Turning Loss Into Learning
In the last three years, Robin Eaton has lost three people close to her: her mother and father, as well as her grandfather, who helped raise her. From this heartbreaking experience, she started a new life—one they would be thrilled to see.
“They’d be proud of the fact that I’m not just constantly sad and grieving,” she says. “Of course, everybody grieves, but they’d be glad to know that I learned a lot and took some good things from the bad.”
This extraordinary mindset springs from Robin’s commitment to learning from everything—even tragedy. “It’s sad that they’re gone, and it’s hard without them, but I learned a lot through those experiences. It really opened my eyes to see that life is short, and I want to be there to help people while I’m here.”
All three family members ended up requiring hospice care, with Robin helping to care for each of them in the end. She felt able to endure such difficulty, ironically, in part because of the encouragement of one of those she cared for.
“My grandfather always wanted me to be in healthcare. He thought that I had the personality for it. He had a lot of health issues, so he went back and forth to the doctor a lot, and some of his favorite people were nurses and patient care techs. He always thought that they were the nicest and the best people.”
Her formal education had ended years ago, in 8th grade of a homeschool program. Her grandmother had helped her through it as best she could, but, lacking educational training, could help her no further. Robin wound up in fast food, working her way up to management. She liked it, especially the interaction with customers, but felt more and more that her grandfather was right. She knew what she had to do: take the first step towards a high-school-equivalency diploma.
It was a difficult challenge. More than 15 years had passed since she had done any formal study. Still she enrolled in Northeast Mississippi Community College’s Adult Education program.
As her teacher at the time, Courtney Casabella, remembers it, “Robin walked into my classroom during lunch one day and told me she was ready to change her life. She told me that for various reasons she didn’t have her diploma and had been told by others it wasn’t worth it and she couldn’t achieve it. She was motivated but very unsure of herself.”
“I was afraid of failure,” Robin says. “I have 4 kids, and I was afraid of them seeing me fail.” Still she tried, and succeeded, thanks in large part to her instructor. “She pushed me and just kept telling me to never give up,” she says of Casabella. “I really don’t think I could have done it without her.”
Underneath the uncertainty, Casabella recalls, Robin still had a solid foundation, in that “she was ready to take back her life after so much heartbreak in her past. She was ready to break free and take control. It was inspiring.”
What happened next was a transformation, or perhaps an unfolding of what was already there. “Not only did I get to witness Robin reach the milestone of getting her diploma,” says Casabella, “but what was most impressive to me was her grit and mindset shift. She’s highly motivated by her children and being an example for them, and it was so exciting to celebrate with her at each test passed.”
As Robin’s confidence grew, so did her understanding of what it took to accomplish her goals. “I’ve learned that you’re going to have to fail to succeed,” she says, advice she now offers to others. “They’re going to fail along the way, but that’s part of success. Don’t be afraid of failure.”
After completing her diploma, Robin continued moving forward: leaving her fast-food job, finding clinical work at a local hospital, completing Northeast’s EMT training program.
Along with her children and the encouraging words of her late grandfather and her teacher, Robin draws on another, albeit unlikely, source for her strength. “I am used to chaos, and I work well with chaos,” she says, a trait that served her well during her emergency-management training. She recalls an exercise, a manual blood-pressure check, where she and her classmates were told that there would be lots of distractions when they tried to carry out the same task in the back of an ambulance. “At home, I was practicing on my husband, and my kids were running around, screaming, getting into everything. I feel like that’s how my life is, chaotic, but I can work through it.”
By embracing uncertainty, Robin has built resilience in her life. She has come to understand that the only way to learn is to take life as it comes, work with it, taking from it what she can. From dealing with death and loss to raising children, to checking vital signs in a whirlwind of chaos, she embraces life—all of it—creating one success after another.
“I can’t wait,” says Casabella, “to see all she does in the future.”