When Andrea Nolan receives her diploma, one face will be missing in the commencement crowd: her mom’s.
Debbie Nolan died Aug. 26, 2010, just days before her daughter started her junior year of high school.
But things had already been rough for the family. “My grandma passed away when I was in eighth grade,” Nolan said. “Everything just went downhill after that.”
Nolan’s parents were divorced, and Debbie Nolan had quit her job to care for her dying mother. “My mom had a hard time dealing with the loss,” Nolan recalled.
In addition, she began to suffer from health problems related to alcoholism, and when Andrea was a sophomore her mother was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.
“When my mom got sick, I had a lot of responsibilities put on me,” Nolan said. “I had to wake her up to take me to school. Our roles were switched.”
Nolan had no idea her mother had a drinking problem, so the diagnosis came as a shock to her. She said, “I went through that withdrawal with her. It was too much of a burden for me. I had a hard time being that crutch for her.”
She ended up moving in with her dad. “We had so many good years,” she said. “It was hard feeling like I didn’t have a mom.”
But good things came of Nolan’s decision to move out. Her mother started attending Alcoholics Anonymous and received much-needed support in her quest for sobriety.
Although Nolan had a more stable home environment, she still struggled with the changes in her world. “My life got turned upside down.”
She felt isolated and kept her distance from her peers. But when she heard about a school trip to Italy the summer following her sophomore year, she signed up.
Nolan had a fabulous time, and when she returned she was eager to share her experiences with her mom. She was astonished by the change she found in her mother. “She was like a completely different person in the best way possible. She’d turned her life around. I think AA sparked a spiritual awakening in her. Her whole countenance was peaceful.”
Sadly, her health continued to fail. A short time later Debbie Nolan’s kidneys began to shut down. She was airlifted to Swedish Hospital in Seattle, but she contracted pneumonia and died.
“The loss was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life,” Nolan said. “No one knew what I was going through. I was walking alone through that time.”
School adviser Angie Mossey said, “All of Andrea’s junior year was this process of grieving.”
Nolan found solace in her faith and in her music. She plays the guitar and is part of the worship team at the school and at her church. “Music has been crucial to my healing process,” she said.
Thankfully, she’s been able to enjoy her senior year. “I still miss my mom and wish I could talk to her, but I’ve come to terms with the reality of things, and I’m OK.”
Her future looks more than OK. Nolan has been awarded an Act Six scholarship to Gonzaga University. “That scholarship is a tribute to what she has to offer as a leader,” Mossey said.
She has enjoyed watching Nolan emerge from the weight of her sorrow. “I know people who’ve gone through hard things and become bitter, but Andrea chose to cling to God.”