When Erin Journigan began dating Concordia Irvine MBA student Richie Linden, she heard a lot about how he “absolutely loved” the program, she says.
“He spoke so highly of it that when I started looking at MBA programs at USC and Pepperdine, he kept saying, ‘Look at Concordia,’” Erin recalls. “So I decided to go for it. I wanted an in-classroom experience, face to face, where you really dive into discussions.”
Erin had graduated with honors from USC and worked in marketing before taking a job at National Charity League, Inc. (NCL), a nonprofit which fosters mother-daughter relationships through community service. Having been out of college since 2003, “I was excited, anxious and unsure what to expect in terms of working full-time.,” she says.
Everything changed on the first day of finance class when a devastating call came: Richie, her boyfriend of six years, had died suddenly of hereditary cardiovascular disease after taking his Husky on a hike of Mt. Baldy. He was 39, and Erin was 36.
I was so grateful to be at Concordia. I wasn’t just a number there. The fact that they remembered Richie and showed up to his service spoke volumes to me about the university.
“There was a lot of shock with the way he passed,” she says. “I learned that your life stops and everybody else’s continues, so you’re relearning how to live with your new reality.”
Symptoms of grief overwhelmed her: constant fatigue, physical shaking and an inability to keep up with “normal” life.
“I’ve always been a type A, a doer, so I had to pick and choose what I did and drop other things,” Erin says.
She had just started Concordia’s MBA program and could have reasonably dropped out or postponed it. Instead, she pressed into the Concordia community for strength.
“I knew how important education was to Richie and how much joy he was getting out of me being at Concordia, so I showed up at class the next week,” Erin says. “Part of getting my MBA was for myself because I’d always wanted to, but this added a whole other element of why I was doing it.”
Professors Bruce Hansen and Janet Muller, who taught Richie, both attended his memorial service which “blew me away,” Erin says. “I was so grateful to be at Concordia. I wasn’t just a number there. The fact that they remembered Richie and showed up to his service spoke volumes to me about the university.”
Still, the road ahead was not easy.
“I can only remember probably two times when I left campus and didn’t cry on the way home,” Erin says. “That was all part of my healing process. I knew I was finishing for me and knowing how much joy it would have brought Richie.”
Grief sometimes got the upper hand.
“I would read a chapter of a textbook, then look down and say, why is this book in my lap?” Erin remembers. “It was grief fog. That lasted a good year. I really had to plan ahead, day by day, week by week, test by test. I probably learned more than I would have because I had to fight for each piece of information I was learning, and break through that grief fog to be able to focus. It was really healing at the same time.”
When things got especially hard, she donned Richie’s Tim Tebow jersey while she studied, which he had often worn in honor of Tebow’s determination and perseverance. Faith in Christ kept her steady as well.
“It was a gift to be at a Christian university where I could write honestly about faith and didn’t have to filter it out,” she says. “Even to walk on campus and see a Bible verse was very comforting and reassuring.”
It was a gift to be at a Christian university where I could write honestly about faith and didn’t have to filter it out.
Janet Muller, MBA program director, says that Erin “held a very special place in the hearts of her MBA professors. She was a good student. We wanted her to succeed and I checked up on her progress each term. We were very proud of her success and the tremendous growth in her outlook and the strength of her faith. She exemplifies the quality of a Concordia MBA graduate."
For Erin’s capstone project, she chose to create an aggregated database for grief support in Orange County.
“Grief was an isolating experience,” Erin says. “How do you go through it when so many of your peers don’t understand? It was fascinating for me to study grief support. It wasn’t what I set out to do. It’s where I landed because of where my life had been for eighteen months. Researching so much about the science of grief contributed to the healing.”
Having graduated from the MBA program, Erin continues to serve as the director of membership at National Charity League, helping to create shared experiences for teenage girls and their moms through volunteering. NCL is nearly a century old and counts more than 265 chapters in 27 states, with much growth in the past decade.
One of the biggest results of her loss has simply been gratitude.
“I look at life and things differently,” she says. “I have more gratitude for people and experiences, and learning to say thank you in the midst of heartache and challenge. I still miss Richie, but my heart has expanded bigger than I ever thought possible.”