Guilt and grief of losing Sewanee

By Nellie Fagan
Contributing Writer

I’ve been facing an ongoing struggle between grieving the lost time at Sewanee and feeling guilty for feeling sorry for myself. It is hard to find any kind of silver lining in this situation, and while we can do our best to stay connected and find a new normal, there is no way to virtually replace what has been lost. 

I am coming to terms with this reality, and it is chipping away at my heart in pangs of loneliness and longing for an alternative. I have found myself saying “it is what it is” and “we’re all struggling through this,” because I feel guilty being sad about missing my final days in Sewanee when we are in a pandemic and people are dying. But everyday I remind myself, it is okay to grieve this loss. It is okay to be aware of the guilt, but we cannot let it numb us to the point of not being able to process what is happening. 

This is hard. Sewanee was never meant to be this way and we all know that. It is incredibly difficult to fully embody EQB when we’re all physically in Sewanee to begin with, but how can we truly “dwell together in unity” when we’re apart? Many are finding creative ways of tackling this question, and I am so grateful to those who are continuing to provide opportunities to learn and build community, even if we know that this is not what we want. 

I’ve had a few moments where seeing a friend or colleague over Zoom has brought me so much joy, but it is still hard for me to look at these moments as silver linings. I’ve been having a lot of trouble finding the good in all of this, even though I’m sure they are there. The reality is this feeling is new for many of us, and this situation is affecting us all differently. 

I am holding on to the “Sewanee lasts” that I am able to remember, even if I didn’t know they were my last when they were happening. The last time I’ll wake to my suitemates’ laughter while rushing off to their 8am’s. My last cup of coffee on the Stirling’s porch. The last time I caught a moment of peace in All Saints’. My last dance on the ADT table. My last hug before the 17 hour drive home to Massachusetts. I’m holding onto these moments even though the goodbyes were much fewer than I imagined. 

I had always fantasized about those last weeks in Sewanee and how we’d cherish the remaining time we had left. Now we will have something much different. Class of 2020, I love you the most and love you now more than ever. May this moment bring us closer and lead us to, one day, have our epic celebration, our opportunity to say goodbye. And while we grow closer and seek gratitude for the memories Sewanee did give us, may we remember that we don’t need to find the silver lining right now. We can be keenly aware of the severity of the situation the world is in while also being deeply saddened by the time we have lost together. In this ongoing grief and loss, even though it might not feel like it, we do dwell together in community. 


  1. Brilliant and beautiful expression of the lamentations I have sensed in so many in the Class of 2020, in colleges and high schools well beyond Sewanee’s gates. Bless you, Ms. Fagan, for your clear voice and your heart well attuned to the Spirit.

  2. Dearest Nell,
    Thank you for sharing your heartfelt sentiments. There should never be guilt or apologies for how one feels. It’s so important that we recognize how they are a part of who we are and accept them–the happy emotions and the sad ones.

    Know that you are loved!

  3. My child, born in the South of two Sewanee alums, is now mourning the loss of heart’s-home, which is a college campus in Massachusetts.
    I feel for everyone who has lost such a dear place to them. But I also take comfort in the fact that clearly there is good in all places if only we look at them through the right filter.

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