Growing up, Rushford-Peterson High School senior Grace Meyer witnessed how many lives her mother touched as a social worker assisting seniors and families. To Meyer, her mother meant the world.
“She’s my best friend. Even though she’s not here with me physically, she’ll always be my best friend. She was my biggest cheerleader and my biggest supporter,” Meyer said.
Meyer lost her mother to liver disease last February after living for a year with the illness.
In addition to coming terms with her mother’s declining health and passing, attending school and working at a local daycare, Meyer stepped up to support her family, buying groceries, cooking dinner and driving her three younger siblings around.
Through it all, Meyer preserved her bubbly personality, relationships with family and friends, and academic performance, anchored by a positive and caring outlook, earning her an Above and Beyond nomination from her school.
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Meyer now plans to pursue a career in early childhood education, studying at Rochester Community and Technical College and continuing at Winona State University.
Given Meyer’s situation, reaching that decision took time.
“In the beginning, I felt very very sad. I was numb-feeling,” Meyer said about herself after her mother died. “My family dynamic changed in the sense that it felt, at least for me, a little empty without her there.”
While other seniors were making plans for after graduation, Meyer struggled to think about her future, reminded of her mother’s college and career advice.
Meyer found relief by seeking out therapy and found support in her friends, family and teachers. In her personal time, she took to writing journal entries and notes to her mother and reading poetry.
Driving Meyer’s perseverance and positivity through her mother’s death was remembering how her mother lived.
“She was very selfless, empathetic, compassionate, and I feel like my goal to keep her here is to carry those things within me to keep her alive,” Meyer said.
Meyer made the realization after a conversation with Erin Thompson, a family and consumer science teacher at Rushford-Peterson. Meyer and Thompson became close through a one-hour class. “She’s been my rock here,” Meyer said.
“Mrs. Thompson said, ‘Just because she’s gone doesn’t mean she still isn’t proud of you, doesn’t mean she still doesn’t love you,’” Meyer said. “After Mrs. Thompson had said that, I started using (my mother’s) traits in my life more, especially with kids and especially with my friends.”
Even if Meyer had not realized it until then, she had already been treating others with compassion and care.
Meyer never hesitated to take on more responsibility at home over the course of her mother’s illness, volunteering to run errands her mother no longer could.
“I didn’t feel like I didn’t have a choice, because I did. I could have easily asked my grandma to run the errands for me. I felt very helpful,” Meyer said. “That’s how I looked at it instead of, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go.’”
Instead of being a chore, Meyer found that caring for her three younger siblings presented an opportunity to grow closer to them, especially her 14-year-old sister, Sophie. “Shes become my little mini me,” Meyer said.
The 18-year-old also embraced being an emotional support for her siblings, helping them process their mother’s passing.
“The younger two don’t really know what to do with themselves. They understand, but they don’t really know how to deal with it. I try to talk to them about it, but sometimes they don’t want to,” Meyer said. “We just try to talk about happy memories.”
“Grace has done a beautiful job of putting the qualities she admired so much about her mom into her own life and living them out,” Thompson said. “She’s able to bring such a mature, grounded perspective to things that a lot of seniors even can’t do. She’s able to share those things with friends as they struggle through emotions or situations, she’s able to take some of the things she’s learned and help them and offer tidbits of ways to get through things.”
Meyer, who initially wanted to be a realtor, became interested in early childhood education after talking with her school counselor.
“I am the oldest of four, so I’ve felt like I’ve worked with kids my entire life,” Meyer said. “I love working with kids and seeing them develop and learn.”
Helping young children at Rushford’s Good Shepherd Childcare Center solidified Meyer’s career goal to be a pre-kindergarten or kindergarten teacher. Meyer started working at the center in June and continues to work part-time during school hours through a class and after school.
It’s a career that echoes her mother’s commitment to care and service. “She just had so much compassion for them and everybody she met,” Meyer said. “That’s probably another reason why I’m going into childcare.”
While looking forward to attending RTCT next year, Meyer is proud of her progress looking back.
“I’ve grown a lot,” Meyer said. “I’ve realized a lot of things, how fragile life is, and realized how important school is and how important it is to keep going.”
If you can help support Above & Beyond students, visit www.winonacf.org/donate to donate online.
Checks can be written to the the Winona Community Foundation and reference Above & Beyond; this can be in the memo line or in the payable to line. Mail to Winona Community Foundation, 111 Riverfront Suite 2E, Winona, MN 55987.