Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Navigating grief as college students

Sharon Chang

The morning after my 19th birthday, during my freshman year at Indiana University, I received a phone call from my mom, a 13-hour drive away in my hometown, Dallas. 

“Your grandpa died — yesterday.” 

Hearing that my family had been processing this news over the last 24 hours while I was celebrating my birthday sent me into an emotional spiral that I didn’t have the faintest idea how to navigate. 

My grandfather’s passing was the first in an unfortunate series of family deaths with two more —  my uncle and grandmother — in the months to follow. Having these losses pile on top of one another made it impossible to grieve each person individually and to acknowledge the different ways in which each impacted me.

Throughout the grieving process, the hardest part was the physical distance between myself and my family, as I couldn’t properly turn to them or be there for them. After the initial shock of losing three of my family members in such a short period of time, it became increasingly more difficult to go about my typical life. I found myself consumed by an impenetrable fear of my loved ones dying. 

Laura Dupuis, the director of CARE and Campus Support at the Counseling and Mental Health Center, supports students with mental health struggles at UT, including grief. 

“One of the challenges with being far from home is that loss is such an intimate and personal thing,” Dupuis said. “So it’s helping people tap into their natural way that feels best to them to deal with strong emotions and sort of process those things.”

Grief is a complex, nonlinear concept unique to an individual. The widely accepted idea that grief is most commonly associated with sadness fell apart when the first emotion I was able to pinpoint and confront was anger. Being so distraught with nobody to blame led to an overwhelming feeling of confusion with the persistent need for answers to unanswerable questions. Sadness followed me when I finally faced my complicated emotions and accepted that some days would be harder than others. 

“I think people get a little bit derailed by it if they don’t expect it. They have this idea that it’s a step process and it really isn’t — it’s more of a roller coaster process … There’s not a wrong way to (grieve),” said Dupuis. “So whatever comes to you, just know that this is okay, this is part of a process.” 

While grief looks different for everyone, it’s important to know that there are resources available to you. Being away at college can make the emotionally taxing experience of grief feel insurmountable. It’s okay to process it at your own pace, to ask for help and to not understand why things happened the way they did. Bottling up all my feelings was ineffective in helping me grieve — allowing the process to flow and take over naturally while trusting I would be okay was vital. 

To speak with a crisis counselor, call the CMHC’s 24/7 crisis line for free at 512-471-2255.

Ismert is a Liberal Arts third year from Dallas, Texas.

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