Alone, Yet Not Alone: Springfield College Students Who Have Lost Parents Share a Special Bond

Sylvia Mitus

Contributing Writer

 

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Photo courtesy of Sylvia Mitus

 

Everyone remembers the day. Maybe it was a beautiful day and the sun was shining just right in New England, the smell of fresh cut grass was in the air or you could feel the crisp fall air hitting your face, while leaves of all colors crunched beneath you as you walked to class. Then suddenly everything changes out of nowhere. Things go from sunny to rainy quickly, the rain is down pouring on you, but this time the rain is coming from your eyes, not the sky.

This was the moment when your whole life was turned upside down, because you got the news.  The news that would put you in a different group for the rest of your life. The news that would leave you with a missing piece inside you forever, something that can’t be replaced. The news that made you question everything from this point on, and wonder if it was all worth it.

The news you got that day was one of your parents has died.

I remember that day. It all started with a phone call.  I was sitting in class. There were only two days left of the fall semester of my sophomore year of college before finals started.  I knew there was something wrong when my father called during class, because never he called at that time.  I made the bold decision to ignore the call and call him back when I was out.

On the phone, he said nothing was wrong, but implied that I should come home as soon as possible.  As I walked in the door that afternoon, I was hit with “Sylvia, your mother is gone.”

“What do you mean she’s gone?” I said, confused.

“She died.”

On December 16, 2015, my mother, Deborah Mitus, lost her battle to breast cancer. It was a day that would change my life forever.

At first I thought I was alone, because no one ever brings up losing a parent.  There is no way of knowing how many people on the Springfield College campus have faced this heartbreak, but they are out there, walking the sidewalks to Cheney, studying in the library, working out in the gym, and some even getting help in the Counseling Center.

You’ll be faced with endless challenges and heartbreaking adjustments. Lucky for the kids here at Springfield College they aren’t alone. The Counseling Center has a Grief Group, that includes 7-9 people, who have experienced a range of different losses.  According to activelymovingforward.com between 35-48 percent of college students have lost a family member or close friend within the last two years.

Those statistics might seem big, but when you lose a parent they seem much smaller, because you feel all alone. No one can relate to you. The only thing your friends can do is look at you with some sort of sadness in the face and say to you all the clichéd things. I’m so sorry. Everything is going to be OK. If you ever need anything just let me know.

However, that doesn’t stop the awkward talks and confrontations that no one tells you about. Trying to bring up the news of telling someone you lost a parent makes you want to crawl into a hole, because you don’t know how to phrase it. Do you just blurt it out? Write an e-mail? Send a text?

The Counseling Center and the Grief Group are there to let you know that you aren’t alone and that life will eventually go on.  Head of the Counseling Center Brian Krylowicz says, “When people do the Grief Group there are no common experiences, but they can go, “Yup I know that feeling.”

There’s a sort of comfort when you meet people and hear that phrase, even if the experience isn’t common.  It’s in that moment you realize that maybe you aren’t alone after all.  On the Springfield College campus Kent Parsons and Chelsea Lindblad are two students who have grappled with the same situation that I have.

Kent Parsons is a junior in the EMSM program.  Like me, Parsons got the news during his sophomore year.  On April 14, 2016 Parsons found out that his father, Daniel Parsons, had passed away suddenly from an accidental fall.

 

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Photo courtesy of Kent Parsons

 

The careers we chose to pursue after our time at Springfield College already hold some meaning and backstory to them.  Now for Parsons, his means a little bit more.  Parsons is currently working on following in the steps of his father, a dream that is already close to reality.

Parsons already has a few accomplishments under his belt before graduation comes next May.  He is currently a paramedic and a firefighter.  Parsons currently works as a firefighter in Essex and Hamilton, Mass.  Hamilton holds a special place in his heart, because that is where he’s from and where his father used to work.

Although, Parsons’ accomplishments are great, it wasn’t easy getting there.  Parsons was faced with a couple of challenges, especially since his biggest influence is no longer by his side.

For Parsons, he threw himself right back into things after his father died.  When his father passed, he was already planning to come home that weekend to take the Mass Civil Service Test for firefighting.  His mother urged him not to take it, but he knew in his heart and the passion that burned inside him, that his father would’ve wanted him to take it.  He made the bold move to take it and passed.

