Finding a New Calling in the Wake of Loss

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Helen Hand works at Colorado Free University.

Helen Hand now leads Colorado Free University, founded by her older brother in 1987. Ketzel Levine hide caption

toggle caption Ketzel Levine

As a psychologist, Dr. Helen Hand has had a thriving clinical practice for almost 25 years. But the death of her brother — who founded a free university in 1987 — led her to a new path: leading the school he left behind.

The walls of Hand's Denver office in the 1913 building that houses the Colorado Free University are lined with photographs that honor her older brother, John, who was murdered just over a year ago, at the age of 54.

Within a month of his death, Helen Hand attempted to return to her work as a psychologist. But in the end, she says she couldn't do all that she felt was needed to help her clients. The Colorado Free University's staff was also at a loss as to moving forward — and they eventually reached out to Helen Hand for help.

Hand says her seemingly drastic career change wasn't all that far-fetched. Both therapy and education, she found, rely on opening up possibilities, helping others to understand and enjoy life.

At 53, she is still adjusting to losing her brother — but she's also learning how to manage a staff, a budget, and a building. In the process, she is at times bereft, at others incredulous, as she follows in her brother's footsteps and makes his job her own.

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