Katy Bird is an Academic Advisor at the University of Central Missouri and previously worked in Housing for several years. She received her master's in Educational Leadership from the University of North Dakota. In her down time Katy enjoys capturing moments with her camera, planning her next adventure, and spending time with her two Dachshund rescues, June and Jett.
Growing up, grief was something that I simply “dealt with.” Losing family members and acquaintances would upset me but I never had extended periods of time where I truly processed what I was feeling as everyone around me appeared to have moved on; that seemed normal to me. On August 21, 2010, my world was turned upside down.
The first day of opening had wrapped up and my staff members had come to my apartment to unwind with a movie and snacks before tackling the next day. We were laughing and enjoying ourselves when I received Facebook messages from two people I had attended high school with asking if I had heard from my best friend, whom I had spoken with a few days prior. Without hesitation, I asked what was wrong and after waiting for what seemed like an eternity I saw the words come across the screen that he had attempted to take his life and was in the hospital. Tears instantly streamed down my face. I remember once my staff left my apartment, I walked through campus only to see those words appear over and over again in my mind. I kept asking myself “Why?” and even tried calling him in hopes he would pick up his phone so I could hear his voice one last time.
The next day I received another message from one of the same people from the night before asking me to call her. She told me he had passed away; my best friend since the first grade was gone. Everyone was understanding and supportive and encouraged me to go home to attend his funeral. At the time, I had the mindset of needing to stay busy which meant being at work, attending my grad classes, and surrounding myself with people every chance I had. The moments I spent alone were the hardest; I grew angry. I was angry at myself for being in a profession where I helped people and not noticing his warning signs; not being able to save my best friend’s life. I was angry with him for leaving his family and friends behind; we were the ones who loved him unconditionally and were now left with a giant void. Simply put, I didn’t know how to cope with the loss of my best friend.
It took me a while to get where I felt like a functional human. I would still get upset but it wouldn’t interfere with my daily responsibilities. About two months after losing my best friend, a student in the building I oversaw went through the exact situation I did; he lost his best friend to suicide. I empathized with the student to the point I was reliving my own experience and while it helped him to have someone to talk to, I wasn’t helping myself.
The following year I met with a first-year student who had received the same news I had just a year before; he was devastated. We sat in my office for a couple of hours talking, crying, and laughing. It was wonderful seeing him appreciate the good memories with his friend but there I was, feeling every emotion from the night of August 21, 2010; I was still angry and sad. It wasn’t until a year later I decided I needed to be my own advocate and do something that would benefit myself and in turn make me a better professional for the students I served; I sought out professional counseling.
It was a game changer, folks. We’re all about having those difficult conversations in this (awesome) field but I needed someone to have those conversations with me and ask me those difficult questions about my best friend and why I was still holding on to those feelings a couple of years later. I found clarity in myself and how I cope with difficult situations, which has enabled me to be the best version of myself. I no longer empathize to the point I’m reliving my memories but where I can truly be present and listen to anyone who shares their story with me. Self-care is spoken about repeatedly and it’s something we have to take initiative on ourselves. I always believed there was a negative stigma with counseling because I was one of those people who “didn’t need help;” I was too proud of a person to admit that but I’m so thankful to have had avenues such as the Employee Assistance Program to go through in order to help myself and in turn better help our students.
What No One Told You About Student Affairs is a month-long series of guest posts highlighting lessons learned in the field of student affairs.