Speak 2 Swatties: Mourning

Last October, my childhood friend Satto killed himself in his dorm room at MIT. Satto asphyxiated himself, and no one cared to notice his absence from class or the odor trickling out of his single throughout that week.

Over two million people will die this year in the United States. Families and friends will host funerals, memorials, church-services, and many other events in honor of lives lost. Throughout the year, however, we Swatties will remain. Even if we go home for a short period of time for a funeral, we still mourn here, at Swarthmore.

So, how do we mourn at Swat?

When Satto died, I was angry. I was not angry that Satto killed himself; I came to terms with suicide a few years ago when my friend Hilary hanged herself, at age 23, after a long battle with borderline personality disorder. I understand that suicide is a remedy for pain. I was angry with MIT’s staff and student body for their insolence and disregard of their students.

Why did no one find Satto in his room until at least three days after he died?

It was with this question and frustration in my mind that I closed my computer and continued through my day, talking to no one about Satto.

After two months at Swarthmore, I still didn’t know to whom I could turn to talk. Even if I had, I would still have to go about my usual Swat routine. What was my other option? Abandoning my class work and my extracurricular activities? And, for what? For tending to my own emotional wellbeing by mourning an old friend? That often does not seem like a legitimate pursuit at Swarthmore.

So instead of mourning, I fell back on my anger with MIT. I  avoided thinking deeply about Satto’s suicide and instead raged MIT’s policies, or lack thereof. I felt better about Satto’s death understanding that, at Swarthmore, if one of my peers were missing, his RA, professors, or peers would at least notice.

But, what are we, as students, doing here at Swarthmore to help those in mourning? Are we showing people that, no matter how minute their woe may seem, they can and should seek the support of their peers? And what does this support look like?

Swarthmore has many programs that promote mental prosperity – we have CAPs, S2S, the Wellness Center, a generally open administration, and our RAs.

But our student culture doesn’t promote the long-term healing of others; often, we try to help by looking for immediate solutions. As friends of people in mourning, we still need to move on to our schoolwork, our extracurricular activities, and our measly five hours of sleep. From what I have experienced, the quick fix for us seems to be an attempt to cheer up our friend.

When Satto died, however, I didn’t need cheering up. I needed someone to steer me towards my pain.

In numerous instances, my friends have listened to me or consoled me. Having someone sit down and be OK with my leaving a conversation still sad, or perhaps more despairing than before, however, has been rare. Why can’t we be satisfied with just listening to someone, or with asking them tough questions that might delve deeper into their sorrow?

Sad emotions are something like a cut that’s filled with grit and bacteria. Instead of just covering that cut up with a band-aid, so the skin can grow over and the bacteria can fester and later cause an infection, we should clean it out. Ridding the cut of bacteria with hydrogen peroxide will sting at first, but in the long run the scarring and complications will be minimal. Addressing mental health and mourning is much the same.

Satto’s death didn’t shock me. But his death did trigger my memory of Hilary’s death and my fears associated with death and suicide. When I was thinking of these things, I didn’t try to deal with the real problems, the real fears, the real emotions; I didn’t seek disinfectant to clean my cut. I let things fester. What I needed was someone to sit down with me and encourage me to understand the pain. I needed someone to push me to address the situation– push me to feel.

Mourning death at college is hard. Helping is hard too. Perhaps, we as consolers have a responsibility to change our attitude. What would mourning look like if we were to encourage our friends to plunge into the dark cavern of their own emotions knowing we would be there to help them navigate back out?

When you consider the losses you’ve experienced, or the sadness you’ve felt, how would it feel to have your cuts cleansed, to face your pain and let yourself heal?

Find any S2S Peer Counselor if you want to talk confidentially about anything. If you or someone you know is suicidal, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The number connects you to a counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.  Calls are confidential and free.


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0 comments

  1. 0
    anonymous says:

    first of all, sorry for your loss.

    i’m glad to hear someone actually talk about mourning – in most of american culture, mourning is a taboo activity.

    i believe that mourning the death of a person (or an ideal) one loves and values is a legitimate response and, in fact, the appropriate response to significant loss. but most of the time and in most situations, sadness is labeled “depression” and someone tries to medicate the sufferer so they won’t feel the sadness or, at minimum, won’t express it publicly. in most places, people don’t want to listen to someone talk about feelings of loss, and the response is “you’ll feel better soon” or “maybe you should talk to a grief counselor” – anything to make the sufferer stop talking and go away. grief is supposed to be contained, and expressed in only specified places.

    in my personal experience, the only people who understand the deep sadness that comes with meaningful loss are people who’ve experienced something similar and haven’t buried the memories or the feelings.

    i think that you’re lucky to be at swarthmore, where the student body is generally more aware of other people and their feelings, and the administration is supportive of the students as complete human beings. it does help to talk about experiences of deep loss, and to have your feelings acknowledged as legitimate.

  2. 0
    Zack says:

    Yep, you’re right. Allowing for those close to you to explore their grief takes courage and mutual trust–a lot harder than just lightening the mood with a distracting joke or something equally escapist.

  3. 0
    Alum '12 says:

    My dad passed away from liver cancer in February 2010, during my second semester of my sophomore year. Needless to say, that was the lowest point of my time at Swarthmore. I found that it was hard for me to talk about it to my friends, for fear that they wouldn’t know how to react, and at the same time, it was hard for my friends to bring it up.

    However, I realized that the best way to “mourn” is to talk, to open up, to de-stress, and let go. To recover from “mourning” takes hard work. It really does. You need to make the active effort to open up.

    If you are going through a hard time at Swarthmore, you NEED to let somebody know. Do not keep it all locked up inside or you will go insane, seriously. After my dad’s death, I emailed my RA, who quickly set up an appointment for me with the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. I would meet her at least once a week and I would just talk to her and tell her everything I was thinking. And she would just listen. It was incredibly helpful to me in my recovery. She also sent an email to all my professors, asking them to be compassionate toward any academic requests I might have.

    And also, even though it is really difficult to do, go talk to your professors. At Swarthmore, professors are advocates for the students. They understand. My professors were incredibly supportive and even though they were quite speechless when I told them of my dad’s death, I knew that they had my back and would help me to succeed in their course to the best of their abilities.

    But I’m so glad that you wrote this article Mia. At Swarthmore, and in the real world, there are people who are mourning, people who are suffering, people who are in pain. At Swarthmore, we tend to put forward a face and an attitude of being fine, but noone is ever always fine: we all have our difficulties, worries, stress. We need to work hard to create an environment at Swarthmore that is conducive to opening up and sharing our feelings. Sharing yourself is the most courageous and most intellectual act that you could do.

  4. 0
    Senior swattie says:

    Mourning can be a very lonely process, especially when one is removed from the rest of a community mourning the same loss. I like the way you discussed this loneliness as something we all go through and need to deal with. It makes it feel less lonely.

  5. 0
    Anonymous ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    “Mourning death at college is hard. Helping is hard too. Perhaps, we as consolers have a responsibility to change our attitude. What would mourning look like if we were to encourage our friends to plunge into the dark cavern of their own emotions knowing we would be there to help them navigate back out?”

    You’re exactly right, Mia. Thanks for this.

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