Billy Foshay / Gavel Media

Coping With Grief on a College Campus

The grass is freshly cut, the Gasson bells are chiming, and students are hustling across Stokes Lawn to get to class. All seems to be well and good at Boston College. Between classes, club meetings, and time spent at the Plex, there is little room for distraction. So what happens when a devastating phone call interrupts the BC routine?

Coping with the loss of a loved one can bring a flood of emotions ranging from sadness to shock to even anger. Grief is not an emotion that is frequently acknowledged on college campuses; it seems to take a backseat in the midst of daily student activity. How do students, then, appropriately deal with grief away from home when a loved one passes? There seems to be little time and place for mourning in a college setting. However, there are many ways for BC students to deal with grief—including helpful, on-campus outlets like University Counseling Services and Campus Ministry.

University Counseling Services is tucked away in the basement of Gasson Hall and is available to any student in need of support. The idea of attending counseling may seem intimidating at first, especially in an environment with a permeating pressure for students to seem like they have it all figured out. However, according to UCS, 16% of undergraduates at BC utilized counseling services in the most recent academic year.

UCS consists of sixteen full-time clinicians as well as three part-time psychiatrists. According to Craig Burns, the Director of Counseling Services, students can go to UCS for grief counseling if “they feel overwhelmed by the effects of loss, are experiencing persistent emotional distress, and are hoping to talk both about the loss and possible steps to deal with this loss.” Grief counseling is one of the many techniques that can help one to comprehend loss and work through it.

Counseling, however, sometimes bears the stigma of being exclusively geared towards students who lack the strength and competence to manage a problem themselves. Contrarily, counseling is encouraged for all students at any time as a healthy means of coping, either with grief or something else.

It’s no secret that collegiate culture is a competitive one, both socially and academically. Being constantly absorbed in this atmosphere may discourage students from openly discussing their grief. Similarly, it is easy to be surrounded by thousands of people on a college campus and still feel alone. Isolation is common during bereavement; however, isolating oneself can inhibit the chance to be vulnerable and open with others. It is natural—beneficial, even—for students to talk through their emotions with others that they trust, whether it be a roommate, a friend, or a mentor.

Another accessible resource is Campus Ministry, an outlet that welcomes all students regardless of their faith or secular beliefs. Students do not need to book an appointment and are free to walk in to talk with a minister. Individual sessions with the ministers allow students the chance to be completely candid in an intimate and informal atmosphere.

HOPE, a grief support group run by Campus Ministry, is another resource for anyone who has experienced loss—either recently or long ago—or for anyone who simply wants to come listen and support another student. HOPE meets every week at 5 p.m. in the Service Building (Room 205B), and students can drop by at their convenience.

When dealing with grief, it is important to acknowledge one’s feelings and to also share those feelings. This may be easier said than done, but it is valuable to engage with the emotions spurred by grief, whatever they may be. Everyone has his or her own grieving process, so it is important to give the griever sufficient time and space to fully feel whatever emotion consumes them. There are no right or wrong emotions, nor is there a specific period designated for grieving. It is a process that evolves with time and patience.

“When we care for ourselves we engage in a sense of empathy for ourselves, and that translates into empathy for others” said Rick Rossi, the pastoral minister who works with HOPE in Campus Ministry. Essentially, this is the key to relationships—empathy. If one person takes that leap of courage to open up about their inner grief, it opens the door for others to talk about any emotional distress they too may be experiencing.

Offering a safe space for people to vocalize their emotions and feel comfortable with vulnerability is sometimes overlooked. Yet, the small act of asking if someone is OK and listening to that person initiates a whole new network of support.

“It’s our responsibility as humans to be supportive,” said Rossi. In order for others to feel that it is acceptable to be vulnerable, students must be vulnerable themselves. This invites a new kind of campus culture—a culture that welcomes open dialogue, attentive listening, and empathetic interaction.

The HOPE website can be found at http://www.bc.edu/offices/ministry/faithcommunities/hope-group.html, and the site for UCS resources can be found at http://www.bc.edu/offices/counseling/external.html.

 

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