Cultivating a culture that acknowledges grief

Addressing the pain in our midst.

When+the+grief+threatens+to+overwhem+you.

Ella Jennings, The Horizon

When the grief threatens to overwhem you.

Rebecca Li, Managing/Op-Ed Editor, Guest Writer

I can sense a lava of tension and brokenness simmering just beneath the surface. Maybe I’m not the only one. 

Perhaps it’s because we didn’t start this school year behind computer screens. Or maybe, as a second-year, the relationships I’ve forged have finally progressed past the mundane-but-necessary inquiries about hometowns, majors and hobbies. 

In any case, I have become increasingly aware of the brick walls of grief that press in on so many of the people I love at this school. As I walk through the DC, run to class or scan the crowds at chapel, each face I see represents a story. With alarming consistency, each of those stories is tattered with pain in some way.

To you, this reality might seem unfortunate but unsurprising. Hardship is part of the human experience. For some, college might be a respite from the chaos of their home lives, or a sheltering bubble in which to prepare for the “real world.”

However, the unique challenge of residential life is that, try as we might, we cannot compartmentalize the personal from the public. We have entered into a covenant to be part of a community, not merely an academic institution. One person affects the lives of others more visibly in college than in nearly any other season of life. The weight we carry within us cannot be concealed completely — whether it be debilitating mental illness, an unwanted diagnosis, overwhelming addiction, the death of a loved one, or relational turmoil in one’s family or church.

It’s not like everyone needs to know what I’m going through, you might argue. You’re right. Not everyone has earned the privilege of being privy to your pain, but you ought to have one or two confidants within this community — a trusted peer or a mentor figure. Westmont has intentionally crafted roles to fill this need, such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the campus pastor, Capax Dei leaders, peer coaches and residence staff. Do you feel as though you have no one to go to in times of crisis? It might warrant a reevaluation of your extent of involvement in this community.

Rather than dictating how you ought to navigate your struggles, I am broaching the topic of how we as a school navigate a climate of sorrow. Do you feel forced to cope on your own? That you cannot give an honest answer when asked, “How are you?” If your world knew you weren’t okay, would that be okay?

This aggregate of stifled pain will inevitably prove detrimental to the overall culture on campus. Without addressing these hurts, we will be unable to fully engage relationally with one another. The feeling is akin to conversing with someone who you know is concealing vital information from you. If we as a school can acknowledge that we are struggling — spiritually, physically, academically and mentally — we can better lean into the healing process that will follow.

If nothing else, take this article as a tangible reiteration that few of us have it all figured out. While we might say similar sentiments, I’m not sure whether we really believe these words to be true. Let the knowledge that you are not alone seep into your bones. May you allow the people at your elbow to love, see and come alongside you as you are.

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Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

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