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Dealing with the death of a resident

In the early part of this school year, I was called into my Hall Director's office to recieve some bad news. One of my residents, Curt, had died in a car accident that monday morning. He forgot his laundry from the weekend, and decided to drive home before his afternoon classes to get it. Curt was from a small town, and many of his friends went to college with him. His roommate was, in fact, his best friend.

During RA training, we touched on how to deal with many issues, but I was totally unprepared with how do deal with this. What should I say? Am I doing the right thing? How can I help his roommate? While I had these questions, I was also trying to deal with the grief that I felt.

Not knowing what else to do, I passed around a card and had the residents on the floor sign it, and since I had just made a set of door decorations, I placed Curt's in the card. Some guys on my floor who knew him well, along with myself and my hall director, attended the funeral the next day. We stayed for the reception after the funeral, and spoke with his family and friends. It was a tough day for everyone, but also a day of healing. It was so nice to be able to trade stories about Curt with the other people in his life.

Later that week, members of Curt's family came to move his stuff from his room. I was scared, to be quite honest, and the questions of "What should I say?" and "How should I act?" ran through my head. I soon realized, however, that I wasn't going to make things worse no matter what I did, and speaking with his brothers and his uncles was not scary. Not scary at all.

I don't claim to be an expert on dealing with grief and loss, but I hope that I can be of some help. A pamphlet that helped me tremendously is available from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. You can contact their counselling center and they will send you ordering information. I highly suggest that each RA have this pamphlet on hand in
the even that someone close to them dies. Below is an excerpt from this
pamphlet about what you can do...

1. Take some kind of action. Make a phone call, send a card, attend the funeral, help with practical matters.
2. Be available. Allow the person time so there is no sense of "urgency"
when you visit or talk.
3. Be a good listener, accept the words and feelings expressed, avoid
telling them what they feel or what they should do. Be a good listener.
4. Don't minimize the loss, and don't be afraid to talk about the loss.
However, don't give cliches or easy answers.
5. Allow the bereaved person to grieve for as long or as short as they
need.
6. Encourage the bereaved to care for themselves. Encourage them to
grieve for as long or short as they feel they need.
7. Acknowledge and accept your own limitations. Utilize resources, your university counselling center, your hall director, other staff members, etc.

Casey Frid
Winona State University, MN.
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