Loss and mourning: Grieving as a college student

Marian Sandoval Lemus, Campus Life Reporter

Illustration by Madeleine Stolp.

When we talk about grief, we often think of the well-known five stages of the experience: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance; and we often think of them as stages that follow a specific order. After experiencing the loss of my brother a year ago, I came to realize that there is not a perfect recipe for the right or wrong ways to grieve, nor is there a specific order to experience all the different stages. 

If anything, for the majority of my grieving experience, I felt like I have jumped back and forth between denial and anger. I wish there was step-by-step grieving guidance that could help me to deal with the void and pain of loss, little did I know that every experience is not the same and there is not a “one mold fits all” kind of situation.

When you lose someone, you realize that a very important piece of your life leaves. You not only mourn their loss, but you also grieve all the moments that you were not there with them before their passing. All the unsent messages, the I-love-you’s that were unsaid and the memories you wish you were there to make with your loved ones before they were gone.

The passing of my brother not only impacted me in my personal life but also in my college experience in numerous ways, from having to leave campus in early spring 2021, to continuing my classes online, to going home and facing the reality that he was no longer there, the person that was my number one support when I decided to come to Whitman.

Realizing that there will be an empty seat at my graduation ceremony, that he is no longer here to talk about how well my classes are going and the achievements I have made thanks to his support, changed the reality through which I live my college experience. 

It is oftentimes difficult to translate the grieving experience as a college student, as different interactions you have in class, topics you discuss, readings that you do for class can bring back memories of the person you lost. I recall coming back for the start of Fall 2021, when I was asked to introduce myself in class. I could not hold my tears back, thinking that a big portion of who I was will never be the same, it felt like I was introducing myself as someone completely new to Whitman and the community. 

Grieving while in college has been a very difficult journey nonetheless, but reflecting on the memories and dreams my brother has left behind has allowed me to look at life in a different way and appreciate the little moments in life a lot more, to have fun and live life unapologetically. It has allowed me to value my mental health a lot more, take the time to mourn and learn that in moments like this, a caring community like Whitman will never leave you alone. 

I would not be here today writing this article about my grieving experience with a lot more strength, without all the support and encouragement I received from my professors, my counselor, the staff members I interact with on a daily basis and my family, boyfriend and friends who have never left my side. 

My hope is that as a community, we continue creating the spaces to support people grieving, in all kinds of grieving, and support their healing process; and hope that we continue to be compassionate. 

“I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places, that this heart of mine embraces, all day through.” – Billie Holiday, I’ll Be Seeing You