I was invited to join Phi Kappa Phi, an Honor (Honor’s?) Society, at DePaul. At first I thought it was an error. The first four classes I took were pre-reqs. I was informed that these classes do not count towards honors or distinction. When I received a second invitation–this one addressed to Graduate Students–I figured I should give it a shot. The entrance essay was to “Describe how you have overcome a personal challenge.” There was a 500 word limit. This is what I wrote.
Special thanks to Lauren, my cousin Jack and my beautiful bride Shannon for helping me edit this. An honorable mention to Von because she offered to help me edit (and I’m sure she’d be awesome).
The personal challenge I have faced as an adult is straightforward. When I was 27 years old my father died of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He was 59. My mother passed away a year later, after a long battle with breast cancer. She had just celebrated her 60th birthday. Their deaths shattered the foundation of the life I had established for myself.
My father was a public defender. He was able to understand the rigors of my job in the juvenile court system without a need for constant explanation. My mother, who was a teacher, was a source of calm and inspiration. She was able to provide an empowering sense of stability regardless of her illness. Their deaths removed the foundation of my support system. Yet more painful than heir passing, I lost the chance to show my parents how their guidance and support led directly to my success. My father was not around to see me buy my condo, nor was my mother alive to see me sell it before the housing market collapsed. My parents did not meet my wife—possibly the only woman they would have ever approved of—and they will not be there if we have any children. All of these losses led me to suffer a through a bout of major clinical depression that lasted nearly three years.
Overcoming depression was not easy. At first I tried to address it myself. I would work one day at a time and channel my grief into my job. This strategy worked, but it was not a perfect solution. My job requires more than just passion for the clients, and grief requires more work than moping at home. So I changed my tactics. I forced myself to expand my social circle. While this worked, my depression made “being social” feel like another full time job. I had made some progress in addressing my grief, but I believed that I needed to do more to overcome it.
I turned to grief therapy, and this proved to be the right step. Therapy changed the way l addressed my grief. I realized that loss does not go away if one just works hard or changes their routine. Loss becomes part of who we are. Instead of overcoming my grief, I made make peace with my grief. I stopped trying to overcome grief. I accepted that I could only cope with it.
By accepting my loss, my coping methods became more effective. In fact, they became effective enough to address every issue that I face today. I know I can tackle any personal challenge, work task or class assignment because I already tackled the biggest personal challenge I will ever face. I need to apply the same methods: Channeling energy to finish grunt work, taking tie off to take care of myself and asking for help when I need it, and changing how I perceive the problem in order to solve it. This is how I learned to accept my grief. It can work to help balance the rigors of school and the demands of working in social service.
I will channel my energy and do the grunt work I need to do. I know when I need to take care of myself, so I can continue to finish what I start. I can work alone or I can ask for help. If I can learn to cope with the loss of my parents, than I can balance the rigors of school with the difficult of working in social service.
I miss my parents still. While they are not alive to witness my success or to support me as I enter a new phase in life, I am positive they would approve of my choices and my dedication to both.