Grief on a College Campus

I want to talk about something we’re not supposed to talk about. It’s something we don’t want to think about on campus – we want to relegate it to nursing homes, or at least some other person, some other place or time.

The thing I want to talk about is grief.

And I mean this for all of you – I mean this for students who have already lost too many, too soon, and I mean this for students who haven’t ever laid flowers at a graveside. I mean this for the friends of Chase Froese and Michael Thompson, and perhaps most of all; I mean this for the friends of those friends as well. I want to talk about grief and loss on a campus where everything – every thought, every question, every goal – is orientated towards the making of a positive future. I want to talk about how to deal with that future changing.

I’m going to start the only way that makes sense in my mind – with my own experience of laying flowers at grave-sides. My mother passed away on Christmas Eve of 2013, halfway through sophomore year of college. Mothers aren’t supposed to pass away when you’re in college, just like friends aren’t supposed to not make it back to shore, just like friends aren’t supposed to be lost to seizures. A week after she passed I returned to Calvin – make no mistake, it wasn’t the easiest choice, it was the numbest. I wanted to work, to be able to do something when I had been helpless before, and classes helped me do that. But you know as well as I do that college is about so much more than getting lost in papers.

I was surrounded – by friends, by peers, classmates and strangers, and all of them wanted to talk to me, to ask how I was doing. Only, how do you even begin to talk about something so wrong and so unfair and so overwhelming as death, especially at college? Many half-hearted attempts (on both sides) to begin such a vulnerable conversation were quick and ended with long hugs that seemed to seal the conversation closed forever. Sometimes they came from people I simply didn’t know well enough to be vulnerable with – I resented feeling as if something was expected of me in those situations: teary eyes, a brave word, something.

But what meant a lot to me was when I was given a space on my own terms to grieve.

If you don’t get anything else out of this article please understand this – you don’t need to be the shoulder to cry on, you don’t need to have something wise to say (who could possibly have something wise to say?) and you don’t need to text a bible verse to someone every day to let them know you care. You simply need to provide a space for someone who is grieving to do just that – grieve. There is nothing more healing than to be with a friend, and to admit how much you miss someone’s laugh or quirk, to remember stories, or to simply say, “this hurts like hell, and it won’t stop.” This is your charge by the nature of friendship; to simply provide this space again and again – regardless of acceptance. This is your charge, from the very first day after the terrible news is delivered, and into the strange new years to come.


From the Editors: In the interest of providing a space for discussion in the Calvin community, Chimes will be running a memorial piece for Chase Froese and Michael Thompson in next week’s edition. We open our office, Facebook, twitter, and email accounts to anyone, faculty and staff included, who would like to submit a memory, prayer, wish, or good-bye to Chase, Michael, or their families.


The Broene counselling center is open 5 days a week, and offers free counselling services to Calvin students by appointment.