Death and finals
December 12, 2017 9:49 AM   Subscribe

One of my closest friends took her own life last week. Right after it happened, it hadn't set in and I was still able to be somewhat productive. Now, it's finals week and I have no idea how I'm possibly going to be able to study for my test tomorrow. How long is too long to wallow? Should I be a put things aside and do this or respect my desire to lie around and cry? More details inside.

This is the third friend who's taken their own life this semester. I was able to compartmentalize somewhat for the first person, just stick to routine and work and that's what everyone's recommending but I seems so impossible right now. I'm so so scared that someone else I love will be next. They were all queer or trans and our community is so small that everyone knows one another. I don't want to incomplete a class because I wallowed for too long but it's so hard to focus on anything. This grief feels different from the others. This friend was very close to me. I don't know when anything could possibly feel better. Advice and assurances would be much appreciated. Thank you.
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
I'm so sorry. One death is too many, let alone three.

This is precisely the sort of thing an incomplete could help with. Professors will generally be understanding if you explain the circumstances, in person or otherwise. You'll hopefully feel better knowing that you won't have to worry about the class for a while until you feel more able to do so.
posted by Alensin at 9:53 AM on December 12, 2017 [12 favorites]

I know you said you don't want to take an incomplete but that's often exactly why that grade exists. I suggest going to the campus clinic or counseling center and telling them where you're at, the struggle to concentrate etc. And get advised of the path to the incomplete. You shouldn't have to short circuit your process.
posted by crunchy potato at 9:55 AM on December 12, 2017 [14 favorites]

Even before I read the "more inside" I was ready to say you should tell your professor what happened and ask for an extension or an incomplete to make up next semester — and also consider finding a counselor or therapist to talk to. Losing a close friend is awful, and it's so, so very normal to be unable to function.

Three friends in one semester, in one small queer community? Fuck. Please find someone to talk to. Please take every single accommodation your professors will give you, and demand more if those aren't enough. I want to come over there and make you a mug of tea and then march up to your professors and demand accommodations for you. I am angry at your school for not reaching out to your community and offering support. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you for feeling like you can't confront your finals right now, and you need to focus on taking care of yourself.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:55 AM on December 12, 2017 [47 favorites]

Have you talked to your professors? I am a college professor and if one of my students was going through this I would want to know and I would work with them. Also talk to student services, they can help work as a liaison between you and faculty.

I am really sorry you are going through this. Tell your professors that a close friend took their own life and you are having trouble with the aftermath. This might be a hard conversation. You can send an email.

You may not even need an incomplete. Talk to your professors and they might work something else out with you. Or not. But an incomplete is not because you "wallowed" for too long. You are going through a tremendous series of losses and that is big. I am so sorry you are experiencing this. Your health, and yes I include mental health, is much more important than anything else. Do not beat yourself up for needing extra time. That is completely normal.

I am so sorry you are going through this.
posted by sockermom at 9:57 AM on December 12, 2017 [19 favorites]

If you feel comfortable doing so, please please contact your professor and let them know what's going on! I'm a professor currently slogging through finals week myself and I would be more than willing to give a student in your position an extension -- I have done it before, in fact, more than once. You're not 'wallowing,' and your feelings are totally valid and understandable, particularly considering the cumulative effects of grief you're describing here. Email your prof and tell them you're dealing with the death of someone close to you. You don't have to get specific if you don't feel comfortable being specific. If you think a few days would give you enough time to get to a better place, ask for an extension, or an exam make-up, and see what your professor can do. A lot of us care a lot about you all and we would hate to hear you were struggling and suffering when we could pretty easily just schedule a take-home or a make-up for you.

I tend to really strenuously advocate against Incompletes, because I've known too many people to fail to actually complete the work. If deadlines or school policies don't allow an exam extension in this situation, or if you need more time, though, this is one case where an Incomplete doesn't sound like a terrible idea.
posted by halation at 9:59 AM on December 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

Is there a LGBT liaison or advocate or... I don't know what this person's title would be... at your university that could advise your professors/department? If there is no one at your school there may be a city or state organization that could help. Memail me if you want me to help find a contact. If you happen to be in Wisconsin I'd contact GSAFE, who primarily deals with K-12 students but would have a lead for you.

