One thing we can all be sure of, due to the nature of our dimension, is that there is always a beginning and an end. There is an introduction, a body, a climax, and a conclusion. There is birth, life, and, death. And even though some endings are more difficult to let go off, there is always a coping process with saying goodbye. Grief is something natural that helps the brain adapt to a new reality without that missing piece of the puzzle, of your heart, of your life. Death can leave us shocked, angry, overwhelmed, unfocused, depressed, betrayed, sad, vacant, emotionless, and many other feelings that may not have words to express the waves of emotions that go through our bodies during the process of accepting the nature of life. Grief is something universal, but extremely personal, which most of us will experience at least once in our life. And nothing will prepare us sufficiently to avoid the process of grieving; even though that the only truth we know, is that there is always an end.
Students hold responsibilities that count as checkpoints to arrive to a desired destination: a diploma, a career, or a job. These responsibilities may have some weight on students’ shoulders, and once these meet with personal issues and painful emotions related to death, they are very difficult to manage. Even though grief is interpreted differently by each person, according to the director of the Mentoring and Counseling Office at IE University, Taiki Kubota, states that one of the most common traits that students at IE reflect when experiencing grief, is lack of focus. In order to have a good academic performance, focus is one of the most important trait to keep up with work and the present. This is why this article will reflect the importance of dealing with grief in the life of the student and how the university is available for the students’ needs.
According to “Las Tareas del duelo” by Alba Payás Puigarnau, when a person goes through the process of grief there are four emotional stages in which they process reality into different lenses. It is important to note, that not everyone goes through the four stages, or through a lineal order; grief adapts to the person’s individual experiences, personality, and attitude.
The first stage is the shock or the impact. During this stage, the mourner has difficulties to manage daily responsibilities, like family, work, relationships, and self-care. Through this stage, there is a total disconnection with reality followed by impulsive conducts and isolationism. Due to the impact of the death, first-stagers feel responsible for others in order to avoid greed. They feel overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts about the traumatic death which leads them to avoid talking about their feelings or the lover’s death, or even panic attacks. Life in the first stage seems confusing and almost impossible, because the brain is reminded that there is an end to life.
“In order to have a good academic performance, focus is one of the most important trait to keep up with work and the present.”
The second stage deals with denial. Through this stage, mourners have a tendency of depending on others due to their difficulties of being stable on a daily basis. Their denial drives them to distract themselves with work responsibilities but have a difficulty to manage relationships with others and themselves due to bad temper. Their mood swings and attitudes, leads them to avoid professional help which leads to engage in high-risk activities to manage their anxiety, to later on deny their responsibility of these addictive or compulsive activities.
The second stage is followed by using substitutional relationships to alleviate their suffering of being unable to accept death. During this stage, individuals have a difficulty to express sadness because they avoid memories that are associated to the circumstances of the death or their memories with the loved one. The contention of so many feelings leads to anger and being irritable all the time, leading them to have no hopes of a better future making it seem impossible to live in the present, past, or future. It is a big “why did this happen to me?”
The third stage is defined by a connection and re-integration of life. During this stage, there is a more adequate functioning in the majority of its areas by reflecting a progressive responsibility for others and themselves. Nonetheless, if they have not received proper treatment, they can experience accumulated trauma of the event and its consequences; this is why they will constantly depend on others. Death during this stage seems more identified and integrated, the mourners can go back in time reminiscing memories of what they shared with their loved one, and those memories bring pleasure and peace to their minds; this is also expressed by their desire of talking with others their experiences or character traits of their loved ones with facility and fluidity.
Their sanding feelings are more fluent and conscious. Their re-integration is an elaboration of meanings of the past, present, and future.
Finally, the fourth stage is about growth and transformation. This is the point in which there are good relationships with family, friends, and superiors. There are new openings to new relationships but with desire of closing other relationships by more interdependent ones because there is a new availability for affection. A more assertive attitude is found that leads to a search of meaning and sense of experience through cognitive strategies, without denying or evading the emotional impact with a sense of control. Now, the contemplation of the traumatic elements is integrated like elements of the past, as part of the narrative of the grieving story. Pain is now just a present sense that can be transformed into love. The contact with the loved one is stronger than ever through memories, synchronism, and growth.
Speaking with Taiki Kubota, he explained how the university handles these situations with students during the whole process during and after the event of a close death. First, the Mentorship and Counseling Program offers the main mentors (Taiki and Ana) to an informal conversation with the student, if they don’t feel comfortable yet to talk with a therapist or psychiatrist.
When the student or the IE community believes that the student should engage in therapy, the university has a partnership with a bilingual psychological institution, SINEWS, in the center of Madrid, or two specialists in Segovia’s campus. SINEWS have a 24-hour hotline with specialists on the line to talk about anything affecting the student’s mental health.
IE University is a sensitive and understanding institution that offers the suffering student few academic rearrangements, such as excusing absences due to their personal situation, relocate exam dates, allows the student to suspend a semester to recover from the trauma, and offers professional help in the process of relocating in university and personal life. When Kubota was asked during the interview how does the experience of grief affect positively the future of students he stated:
“Yes, I think that one of the key ideas of the topic you are writing about is that tired is something that is normal and necessary in situations in which there is any kind of loss. We are talking of death of a close member or breakups. Anything that means loss in your life, necessarily needs to a grieving process, which is just a mechanism or our brains to cope within our reality. And when students experience loss and they go through grief and it’s a vital learning experience, and it is an opportunity to face early in life something that is inevitable. My belief is that it can only make you stronger and wiser about difficult situations, about strong emotions, and to be better equipped for future experiences in life.”
The university has a partnership with a bilingual psychological institution, SINEWS, in the center of Madrid, or two specialists in Segovia’s campus. SINEWS have a 24-hour hotline with specialists on the line to talk about anything affecting the student’s mental health.
Personally speaking, after experiencing a close death during the last summer, I can say that managing emotions, responsibilities, and relationships is an overwhelming task. But these struggles are a big push to move forward and higher. Being connected not only with waves of eternal and nameless feelings are a bridge between your conscious self, and alternate realities. For those of who have gone through a painful loss, will know that their image will never fade away. That through dreams, memories, synchronism, meditation, and time: you will feel the presence of eternity.