Sunday, June 16, 2013

Five Stages of Graduation Grief

When I was a senior in high school, we had to write a 10 page research paper for my AP English class on a topic that was of interest to us. I took the opportunity to choose my topic to heart, because I had always hated teachers giving specific writing assignments with little room for personal feelings. My Grandpa had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in February of my senior year and so I decided to write about Elizabeth Kubler Ross's 5 Stages of Grief and relate them to how a family deals with a dying relative. It's kind of a heavy topic, but I have always found solace in educating myself about the difficult things that are going on in my life, or in the lives of those around me (Psych major, hello).  I used the research paper as a way to learn how my family and I might react and feel to the different stages of my Grandpa's illness. I haven't thought about that research paper in a while, but I recently read a special feature article on called "The Rules of Grieving." The article, written by John Faherty,  ( tells the stories of 5 boys from Moeller High School in Cincinnati who are a part of a grief support group there. It's a very powerful story and I encourage you to read it for yourself, but it got me thinking about the different kinds of grief there can be and how they can affect a person differently. Grieving the loss of a pet may be different than grieving the loss of a parent, sibling, friend, or a friendship, and everyone grieves differently. That, I think, is the cardinal rule when it comes to grief. We can't feel exactly what others feel, we can only struggle to imagine what it would be like for another person and then support them in whatever way we can.

Where I'm going with this may seem trivial or dramatic, and not everyone may be able to relate to this feeling, but I have begun to equate graduating from college with sustaining a significant loss that requires time for grieving. I feel so lucky that I ended up at the University of Dayton. Not everyone can say they feel the same attachment for their school, and in particular the people at their school, that I can. At the end of each era of my life I have found myself struggling to transition when the time came; I wasn't ready to leave the womb, I didn't want to leave 8th grade, I didn't want to move on from high school, and I sure didn't want to be done with college (except for the part about paying tuition). 

Denial: For each semester of college that passed, more and more I found myself saying, "I can't believe I only have so much time left," or "How could I possibly be a junior in college already?" And other people were saying it to me too; "I can't believe you're so grown up!" I would just say, "I can't believe it either!" As senior year approached, I wouldn't even say the word "graduation," instead opting to call it, "the G-word," if I referred to it at all. I would tell people that I never wanted to and I never would graduate because I loved college so much. I just tried to enjoy myself everyday because somewhere in the back of my mind I knew we were running out of time. 

Anger: This stage's best example is an interaction I had with a family friend many months ago. At a Superbowl or graduation party we were talking and he very innocently asked what I would be doing after graduation, as in "Then what?" At that point I snapped back and said something to the effect of, "I don't know!! I wish people would stop asking me that!!" I got pretty red in the face and he was probably offended as he has remembered it to this day. I know adults in my life are concerned and curious about what I will be doing or what I want to do, but those questions have always, and still do, cause a mini panic attack inside me. Should I know what I want to do with my life? Should I have a plan? Some would say yes, but the fact is that I'm still trying to figure it all out. I need answers for myself before I can tell other people about them.

Bargaining: I could feel the last few months of college zooming by like I was watching them in fast forward on a VHS tape. I kept willing them to slow down. I was running out of time and I just kept thinking about all the adventures I still wanted to have. I was trying to do it all without burning out, I didn't want to have any regrets. I was bargaining with myself; I'm exhausted from work so I'm not going to go out tonight, but I'm going to go out hard tomorrow, all day and all night! I'm going to see everyone and go everywhere! I was also caught in the "what if's?" What if I could stay another year? I would get another major and another minor! Please! I'll work so hard! What am I going to do??

Depression: Without a doubt, this is the stage I'm in now, though I'd much rather just call it Sadness. I know I'll be okay and I still have fun and laugh and everything, but it's just a sad time. I'm so sad that my friends and I don't all have more time together in the way that we had before. I'm sad when I think about all the phenomenal memories we have made and the fact that things won't ever be the same. I was used to spending all of my free time with certain people and I didn't know what it would be like not seeing them or talking to them every day like before. At school you are never really all alone. There's almost always someone else in the house, and if not someone could come in the house unannounced at any given moment. Now, I am alone a lot and stuck in my own head, being sad and missing people. Graduation should be a celebration, but I have started calling it the funeral for my youth. How sad! I kind of want to be able to be sad for a while though. The fact that I'm sad means that these past four years meant something, and that they were life-altering, in a good way. Again, I know good things are coming my way in the future, and this is all just a part of life, but I don't think I can accept that yet until I have this time of sadness to come to terms with all that I got to experience.

Acceptance: I don't know when I'll accept that this new reality of being graduated is a permanent reality. I will want to continue on as if college hasn't ended, and I will want my friends and roommates around like old times, but I will eventually come to realize that for life to move on as it's meant to, this just cannot be so. "We can never replace what has been lost, but we can make new connections, new meaningful relationships, new inter-dependencies. Instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs; we move, we change, we grow, we evolve. We may start to reach out to others and become involved in their lives. We invest in our friendships and in our relationship with ourselves. We begin to live again, but we cannot do so until we have given grief its time."  (

Life will go on, I just have to go with it. 

1 comment:

  1. "Funeral of youth" is the most depressing thing I've heard in a while. I don't like it. Like the last quote though.