Grief program looking to have long-term impact

In reaction to the significant amount of students who have experienced deaths in their families, Mental Health Services and a campus priest plan to continue what they say is a successful grief support group.Laura Crawley, assistant dean of campus life for health promotion, said campus life has been looking to have a grief program for a while.

It is a group made up of students and “two folks with tremendous experience with grief, hope and loss,” Crawley said.

The group’s facilitators are Monica Kintigh, a psychologist at the Health Center, and the Rev. Charlie Calabrese, a Roman Catholic minister and director at the What About Remembering Me Place.

Kintigh said the group, which ran this semester for six weeks, started because there were more than 10 students who lost a parent between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2006.

“There were some people invited to attend that lost family members, and then we opened it up to the entire community,” Kintigh said.

In this group, students may share experiences with each other and recognize their experiences may be a lot like others’, Kintigh said.

She said for one session, students brought in pictures of people they lost and had the opportunity to share stories of loss.

“It’s the first set of holidays students have to go through without their loved one … The birthday celebrations and having to go through graduation that make it difficult,” Kintigh said.

In the fall 2007 semester, Kintigh said she might have another ongoing group or also a retreat.

“It’s really hard for college students to come to an ongoing group for six weeks,” Kintigh said. “We tend to offer groups in a response to a perceived need.”

There were, on average, about eight students at each weekly session, Kintigh said.

“The goal was to help students manage and cope with grief and find a place where they can feel supported and connected,” Kintigh said.

Students need places where they can go to work with their grief, so they can put it aside to focus on school, Kintigh said.

“I also try to help students understand that it is OK for your grades to slip a little bit because you’re distracted by a loss,” Kintigh said.

The group process is not right for everybody, Crawley said, but students help one another, and it all has to do with the students’ comfort level.

Kintigh said she has worked with Calabrese before with a faculty and staff grief group.

“He and I are a really nice match because I have the counseling background but he also has the grief facilitation background,” Kintigh said.

Calabrese said he went through a seven-week grief-training program in 1989 for the WARM Place.

“Grief comes like waves unexpectedly,” Calabrese said.

Calabrese said his role in the group is to “provide a safe environment where people who are grieving a death can process what they are going through.”

Caitlin Christensen, a sophomore secondary education major, said she lost her grandmother last year and she just wanted to be with her father. She said she is the kind of person who likes to handle things on her own and did not tell a lot of people about her grandmother’s death.

Christensen said she probably would not attend counseling because death is part of life and, in her case, it was somewhat expected.

Grant Gossett, a sophomore history major, said if someone was not able to go home immediately after a death in the family, the group would be helpful because someone with professional help is available if needed.

Crawley said 9.5 percent of students who responded to a national health behavior survey conducted this year experienced the death of a family member or friend.

“You’re supposed to be focused on socials, your career and graduating,” Crawley said.

She said the three places students might find help for grief from loss and death is at campus life, the counseling center or University Ministries.