Grief Support Group reminds students they aren’t alone
The average upper division class size at UMD is 30. Of those 30 students, a researcher from Oregon State University estimates that 10 of them will lose a loved one during their time in college.
“There are many faces of grief," said Barb Titus, the facilitator of UMD’s Grief Support Group. "You laugh, you smile, you cry, you get angry. People are very real here.”
The Grief Support Group is for students who have lost a loved one. There are two groups of about six to ten people that meet for an hour and a half on Wednesday evenings. The importance of a strong community has been proven through Alcoholics Anonymous, churches, and many more social groups. Grieving the death of a loved one is never easy, but can be made easier with the community of the Grief Support Group.
Barb Titus lost her son in 1996.
“When I knew my son was going to die and I had to figure out how to live with him dying, I remember saying to my mother, ‘If I could just find someone who has been through this before, who has survived and smiled, I might be able to find joy again,’” Titus said.
Titus leads grief groups at St. Mary’s and on campus. The inspiration for her to begin groups at St. Mary’s was the loss of her son, but the inspiration for doing groups on campus came from a student.
This particular student had lost his mom and his dad only six weeks apart from each other. He came into her office concerned about his grades and wishing that he had someone to relate to.
“College is supposed to be the best time of your life, but that’s not always the case,” Titus said.
The biggest challenge among college students dealing with grief is the expectation to continue living life like nothing happened.
“There is no room for life and feelings when there is a paper to be written, a project to be done, or a test to be taken,” said Titus, describing how hard life can be after losing a loved one.
When students who are grieving reach out to Ekaterina Elgayeva, a professor at UMD, the first thing she does is reassure them. She reminds them there are arrangements that can be made to accommodate them.
“Creating a sense of emotional safety is necessary in order to work on strategizing next steps together. The ultimate aim of these accommodations is to ensure that the student(s) succeed in my courses,” Elgayeva said via email.
Grief looks different for everyone. For Travis Mills, the most difficult part was talking about his mom for the first time.
Mills, a former UMD student who joined the group in 2004, lost his mother when he was 14.
“When I came to college I wasn't as busy [as in high school]," Mills said. "I couldn't suppress anymore, so I found a place to talk. Talking was the hardest thing I had done, and the best thing I did.”
Titus and Mills say that members of the grief group understand pain. They don’t judge. They listen.
“Even if out in the world we have to pretend everything is okay all the time, there is a place with people who understand, people who know,” Mills said.
Some people grieve before their loved one is gone. These students are welcome in the support group as well.
“If you know something is changing, you start grieving right away," Titus said. "There is a fear there. How am I going to manage?”
“This is a safe place where people can talk about the person that they lost, say their name, be with others," Titus said. "You don’t have to explain things. These people understand grief and understand pain and welcome you with open arms. This is a place where you can be who you are. You don’t have to worry about how many times you talk about how sad you are.”
For more information regarding the Grief Support Group, contact Barb Titus at firstname.lastname@example.org.