Not Running Through Sadness

by - Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Some people are really good at running through sadness, heart ache, mourning, etc.

But not me. Bad news just tends to knock me on my butt pretty hard and makes me want to curl up in a little ball in my bed. Running this week just isn't happening.

On Friday, my college mentor died. She was only 50.


Penny was diagnosed with breast cancer my sophomore year, and I remember being devastated to find out that news, but she didn't really let it slow her down. She kept teaching and advising students, and health wise for the last several years, she seemed to be doing so well.

I guess things took a turn for the worse a couple weeks ago.

I've been trying to come up with words to describe how much she meant to me and how much I looked up to her and valued her advice, but everything I come up with just sounds hollow and empty. Nothing does her justice. (Though two very nice obituaries have been written, one by another professor at the college and one by the school paper.)

Penny was one of the few professors I still kept in touch with after graduation, and she invited me back to speak to her classes every year. In between classes, we'd grab lunch or just sit in her office and catch up. I'd tell her about work and running, and she'd talk about her family, the newest changes coming to the journalism school, etc.

In my head I knew she was technically "sick" -- she'd once compared herself to Elizabeth Edwards in that sense -- but looking at her and interacting with her, you never would have known it. I think that's why I was so stunned when I heard the news over the weekend.

Since then, it's been a strange few days. The sadness creeps up on me pretty unexpectedly at times and I'll find myself crying in the weirdest places, like in the bleachers at the start of a football game or in a stairwell in my office building.

The funeral is Friday. I'm sure it will be standing room only. The journalism school is small. Everyone knows everyone, and for the most part, they all feel like family. It's going to be a hard and crappy end to what has already been a pretty hard and crappy week.

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  1. Nancy4:18 AM

    Jess, I'm so sad for your loss of Penny. She sounded like such a treasure, and I'm thankful for her role in your life. What a gift to have someone so caring and purposeful believe in you, shaping your skills and sharpening your senses to help you become the remarkable pro that you are. And to get to go back and share what you've learned and who you are with her students who came after you? Such a cool opportunity. You always came back glowing after lecturing in her classes. Those were your first college lectures, but not your last, I have a feeling.

    In the months to come as the pain of losing Penny ebbs a little and life moves forward as life has a way of doing, you'll say or write or think something and realize where it originated: with Penny. And instead of it bringing tears, it might by then bring a smile, as gratitude breaks through the sadness and you continue in a life and a career that have and would still make your mentor so proud.

  2. I'm so sorry for your loss. it's not easy to deal with something like that.

  3. I'm sorry for the loss. She sounds like a wonderful person, professor, and mentor.

  4. :( i'm sorry jess. i hope the funeral helps sort out the emotions and hardships you're struggling with! running will be waiting for you when you're ready.

  5. I'm so sorry for your loss. My favourite high school english teacher passed away with cancer about 4 years ago and I found myself crying in the weirdest places as well. We had a similar relationship to yours and Penny's. I would go back to my old high school to visit him and speak with his students and I still can't believe he is gone. It's so hard to loose someone that you respect so much.

  6. [...] More Happy Times Than Sad Times By Jess on September 7, 2012 Thank you to those of you who left kind and heartfelt comments on the post about my college mentor’s death. [...]

  7. I'm really sorry about your loss. There are no words that anyone can say that make grief palatable. And everyone is different. A coworker of mine died last year from ovarian cancer (and the same day another coworker's 10 year old daughter died when hit by a car). That was such a bad time. I didn't really know HOW to grieve. It's weird to grieve for someone that you worked with, but didn't have a really close relationship with (like a friend or family member). For me, exercise helped a lot. I could cry in the pool and no one saw or thought I was weird. It was a nice release.

    Hang in there.

  8. [...] night was Penny’s memorial service at Maryland, and while it certainly wasn’t as emotionally tough for me as the funeral, I [...]