Dealing with Death

Sonia Ventura-Mendoza and Diana Pyle

The loss of a loved one can be one of the hardest things anyone will experience. Many don’t know how to handle grieving process, or where to start. Mourning reflects itself in multiple ways, and is different for each person, but they all end in the same place: acceptance.

Students and teachers are mourning the recent loss of junior Oswin Ortiz, who passed on September 11, 2019. He was 17 years old.

In addition to Ortiz, class of 2019 graduate Dantez Smith died on June 22, 2019. 

Social worker, Tracey Kappel, has been a source for students to go to with any problem they’ve had for over the past 13 years. 

Kappel had quite a few students share with her that they knew Ortiz and were seeking help and support from the staff. 

She mentioned that when it comes to grief and loss, it is different for everyone who goes through it. 

“Grief and loss is unique to each student and I think that’s what we try to express to students,” says Kappel.

Her advice to students is that they be patient with themselves as they go through the processes of grief and that they continue to seek out assistance with managing their feelings and their emotions if it becomes too overwhelming. 

“But no matter what, you want to make sure that you are managing those feelings and emotions in a healthy way,” says Kappel, “we just want to encourage students to do that if they need to.”  

Along with students being able to go to Kappel for help, counselor Stephanie Morrow wants to start up a support group that student will be able to go in their time of need. 

It will be five to six weeks long and will be held during blu63 and will be a grief group. The students that will be invited will be students the school knows have had significant loss in their lives such as a parent or a sibling. 

“A lot of times students can benefit and deal with the grieving process and kind of emotions that come up when you do have a significant loss like that by hearing other people who are in a similar situation,” says Morrow. 

She thinks the group can give students extra support and some coping strategies for dealing with the loss.

She hopes the students will be open with their feelings, specifically the students who haven’t really processed or dealt with the loss. She hopes it provides a stress reliever and have their story out and heard.

“Were going to give them resources for dealing with grief and they may meet with other students in the group and be able to rely on them for support as well as myself and the intern who’s going to be doing the group with me,” says Morrow.  

Morrow says the goal for the group is to get together and work through the hard issues that can stop students from growing and maturing. She will have discussions and activities planned for each session.

After starting the group, she doesn’t want it to just be limited to students as teachers also deal with family loss and even student loss. 

“Teachers could always be involved, we haven’t targeted the teachers for this particular group, we’ve focused on the students,” says Morrow. 

Denial

If someone dies and we don’t get to the closure needed, it can be hard to cope with feeling like something is missing. Denial comes with shock, and the unbelievability that someone has left our lives for good. According to Robert Kastenbaum, author of “The Psychology of Death,” “Because of the unique human capacity of meaning-making and social construction, death has evolved into a very complex and dynamic system, involving biological, psychological, spiritual, societal, and cultural component.”

Denial is important for processing emotions to continue growth, however when denial is deliberately used to avoid emotions, the healing process can be hindered.

Anger

The ensuing anger proceeding a loss can be frustrating, but might be easier to face than sadness. Psychology Today notes that “Anger is related to the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response of the sympathetic nervous system; it prepares humans to fight.”

Though fighting does not necessarily mean a physical brawl, it can be a mental struggle. Anger is normal, and expressing those emotions in a healthy way is most important. Bottling up emotions can be just as destructive as lashing out. Calming down before confronting the situation can improve mental health and clarity. Finally, asking for forgiveness, according to Mayo Clinic, can provide the most relief when hurting.

Bargaining

Bargaining is described as “attempting to negotiate with a higher power or someone or something you feel, whether realistically or not, that has some control over the situation,” according to Psychology Today. Often this involves religion, and can cause wavering faith. Focusing on what yourself or others could have done differently to prevent the loss is common in bargaining, and a natural part of the healing process. Negotiating with the pain that comes can help to feel better, but staying in the stage can inhibit healing. While these thoughts may help you begin to accept the loss, this can cause feelings of remorse and guilt, that can quickly lead into the depression stage. 

Depression

During the fourth stage, the grieving person comes to the certainty and reality of death. Depression is easily recognizable as grief. According to Kubler-Ross, who identified the five stages of grief, “It represents the emptiness we feel when we are living in reality and realize the person or situation is gone or over.” In this stage, feeling numb, and not wanting to get out of bed is common, like living life in a fog. Feeling hopeless and suicidal is common as well.

Coping with the depression stage includes support from close family members and friends. Keeping the memory of the one who passed alive can help the grieving process proceed to acceptance.

Acceptance

The last stage of grief is acceptance. Though life has forever changed, there are new opportunities to achieve happiness. In the acceptance stage, roles and responsibilities are altered. New priorities may be shaped, and new relationships will be formed.

Acceptance is a process in and of itself. Embracing acceptance doesn’t come until after going through the other four stages.

The important thing to do is reach out for support and be open to allowing others to help along the way. Acceptance is not purely realizing the loss, but understanding that things will be okay. Keeping a strong support group and asking for help is acceptance in itself.