Handling grief

March 9, 2023

After two Hebron students passed away last semester, some teens have had to deal with grief for the first time in their lives. 

“Whenever a school community loses a staff member or student, it’s just horrible,” lead counselor Justin Fields said. “One of the nice things about school for young people is that school provides structure and routine. You have routines to your day, you see people at certain times, your classes are arranged a certain way, and that’s really good for people. I think there’s comfort in that.”

Although those who knew the students personally are having to deal with the grief associated with losing a loved one, even some who didn’t have a relationship with the students lost are being reminded of the feelings associated with losing someone. Fields said this is part of the reason he doesn’t encourage school-wide responses or assemblies like those that were done when he was in high school. 

“Let’s say, for example, you just recently had a grandparent pass away and you’ve handled that, and then a 10th grader that you don’t have any clue about passes away,” Fields said. “If we were to create a widespread response that forced you to participate, maybe that would disrupt you and bring you back into a state of grief that maybe you had already worked through and were comfortable with.”

Every source interviewed said talking to others is the best coping mechanism when going through any mental difficulty. 

“I do encourage a lot of people [that] if you do feel like you are struggling, reach out; do not try to do it on your own,” Caldwell said. “When you try to do it on your own, you go into this deep, dark spiral, and if you don’t ask for help, it is just going to continue that way. Reach out to friends, family – don’t feel like you’re a burden. And then if somebody is reaching out to you, be open, allow them to have that space to talk about what they need to talk about and don’t judge them on it.”

Part of Fields’ and the counseling staff’s job is providing support that could get students who are struggling back to their normal routine.

“I think with crisis like this, friends are great [but] I always want to make sure people have adults that they can go to as well,” Fields said. “Not that I don’t think [students] can provide good support, but, sometimes, I just don’t want you to have to feel responsible for other things that come up. I think that also goes back to [my] wish [that] people would assess their circles for who really has [your] best interest at heart. Are the people that you let in the ones that are trying to lift you up — that let you be you? That’s what I hope.” 

“The Hawk Eye” surveyed 371 students through a Google Form, and 43% said they have had to deal with losing someone close to them. 

“With grief, I always try to remind everybody that it’s not the same for everyone,” Caldwell said. “There is no correct way to grieve. Don’t judge somebody else by the way they are grieving. There are some people that don’t want to show emotions, but when they’re by themselves, they do. Some people become very emotional and they do need that support.” 

Bañuelos noted how although there are the five standard stages of grief, there is no “right” way to grieve. Some go through all stages in order, some bounce back and forth.

“Grief is long, [and] it’s weird,” Fields said. “Just when you think it’s done, an anniversary comes back, the first thing that you used to do with this person comes back, holidays that grandma used to [attend], the smell of food they used to make. You just never know. The biggest thing we want to do is make sure people [know] it’s OK to be sad, it’s OK to be angry, it’s OK to be grieving – we just want people to do it in a way that doesn’t harm themselves or other people. Really staying away from drugs and alcohol as a coping tool and just finding people they can be expressive with.”

When students are in need of assistance, the school counselors are available to help. QR codes can be scanned in each classroom for students to schedule meetings with their counselors, which are assigned to students by last name. 

“Sometimes all we can do is say, ‘this is really horrible, [and] I can’t make this better for you but I can go through this with you,’” Fields said. “I won’t fix [it], but you’ll be amazed at how much better you might feel if you just talk out loud or let your emotions out in a healthy way. I think people might be surprised [they] could maybe feel a whole lot better by emoting. I can’t bring this person back, I can’t snap and make you feel better, but I’ll be there for you every step of the way so you feel like you can get going again.”

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