‘Family is my lifeline’: Priscilla Nuñez on losing family members and finding purpose

Looking for help with grief, perseverance and growth, Priscilla Nuñez found the “Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life: Living for What Matters Most” online course

Priscilla Nuñez sitting with her arm around Yvonne Matos
Priscilla Nuñez, right, with Yvonne Matos

Sean Corp, Content Strategist

Michigan Online recently passed 10 million enrollments. To honor that milestone, we are telling the stories of Michigan Online’s lifelong learners. Everyone has their own unique path to learning, and their own story to tell. This is the story of Priscilla Nuñez, who enrolled in “Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life: Living for What Matters Most.”

On a Friday, Priscilla Nuñez lost her grandmother. That Monday, she decided to enroll in a University of Michigan online course focused on finding purpose in life. What she found were tools, research and insight to help her deal with her grief while also allowing her to grow and channel her energy in a productive way.

“I’m not going to let this defeat me,” she said.

Priscilla is used to challenges. She’s been facing them her entire life. She is also all too familiar with grief, including the loss of her father on her 12th birthday. She grieved then, she said, but she also grew. Someone needed to be there to help raise her siblings, after all.

A nontraditional path

It was just a part of what she calls her life’s “nontraditional” path. A path that led her to work in business, then, with a solid business career established going back to finish her degree after fits and starts in higher education earlier in life. Now a newly minted graduate, she is forging a new career path to combine her experience in coding, artificial intelligence, search engine optimization, and machine learning. A mom of two grown children, her next step is pursuing a master’s degree in entrepreneurial ventures at Central Michigan University.

“There are tons of tools online in how to be successful in life, but I was looking for a different kind of personal enrichment,” she said. “I wanted tools to help me move forward.” — Priscilla Nuñez

“I’ve been nontraditional in everything I’ve done in my life,” Priscilla said.

Recently, her path led her to “Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life: Living for What Matters Most,” a newly launched course offered by the University of Michigan taught by Vic Strecher, a professor of health behavior and health education in the School of Public Health.

photo booth pictures of Priscilla Nunez and Frankie Matos
Priscilla Nuñez, right, with her grandfather, Frankie Matos

Priscilla began the course just days after losing her grandmother, Hilda Iris Matos. It was the third death of a close family member in the past five years. She also lost her aunt Yvonne, who she said was more like a sister to her. And she lost her youngest brother, Jon, who was president of another brothers’ business — one she helped nurture.

“Family is my lifeline. They are the tangible community that I have,” Priscilla said. She had been caring for both her grandparents for the past eight years, and to get them adequate care was a daunting process. But it is family first, as it has been her entire life.

“My grandparents had great significance in my life growing up,” Priscilla said. “It’s because of them I know how to make authentic Spanish food like paella and arroz con habichuelas.”

Enroll in the “Finding Purpose” course today

She relies on her remaining family and her spiritual beliefs, but said she also was looking for something to help with post-traumatic growth and resilience when she lost her grandmother. Most important, she said, was something she could rely on that was rooted in facts and science.

“There are tons of tools online in how to be successful in life, but I was looking for a different kind of personal enrichment,” she said. “I wanted tools to help me move forward.”

A Bond Formed Through Grief

That is when she discovered the “Finding Purpose” course, and it connected with her immediately. She instantly formed a bond with Strecher after the course’s introduction, where Strecher recounts a tragedy that changed the course of his life and his research – the loss of his daughter.

“He was really honest and sharing about his own experience, and that tone and transparency helped me know how relevant what he was teaching was to my own experience,” Priscilla said.

Strecher’s daughter Julia received a heart transplant in infancy and life expectancy was uncertain. Strecher determined with no guarantee there would be a tomorrow, it was important that every day was lived to its fullest.

Priscilla Nuñez with her family
Priscilla Nuñez (third from left with arm raised) and her family.

Even with this valuable perspective, losing Julia suddenly at age 19 in 2010 hit Strecher hard. He went through an intense grieving process, and that led him to research the meaning behind a purposeful life, pulling from both the latest scientific research and ancient philosophy.

The ‘Finding Purpose’ online course

Strecher brings that research and his own lived experience to his online course. He has also written a graphic novel about losing his daughter and a book, “Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything.”

The course helps you understand the science and philosophy of finding purpose in your life and helps you identify what matters most so you can find your purpose.

“Vic’s course is based on research, and he has data to back him up. The course also offers many helpful tools, including the Purposeful app, and really gives you what you need to discover what’s valuable in life and living for what matters most,” Priscilla said.

Jon Nunez screencap
Jon Nuñez, middle, Priscilla’s brother.

Within the course and throughout her life, Priscilla has dealt with loss and with grief. But, she said, it also taught her resilience. And through the course, it became even more clear how important family is to her, and to her living her most purposeful life.

The Next Chapter

When Priscilla began the course, she couldn’t get through the modules fast enough, she said. Designed to be completed over four weeks, Priscilla finished in four days. It’s typical of her work ethic and drive to succeed. After applying to the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus, an adviser looked at her work history and her grades and encouraged her to apply to the School of Information at the Ann Arbor campus.

She was accepted and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2019. She continues to follow her own nontraditional path, and courses like those offered on Michigan Online give her the tools she is looking for.

“Like the course says, you live it, you breathe it, you do it,” she said. “Manifestation.”

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