Leaving Home Isn't Easy

In life, we will find ourselves at a crossroads when we are faced with the decision to choose between our jobs or our personal life (whether it involves your family, your health, your spouse, etc). It’s not an easy decision to figure out what path is RIGHT for you. I use the word RIGHT because we can make decisions we don’t want to make, but they end up being the best for us in the long run. If you’re an over-analyzer like me, you will debate about what consequences may occur if you followed one path versus another. The impulsive type just follows instinct and walks. When you work in a field like Student Affairs and your hours are never the same each week, bumps in the road can really drive you off-course at times. Such is the case when a major family emergency happens to you.

To start off, I wanted to share with you a bit about myself. I work at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, IA. My elderly parents live in Floresville, TX (near San Antonio). This is an approximate 1,100 miles in between us. I visit my family once a year during the Winter Break. My mom and dad (who adopted me when I was a baby) are 80 years old. As with any person this age, my parents’ health has been declining for the past 2 or 3 years.

On April 10th, 2011 (it happened to be my birthday weekend) my mom suffered from a mild heart attack. When she went to the hospital she learned that she needed to have triple bypass surgery. Four of her major arteries were clogged 80-90%. My mother didn’t want me to know about what had happened, as she knows I’m the most sentimental of her children. She was also worried about stressing me out because I have enough stress in my life due to my work. She told me “I don’t want you spending all this money to come see me. You still have loans to pay back, you know!” That’s my mom…always worrying about others.

My first impulse was to drop everything and fly out to Texas as soon as I could. I let everyone in my office know what was going on and that I may have to step out for a few days. When speaking to my oldest sister, she told me to not fly home because there wasn’t anything I could do other than wait. As a Student Affairs professional, my job is to help students. To me, there’s always something I CAN DO. Whether it is guiding a student to another office, answering their questions, or introducing new information to them – there’s always something I can do. In this instance, with my family, my sister was right. I couldn’t do anything, other than wait and that bothered me because I don’t know how to not be able to help. I couldn’t even be supportive to my family because I was so distraught.

It was a nerve-wracking week for me. I barely had any sleep. I cried a lot. I checked my cell phone during work waiting to hear updates. I put a call for some prayers on my facebook page. I buried myself in my work to put my mind off of things. Nothing was really helping me. It was affecting my work a bit. My students were supportive towards me, and shared uplifting words of comfort (I really do have a great group of students I work with). I talked to some of my “UNI family” and my colleagues shared that sometimes when these things happen our natural instinct is to go home. However, you need to assess the situation first and have an honest conversation with yourself. If you can provide some type of help, then be there. Sitting around and waiting may not seem like an ideal scenario, but if your presence provides some comfort to someone else, then be there. If you know that you won’t be able to forgive yourself because you had the chance to say good-bye and didn’t, be there.

My mom has been doing well since surgery, although her recovery has been rough. She got to celebrate her 81st birthday in December (she’s kind of a rockstar, I know!). She is not the same mom that she used to be. Although she physically still hurts here and there, and can’t move as quickly as she used to, she is trying to live life to the fullest now. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff. She is looking at life in a more positive view. She’s asking me when I’m giving her grandchildren. Most importantly, we are able to support one another even though there’s 1,100 miles in between us. 

Tabatha Cruz

Student Affairs - the First Years

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