Living as a Survivor, Coping with Grief
Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 17, 2012 22:05
Doctoral candidate in Pharmacology at Boston University ingests chemical.
Boston College sophomore, Harvard student death ruled a suicide.
Suffolk University student leaps to his death.
These have been the recurring headlines in the previous month.
Most of us did not known these individuals on a personal level, but as a student, resident of the Boston area, and human being, it is likely that the community surrounding these tragic news can be emotionally affected, both indirectly and directly.
Being a survivor, there is a lot baggage to cope with, dealing with the aftermath of a loss, whether a friend, family member, or someone from the neighborhood. From personal experience, a death in our community is very complex, due to the powerful sadness it can cause, even though he or she could have been a complete stranger.
Is it okay to cry when finding out a stranger in our school community has just died?
Absolutely. He could’ve easily been another one of your close friends, or sibling just trying to make it through tireless nights of studying for Global Political Economy, or figuring out what the logistics of the transition between college student and young professional may be, or simply dealing with personal issues nobody ever knew or will know about.
In other words, he was just like you, like me. And that makes it personal.
Having dealt with two deaths in the fall of 2009, I’d like to share a secret as a survivor:
Death, whether that of a loved one or an unknown member of the community, causes pain beyond words. Simply accepting that they are “in a better place watching over me” will never, ever be enough to carry on.
Survivor guilt, and asking “Why Me?” are just a few ways that people can deal with the death of a loved one. Still then, we may never entirely release the heavy baggage that comes with the loss.
That is why it is called coping: it’s finding an alternative as to HOW the baggage can be carried from then on forward.
Anyone who has dealt with grief is aware of the process that comes with coping. According to Recover-From-Grief, there are 7 stages to the model designed to, not rid of, but help ease the pain and strengthen a sense of hope for the future. Although the following is aimed towards those with a direct loss, they can apply to the losses that we as college students have experienced in the past month:
“1. SHOCK & DENIAL-
You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.
2. PAIN & GUILT-
As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.
You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn't do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.
3. ANGER & BARGAINING-
Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.
You may rail against fate, questioning "Why me?" You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair ("I will never drink again if you just bring him back")
4. "DEPRESSION", REFLECTION, LONELINESS-
Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be "talked out of it" by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.
During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.
5. THE UPWARD TURN-
As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your "depression" begins to lift slightly.
6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-
As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.
7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE-
During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.”
As members of the Suffolk University community, we need to get rid of the taboo and stigma that come with discussing issues like death, mental illness, depression and anxiety. Approximately 1 in 100 U.S. college students commit suicide each year.
The purpose of this article does not attempt to eliminate any emotional sentiments towards the death of a peer, member of the community, family, or friend, but to make those around us alert, that a set of tools does exist for coping with loss and that becoming self-aware can lead to Hope for all survivors.