Coping With Grief

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Coping with Grief
Everyone experiences grief differently. Here are some strategies to process the heartache.

On Sept. 23, 2018, Riley Hanson—a senior and color guard member at El Capitan High School in Merced, California—was killed in an automobile accident. Her death was an indescribable loss for her family, the community, El Capitan, the band, and me. Riley’s stepmother and I have been best friends since we were 2 years old.

When a tragedy occurs, people grieve in various ways. For students, it may be the first time that they are experiencing this kind of anguish.

Mental health is a huge part of wellness, and we all experience loss at some point. I asked Rena Staub Fisher, licensed clinical social worker and millennial psychotherapist practicing in Brooklyn, New York, for some strategies to help process grief.

When You’re Grieving

There is no “right” way to grieve. Have compassion and patience with yourself in whatever way that your grief manifests—whether with anger, sadness, denial, or all or none of these feelings. There are several stages of grief, and you may go back and forth between the stages.

Grief can be physical. People are often surprised by how exhausted and drained they feel—sometimes for weeks and even months—after losing someone they love. Be kind to your body. If you need to do less than you usually do, that is completely normal. You may find comfort in taking a walk or performing, but if you don’t, acknowledge that and honor how you’re feeling.

Help others help you. Your friends and family are going to want to offer you their support. Communicate your needs clearly during this time. Whether you want company or prefer to be by yourself, let your support system know.

When Someone Is Grieving

Listen more than you talk. When someone is grieving, he or she can feel sad, confused, overwhelmed, or alone. You may be afraid to reach out because you don’t know the right thing to say, but you don’t necessarily need to say anything. Simply being there as a source of comfort is often enough.

Ask how you can help. Offer concrete ways to assist, like organizing a memorial service, preparing a meal, or picking up homework or notes. Grievers tend to experience diminished energy and often appreciate practical assistance.

Grief can last a long time. Understand that it may take weeks, months, even years, before a person starts to feel like himself or herself again.

Article dedicated to the memory of Riley Hanson.

The print version of this article and an earlier version of this online article incorrectly stated that the writer, Haley Greenwald-Gonella, is best friends with Riley Hanson’s mother. Haley is actually friends with Riley’s stepmother.

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