On Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 10 a.m., a Remembrance Service will be held for student Marissa Borst, ‘24, who died on Aug. 1, 2021. The service will be held in the grassy area in front of Jones Chapel. Because the service will be held outside, there is no RSVP required and social distancing will be enforced. In case of rain, the service will be held inside Jones Chapel, which can accommodate 150 people.
Chaplain Stacy Pardue told The Herald that the College has held a service such as this whenever there has been a student death and that the service “honors the student, supports the family members and helps the campus grieve and support one another.”
Marissa’s mother, Vanessa Borst, described Marissa as an active student in high school who hoped to continue that involvement at Meredith. Ms. Borst said that Marissa was an avid reader, loved Broadway musicals and hoped to be involved in theatre productions at Meredith. Marissa was a recipient of the Meredith Legacy Scholarship, and she was a psychology major who “wanted to open her own practice one day and help children” according to her mother. She was also involved with the Meredith Autism Program (MAP) and her mother said she loved “times spent with fellow classmates and her Big Sis.”
Ms. Borst shared that Marissa was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, which she described as “a physical disease, a chemical imbalance, that affects you mentally.” Ms. Borst said, “The main thing I'd like to convey is there is no shame in dealing with anxiety, depression or bipolar disease…I just want [students] to understand you need to talk about your feelings…don't try to go through this alone. Even though this was conveyed to Marissa many times, and she talked with me many times about them, the disease can fool your brain into thinking it won't ever get better. Remember, everything is temporary and won't last forever. Please reach out to someone if you feel like you need help.”
For students struggling with Marissa’s death, Rev. Pardue said, “That's normal when you come to appreciate and love someone. It's the human condition. I would encourage them to take some time to be grateful for the ways that Marissa touched their life, and to share those with others who knew her and are also grieving.” She added, “There…may be students or others on campus that are personally dealing with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, and I would strongly encourage them to seek immediate professional help.” Rev. Pardue also said she is happy to speak with students who need to process ideas about death or suicide, and that they can email her at email@example.com to set up an appointment.
To make an appointment at Meredith’s Counseling Center, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 919-760-8427. In a crisis, contact the counselor on-call at 919-760-8888 or the Critical Response Team at 919-612-6350. September is also Suicide Prevention Month, and there are many resources available from the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line.
Ms. Borst also provided The Herald with a reflection on Marissa’s life, the full text of which can be read below.
I would love Marissa to be remembered for the wonderful life she led. She was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder in February of this year and prior to that struggled with anxiety disorder for about a year. But her struggles don't define my beautiful daughter. She had a very full life for the 19 and a half years she was here with us. From the day she was born, she had such a light in her eyes. She smiled so much, and the smile always started in her eyes. She loved her family, her friends, her dog, her school, children and her God so very much! She had the kindest heart of anyone I've ever known. She loved learning. She was a dancer at Cumberland Dance for 15 years. She cheered from sixth grade all through high school. She loved being on yearbook staff and was the editor in chief her junior and senior years. She took her role very seriously and was proud of the finished product. She also served in student government, was a member of the National Honor Society, chief marshal in junior year and valedictorian in her senior year. She enjoyed competing in Mock Trial senior year. She attended Village Christian Academy (VCA) and loved learning. She won many merit awards over the years, but that wasn't the reason she did it — she just loved learning. She loved the kindergarten buddy program in senior year, and showered her buddy with time and attention and little gifts. She was usually on the playground with her and other children during her lunch break.
She was an avid reader, loved the Harry Potter series, mysteries and fiction. She loved Broadway musicals; she loved seeing them and singing with the soundtracks she played in her car. She loved acting and was in some of VCA's productions over the years and was also involved in Cape Fear Regional Theatre in their summer productions and “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” She had hoped to be involved in productions at Meredith as well once classes were back to normal after COVID-19. She loved movies and playing board games. She loved holidays, spending time with family on vacations and baking for us.
Marissa was very proud to be a Meredith Angel. She loved the campus and the environment, and she was anxious to get back on campus for sophomore year. She was majoring in psychology and wanted to open her own practice one day and help children. She was double majoring in advanced mathematics during freshman year, but changed that to early childhood development and education for sophomore year. One of her favorite things was working with the Meredith Autism Program (MAP). She loved her clients and loved the program. It brought her so much joy. She loved times spent with fellow classmates and her Big Sis.
I could go on and on, but as you can read, she had so much joy in her life. That made her diagnosis and struggles with mental illness that much harder. She had always been able to set her mind on a goal and attack it. Bipolar II is a physical disease, a chemical imbalance, that affects you mentally. At times she would have trouble concentrating, staying on track and focused. It causes small problems to seem insurmountable. She was in both treatment and therapy. The scariest part of the disease is you can't physically see the problem. I always told her that she could talk to me about anything and I would be here for her. She knew how much I love her. But the disease can make you think it will never get better. She didn't stay in this mindset continuously, but she obviously had bouts of depression during the last few months. This disease is very hard on young people that haven't lived through as many troubling times and think it will last forever. The main thing I'd like to convey is there is no shame in dealing with anxiety, depression, or bipolar disease. Just like any other physical illness, we all have our struggles to deal with. I just want them to understand you need to talk about your feelings, reach out to a parent, friend, professor, doctor. Don't try to go through this alone. Even though this was conveyed to Marissa many times, and she talked with me many times about them, the disease can fool your brain into thinking it won't ever get better. Remember, everything is temporary and won't last forever. Please reach out to someone if you feel like you need help. There isn't a moment that goes by that I don't wish Marissa was still here with me. She was my world and I'm thankful to know I'll see her again in Heaven some day. But I would also have loved seeing her achieve her dreams here on earth, marry a man she loved and raise her own children. As a parent, I promise there isn't anything you could tell your mom or dad that couldn't be worked through. As parents, we love you unconditionally. As I always told Marissa, I love you to the moon and back, plus some, plus some.
By Olivia Slack, Co-Editor in Chief