Remembering a mentor’s passing

The call came out of the blue. I was busy trying to meet a deadline, but I picked up the phone anyway. A friend, who was a professor at the college where I had worked in the communications office several years earlier, called and peppered me with questions on why I wasn’t going back to get my master’s degree. I remember thinking that her questions were borderline rude.

In passing one day a few years back I had mentioned about going back to school and now she was grilling me on what I was doing with my time. Oh, sure I would’ve loved getting my master’s degree, but I had a lot on my plate. I had a young family and job demands. I was barely surviving as it was, how was I going to fit in classes every night of the week and studying on the weekend?

My friend, though, wasn’t taking no for an answer. She kept pushing and prodding. She was like a drill sergeant that demands ten more push-ups. She came out and asked point blank: “Why aren’t you signed up for the MBA information session? What do you have to lose?”

I feared saying something I would regret, so I told her that I had to go. Before I could get off the phone though she said she was signing me up for the information session the following week and that I had better show up. Yea, yea, I told her, writing it down on my calendar, but never really expecting to attend.

Image by Pew Nguyen via Pexels.

How’d I get here?

Sure enough, a week later, I was standing in front of my friend and a another professor and she was telling me how I could take classes in the evening and, if all went right, I would be walking down the aisle with my diploma in hand in two short years.

I had earned my bachelors degree ten years earlier. My degree took everything I had and then some. I found it challenging fitting in a part time job and studying and still trying to have a life. Yes, I wanted to go back and get my master’s degree, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it a second time around with my wife and kids needing me too.

My friend wouldn’t take no for an answer. When I hemmed and hawed, she found reason after reason for me to attend. She threw my whines back in my face. For good measure, she even said that I would have her for my Business Ethics class. I joked that she would soon learn that I had no ethics, but she either didn’t hear me or chose not to answer. 

Taking the next step

Against my better judgement, I filled out the application, earned admission, and registered for classes. I made it that far and I still never expected to attend classes. I was fighting the idea of going back, right up until the first night. In the end, I suspect her will won out.

It was tough at first, but I learned that I actually enjoyed the classes. I could relate them back to my job. I learned too that I was a much more serious student this time. I concentrated on the work. I kept up with the reading and I didn’t have to swear off mid-week parties like I did as an undergraduate. Yes, I had to balance time with my wife and kids — I refused to sacrifice time with them — but it seemed to work.

Image via Pexels.

Two years later, just as she had predicted, I walked down the aisle with my degree, graduating with a 4.0 GPA. I still don’t know how I managed it. Yes, I learned a thing or two about debits and credits and business law too, but I learned a ton about myself. The degree is one of the things I’m proudest about, because it took a ton of work. We’ve lost the photo, but one of my favorite photos is me standing with my diploma with my kids.

A dark end to the story

Whenever I saw my friend after I got my masters, I would always thank her for her help, for sticking with me, for giving me the strength and courage I needed. She would always laugh and tell me that she was simply doing her job, to help students see the person they could one day become.

She seemed generally happy.

One of the last times I saw her on campus, we had a chance to meet up and she told me that she was tired. I told her that she needed to take better care of herself. I encouraged her to take a vacation.

She didn’t listen to me.

She was a college dean now and had a busy schedule, but I was still surprised when I came home one day and my wife asked if I had seen the news. My friend lost her battle with depression and had taken her life.

I was in a state of shock. (In some ways, I think I still am.) In that moment, I realized for the first time how deadly depression can be. I couldn’t believe that she wouldn’t be around anymore to do what she loved doing the most. She helped countless students over the years. When many of us needed a cheerleader, she was there for us, but when it came to her own life, she didn’t let anyone in to see that she was struggling.

I think of my friend every time I think of my degree. She played a big part in me earning it. I can’t bring her back, but I’ll never forget that she believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. She was a wonderful professor and an even better friend. I’ll never forget her.

