On Legacy and Goodbyes

I have many thoughts about my first year at UNB and as a nursing professor. Not unexpectedly, it has been a year of intense change, growth, and learning, but also of deep personal loss. In October 2016, just months after starting my career as an Assistant Professor, I said goodbye to my PhD supervisor the night before I walked across the stage in my beautiful purple robes to be hooded as Dr. Read and get my diploma. After leaving the hospital I broke down in tears and sobbed.  I still don’t know how to deal with this loss. The juxtaposition of experiencing one of the happiest and saddest events in my life at the same time was (and is still at times) overwhelming.

This experience has definitely influenced my perspective on my work as I begin my career. Heather was a nursing graduate of UNB where, serendipitously, I now work.  She influenced nursing research, practice, and policy nationally and internationally through her work on structural empowerment and healthy work environments, but arguably her biggest, broadest impact has been through her influence on her students and colleagues. Working with her was a one-of-a-kind experience and I feel so blessed to have had the time with her that I did.  Being a supportive supervisor and mentor for graduate students has become a really important priority for me because I know it matters, deeply.

In retrospect, I think I was in denial about the fact that she wouldn’t always be around.  As her illness progressed, she worked from home more frequently and we (her research staff) would run down to the dental circle to exchange documents and edited drafts with her when she pulled up in her car. It became the new normal and for better or worse she was able to keep working.  The best days were when she would come sit in the RA office with us, pull up a chair, and chat about research and life (and Roger Federer of course!). Despite her busy schedule and everything else, Heather was extremely generous with her time and energy.  Her high expectations and drive weren’t always easy to handle but she pulled out the best in me for sure and always said thank you for the work that I did for her.

God, this is so hard to write about.  What are you supposed to do when your supervisor dies and leaves you her laptop, a book chapter to write, an unfinished research study…? When you help clean out her office and see what’s left behind? The awards, degrees, books, and articles…. the artifacts of hours upon hours of work and intellectual capital.  When you witness her son saying goodbye to her and think about your own mortality and having to say goodbye to your own son down the road?  I’m not sure what the answer is but I see things a bit differently now.

Not that I was ever interested in doing things just because they look good on my CV, but I really do think about my work differently now.  Not to be morbid, but I am acutely aware that the impact of my own research and teaching is important and will live on after me.  Much of Heather’s ideas and knowledge have been passed on to her students and I am honoured to be part of that group of people.

My perspective on how I use my time has also changed and I cherish the time I have with my friends and family in this life even more, though admittedly I don’t spend nearly as much time with them as I would like. I don’t want to sacrifice relationships for my career and I have realized that I don’t have to. In fact, I am more convinced than ever that the relationships we have through our work are (or can be) an important part of our life.

Thanks for listening.






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