Grieving with a Community

When I first arrived at Harvard two years ago, I found a lot of what I had expected as an incoming freshman. I took a life sciences class and worked with entryway friends to learn the amino acids; I played intramural sports and bloodied my nose in a soccer game. I had the requisite freshman experiences of romance and partying; I formed wonderful new friendships.

However, in the background of all of these initial experiences was the fact that my mother had died two years earlier. Although I had hoped to meet other students who had suffered similar losses, I generally found myself managing my grief in solitude.

I knew they must be there: in a class of more than 1500, there had to be other students who had lost a parent, a sibling, or a friend. I wanted to talk to people my age who were also students at Harvard to ask how they coped. How did they respond when a new acquaintance asked, “Are your parents coming for Freshman Parents’ Weekend?” How do you focus on work when you miss someone with more than homesickness, because they aren’t alive anymore?

Hoping to meet other students who had suffered a loss early in life, I seized the opportunity to attend the “Seasons of Grief” workshop at the Bureau of Study Counsel. Although the session itself was very helpful, I felt that I wanted something on a more regular basis. By winter break, I decided to go ahead and start a grief support group at Harvard. I was sure it would help other students at Harvard, but it was going to help me as well.

This past spring semester, Students of Actively Moving Forward at Harvard College, a chapter of a national organization, held its first support group meeting. Throughout the semester, we held weekly support group meetings, complete with cookies and tissues. Since I cry easily, I had imagined that a support group would involve en masse sobbing, but AMF has never been like that. We have conversations that might touch on many different topics or stick closely to one or two. The underlying fuel for conversation is often the satisfying, validating response, “I know what you mean” or, “I’ve felt that way too.” At AMF, it is a relief to find others who can empathize, since it is the often-unspoken painful fact of loss that has brought us together.

A death in the community should also bring us together. We learned of the death of Cote K. Laramie ’14 as a community of students, staff, and faculty, and now this community faces grief together. I knew Cote only casually through a student group, so I am not qualified to write a tribute to him. However, I know that his memory will stay with us: We will be reminded of him when we pass by Pforzheimer House, when we go to Glee Club concerts, when my class graduates with one fewer student among us. Many of us will grieve Cote deeply, and it is our responsibility as a community to support one another.

Fortunately, there are many resources for Harvard students who are going through an emotionally difficult experience. I explored a variety of support resources as a freshman when I needed help with my grief for my mother. If you are grieving, I encourage you to talk to your proctor, Peer Advising Fellow, tutor, or House Student Mental Health Liaison to find a resource that would be a good match for you.

No one expects to lose a parent, a sibling, or a friend before they graduate from college. Sadly, grief and loss are among us. Cote’s passing illuminates that bereavement is something college students face, along with all the other stresses of these four years in our lives. I realize that a peer support group is not how every grieving student will want to take care of him or herself. Now that AMF exists, though, I hope fewer Harvard students will feel that they must manage their grief in solitude as I did my freshman year.

Miranda J. Morrison '14 is a government concentrator in Cabot House.