45 thoughts on “Remembering a mentor’s passing

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  1. Oh Brian, this is heavy. Your mentor and friend sounded like a wonderful person who made a difference in many lives, including yours. You also make a very important and compelling reminder that people are often fighting invisible battles we may not know about.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a lovely tribute to your friend and your memory of her. Its always sad when someone who can be such a positive and energetic force for others also feels so isolated and alone that they feel they have no choice.

    I am sorry for your loss Brian, Bx

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh I thought it had just happened. It is shocking when things like this happen. We had a colleague a few years ago who took her life after being forced into retirement. It is heartbreaking 💔


  3. Brian, depression is often a hermit-like disease. My best friend can listen when I express a depressive episode, but she has told me she can’t comprehend the feelings and emotions of it. I suspect that’s why people suffering do not reach out, because no matter how sincerely helpful people want to be, there is an innate inability to truly understand the feelings and the depths of them. You can speak kindly and compassionately, for example, with someone who has had both legs amputated, but you can never fully comprehend how it feels.

    I appreciate hearing this story and how it has affected you and altered your compassion. To those closest to me, when they suspect I may be slipping into depression (whether I am or not), I have encourage them to ask me what it is that would make me “happy” and to ask that question often. Turning my focus towards things that make me happy helps me find the strength to recognize that there ARE good things in my life. And, if I say “an ice cream cone”, there’s a good chance I’ll get one!

    (Sorry, this got deeper than a response should have, but until others can begin to understand how to help anyone they suspect is in a “funk” of any kind, suicide will continue to happen.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was a different story to write. I worried about “selling people a different bill of goods” meaning that they thought they were reading one thing and then I wrote about something else altogether different. My first couple drafts felt like that until I made a few changes and came up with a different headline. Otherwise it just read like a “getting my master’s degree” story. And yes, I think you’re right, the conversation needs to go deeper from just recognizing depression to understanding how to help. Thanks for the discussion.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I share in what Ab and Deb said…we have no idea what invisible battles are being fought…every day as we encounter friends old and new…and interact with strangers who might be out of sorts in some way. I’m so sorry for your loss, Brian. 🤍

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it’s been a few years, but it definitely was a sad reminder that everyone’s fighting something. It’s a strange story to tell. I can’t tell either one — getting my masters or the story of her life — without the other. I hope it wasn’t too heavy. Thanks for the feedback.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. It seems like she was dispensing help and motivation when she needed some herself. Perhaps it was her cover, and she couldn’t expose her vulnerability. How tragic. On the bright side, she left a good legacy, and there are many who’s lives she has touched positively. The benefits of that will continue to unfold.
    And congrats to you on getting your MBA while managing a young family, work, and life. I know how very hard it is. I did the same. Sometimes I look back and I’m not sure how I did it. So congrats on a wonderful accomplishment Brian.


  6. Yet another example of how we cannot know what is really going on inside another person unless they choose to share it, and we cannot begin to help them if we don’t know they are being challenged by life. We can only make ourselves available to others and let them know we care.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Belladonna, I was worried about this piece more than most. I wanted to touch on the benefit of challenging yourself, but I also wanted to pay her tribute and remind folks the reach out and let others know when they’re struggling. Thanks for reading!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This reminds me of a message I saw the other day, it read; “Don’t forget to check on your strong friends”. We tend to forget that they need us just as much as we need them.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, Brian, what a sobering reminder of the depth of the pain depression can bring. I’ve had similar experiences of people I’ve known who seemed to have everything going for them, and, like your mentor, had had a significant impact on their colleagues and community, but the pain caused by their depression became too much for them. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

    Her positive impact on you and countless others remains as an invaluable legacy. Thank you for sharing this story. And good job on completing your master’s. As you found out, it’s amazing how much more focused we can be on our studies as adults!!! Hmm.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow – just wow. As Jane says, absolutely heartbreaking. Beautiful tribute to your wonderful mentor and friend. I’d like to think that she’s still beaming and laughing with you every time you think of her.

    Liked by 1 person

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