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Returning to school is harder for students after family losses
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Returning to school is difficult for most students, but for those who have suffered family losses, the new academic year can be an overwhelming burden.
Megan Aucoin, a senior social work major at Mississippi State University from Starkville, Mississippi, knows all too well how difficult it can be to return to school after such a loss. Aucoin, 21, lost her mother, Alana, to colon cancer in fall 2013.
Aucoin said the most important way to prepare for returning to school after the loss of a loved one is to fully grieve and avoid pretending as if everything is fine.
“The first step I took when returning back to school was to seek counseling,” she said. “I believe counseling can be emotionally helpful in any situation. I do not believe there is any certain way that you could completely prepare yourself, but you go back to class and do the best that you can.”
Aucoin’s advice to students mourning the loss of loved ones is that it is okay to not be okay.
“Talk to someone, whether it be a close friend or counselor, just find someone to talk to,” she said. “Let your teachers know what is going on. Mine were more than willing to help me in any way possible. Keep going. You may never fully get over what has happened, but you learn to deal with it, one day at a time.”
Aucoin said she knows her mother is looking down on her with a smile for returning to school.
“Knowing that my mother wanted me to be in school was my biggest motivation. She was so proud that I was attending MSU,” she said. “I will never know if anything else I do will make my mother proud, but I know for certain graduating from MSU will. That is what keeps me going.”
College students are not the only ones affected by the passing of loved ones. According to Highmark Caring Place, A Center for Grieving Children, Adolescents and Their Families -- an organization that sponsors Children’s Grief Awareness Day -- one out of every 20 children who are 15 or younger will suffer the loss of one or both parents. This statistic does not include the number of children who lose grandparents or other relatives who provide parental care.
Amy Stokes, an Extension associate for the MSU School of Human Sciences, said children recover from losses at different rates, depending on their maturity levels and connections to their deceased family members.
“If they were really close to the deceased, it may take a little longer to come to grips with the death,” she said. “However, some children are very resilient and will begin to overcome some of their grief. I believe that within a week after the death of the loved one, children could return to school.”
Stokes suggested that writing a letter to the loved one would help a child release emotions and get back into his or her everyday schedule.
“Children should think about the good memories they had with the deceased loved one in order to emotionally and mentally prepare themselves to go back to school,” she said. “Also, children should be prepared for the questions that will come from classmates. Getting back into their ‘normal’ schedule will help them to adjust.”
School counselors or other trusted adults should be readily available if children need to talk after returning to school.
“If children do not know this person, introduce them, and have them start to build a relationship so when they are ready or need to talk, they will feel secure talking to the person,” Stokes said.
Support of family, friends and loved ones is very important during times of loss.
“Children do not need to feel as if they is being pushed,” Stokes said. “Children need to have someone who is going to consistently be there and someone who will listen and not judge their feelings.”