I'm queer and trans and I can imagine how profoundly and specifically awful this must feel. Keep yourself safe at all costs.
posted by AFABulous at 10:08 AM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a professor and I promise an incomplete is not a big deal. Contact them.
posted by k8t at 10:10 AM on December 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Student services staff here, this is exactly the sort of situation we would want to know about and help you with. There are usually lots of options for accommodation for students experiencing grief. I'm very sorry you're going through this. Please take advantage of all the resources available to you. Sending you queer healing vibes from Canada.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 10:17 AM on December 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Professor here. You should have an Office of Student Affairs or the equivalent. I'd suggest contacting them and describing your situation; they can request accommodations for you (in this case, a delayed final exam or incomplete) if you don't feel comfortable approaching each professor individually. This happens all the time and you have nothing of which to be ashamed.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:19 AM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

How long is too long to wallow?

Grief isn't linear like that, and multiple deaths close like that make grief exponential. I mean, I understand where you're coming from, in that you need to function at least somewhat to keep yourself off the streets, but what you have been through is A Lot and it is okay to take advantage of mechanisms in place that will let you put a valve on other stressors right now.

I think what you've been through is serious enough that it's going to adversely affect your spring semester too if you don't get some extra support brought onboard. Please find out, as best you can, what resources you can access today, this semester, and next semester - hopefully there is one person or at least one office that can answer that for you - and be careful about telling yourself that you are grieving wrong or too much, because that doesn't help you recover. For this to happen to so many in a small community in a short time, that's trauma. You're not wallowing, you're reeling. For you and others around you - and if it helps you to think of this resource-gathering as something you can do for more than just yourself, do so - this is going to take time. Not every day will be like today, but you're going to have days like this for a while.

Go find out about your options (there may be some other solution your school offers, don't just go file for incompletes without telling anyone why). Don't fuck up school trying to force yourself to be okay. Putting off necessary recovery now is just going to make it harder when you hit the wall later, and you may not have quite so much leeway by then.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:27 AM on December 12, 2017 [8 favorites]

When my (admittedly small) campus had two suicides in a short period just before finals, the entire school practically shut down. Most classes made finals entirely optional, without issuing incompletes.

You're going through a lot right now and asking for accommodation with finals is absolutely reasonable. I'll also nth reaching out to any queer life office or student support services that your university provides.
posted by col_pogo at 11:22 AM on December 12, 2017

I had a string of friends take their lives too. I was constantly viewing everyone around me as a potential next victim of suicide. And to make matters more complicated, I was constantly distracted by the idea that whatever I was doing — studying, working, taking an exam, going to therapy — could be getting in the way of me being able to Be There for that next person. (E.g. A friend asks me to go to lunch, and I need to work but I'm scared to decline because what if this friend is struggling beneath the surface and I'm not there for her and then next week she kills herself?) Suicide is scary, and even scarier when it feels like the loss of your friend is outside your control — so I was envisioning control that I didn't really have. I don't know if you're feeling that (and I'm hesitant to even mention it out of a fear of planting unhealthy thoughts) but it's a common enough fear that I figured I should talk about it.

So with that, I have two messages:

(1) You have permission to go and do your finals. You are not doing your friends' memories a disservice by studying and taking your finals instead of curling up onto the couch and crying for a month. Sometimes society can promote this idea that you have to grieve in that particular way — even that that way of grieving is truer or purer or something than crying for a day, or not crying at all, and processing it bit by bit over time. People process grief in different way and at different times. If you have the headspace to "postpone" your grief to get through finals, that is an okay thing to do.

(2) But that being said, you may need to curl up on the couch and cry for a month to process these feelings — and for that, you have permission to ask for help from your school in postponing your finals. On the few instances that I managed to open up to my professors when I was Going Through Stuff, I never regretted it; they were always incredibly supportive. You know your professors better than I do, but most professors are not cold people. I would bet that they would empathize with a student who has lost three (!!) friends in one semester. Your school may also have resources for dealing with this. Feel free to MeMail me if you want specific ideas, or for anything, really.

Based on your question, it sounds like the latter option may be preferable for you. In this case, I would also examine deeper this instinctive rejection of taking an "incomplete." Why do you feel that way? What is so bad about taking an "incomplete" if you need it? It was a system put in place for situations like this. Maybe there are good reasons for not wanting an "incomplete," but I'd encourage you to speak with people you trust (including a therapist) to determine whether an "incomplete" might be the best course of action.

I hope it's not condescending to phrase it as "permission," and apologize if it comes off that way. I just wish that more people had told me that when I was going through this — and that I had believed it, because they were right.

Hugs, hugs, hugs.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 12:11 PM on December 12, 2017 [11 favorites]

I am married to a professor who agrees this is absolutely a reason to get extenstions/incompletes if you would like. I'm so sorry for what you are going through right now. I mean this gently, but I think you shouldn't think of it as "wallowing," but grieving for a close friend who has died, shortly after the death of two other friends in a short time. This is incredibly, incredibly difficult and I hope that you are well-supported by friends, community, and therapy if you desire and have access. Sending you more hugs.
posted by stillmoving at 12:30 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a former professor and would absolutely work with a student in this situation to figure something out.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:32 PM on December 12, 2017

I am sorry this happened to you.

