My adviser is a remarkable woman. She would have to be to have put up with me all these years. I’ve always had such a deep respect for her but recently my adviser truly became my hero. She has accomplished a lot, travels a great deal and works tirelessly in the field of education research. I would often wonder about her husband that she always mentioned, and how he felt about having this amazing woman for a wife. He did not seem to hold her back from pursuing her passions or from making an impact on the world. I would always think he must be pretty remarkable too to be willing to share his wife with all of us.
As I came to the end of finishing my proposal, I sent my adviser an email, confirming our day of meeting and turning it in. I hadn’t visited my school email for a while and had emailed her from my personal email. As I was teaching my high school Great Books class, my phone pinged and I did a quick check on my email. The first words almost sent me tumbling out of my seat: “Anika, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I lost my husband recently…suddenly…” I literally screamed out loud in class. My students wondered what happened! My head began to swim and spin. Even though I’d never met the man, I was immediately in a state of grief for her. I haven’t even gone to any funeral for him or anything and even though she and I have worked together for many years, we had a very professional relationship. Instantly I cried out for her pain. I realized that this woman who was a constant support to me finishing this degree was actually a close friend to me. She was no longer Dr. H. to me, but she was my friend. In my mind I called her by her first name and tears ran down my face. This woman was the last person I would ever want to feel sadness. When no one else in my department believed in the topic I’d chosen, she took me in and believed in me. Even though she may not have always agreed with my views, she encouraged me to write about them and to be true to who I was…to who God created me to be. I did not have to pretend to be this deep philosopher with her. I always felt that I could be Anika. I always felt that I could be a Christian. I always felt that I could love these pieces of literature that are sometimes controversial, especially when you call them Great Books. I loved her for that. In the rawness of my immature research writing, she kept critiquing and shaping me. She would send me emails to tell me “You are progressing…even though I gave a lot of things for your to fix, don’t give up…you are moving forward.” She believed in me, when I did not believe in myself. And she literally had zillions of other students, but I always felt that in our hour meetings, that I was the only student she had. I never felt rushed or as if I should feel “privileged” to have her work with me.” Sometimes her kindness and acceptance of me was humbling. I would see all the other topics she was overseeing and wonder why she would take my stuff so seriously, but she did.
The real test of her genuine support of my work came with another line in that devastating email, “So can we meet the day after our original date at 4 pm? And then I want you to read your work in a dissertation support group I am having that evening.” I am thinking, “Um are you kidding??? Why are you not curled up in a fetal position somewhere!” Anyway, she was very firm in having me come so I went. I got there 5 minutes early and walked into her office and just burst into tears! I asked if I could hug her and she hugged me and we hugged for a long time, crying. I felt I’d lost my husband. I still am crying and it’s been almost a week since that day. I did not want this wonderful woman to feel this type of pain! So we worked through my proposal and then went to the dissertation support group. All of us ended up sharing poetry, verses, and words of encouragement to her. We all cried, wept, waited for her to collect herself. She kept apologizing as she is trying to heal. I kept thinking, “Why are you here! You don’t have to be here! We love you!” I thanked her for letting us grieve with her. At the end of the meeting, this selfless woman starts to ask everyone to allow me to read excerpts from my dissertation. I stop her and I said, “I can’t. I don’t want to. Not now. Can we do it another time?” She agreed. So we cried a little more and we all went our separate ways.
As I was driving along this week, I kept thinking about her. I found out at that meeting that she and her husband had known each other since 7th grade, started dating when she was 16, and had been married for 47 years. Her husband had dedicated his life to supporting her finding and pursuing her dreams/passions. On the day of his death, he took her to the airport and they said their goodbyes. He came back home and read a love letter she’d written him before she left (something she made a habit of doing whenever she traveled), and died…heart just stopped. My dear friend and adviser had to find out over the phone, all the way in Berlin. All those years together they had been life partners. He would make her dinner when she came home from campus. If she fell asleep on the couch, he would make sure she would go to bed. The sweet traditions they shared that sealed their partnership tear at my heart whenever I think of her and what she may be going through now. I wonder how to even pray for her… the words to say to God fail me. I just ask him to please please please comfort her somehow. God is able. I don’t know how a woman who has had a life partner since she was 16 figures out how to carry on. So I pray that God will somehow help her to find her way.
In all that she has done for me and all her other students, I wish I could take this pain from her, but I cannot. The least I could do is be even more dedicated to finishing this journey she has supported me on. I want to make her proud. Even still, I know that will never replace the presence of her soul mate. May the love of God surround her so intensely and his peace fill her that she may continue to fly, even with this unbelievable pain of loss.