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Grief and the Power of the Letter S

Written by Events Director Clare Butler


We all can relate to the incessant number of times you get asked the same three questions in first year. It definitely got tiring after a while to keep repeating what year, program and res you were in. But that never bothered me since it was the next set of questions that would send a bout of anxiety through my body. Getting to know people should be a relatively exciting time to learn something new and find something in common. Yet, for me, these common questions created some tricky situations. Things like “how many siblingS do you have” or “what do your parentS do” are so normal that most people wouldn’t even think twice before asking. But that latter question creates the most overwhelming and nerve-wracking experience, at least for me. Why? Because my dad died three years ago. So I either answer as if he was still alive and say, “an engineer and a real estate agent” or I have to tell the truth, making it super awkward for the other person I’m just getting to know. I’ve done both, and let me tell you, neither option is ideal.


The simple presence of the letter “S” in that question has such a profound impact on my anxiety and, realistically, how the overall interaction will go. And yet, there is no solution. People who have experienced grief from the loss of a loved one don’t have the answer. We don’t want to have to wear a giant sticker on our heads saying, “hey, I have a parent who died” and the people who haven’t experienced grief will always get awkward. It is just a fact that in today’s society, grief is unspoken about until you have experienced a loss. The stigma that surrounds it is unfortunate, but just as no one talked about their mental health 20 years ago, I believe that eventually, society will get to a point where people can have a genuine conversation about grief in public. Or at least, I hope this will happen. Because experiencing grief at such a young age is an isolating experience in itself since there are so few people who can relate. So, talking to people about it that can’t relate is the only option at times. Although they may not “get it”, listening actively and being there for support is really helpful. So, for the people out there who have been fortunate enough not to have lost a loved one, please know that it’s not your fault that some questions with an “S” can be triggering for those around you. And as long as you can be there as a shoulder to cry on or reminisce, you are doing all you can. And for the people who are grieving, no matter where you are in your journey, there is no perfect answer, and how you choose to handle each situation is valid.


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