While we plug away at our studies here in the hectic 10 weeks of a Lawrence University trimester, we often forget that life goes on outside of our bubble. The hustle of our terms often have us planning the very minutes in which we can afford to stop and eat (sometimes with a book in one hand and a fork in the other), which precludes the thought of keeping in touch with the people we love who are more distant than a 15-minute walk. Of course, we manage to find some time here and there, but overall, those people’s lives seem to pause for us until we can pick up the phone again or knock on their door. Sometimes, however, life does stop for the people we are close to, but all too literally.
Last week, we learned that one of our own Lawrentians, Zachary Presberg ‘19, passed away in an automobile accident the previous Monday evening. A very social and friendly student, Presberg gave many of us fond memories of good talks and happy times, and the news of his death affected many as a result. Given the stresses that we already face from week to week, we should not have to endure the pain of loss, but it is something we cannot always expect, and we ought to be ready. In his time, Presberg strived to make his world a better place, and I hope that I can honor that legacy in encouraging all Lawrentians to support each other in the times when we need it most.
Before we can approach the subject of how Lawrentians can support one another in times of loss, we must first know how to best support ourselves. Grief can be a challenging and unpredictable trial of emotions, and everyone has a right to process it in whatever healthy way is right for them. Sometimes people benefit best from going to work and keeping their minds busy, so as to not be constantly overwhelmed by negative emotions. Others may take a more direct approach and spend time looking at pictures and mementos from the one they lost. Regardless of the route one takes, it is important to seek company and support when possible, as grieving alone is seldom what one needs.
When you find yourself in the position where you know of someone grieving, your role is, naturally, to support them. As I already discussed, different people grieve differently, thus support differs depending on the person in mourning. For instance, one person may want to sit and talk for hours about the plethora of emotions they are experiencing, while another person may want their friend’s support to look more like everyday, friendly interactions. Sometimes one can gauge what approach will work best if they know the individual’s history or personality well, but it never hurts to ask directly about how you can help. A phrase like, “I know this can’t be easy for you, and I just want to help you however I can,’’ can feel like a heavy statement that one should avoid, but it carries so much care and earnestness. This can even be used when you occupy a role different than that of a friend, such as a professor, coach or boss. Such outreach indicates a healthy relationship within a hierarchical relationship and can make a large difference in a grieving person’s ability to heal.
Admittedly, I am by no means a grief counselor, but I do have my own experiences with death. One of my grandparents passed away unexpectedly in the tenth week of my first term at Lawrence, and the same happened to another grandparent of mine near the end of my term abroad in Russia. Both times, I had no one around me who knew me very well or for longer than three months (at maximum). Despite this, I reached out to the friends I trusted at the time, and I am still so glad that I did and am grateful to those people. Additionally, I mustered the strength to have conversations with my professors about what I was going through, and they were all supportive and encouraged me to take the time I needed for myself.
We tend to think that our sadness is a burden to those we express it to, but mental wellbeing is vital in times of tragedy and people understand that. When scenarios like these occur, don’t hesitate to ask for help and do what you need to do to process and heal. Grief is never easy to recover from, but practicing self-care will keep you on that path. Stay strong, Lawrentians, and stay together.