Saturday, October 10, 2009

Day Five: Death and the College Community

There was a suicide yesterday afternoon in college.  I had hurried home to attack a problem with my husband's visa and noticed that there was an odd feeling the moment I stepped beyond the porter's lodge into the main LMH quad.  A larger number of students than usual were huddled along the steps and benches of the quad's perimeter.  I recognized the feeling.

Although in a frantic hurry and, although I had gotten to the door I would take to get to my room, I stopped, turned around, and approached what looked like pained undergraduates.

"Is something wrong?"  I asked.

"Yes" replied a braver boy, holding a girl who gave me a look as if I was intruding.

"Did someone die?"


"Was it suicide?"


"Did another student find him?"


Emotions flooded back to me from my own sibling's deaths, and I expressed my sorrow and sympathy at the news the best I knew how.

I later learned that a third-year student struggling with family issues that always seemed happy but never opened up had hung himself in his bedroom.  Shock, awe, and grief filled the college atmosphere and depressed the spirits of everyone.  

I was impressed with how the college handled it.  They pulled everyone together shortly after the death to announce what had happened and dispel rumors.  A few hours later, they held a memorial service in chapel, lead by the chaplain.  Several students spoke, and it gave his friends an opportunity to relieve their grief almost immediately.  Orientation week celebrations were canceled.  Counseling and support sessions were quickly announced.  The rapidity of the response taught me a bit about the college community and its purpose and strength: this family away from family comprise elements essential for the care of individuals - physical needs are met by accommodations and Hall, spiritual needs are met by the chaplain and church structure,  intellectual needs are met by the teaching system and library, and social needs are met by the friends and colleagues with whom you live, eat, and study.  The size of the community allowed people to pull together, draw strength, and grieve. 

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