My armpits dripped with the stinkiest of all sweats: that of the “I’m-really-stressedout” variety. My heart raced, and I struggled in vain to fight back tears. Here I was, the day before Thanksgiving break during first year, intent on finishing a paper due the next day. My pink and purple folder containing all the meticulously edited drafts of said paper had gone missing.
I cried. I swore. I threw my lobster-shaped pillow across the room. Finally, as it dawned on me that taking my frustration out on my bedfellows was not very productive, I called my friends Calvin and Boyer for help. They came over, dried my tears, and searched all around campus with me until we finally located the folder, tossed lazily on the floor outside the dining hall, below the coat hooks.
Looking back three years later, I’m reminded of what a strong support network I have at Grinnell. During every rough patch, big or small, I’ve always had a swarm of Grinnellians to provide a sympathetic ear, a kind heart, and a limitless supply of hugs. However, I didn’t realize just how remarkable of a community Grinnell was until something tragic actually did happen, something whose seriousness greatly surpassed that of a misplaced folder.
On Thursday, December 13, 2007, around 8 p.m., like many Grinnellians the week before finals, I was sitting on a couch, laptop situated firmly on my lap, feverishly typing away at one of the many papers I had due over the course of the coming week. Then I received The Call from my mom. She had been walking laps with my dad at the Orland Park Sportsplex when he went down. And that was that. My dad had died.
I do not wish to describe the immense shock that swam over me, or the grief that still clouds my thoughts and daily activities. Rather, I would like to focus on how much my fellow Grinnellians have reached out and supported me in so many ways, making these difficult times infinitely better.
Within 20 minutes of the ill-fated phone call, my good friend Charlie was at my side. Soon after, my friends Meredith, Liz, and Henry joined us on the couch for an evening of handholding, hair-stroking, and everything-will-be-all-righting. I fell asleep in the arms of Mer and Liz.
When I awoke the next morning, two other friends, Ben and Sarah, were waiting for me downstairs, bearing organic chocolate bars from the bookstore and giant hugs. Later, Colette showed up with a delicious veggie wrap from Comeback Café for lunch. As the hours passed, more and more people kept dropping in: running buddies, neighbors, classmates, my cross country coach. Although the mood was somber, being surrounded by all these caring people made it feel almost like a house party in the middle of a Friday afternoon. I was the guest of honor, blubbering in my bathrobe, but letting myself be distracted and entertained by the amazing group of people gathered in my living room.
And although the wake and funeral services took place the weekend before finals, two friends (and one alum) made the four-hour trek from Grinnell to my Chicago suburb to attend. Not only did they bring their loving presences, but they also brought an enormous care package of cards, letters, cookies, and even a jar of a homemade tomato-based substance from Grinnellians back at school. The tomato-y jar actually brought some much needed humor to the afternoon as it allowed me to sit around for quite some time with my aunts and cousins debating whether the jar contained salsa or soup. (I found out later it was salsa. And it was delicious.)
The loving gestures continued to reach me even from afar. My housemates and I had been planning a holiday party to hold as a finals week study break, but due to my extenuating circumstances, I was unable to attend. In my absence, Meredith lit a candle at the party in memory of my father. She also provided all the guests with scraps of paper for them to write me notes of love, encouragement, and strength. When I returned to campus a few days later in order to retrieve the rest of my belongings for winter break, I was greeted with all these wonderful messages.
It’s been a rough couple of months, to say the least, but I am grateful I have so many amazing people in my life to remind me of all the good in the world. My dad once told me, “Erin, we only get so many moments like this.” Now I understand more than ever how right he was.
Erin Sindewald '08 is an English major from Orland Park, Illinois.