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By Chloe Barth

Walt Whitman said,

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person,/My hurts turn livid upon me as I lean on a cane and observe” (Whitman, lines 845-6).

In “Song of Myself,” the nineteenth century poet practices extreme empathy. Throughout the epic, Whitman empathizes with a disabled man, a “lunatic,” (Whitman, line 273), a young Black girl, and an indigenous American, to name a few. As speaker of the poem, Whitman surpasses the physical limits of the world which separate humans. He empathizes with those not typically thought of as peers during nineteenth century America by accessing the metaphysical root system which connects all of us. He is able to feel the wounded person’s hurt, because he is the wounded person. The same can be said for all of us. No matter our closeness to or distance from a source of grief, we have a right to feel wounded along with it. We also have a right to closure.

Closure is a long process which takes effort to achieve. Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross originally outlined five stages of grief in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. The psychiatrist came to this conclusion by studying the psyche of those coping with terminal illness. The duly-named Kübler-Ross model includes:

  1. Denial and isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression, and
  5. Acceptance

Since the publication of Dr. Kübler-Ross’ work, the stages of grief have been expanded and adapted by various professions to apply to the living who must deal with the aftermath of death. In this new seven-point model, shock or disbelief precedes denial. The second additional stage occurs between depression and acceptance, and is known as “testing.” During this stage, a person makes a distinct effort to reach acceptance, and still experiences waves of depression.

Each stage of grief carries its own weight to it. Healing is not linear, and does not have to follow a specific model. APA reports that, “most people can recover from loss on their own through the passage of time if they have social support and healthy habits” (Grief: Coping with the loss of your loved one). Luckily, time marches on. To allow time to go by is a passive activity. The only active work required during grief, then, is the search for support and healthy habits.

On support:

By attending an institution, we all have some sort of support built into our lives. We are surrounded by classmates, professors, student groups, and professionals who are dedicated to our wellbeing. We may also create our own spaces for support. Student government at Manhattan College, for example, is petitioning to implement a Day of Pause each semester, as well as other measures to better protect students’ mental health. While this work is commendable, not all are able to take such an active role in supporting others. During acute, or initial, grief, feelings are more intense, and we may not feel like our typical selves.

It is critical to keep track of our mental health. There is no set speed through which a person should work through the stages of grief, but it should be worked through eventually. Some individuals experience what is known as complicated grief. Complicated grief occurs when an individual is unable to move through the stages of grief in a healthy timespan, often describing an individual who continues to experience acute grief at least six months after the date of one’s passing. In this case, it is best to seek professional help. However, the experience of complicated grief is not a requirement to seek professional help. Therapy serves as its own sort of support system. If accessible, it is an entirely valid option. No matter where it is found, support is critical in coping with loss.

On healthy habits:

As college students, many of us are just now figuring out ourselves and our mental health. We often do not know what healthy habits mean for us on a normal day. Coupled with grief, it is easy to feel lost in terms of how to cope. While healthy habits differ for everyone, a few things that should generally be practiced include:

  • Finding or creating a support system
  • Expressing our feelings
  • Validating our feelings
  • Checking in with ourselves
  • Maintaining hobbies and interests
  • Resuming normal activity, when possible, and
  • Knowing if and when to seek professional help

Whitman proclaimed,

“I am the man, I suffer’d, I was there” (Whitman, 832).

It is not just our own suffering which we feel. Especially during times of crisis within a community, we are subjected to each others’ suffering because we are each other. With that, we may also find hope in each other. No one is suffering alone, as much as it may seem that way. With the right coping skills, grief is manageable, and we may all navigate it together.

Chloe Barth

Manhattan '24

Sophomore/junior International Studies student at Manhattan College
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