Grief, a sometimes overlooked consequence of disaster and loss

Just over one year ago, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast. Approximately 650,000 homes were destroyed or damaged and 147 people died. The grief has certainly not completely dissipated from Sandy’s victims, and may even be worse since the first anniversary hit on October 29th. According to Dr. Rachel Yehuda, director of the traumatic stress studies division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, “Coming up on an anniversary of something like a traumatic event can ramp things up and people can feel highly anxious and depressed….It’s a time where there is a natural spike in symptoms, especially on a first year anniversary.”

October 29th was the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. Image Source: NYtimes.com

October 29th was the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.
Image Source: NYtimes.com

When we as readers evaluate the severity of a disaster, we often look at the raw numbers and do not always account for the devastating and diffuse psychological consequences. I feel that the same goes for other recent atrocities such as the 9,900 people in the U.S. that have died from guns since the Newtown shooting, or death toll in Syria of 110,000. It is hard for us to wholly emotionally conceptualize these numbers as we should if we have not experienced grief ourselves. However, grief is not a foreign phenomenon or one that even any of us can escape. There is a universality to it that we do not realize. Sometime in our lives, whether it be sooner or later, a close family member or friend is going to die and we are going to have to go through the grieving process. Why then do we avoid talking about it? There is a huge stigma around grief that prevents those in mourning from moving forward.

Thanks to Meghan Kubic, the discussion has been started on campus at Northwestern. “Grieving in college has an isolating component to it. When you are a freshman and expected to make new friends and my mom just died, I didn’t know how to transition from my old life to my new life at school. I was bombarded with these components of grief that I didn’t understand. Because of the stigmatizing components of grief I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to be known as the girl whose mom died.”

That’s when Meghan founded the Northwestern chapter of Actively Moving Forward (AMF), a grief support group for any college student grieving the loss of a loved one. “We are not very big, and there are a lot of reasons why I think that is. The students that have been really involved, I always get somebody that says ‘I’m really glad that this is here.’ You can tell in the meetings that people at first are very uncomfortable, but you see them becoming more comfortable, which is really important when you are talking about this stuff.”

“I think it’s very important for people to understand that grief is very unpredictable and very variable. A lot of people equate it to sadness and depression, but that is not true for everybody. It is something that never really goes away and something that changes as life goes on. It takes different forms. Losing a loved one, that person doesn’t just die. You lose every first moment that you will have with that person.” Grief should be a human emotion that unites us, not divide us. When you reach out a helping hand to another whom is grieving, you never know when you will need the favor returned.

If anyone has any questions about AMF, please contact Meghan Kubic at Meghankubic2014@u.northwestern.edu.

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