Students in field

Finding New Life at Finlandia

June 28, 2019

“I lost everything that day. I lost my only child. I lost the exquisite joy of watching my daughter continue to grow and achieve the tremendous potential she had already demonstrated in her almost 19 years. I lost the chance to fulfill all the travel adventures and plans we had talked about. I will never hold my grandchildren. I will forever hear the echoing in my head of those 10 words that shattered my life to dust.”

On the morning of August 7, 2015 Laura Sieders, Instructor of Accounting, received a phone call that is every parent’s worst nightmare. Somewhere on an expressway in Texas, her beloved and precious daughter Holly had been killed. The following is her story of loss and eventual discovery of her new mission in life.

“My focus shortened to just beyond the tip of my nose. I remembered to breathe, but forgot what it was like to do so without feeling like an elephant was sitting on my chest. Each morning my first thought upon waking was ‘well, another day to get through without Holly’ and each night I went to sleep with the thought ‘well, I made it through another day without Holly.’

I’ve always known my direction in life, but now I was completely adrift. Something so tragic only happens on television or to other people and yet I was now living that life, the one I never planned for, never expected.

I knew instinctively that I couldn’t continue with my life in Virginia. The memories were too difficult, the stress of D.C. suburban life too much to cope with on top of the grief I knew would not recede any time soon. I needed to be back home in the Copper Country with my family, with Lake Superior, with the quietness of the pine forests that, if you listen closely, aren’t really all that quiet. There are memories here, too. Summer vacations and Christmas visits to home, but the memories are not suffocating. They are comforting. I could heal here. So, I resigned from my job and in December 2015, I moved back to my childhood home.

The fog of grief had graciously shrouded those first 12 months of going through the motions of living. I still don’t know what prompted me to visit the Finlandia University website for open positions, but that’s where I found myself one day. I saw the posting for an accounting opportunity in the International School of Business and sent an email to the dean, Kevin Manninen. I didn’t even have any deliberate intentions or desire outcomes. When I had a response back regarding an adjunct teaching opportunity, I was surprised and, for the first time in what felt like forever, delighted.

I didn’t have much time to prepare to teach Intermediate Accounting, but after working in the field since my university graduation, I would be teaching what I knew. I was a little nervous but quite excited by this new challenge. After being numb for so long, it was a novelty to feel something other than grief.

Somewhere along the way during the Fall 2016 semester, without me noticing it was happening, I started to look forward to class days. I didn’t need to convince myself to roll out of bed and keep putting one foot in front of the other, literally and figuratively. I realized, much to my surprise, that I was actually looking forward to those two days of the week: a feeling I had completely forgotten.

I didn’t have to think twice when asked to return as an adjunct instructor the next academic year. And it only got better and better as the weeks and months passed with my 2017-2018 students. They figured out that they could make me laugh, and did they ever make me laugh. I don’t know if they appreciate how much they helped me wake up to life again.

Then an opportunity arose to go full time.

It was during this time of uncertainty that I saw a commercial for Finlandia University while watching the 2018 Winter Olympics. A clip of President Philip Johnson speaking was included and he said ‘It’s not simply what we do that matters, it’s how we do it.’ I’m pretty sure time stopped. The sentiment expressed by President Johnson is precisely the type of environment I wanted to be a part of.

This is exactly where I was supposed to be.

A few weeks later, my students and I were working through the culmination of learning at the end of Intermediate Accounting. It is a very challenging section for the students, forcing them to stretch mentally and remember everything that they’ve learned since week one of fall semester, and bring all of it to bear to successfully work through that chapter’s material. At one point, one student was completely baffled. Before I could verbally lead this student to the solution, another student looked over, and I heard myself speaking. It was a glorious moment. I’d spent months encouraging them to think like accountants and speak like accountants and suddenly, like magic, it was happening.

Everything clicked.  In August 2015, I lost my mission in life. In March 2018, I found a new mission. Somehow I found myself in the right place, with the right people, doing the right thing.

At the conclusion of my first year of full-time teaching, I remain passionately committed to the success of my students and to the future of Finlandia University. This new career is deeply fulfilling and profoundly rewarding. I can’t imagine what life would be like if I hadn’t, on a whim, looked at jobs at Finlandia and reached out to the dean.

Holly’s all-too-short life had been about sending out ripples that positively affected the people around her. I can’t help but see the perfect symmetry of how my new mission in life honors her as much as it gives me daily purpose.”

This article on Laura Sieders originally appeared in the Spring 2019 Edition of the Bridge magazine. If you would like to receive your own copy of the Bridge please visit our publications page. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be releasing digital copies of all stories from that publication. Read more stories for the Bridge

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