At the start of my doctoral journey, one of my professors had a real, raw, and relevant conversation with my cohort. It started with her simply saying “Life Happens” and she paused, looked at us and repeated, “Life Happens”. She talked about her stories of seeing divorces, deaths, sickness, job shifts, etc. happening to students on this journey and she finished it by saying “how you handle it and what you decide to do with it up to you”. We heard her but I’m not sure we were truly listening; that is until once of our “family” (cohort) members told us that her mother passed unexpectedly.
What I’m about to post couldn’t be made up if I tried but this is what happened to my “family”.
At the start of our second year our first “family” member lost her mom and after the first year of losing so many cohort members, we had grew close. We thought about her and if she would push through or step away since a few weeks went by and we didn’t see her. Finally, she came in and we had cards and flowers for her and welcomed hugs. When this happened a lot of us thought how would we push through. Then another “family” member lost his father and his mother within months of each other. Again support was ready for him if he came back, and you know what? He did. Then I got a call that my father was sick and they were there and celebrated when he beat it. But then my father got hit again and this time it was terminal, I had no clue how I would go through the year holding the weight of losing my father and focus on school. My parents are retired teachers so they were very clear that my focus should be on my education and they had each other, so I stayed and traveled home often on the weekends. When my father passed I lost motivation because I was brave for a year and now I was deflated. I put on a good face and smiled and pushed through but when I went home I was lonely, sad, and I felt like my heart got ripped out of my chest. So life happened… to all of us so how did we handle it?
- As a cohort, we grew close and called ourselves “The Family” and that’s what we were. When life happened we were there for each other whether it was a phone call, text, cards, flowers, or even office visits. Having that sense of family reminded us that what we did was greater than a moment in “life”.
- Communicating with professors was key to ensure they understood what was going on and to make sure you were able to make updates missed. At my institution, you can contact the division of student affairs and they can also send a notice out to the professors.
- Remembering why you started has a different meaning when life happens because you truly question it. For me I didn’t want to finish because of the thought of not having my Daddy there and how bittersweet it will be, I wasn’t ready to face it so I avoided writing. What snapped me back is I found my Daddy’s bucket list and seeing me get my doctorate was on there.
- Seek counseling if needed and if your institution offers sessions (some have the first few sessions free) take advantage of it. For me, I subscribed to a 365 daily affirmations that really helped me through my first year dealing with my Daddy not being there and provided me with journaling that in turn became an awesome tribute to his life and so much more.
Again life happens and although it may not look like our story, it will show up in some way. If it’s happened to you on this Doctoral Journey or period, leave a comment below with advice on how to persist through.