My friend Claire (left) and I (right) being our usual silly selves sophomore year of high school on choir tour in Chicago, just a few months before she was diagnosed with cancer.
You’d think that exams, group projects and working several jobs would be enough stress to juggle but then the universe throws something at you that makes all of those other major stressors seem miniscule. College is hard but even doing simple things like a four-page reading assignment can seem next to impossible when you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one.
My senior year of high school I lost one of my best friends to cancer. I thought that going to college would make the pain much easier—new situations, new people, a new environment. However I found that when I got here as a freshman a year and a half ago, it was just difficult in different ways.
Although death is a natural part of life, it’s never easy when someone close to you dies. Sometimes you see it coming and sometimes you don’t—neither is easier than the other. While it takes time to come to terms with death, there are things that you can do to soften the pain. Here are the things that have worked for me:
- Be patient with yourself—Expect that some days will be surprisingly easy and other days will be much more difficult.
- Lean on people when you need it—Your friends care about you and are more understanding than you may realize. This is particularly difficult when your friends are dealing with the same grief and you’re not sure if they are ready to talk about it. My best advice is to let them know you’re ready to open up about it and gauge their reactions.
- Find small ways to commemorate that person—Grief is tricky because when you miss the person who has passed, you can’t just call them up and see how they are. I’ve found that doing small things helps you feel closer to the person you’ve lost. For example, I have a necklace I wear everyday that reminds me of my friend who had cancer. Sometimes I’ll listen to songs that remind me of her as well. Little things like that can help, especially when you’re having a rough day.
- Don’t be afraid of counseling— Winona State has great counseling services and the best part is that it’s free. You can do individual or group counseling. Eunie Alsaker, a counselor on campus, runs Grief Group each semester. I wasn’t too sure how I felt about group counseling but I joined Eunie’s grief group last year and found it to be extremely helpful. It was nice to meet people that understood what I was dealing with and I even made a couple lasting relationships from that experience. If you’re interested, you can email Eunie at EAlsaker@winona.edu.
- Last but not least, take time for yourself—In order to adequately deal with any sort of difficult experience, you need to take the time to process it. Remember to take care of yourself too.