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Why is grief important?

The following are reflections from a counselor education grief and loss class at Penn State on why grief is important. Fifteen students contributed to the list.

▪ Grief is a universal experience that we all encounter. So let’s explore it, share it and support each other through it. Let’s be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

▪ Grief — the word that has been in the minds of every human being when experiencing a loss. It’s heavy, uncomfortable and taboo in society, but what happens when it becomes comfortable and more accepted? Be the change, talk about it, dare to grieve together.

▪ Grief and loss is inevitable. Let’s talk about it so we can become comfortable and prepare for it as best as we can.

▪ Grief is having no friends because no one wants to talk about it. Grief is being angry in class because someone made a joke about cancer. Grief is not doing homework because you don’t see the point if we’re just going to die. Let’s talk about grief.

▪ Grief is as fundamental to humanity as breathing. Yet, it’s scary and overwhelming, and oftentimes we just avoid it instead of wanting to face it head-on. But, if this is something that all people deal with, then maybe we need to change our tactics. Instead of remaining afraid of grief, we should be working to understand grief. And then, one day, maybe supporting those who are experiencing grief won’t be so scary, but instead will feel as natural as ... well, breathing.

▪ Grief can be experienced in so many different ways and grieving can be difficult. Let’s talk together about how it is OK to not be OK through that grief.

▪ “How are you?”: one of the most used questions and phrases in conversation. Yet, how many times have we felt at a loss for words when someone answers with, “I’m terrible” instead of the common “I’m fine”?Grief and loss surround our day to day life, and more often than not “fine” does not come immediately. Let’s be part of a society that understands the changes that come with grief, that understands that words are not always necessary and that opens its arms to discussing the impact this has in everyone’s life.

▪ Grief is not something we innately know how to do, so like any other subject, coping needs to be taught and exercised. If we normalize grief now, we can change the lives of children who are experiencing grief and loss or even before they experience it. We have the potential to encourage a society of adults that embraces grief and supports one another because they learned about grief as children.

▪ Everyone goes through grief at one point in their life, whether it is losing a part of yourself in some way, losing someone close or losing a pet. It is important to understand the process of grief, especially that it has no end and looks different for every individual.

▪ We have all lost things and/or people and will continue to experience this and its accompanying grief throughout our lifetimes. Recognizing and respecting this will help us to equip our students with the necessary tools and strategies to navigate their current and future grief.

▪ I often wonder, “How can a child develop academically, socially and psychologically when grappling with difficult transitions? Kids (and staff members) face losses and grieve through multiple situations, such as through divorce, moving grade levels or living situations and the death of pets, family members or friends. Each scenario presents a significant change within the life as one had always known it, threatening the sense of safety to some degree. Allowing individuals, big and small, a space to share their fears, worries, confusions and their joys as they face their losses will help them grieve without feeling lonely.

▪ Think about the first loss you experienced, and the impact that it had. We need to create an environment to show our kids that it’s OK to talk about their grief, and that there’s a community of support behind them.

▪ Each year children from every school will experience a type of loss. The New York Life Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers have reported that 69 percent of teachers have at least one grieving child in their classrooms, and 89 percent of these educators believe that there is a need to address grief and loss at schools. Hence, it is our responsibility to support our students in this process and set our school as an example of education, advocacy and love.

▪ Grief is not something we innately know how to do, so like any other subject, coping needs to be taught and exercised. If we normalize grief now, we can change the lives of children who are experiencing grief and loss or even before they experience it. We have the potential to encourage a society of adults that embraces grief and supports one another because they learned about grief as children.

▪ When we think about grief, we usually think about a death of a loved one. There are losses in our life what are not death related but we still experience grief. Survivors of domestic violence are grieving for multiple losses — to able to help and provide competent services for them we need to expand our understanding of grief and loss.

▪ Grief is a universal human experience. The forgotten grievers, children experience it as well. Let’s end the silence amongst ourselves and model strength and openness for our children. Parents, teachers, coaches, nurses, pastors ... we all have an obligation to stop passing the buck. It everyone’s responsibility to create a space for children to talk about grief. If you care about a child, show them you care about their loss as well.

▪ Grief can take us by surprise. It is often nothing like we expect it to be. Let’s get better at recognizing the many forms loss and grief can take in our lives, making space for its expression and respecting it as an integral part of all life.  

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