Do you know someone who was supposed to graduate from middle school, high school, college, or trade school this year, but can’t because of COVID-19?
There’s a large group of people who are heartbroken over the fact that they won’t have a traditional graduation ceremony. Class of 2020 students dreamed of this day only to find that it won’t look like what they expected. Graduation ceremonies help people move into a new phase of life. Rituals are important and missing out on those events can cause grief. On top of that, graduating in itself is a loss.
We live in a world where people relate grief to death only. And although the end of school isn’t a physical death, it is the end of something familiar. As you know, grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of, or change in, a familiar pattern of behavior.
Most comments to grievers are not helpful
Did you know that a survey asked grievers to decide which comments were helpful following a loss? Out of 141 comments, they found only 19 helpful.
Have you ever tried to talk about your feelings only to be met with a comment that stops you in your tracks? Maybe someone intellectualized, dismissed, or judged your feelings.
How did you feel when that happened?
- Did you feel shut down, like you didn’t want to keep talking?
- Did you think that maybe they were right and that you shouldn’t feel bad?
- Did you think you should simply pretend to be okay?
Graduates might be told that their feelings are invalid with intellectual statements that might be true, but have little to do with healing a broken heart.
What not to say to 2020 graduates
1. It could be a lot worse. At least no one died and you have your health.
2. Missing graduation isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
3. Be strong for your parents. They have enough to worry about right now.
4. Look on the bright side, you can always have a graduation party later.
5. Don’t be sad. All of our neighbors put signs up for you.
6. Everything happens for a reason.
7. It’s just a graduation ceremony. You’ll get over it in time.
8. Don’t feel bad. You can still talk to your high school friends.
Helpful things to say to 2020 graduating seniors
1. “Tell me about it.”
Ask them what happened then give them the courtesy of listening to the answer without criticism, interruption, analysis, or judgment or trying to fix them. Be a heart with ears.
2. “I don’t know what to say.”
It’s okay to tell the truth if you don’t know what to say. Your honesty shows the graduate that you’re a safe person to talk to.
3. “I can’t imagine what this might be like for you.”
Even if you can imagine what not being able to graduate might feel like for you, you can’t ever know exactly how someone else feels. That’s because we all have different hopes, dreams, expectations about graduation, and unique individual relationships and experiences during school.
Rituals are important. And feelings are important. Allow your kids and friends to share their feelings about not being able to have a traditional 2020 graduation ceremony without analysis, criticism, or judgment.
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Want to learn more about helping grievers? Become a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist!