People who spend time with Jessica Swafford will see her quiet wisdom and hope. “I’m always trying to find the silver lining,” says Jessica, who attended the NOSW residential program in 2008 and 2022.
But Jessica’s perspective has been shaped by pain and loss.
She struggled with depression after her older brother died when she was 12. She came to NOSW in 2008 when she was 30 and unsure how to move forward. “I thought I had done everything right, but I never finished college and I hated my job,” she says. “I felt like it was a soul sucking job, and I really had no idea what to do next.”
Jessica made close friends at NOSW, and eventually she joined a church, attended college and went on a mission trip to Uganda.
At Berea College from 2011 to 2014, she majored in English with an emphasis in Appalachian Studies. But before graduating, she had to leave college to go home and care for her mother. Only four months later, Jessica was diagnosed with stage three cancer when she was just 37.
“When I had cancer, that was like my mission.” She went to her radiation and chemo appointments and focused on beating the disease. As she started to feel better, she sought out online classes and workshops that were free or offered scholarships. She participated in a year-long poetry workshop called The Gauntlet and continues to write poetry.
But as she was moving from the dark days of cancer and into the light, she was struck with a series of losses. She lost her other brother in 2017, her grandmother in 2018, her mother in 2019 and her father in 2020. Her boyfriend, Benjamin, also experienced serious health issues. These traumas heightened Jessica’s depression, anxiety and lack of self-worth.
By the time she applied to NOSW in 2022, Jessica was at the lowest point in her life. “I need the NOSW to help me excavate myself from all these levels of grief and trauma,” she wrote in her application. “I need help to realize my worth and fulfill my potential.”
When she graduated from the summer session on July 2, after two weeks of focusing on herself and thinking about her future, she expressed hope, comparing herself to a blossoming plant: “I am full of shoots, and I am going to be a spider plant that grows out in every direction.”
Jessica is interested in exploring work as an end-of-life doula and publishing her writing.