of grief because I didn’t want to believe she was dead. She was perfect; she wasn’t sick; she didn’t have any kind of terminal illness. I didn’t understand.

It wasn’t until this summer, 11 months after her funeral that I was told that she’d taken her own life. I knew she’d suffered from depression, but I never knew the degree of seriousness. I guess there was a lot that I didn’t know about her. It’s such a shame she couldn’t see past her own hopelessness and realize how many people adored her, including me.

I miss her everyday and think about her often. I think about how she came to my honors graduation and the proud look on her face. About how we were going to meet for coffee in Lawrence after I moved to Topeka – but most of all, I’ll never forget how many times other faculty members told me how much she had loved me.

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