Monday, June 14, 2021

In Grief: Nursing Student Struggles With Father Loss

[Reviewed and updated August 5, 2022]

No matter how old we are, we still need our dads, and wonder how we’ll get by without them.  ~ Jennifer Williamson

A reader writes: I guess you can say I am new at this. I don't even know if you can relate, and help ME understand what I am going through. I am a single, 22-year old who just lost my father due to a lung disease. I'm a fulltime nursing student with two months until I graduate with my BS in nursing. It’s just a bad time to feel lost and alone. It’s a struggle just to sit in class and not cry somedays... and everyone around me pretends nothing ever happened. How can I possibly deal with my father's death when life won't slow down long to even breathe?

My response: I'm so very sorry for your loss, and I can certainly understand how terribly difficult it must be for you to stay focused on your studies while you are struggling to cope with the death of your father. (My own father died suddenly and unexpectedly when I was a graduate student barely two weeks into my psych nursing program, so I do have some idea of what you are going through.)

Since you're studying to become a nurse, and as a nurse myself, I'd be willing to bet that, by your nursing education and training and probably by your own personal nature, you are accustomed to setting your own needs aside while you attend to the needs of others. 

Only two months away from your goal of graduating, you're probably wondering how you'll ever muster the energy and the discipline to stay focused on your classroom and clinical work until you reach that elusive finish-line. At the same time, your grief is probably interfering with your ability to concentrate, and you may be feeling both angry at and disappointed with yourself, feeling guilty and somewhat disloyal toward your father that you 're not free enough right now to give your grief the full attention it demands and deserves. 

You describe your struggle "just to sit in class and not cry some days." Keep in mind that grief is very patient; it will not "go" anywhere, and it will wait until you are free to address it. Sometimes we fear that if we show or give in to our sadness, there will be no end to it, that we'll never be able to pull ourselves out of it to do all the things we need to do. But your tears are there for reason, and finding a safe and appropriate time and place where you can let yourself cry can be a very helpful way of experiencing, working through and releasing all the sadness and pain associated with your father's death. As a matter of fact, those who've conducted research on grievers ~ and today most of us practicing in the field of bereavement counseling ~ believe that it is both normal and healthy for us mourners to move in and out of our grief, sometimes focusing on our loss and at other times allowing ourselves to avoid it temporarily, as we intentionally engage in activities that take us away from it for a while. (See The Dual Process Model of Grief and Finding Crying Time in Grief.)

You say that everyone around you “pretends nothing ever happened." When someone we love dies, it does seem very surreal and terribly unfair that while our own life has been turned upside-down and forever changed, the rest of the world goes on as if nothing's happened. Some don't know what's going on with us because we've chosen not to tell them, for whatever reason. Others who do know (family, friends, roommates, classmates) may be finished with our grief long before we are finished with our need to talk about it. Nevertheless, grief is best dealt with when we are able to show our emotional pain, talk with others and express our feelings about our loved one's death, and accept support from family and friends. 

Do you have anyone you can talk to about all of this? Are your nursing faculty members aware of what's going on in your life? Is there one particular clinical or classroom instructor you can trust whom you'd feel comfortable in approaching? Are you living near any friend or relative you can confide in? Have you considered calling and asking your college campus healthcare service for a referral to someone who specializes in grief or bereavement counseling? Sometimes just one or two sessions with a grief counselor is enough to reassure you that what you're experiencing is quite normal under the circumstances, that you are not alone and that you will find a way to get through this. 

I know you must be very busy with your schoolwork, but it's also helpful to spend some time doing a little reading about what normal grief looks like, so you'll have a better understanding of what you’re going through and what to expect. That in itself can be very reassuring. At the very least, I hope you’ll look over some of the related articles you’ll find listed below ~including many of the helpful resources listed at the base of each. 

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here.


Image credit: BD Hypno Plus

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