The Hardest Lesson to Learn: Dealing with Loss

By Sabrina Bong — Last Monday, I walked into my internship site only to hear devastating news: one of our 9th grade students had died over fall break.

An announcement was read to each of the classes and immediately after, two of her best friends came to the counseling office sobbing. Throughout the day, we had students trickling into our offices: some crying, some shocked, some just needing a place to sit and connect their thoughts.

This was my first time working with grieving students, and I felt completely unprepared.

A few days later, one of the girl’s best friends came in and asked to speak with me. We sat down and she explained that she was having a really rough day. She had seen the obituary in the newspaper that morning and as she described it, “reality finally hit.” She told me that she had spent most of the morning crying and remembering their last moments together: laughing before class, passing notes in homeroom, hugging each other goodbye at the end of the day.

I then asked her to share with me what made her best friend so special, since I had never met her. My student talked about how she was the most loyal person in the world, that she would do anything for her family, and how she had the most contagious laugh in the world. She talked about how they would spend hours texting each other. She said that their teachers would always get frustrated because they couldn’t stop talking and laughing with each other.

After a few minutes, she fell silent, then said timidly, “I’m mad at her too. I miss her so much, but I’m mad at her. Why did she do this?”

I always felt as though counselors had the answers to everything, that their ideas and suggestions helped bring clarity to any situation. But this time, I couldn’t think of anything to say. I knew that nothing I said to answer the question would be helpful, nor would it bring her friend back. I ran through my head every possible thing I could say to diffuse the situation: “Remember that she is in a better place,” “Everything will be okay,” “I know this is hard for you.” But everything I thought of sounded cliché.

“I don’t know how to answer that question,” I finally told the student softly, “and I’m not sure what to say now. I want to tell you something that makes this easier, but I know that when you lose someone, you don’t want to hear they’re in a better place or that everything will be okay. Because in that moment, you find it really hard to believe that.”

It was quiet. For a minute, I thought that I had just been the worst counselor in the world. But finally, the student said, “Thanks Ms. Bong for being honest about not knowing what to say.”

Sometimes, we don’t need to have all the answers. Sometimes, we just need to be open to accepting the questions.

Rest in peace, Maddy. You will be forever missed.

2 Responses to “The Hardest Lesson to Learn: Dealing with Loss”

  1. 1 reneepdowdy November 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Such a beautiful reflection on such a challenging situation. You are spot on – as educators, hearing the questions if often what someone needs the most.


  2. 2 nepeters092 November 8, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    What a sad story, but it sounds like you handled it really well. It is better to be genuine than tell them something just to make them feel better. It sounds like you are just what that poor girl needed, someone to listen and be supportive.


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