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How students cope with loss

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A father holding his daughter for a picture.

While many students were gearing up to head back to school after a long winter break, perhaps dreading having to deal with the habitual grind of being back in the classroom, I was dreading something different.

For the past few weeks, I had been taking care of my dad who had recently been told that he only had weeks to live. Rather than spending my days watching Netflix, I was making sure my dad was well taken care of in his final days. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer four years ago, but we were told that it was Stage I and would be rigorously monitored so that it would never have the chance to advance to Stage II.

Unfortunately, the cancer quickly progressed last year and became very aggressive and treatment-resistant by the end of the year. We felt so helpless. He was only 69 years old. He was my best friend, and even that term is an understatement. By the time he had arrived at my mom’s house for hospice care, he could no longer walk because the cancer was now in his spine and leg.

He was already starting to lose his ability to carry a conversation. It was such a surreal experience seeing him deteriorate so quickly. Normally, at the beginning of the semester, he would be the person I relied on for advice about school, even sharing my course syllabi with him to discuss the upcoming readings. My dad was a devout academic who had spent over 30 years teaching at the graduate and undergraduate levels throughout the Greater Los Angeles area, including USC, UCLA, CSUN and Pepperdine.

When my dad passed on Jan. 25, I came back to school that Monday, unsure of who to talk to about what I had just experienced. I did not know what my options were regarding being able to take time off of school. There is no protocol that I am aware of when a student experiences a death in the family. I was nervous about telling my professors as I had read horror stories online about some instructors requiring death certificates or a link to an obituary so that they can verify your claim that your father passed away.

I am left to wonder: What are the options for students who experience the death of someone close to them while attending CSUN? While it is acceptable to take a few days off to grieve and participate in funeral services, the grieving process can take months to years.

I am by no means suggesting students need to take months to years away from school or work. Yet what does CSUN provide to help students cope? I admit that I have found it challenging to balance both school and my job while dealing with the trauma of losing someone so close to me.

While I did utilize our counseling services on campus, I wondered how many students are aware of this resource? Fortunately, all of my professors were extremely understanding and sympathetic to my loss. In addition, I also discovered that there is a support group that meets once a week to provide a safe place to discuss grief and trauma but was told that only about seven or eight students attend.

When researching the topic, I found that one in three college students experience a death of a family member or close friend who died within the last 12 months, according to Actively Moving Forward, a young adult and college grief support network. With close to 40,000 students attending CSUN, seven or eight students is quite a small number of people looking for ways to deal with their grief.

Grief is an individual experience that people deal with in unique ways. I hope that more students on campus seek out the support they need, knowing that they are not alone when they lose a loved one. As a large campus community, we need to make sure knowledge about how to cope with grief and where to get help is more widely known.

If students need support please seek out the resources listed below:

– University Counseling Services

-Bayramian Hall 520

– https://healgrief.org/actively-moving-forward/

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