On Grief and the End of College Life

Those Who Wander Lost is a blog-site dedicated to the Class of 2013 but with enough room for guest contributors to share their pearls of wisdom, advice, rants, worries, and stories about college life and beyond. Posted here with permission by the author, the talented Starshine5050 of MoarPowah.com–where she posts some lovely movie, music, and video game reviews!  Now I’ve got her writing up some inspirational words and some honest talk  for the graduating class of 2013

PS. Chin up guys! Because I totally know the feeling — now keep on reading

Sometimes, in casual conversation, I like to pose a hypothetical situation to whomever I am speaking with: You are holding your two-month old son in your arms when an angel (or the devil) comes to you and says, “Your child must die. But I will give you a choice – you can give him to me now, or when he is 18. There is no way to cheat this or protect him. He has to die.” The question posed is what do you do – give the child up now, or at 18?

People often assume that the question has something to do with abortion (one person even criticized my “sneaky liberal tactics” to try and make the conversation about pro-choice propaganda) or with parenthood. The question, however, is actually a way to see how a person deals with grief and loss, if they ever experienced it at all.

Of course the politically correct answer is to give them up at 18. The kid should have a chance at life, because there’s a lot that happens in eighteen years, like kindergarten and prom and getting into PG-13 movies. It should come as no surprise that this is the answer I receive most, for various reasons. “I couldn’t imagine giving up a baby!” “The kid should grow up, even if I knew his fate was sealed.” “When it’s your kid, you’ll always want to keep them longer.” But this one person’s response impressed me most was one that seemed to understand the point best: “It would kill me, but I owe it to my child to allow him to live.”

Everyone processes their grief in different ways, because we all suffer losses at different times and at different degrees. Many of these people who responded were those have never experienced a loss in their life, or those who lost someone older than them. They fall into the philosophy of “We’ll always have the memories,” and choose to view the lost life as one to be celebrated.

My answer is not the friendly, nice answer. This is as much a product of my personality and upbringing as it is my personal experience. My father is the same way. He lost his younger brother when he was 30 in a horrible drunk driving accident. For us, while we recognize the memories as happy, often we view them with mourning long after the person has passed. We take loss internally and see the hole left by the lack of that person rather than what good they left behind.

This is not to validate one answer over the other, of course. Grief is a very personal process, which is why it can be alienating to others. The reason I am writing this is because I’ve noticed a lot of my friends acting this way post-graduation. How I have been acting this way.

No, no one has died, but a big part of our lives (1/5 of it from our perspective) is over, and lots of our friends have scattered across the country, or even the globe. We are now forced into either harder, more demanding schools or into a job market where you could spend months looking to start your career only to end up working at McDonalds.

Is it no wonder parts of the graduating class of 2013 are falling into despair?

It’s hit me particularly tough since I have yet to find employment. I have been writing for days on end for lots of different places to try and pump up my resume, all the while the looming threat of a year of unemployment is never far behind. My parents remind me that if I don’t find a job soon, I’m going to have to try and find a master program to get into, causing me to fall in a pit of debt I don’t need right now. We are living in a world where your best career options are slipping away faster than butter on a slip-n-slide and unless you are a 4.0 Ivy League graduate with 30 internships behind you, the positions there are available are difficult to attain as hundreds of people throw their resumes into the ring.

Some people have decided to stick their minds back in the good old days of college, posting massive amounts of photos, talking about the crazy antics from senior year. And while these are the things we should hold onto, I have sat at way too many dinner tables in the last week where people spend the entire night talking, and eventually crying, about the last four years. Me, I find I don’t have the energy to do anything, wishing I had spent my college years better, doing more to ensure I would be prepared for life, trying to distance myself from the past.

We are in a state of perpetual grieving and self pity that none of us as ready to dig ourselves out of.

I know today I’m all about metaphors, but hang in there with me. Grief is much like a firefly in your room at night. As you lay in the darkness, you can see the faint glimmering of hope in the corner that fades in and out. For a time, it can seem like just the tiniest light, far away and too hard to see amongst all the rest of the dark corners that house doubt, sorrow, and fear. But little by little, your eyes train on light until it grows bigger and brighter. You get up a follow it, exploring those dark corners to find there’s nothing there, until you can finally walk out the door.

The Class of 2013 has a lot fighting against them, like the Class of 2012 and the future of Class of 2014 and many classes before and after us. The world is changing and we’re going to have to change with it. Surely, little by little, we’ll follow that firefly out the door into our future, just as soon as we can.

We just might need a little while to lay in that darkness first.

– S. R-M, aka Starshine5050

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