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Point of View: On Loss

Posted by on Wednesday, June 29, 2022 in Uncategorized .

By Lourdes Estrada, PhD (MSTP Associate Director)

My Dad, Jose Antonio Estrada Padilla (left), shaking hands with the then Governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Rosselló González (right).

In 2008, I was in Toronto on the last day of a Mathematical Modeling of Cancer workshop I was directing when I heard that my dad passed away. I was so far away but so lucky to have the support of my work family that offered to help me pay for an expensive emergency next day flight to Puerto Rico. This was the first close and personal loss I experienced in my life. The support of my siblings was key for me to process this loss. Time also helped.

My wonderful brother, Jose, and sister, Mariela. Their insanity keeps me sane!

Since 2008, I have experienced many other losses including my 99-year-old grandmother, Emilia Colon. Many years before her passing she told me that her goal was to be 100 years old. Well, she almost made it! What helped me with her loss was knowing that she lived a long life on her own terms. The stories are legendary. I admire her tenacity.

My beautiful grandmother on her 99th birthday.

Recent losses in our MSTP and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) community have impacted me greatly and each has taught me different lessons. What they all have in common is that I am grateful for our close-knit community that genuinely cares for each other.

The unexpected loss of our dear MSTP student, Zachary Jones, taught me that a kind and bright smile can leave a lifetime of beautiful memories. If you were the recipient of Zach’s smile, you know what I mean. So, each day, I try my best to smile more. 

Celebrating White Coat Ceremony with Zachary Jones and the MSTP Entering Class of 2018.

Earlier this year, we said goodbye to our MSTP alumni Matt McKenna. Matt had the gift of explaining the most complex mathematical equation to the least mathematically inclined person (like me). But more than that, Matt committed himself to his work, his colleagues, friends, and family. His loss has taught me the importance of reaching out to those left behind to let them know how much their loved one meant to me.

On Feb 23rd, I was privileged to witness the services to celebrate the life of Dr. Michael (Mike) Fowler, a beloved teacher at VUSM. The incredible show of love and respect was overwhelming in the most beautiful way. All who knew Mike appreciated his self-deprecating humor, passion for teaching, and fierce dedication to his patients. During his service many mentioned that Mike wanted his life to matter. Well, his life did matter. His loss has inspired me to try each day to be more giving.

Unfortunately, I am certain that I will experience more losses in my personal and work families. But I am also certain that each will teach me a unique lesson that will make me a better person. This is how I have learned to deal with loss. I can only hope that by sharing this with you, I am honoring their legacy and you can get comfort in knowing that we all process loss differently and that is okay.