The trials and traumas life threw at Monica Simpson could have broken her. Instead, she transformed those experiences into hope – for herself and others.
Monica Simpson would never have chosen the path that brought her to Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Commencement stage as the 2019 Provost’s Award winner. But she’s immensely grateful to have traveled it.
“It has made me a ‘hope holder,’” she says.
Simpson was married at 22 and divorced at 33, remarried at 36 and widowed at 42 when her husband died of complications from a rare liver disease. Along the way, she had a son and two daughters. Her family faced depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, eating disorders, substance abuse, health issues and financial challenges.
In the darkest moments, Simpson admits she was tempted to give up. “As a parent, I knew I couldn’t allow that. I found a dogged determination and a passion that would not be shut down.”
When she gazed up from her own wounds and saw others’ suffering, she realized helping others required holding up for them the hope that helped her get through her most difficult days.
“Hope holder means coming alongside someone in an authentic and loving way, to bear witness to their grief or difficulty and allow them to have it without shame, and to hold onto hope for them when they are unable to see it for themselves,” she explains. “It’s … letting them know that it’s OK to grieve and … helping them to remember what hope looks and feels like when they are able to once again consider having it.”
As she embraced her role as a hope holder, Simpson opened herself to queries from parents whose children were struggling with mental health issues similar to those her children faced.
“I spent hours on phone calls with people I’d never met. I blogged. I taught. I talked. I listened,” she says. “I realized our suffering could be redeemed.”
Simpson directed those in grief to resources she’d found useful and realized that her work wasn’t just helping others, it was also growing her own hope and interest in helping others.
As she further considered the wisdom she had gained as a parent of children who had dealt with and survived suicidal ideations, Simpson began volunteering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She began to believe that she might be able to help others in distress in a professional capacity. But that meant she needed a college degree.
In fall 2016, Simpson – at the time a new grandmother – took her first step to earning that degree: boarding a light rail train bound for the Auraria Campus where she would study Human Services and Counseling at MSU Denver.
Over the next three years, her work, studies and the connections she made with others landed her respect, experience, a 4.0 GPA and accolades, not the least of which is the Spring 2019 Provost’s Award.
The day before graduation, Simpson turned 56, and in three weeks her granddaughter will turn three.
Simpson says she’d be honored if, when her granddaughter is older, “she thinks of hope when she thinks of me … hope of growth and new possibilities.”