Monday, May 25, 2020

In Grief: College Student Struggling with Too Many Losses

[Reviewed and updated June 3, 2024]

What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us.
~ Helen Keller

A reader writes: I don't know what to say, what to do, or where to go anymore. I have lost four very good friends within a 10 month time span -- two to death, one to multiple strokes and the other is in a psych institution for the entirety of his life. They were all my good friends, friends I trusted, friends I confided in, friends I did things with; they were all I had, and, now, they are gone. I am lost, sad, alone, and as each and every day goes by I get lonelier and lonelier without them.
It's being with people, being with strangers, being around my classmates which just makes me feel lonely, even lonelier and enraged. It makes me miss my friends; it just makes me want my friends even more. My friend with the stroke is out of state in a stroke home. My other friend that is in the psych institution his mind is so far gone that he can't recognize his friends and family anymore. And, there's no way to be with the dead.

I get so angry when people (my doctor, therapist, college academic advisor, and whoever else) discount my losses by telling me to leave them (my friends) in the past, move on, and meet other people. The last loss of my losses was six months ago. How am I to get over something so fresh let alone the three other losses? Maybe, I'm just being a big baby or I'm just feeling sorry for myself, I don't know anymore. Meet other people, my god, what insensitive advice! People are turned off by me anyway, by my despondency.

I’m trying to take people’s advice meeting other people; it’s just not working. I can’t bring myself to feel fine. I can’t bring myself to get out of feeling this great sadness, this grief, this loneliness, this big loss.

I had met this other girl in my other class who is still grieving the death of her boyfriend some five years later. She moved back to her home state. Another loss for me.

Am I just being self-centered, self-absorbed? I say this because all I have been doing is letting this grief become the center of my life; I’m not being there for the living, I keep to myself feeling nothing but sadness and self-pity.

My response: My dear, I am so saddened to read of all your losses, and my heart reaches out to you in your pain. Sadly enough, the death of a friend too often is dismissed as insignificant, or somehow less important than the death of a family member, which leaves the bereaved feeling isolated, unsupported, and left alone to deal with the heartache of loss. It is the very definition of Disenfranchised Grief.

If grief is neither acknowledged nor supported, if it goes underground and remains hidden from others, it can become troublesome in any case, but most especially in a situation such as yours: when you are young and less experienced with loss; when the losses are multiple; and when you are away at school and separated from home and familiar surroundings, from your own family and the families of the friends you have lost.

In his insightful article, Friendgrief: The Adolescent as the Forgotten Mourner, Rabbi Earl Grollman writes,
Time does not automatically heal suffering. Time does not completely heal a broken heart; it only instructs how to live with it. For the young . . . a romance that ends with death can seem especially cruel. It may hurt so much that the survivor may wish to die, too. Such pain can be so enormous, and the anguish so intense. Try to reach out to your parents and other family members. Explain honestly what you are feeling. They’re not mind readers. They won’t understand unless you tell them. Don’t withdraw from friends and others. They may be experiencing similar emotions but are also afraid to share their feelings. Teachers, guidance counselors, clergy, and health care professionals may be of tremendous help during this disquieting period. You might drop by and visit the family of your friend and share some of your memories. As you relive these experiences, you will not only help them, but yourself as well. Healing involves being willing to hurt more now in order someday to hurt less. The invisible consequences of a close acquaintance’s death must be understood, expressed, and shared. Friendgrief is a painful reality for young and old alike. 
[Source: “Friendgrief: The Adolescent as the Forgotten Mourner,” by Rabbi Earl A. Grollman, in Journeys: A Newsletter to Help in Bereavement, January 2007, page 3, published by Hospice Foundation of America.]
It concerns me that you say “people (my doctor, therapist, college advisor, and whoever else) discount my losses by telling me to leave them (my friends) in the past, move on, and meet other people.” If that is the case, I am left to wonder what these people know and understand about the normal grief process, and what qualifies them to be counseling you in your grief ~ and I would strongly encourage you to look elsewhere for the help you need and deserve. See especially Actively Moving Forward, a grief support network of young adults, for young adults and college students ages 18-25 years old ~ and take the time to explore the resources I've listed below.

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