Tuesday, January 22, 2013

office hours

Can't sleep and remembered that I meant to blog about a week I had in December.

I've written before about how I have trouble figuring out grief. When Jon Scharfenberger passed away, I felt strange for mourning because I really barely knew him. We had a few very brief conversations in group settings, but when he was in that accident... I felt so much pain for him. I remember crying and praying and sitting in the chapel just at a loss for words. I didn't understand how to process the grief I was experiencing because I felt like I wasn't allowed to be so sad for someone I barely knew. I think part of the reason Jon's death hit me so deeply was that he was so involved in the movement and so young - it felt so close to home. It felt like a that could've been me... or any of us kind of thing. Well that feeling returned this past December.

One of my classmates in the school of social work passed away. She, too, was a passenger in a fatal car accident. She was 25 years old and had a precious young daughter. When I received the e-mail about the news, I felt so much guilt because I was not sure who she was. This woman who I have shared classes with for the past few semesters... I couldn't even be sure if I was picturing the right person. That was just a shameful moment for me. Then I searched for her on Facebook and found her... and I wept. It was an eerie feeling reading her "about me" and "favorite quotes." The part that broke my heart twice over was about how she was so ready to graduate and get her career as a social worker going... and how she loved her babygirl more than anything in the world. It was heartbreaking to read. How can someone be here one day, in class, on Facebook... and so quickly gone the next? It really could've been any of us... it could've been me... and oh that poor little girl... only two years old. Will she even remember what her mother looks like?

I began processing what happened and dreaded going to my social work classes that week. The professors would obviously mention what happened... and sometimes bad news just doesn't get easier to hear, even when you know what's coming. It was hard keeping it together as the attendance sheet was passed around the classroom and her name was still there; her usual desk was empty in the back of the room. This reflection brings me to tears. In my second class of the day, after managing to hold it together pretty well, my professor started to share the news again in case some students had not heard about our classmate's fate. Once again, her absence from the room felt so evident. She was quiet and sat in the back of the room, seemingly unnoticed, but that day... her absence was deafening.

Our professor, a strong and confident woman, began to share the basic facts of what happened. She was gentle and rehearsed... then she broke. She said, "I'm sorry - I told myself I wouldn't do this - " and she cried for a minute. I sat in the far back left corner of the room and I just put my head against the wall and let my hair cover my face and closed my eyes. She continued, "I just - can't believe it. Just on Thursday she was in my office hours and we were talking and now -- " and she cried.

The week went on and deadlines for our huge papers came up and questions about grad school dug knives into my stomach. I felt terrible. I felt the same mix of grief, guilt, why-not-me that I'd felt after Jon's passing. I guess I should be grateful for that confusion because it means I have not had to grieve the loss of too many loved ones in my life, but it was still hard. Eventually, my emotional and mental stress manifested itself in my schoolwork. I did terribly on an assignment I worked so long on. I just felt so depressed. Hopeless. So I went in to my professor's office hours thinking we would discuss my paper after she so graciously allowed me to go through it again.

I ended up crying in her office and a deeply buried existential crisis came out of nowhere in the form of "AM I EVEN GOING TO BE A GOOD SOCIAL WORKER?" and turned into a whole life-purpose questioning. My fears about my resume - how it is nearly 100% pro-life related - emerged. "SOCIAL WORKERS THINK 'PRO-LIFE' MEANS CRAZY. NO ONE WILL EVER WANT ME AT THEIR GRAD SCHOOL." And I just broke down (sense a recurring theme for this week? take a shot every time I have a breakdown... you'll be drunk in no time!). Luckily, this was no ordinary professor. This was a woman who loves what she does, cares about her students, and is basically who I want to be when I am a social worker one day. I've taken her for 3 classes and have gotten to know her somewhat personally and have grown to respect her immensely. After a week faced with fear of my own future, experiencing the termination of another's future, grief, stress, and self-doubt, she said one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me. We spoke about the abundance of pro-life work on my resume and how it can be phrased to appeal to individuals who may not be pro-life and, knowing she is pro-choice, that gave me comfort. She told me that I could be a social worker and still maintain my values and she said, "you wouldn't judge women who have had abortions, you wouldn't judge men who abuse their children." Oh and I tell you, just that little bit of confidence in me that she had in that statement...it's what I needed to keep from spiraling further into crisis mode. I don't even know why I'm writing about this but I just want to remember it one day. I wish I could have recorded that conversation, minus my sniffling and blowing my nose, and I could just listen when I am feeling like the only one of my kind in a sea of "choice." I don't know why I wrote this, really, but I can't sleep and started thinking about that comment my professor made to me and then reflecting on Amanda's passing and it just felt good to get that out.

(from BHLDN pinterest)



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