While being home that week, besides spending time with his mother, Parsons wanted to stay busy.  He took it upon himself to take a couple of shifts at the firehouse to make him feel better because it was a familiar place. Going back to school he could stay busy, as there were only a few weeks remaining in the spring semester before his sophomore year would end.

As another summer came along, so did wanting to continuing to stay busy, ignoring the fact of what had happened.  During that time Parsons mentioned the loss of motivation he felt about being a paramedic, too.

That summer he went to go work for an ambulance service.  He was working terrible hours, staying up all night, and going without any sleep some days.  He was miserable, but didn’t know what else to do.  His friends and mother noticed it too. In a sense for him, that was a wakeup call to take things a little bit easier for the next summer and maybe not ghost over the subject that we all try to ignore at one point or another.

Looking back on the first year without his father, Parsons claims that it went by fast.  However, it never stops the grieving process. “It sucked for like two months, then I pretended it didn’t happen for like 8 months, and now this week it just sucks,” Parsons said.

The future holds many great things for Parsons. Sadly his father won’t be there for all those proud milestones. Thinking about the future of being a firefighter and following in the steps of his father Parsons said, “I always imagined my father pinning my badge on me graduating the fire academy once I get on a department full time. I don’t think it will be the same without him there.”

Much like Parsons, Chelsea Lindblad was influenced by a parent’s career path. Lindblad was a junior in high school when her whole life was changed.  Lindblad’s mother had battled multiple sickness throughout her life, including cancer.  On November 16, 2013 Jeanette Lindblad, passed away from complications from a heart attack she suffered earlier that week.

During this time like most juniors in high school Lindblad was thinking about her future and college.  She was on track to trying to pursue her longtime dream of becoming an English teacher.  It wasn’t until her life was turned upside down and became a member of the group that she changed her mind.

After losing her mother, Lindblad got attracted to the idea of studying mental health.  Lindblad is currently a freshman in the psychology program.  It wasn’t easy for Lindblad to get here. She hit a few bumps in the road to pursue her new dream.  Her new career path and plan was the result of a lot of dark times.

“When you’re a kid losing a parent has got to be one of the sh******t things to ever happen to you, because it dictates your whole life from there on out,” she says.

When Lindblad lost her mother, she couldn’t just throw herself back into things and pretend life was normal.  She tried to ignore the subject like many do and not talk about it with her friends. “I really wanted to just avoid that altogether.  I think that hurt me a lot too, I didn’t want to make people feel awkward,” she said.

She tried to ghost over the subject for as long as possible and bottle up her emotions.  Soon Lindblad started to feel pressured to go back to school after being out for two weeks.

As her junior year of high school was coming to end an end her health started to decline.  She had almost every common sickness you could think of, but she didn’t notice, until she got mono.

Being so depressed and stressed the five weeks with mono dragged on.  Lindblad missed all her finals and started to lose contact with some of her friends.

“For the most part I felt alone and depressed, bedridden. I never went back to take my finals, had no desire to,” she said.

She started to realize that she couldn’t shut out the outside world. “At that time I was just so lost,” says Lindblad, “That was the moment I realized I didn’t take the time I needed to. Two weeks wasn’t enough.”

This is where her career path took a change, because kids go through so much every day, especially ones that have lost a parent. Younger kids don’t realize the tools they have access to like counselors until they arrive at higher education.  That’s why Lindblad wants to become an adjustment counselor. “It’s much more what I would’ve gotten out of rather than being a teacher,” she claims.

If she hadn’t lost her mom she might never would have found her path to psychology. “Everything very suddenly in my life is about her now,” she says.

Counseling has been shown to have a positive impact on college students dealing with grief; however only about 10 percent will seek out counseling services.  No two situations are the same. “There’s a thousand different variables that make it different for each student,” says Krylowicz.

Talking about the situation does help.  The Counseling Center is here on campus for a reason. Their door is always open, “We’re not here to offer much, I can’t make them come back, reincarnation is not in our skillset,” said Krylowicz.

Grieving is something a child, no matter what age should not go through alone. As Krylowicz puts it, “There is no cookie cutter way to go through grief.”

The three of us know that.  No matter how long it’s been it will always hurt.  Losing a parent is something a child will grieve over for the rest of their life.  Just when we think it’s over it’s not.  Ten years down the road, something could trigger a memory and then suddenly we’re back to when we were 16 or 19.  It might hurt less, but it’ll always hurt. We know we aren’t alone though.

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