Most of us will at some point encounter a student coping with a personal or family illness, or facing the death of a loved one. What follows is a guide for how to be helpful to such students.
You might have suspected that a student you know is struggling emotionally, and asked if things are ok…. Or you might have heard from another student or from Campus Ministry that a parent is seriously ill, or has died. What should you do?
Don’t fail to say something for fear of saying “the wrong thing.” What is most important is to convey that you care and can listen. A few remarks you might find helpful for getting started:
“I’m so sorry to hear about your father. Has he been ill for long?”
“I don’t know what to say, but I can imagine this must be difficult for you.”
Listening allows the student facing loss to express his or her feelings to someone who cares. Your acknowledgement of their situation, and your calm listening will be more helpful than you might think. It is easy to underestimate how comforting and affirming it is for students at such a difficult time, just to be heard by a respected adult.
Ask a Few Questions
While it is possible to ask for too much disclosure, most of us tend to err on the side of asking too little. In fact, people facing a loss usually have a strong desire to talk about their loved one—even if not at great length. Your questions might be general (e.g., “Tell me more about it”) or more specific (e.g., “How did you find out?”)—anything that allows the person to start talking.
Check Back In
While you don’t want to impose or seem to be hovering, you do want to convey that you care and are available. You might check back later with something like:
“What’s it like for you these days? How are you coping?”
"How are you doing? Are you talking to anyone?"
If they’re not saying much, or seem particularly distressed, consider referral to the Counseling Center.
What Not To Say
You’d want to consider very carefully before using remarks like:
“Don’t cry; try to control yourself.”
“I know exactly what you’re going through.”
“Don’t worry. It’s probably for the best.”
For Additional Suggestions...
or to talk through how to be helpful in a specific situation, please call the Counseling Center (410-617-5109). We are here to consult with you.