Some years ago I was taking two summer school college classes when a friend killed himself. I went right to the professors; one was sympathetic, and the other blinked and said "OK" and had zero pity. (That dude sucked.)

Professors are people, too; share the situation with them and see what you can work out. It might be good to have a few ideas of what accommodation would be helpful (more time? An extension? A different venue for the exam? Pass/fail? All of the above?) before you contact them.

Also you should call your campus Counseling office: not necessarily for a session, but to ask what they can offer in terms of advice & support in talking to your professors. It is HARD to tell and re-tell the simple fact of what happened, and I know you won't want to be getting into it over and over -- but these are the folks who should be empathetic and also useful right now.

Take care.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:48 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

My partner is a professor. My advice is to make sure you speak to your professor before the time when your exam is scheduled tomorrow. Their ability to make the accommodations that you need and deserve will be greater before the exam takes place.

And from my personal experience as a student: do not feel bad asking for help in this situation. Know that many students ask for help in times of much less need. It is ok to take care of yourself right now!

Sending more queer healing vibes as well!
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:49 PM on December 12, 2017

From one student to another, please take care of yourself. I know how it feels during finals week, but this isn’t some minor thing you should be expected to brush off. If there was such a thing as “too long to be wallowing,” a week certainly wouldn’t be it.

I don’t know what your campus and its resources are like, but my first stop would be to see if campus counseling has emergency drop in appointments.

If you feel comfortable talking to them about this, let your professors know what’s going on. It’s definitely easier to talk to them before the exam than after. You will not be the only student who has ever needed help, and this is a serious situation.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:02 PM on December 12, 2017

I'm a professor, and I can say this is exactly the type of situation incompletes are designed for! It will be easiest for your professors to work with you if you get some type of documentation (for example: making an appointment or going to drop-in hours at your student counseling center) and if you contact them before the exam time (even if you don't have all your documentation yet -- you can briefly describe the situation in your initial email and let them know you are working on documentation and will get it to them).

In my experience, incompletes tend to work best for students when they're resolved quickly, so I would set a specific date with the professor early next semester/quarter to take the make-up exam. Where students run into trouble is if they end up taking the full amount of time allowed by policy -- at my university, that's a full year from the end of the class. By that point, many people will have forgotten most of the material and often don't end up completing the make-up exam/work at all (and then their grade defaults to F). But as long as you have a clear plan for getting things wrapped up in the next 4-6 weeks, there is NO shame in taking a little extra time when you need it.

Another option to consider, depending on how it feels to you and what the particulars are for grading in your classes, is just to go in and take the exam knowing you may not get as good of a grade as you otherwise would have, just to get it done and out of your brain. Especially if the final exam is a smaller percentage of your final grade, you already know the material semi-well, and you know you'll just stress to have this hanging over you over the holidays, sometimes this can be a better option. I know I've occasionally had students reach out to let me know they didn't do their best work on a paper/exam because of extenuating circumstances, but they don't want an extension/incomplete because they just need to get the thing finished. I'm always sympathetic and it certainly doesn't color my opinion of them in a negative way!

Finally, whatever you choose to do in the next 24 hours about finals, please go see a counselor and talk to someone! It's not wallowing to be upset about this situation -- this is really serious and you deserve to get support and help.
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:35 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry for your loss. I agree with those who say speak up and talk to your professors as soon as you can. I watched my husband try to track down professors all summer long to resolve incompletes after he had emergency surgery during finals week - in the end it took seven months because one had moved to another University and this was in the dark ages before email.
posted by buildmyworld at 4:41 PM on December 12, 2017

Since you're looking for assurances: I had a close friend and a cousin die in car accidents on Nov 1 and Dec 1 during graduate school. I went to student services not only that semester, but the spring and following fall and got my exams spread out more. The stress of the regular exam schedule combined with my grief was just too much.

I 100% agree with rainbowbrite that you want to complete your work within a month or two. I was able to finish my exams during the Christmas break, so I didn't compound my problems by having regular class work and leftover exams the next semester.

Don't feel guilty if you need the time.
posted by Mavri at 5:16 PM on December 12, 2017

Another prof speaking up. Talk to them, I've given extensions and I completes for this type of thing. At my school, counselling is often booked up and has no appointments. If this is your case, ask a prof or student services for help. In a similar situation I was able to get the associate dean to pull in a favour, and get some asap counselling. So, let us help.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 10:24 PM on December 12, 2017

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