GRIEF SUPPORT

By Janelle Hanson, campus and community communications specialist, University Marketing and Communications

The holidays are upon us, bringing family and friends together to join in festivities, fun and traditions. As a popular holiday song declares, “Tis the season to be jolly.” For some the holidays don’t feel jolly and heighten feelings of anxiety, sadness and depression, especially for those dealing with the death of a loved one.

People experience and deal with death in various ways. How you pick up the pieces, heal and move forward, especially while in school and focusing on your studies, can be extremely difficult. That’s why Becky Ablad and Annalise John, graduate students in the College of Social Work specializing in mental health, established the University of Utah chapter of Actively Moving Forward. Both took an elective grief and loss class this past summer after people close to them and embarked on a mission to find a way to help other college students going through similar situations.

AMF is a free student-led support group dedicated to helping other students grieving the illness or death of a loved one. What began as a promise from grieving college student David Fajgenbaum to his dying mother, has turned into a non-profit support group with over 200 chapters nationwide. The chapter at the U is the first of its kind in Utah and with national statistics showing one in three college students have experienced the death of a family member or close friend within the past year (Balk, Walker and Baker, 2010), Ablad and John say the need on campus is great.

“We all do a great job of putting on this face that says, ‘I’m OK, I’m fine,’” says Ablad, president of the U’s AMF chapter, “and we’re afraid to say, ‘I’m not OK and I need some support right now.’”

They say getting that support from other grieving college students is what sets AMF apart.

“What’s great about our group is we are just students. It’s not therapy and it doesn’t feel like that,” says John, vice president of the U’s AMF chapter. “It’s just students getting together to offer support and talk about how sh—y it is that our family and friends have died.”

University Counseling Center also offers a grief support group to students called Sharing is Caring and consists of semester-long sessions held once a week on Wednesdays from 12-12:50 p.m. in room 344 of the Student Services Building. For $20 a semester, UCC Licensed Psychologist and Group Coordinator Karen Cone-Uemura, offers a place for those who have experienced loss to come together, talk and connect.

“This is not a peer-led group…,” she says. “I’m a licensed therapist so if something comes up for the person then I’m able to help them right then and there in either a professional way with their emotions or get them into our system so they can receive therapy.”

SUGGESTIONS FOR SELF-CARE
(Adapted from OurHouse-Grief.org)

  • Grieve at your own pace
  • Cry
  • Share memories of your loved ones
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices (wholesome foods, avoiding abusing substances, get adequate rest and physical activity)
  • Keep a journal
  • Make a scrapbook, memory box or dedicate a place for pictures and other memorabilia
  • Paint, draw or write a poem
  • Write a letter or talk out loud to your deceased loved one
  • Share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust
  • Be gentle, patient and nonjudgmental of yourself
  • Practice mindful breathing
  • Listen to music
  • Find ways to have fun and laugh

Reach out to others. Giving and receiving support is an important part of the healing process.

The first meeting is free and Cone-Uemura says it’s a way to see if it works for you, because everyone handles death in a unique way so whether it’s through AMF, Sharing and Caring other services offered by the Counseling Center she says, “Getting support is just so crucial. Don’t do it alone. There’s no reason to do it alone.”

The local AMF chapter is not only offering help and support through group meetings, but advocating for the university to implement a bereavement policy for students.

“Students on our campus have had experiences with family members passing away and had their grades suffer because they’ve had to miss class to grieve and attend the funeral,” says Ablad.

John says there are currently three universities that allow students bereavement time and they’re basing their idea for the proposed policy here on the ones those schools already have in place, which ranges from three days to a week off.

For those looking for an outlet and a place to share during the holiday season, the U’s AMF grief support group will be meeting:

  • Wednesday, Dec. 16 from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Union, Room 311
  • Thursday, Dec. 17 from 12-1:30 p.m. in the Union, Room 319

Beginning Jan. 14, 2016, the meeting will be held every Thursday evening from 6-7:30 p.m. in College of Social Work Building, Room SW 237. Also, now through the end of the year, you can stop by the College of Social Work lobby and write someone’s name you’ve lost on AMF’s heart board in loving memory for the holidays.

“It’s OK to be sad and it’s OK to be happy,” John says, “You’re not disrespecting the person who died by enjoying parts of the holidays without them.”

You can contact the University of Utah AMF chapter by emailing amf.uofu@gmail.com or visit their Facebook page for more information.

UCC is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and located at 426 Student Services Building. You can reach them at 801-581-6826 and for after-hours emergencies, call 801-581-2291, which will direct you to the U Medical Center. To connect with UCC online, visit their website, Facebook, Twitter or Youtube accounts and access some of their resources about grief here.

The national AMF organization has a list of resources for grieving college students, friends and others interested in learning more about college student grief support.