Next week we will mark one of those anniversaries on campus which gives us pause. A year ago, February 24th, Nick Johnson died in his residence hall room from an existing medical condition. Just two weeks later, on March 10th, first year student, Melissa Smith, died in a single car accident. For those of you who never knew Nick and Melissa, they both left their imprints here on campus. It was devastating to lose two students in such quick succession. Many friends, and hundreds of members of our community, gathered on campus to tell stories, light candles and tell stories just as we did last month as we mourned the death of Kristie Kitts.
Often the anniversary of a death will reawaken grief—both of the specific loss marked by the anniversary AND any other grief in our lives. Emotions are funny that way; they can catch us by surprise. Every year more than 150 members of our community experience the death of a family member or loved one. A few students lose a parent, even more lose grandparents. Many of these deaths hit hard. Everyone grieves differently and at a different pace, and grief can often resurface.
Delayed grief is grief that has been postponed. You can put loss aside for a time, but it will find its way to the surface. There are many reasons grief gets postponed, like the business of spring semester or needing to take care of others. Those of us who shepherd others in times of crisis often find ourselves struggling at odd times or weeks after an event.
So how will you know if you experience delayed grief? If you are like me, you will realize that you are just a bit more irritable that usual, more short with friends and family, and a bit quicker to be emotional. You may get angrier than normal or weepy. You may need more alone time or want to look through old pictures or need to tell stories about a deceased loved one. You may be less motivated than usual or need more sleep. Grief can manifest itself physically as in unexplained headaches, ulcers, etc.
SO this is a prayer to take care of yourself and to watch others around you. February is a gray month – particularly this February with the snow and now slush. If you knew Nick or Melissa or Kristie, please pay special attention to your emotions. If you are struggling, speak up to a trusted friend, colleague, RA, or counselor. If you see a friend, in need please speak up. Take them to the Counseling Center or the Spiritual Life Center.
God of grace, fill my heart with warmth. In times of gray, and times of grief, help me to feel the embrace of friends and the support of my community. Guide me through darkness safely, seeking growth and options rather than feeling trapped and hopeless. Bless me with the hope that just as winter turns to spring, so will the bleakness of the soul turn to a spark of joy. Amen