A letter to graduating Seniors

April 16, 2020

Photo: Getty Images

The next two months may not go the way you expected them to or the way you have dreamed of since you started school years ago. You were planning for prom, graduation parties, family gatherings and walking across the stage in your cap and gown. Some of these events have already been canceled, and for the others, there may still be uncertainty around if they will happen or not. You have heard all the reasons – “It’s for your safety.” and “We are all having to make sacrifices.” – but it doesn’t erase the emotional response you are having during this difficult time. Some may call it disappointment, but it is more than that. What you are likely feeling is grief.

Grief is most often associated with the death of a loved one or even a pet. However, grief is a response to any significant loss – even the loss of dreams and expectations you had for your senior year. It may even make you feel guilty for being upset and sad about these events being canceled because you may hear about others dealing with, what you may consider, more difficult hardships. But, it is important to know that you have permission and the right to grieve this loss. Grief is a journey and everyone’s is unique. You cannot make grief go away, ignore it or pretend everything is fine.

There are many common emotions that define grief:

  • Denial: Denial is the body’s way of adjusting to loss at a rate it can handle. Denial can be associated with thoughts such as “this cannot be happening to me right now” or maybe by your actions, such as continuing to make plans with friends regarding the canceled events.
  • Anger: It is okay to feel angry! Find ways to express or cope with your anger. Squeeze a ball, yell into a pillow, go for a run, call a friend, listen to a calming song or tell others how you feel.
  • Hurt and sadness: Anger may hide the feelings of hurt and sadness. Sometimes it may be easier to feel angry than sad. It is important to let yourself feel sad. Cry if you need to or listen to a sad song. You do not need to force yourself to feel happy all the time.

Dealing with the uncertainty of COVID-19 is stressful for everyone. But for you, graduating seniors, the uncertainty could come with feelings of anxiety of what your immediate future holds. You may wonder if your college or career plans will be postponed and maybe you are worried about how all of this will affect your loved ones. These worries are valid and know many of you share them.

Grief can take a lot of energy out of you, so take time to rest and find ways to relax. The necessary isolation and physical distancing is depriving you of a very important source of support – your friends and peer group. Use the technology available to reach out to them, especially those you trust, to talk about what you feel or just laugh together.

So many people have also physically and emotionally supported you in your education up until now. Your teachers, parents, school counselors, coaches, etc. have been there for you in more ways than you know. We understand that by not having that face-to-face interaction, you may feel alone during this time in your life. Support looks different right now and uncertainty may be high, but you can still have hope.

Consider some of these ways to support yourself from the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Focus on spending less time reading and watching the news.
  • Take care of your body and try a new workout. Look into free or affordable online classes.
  • Connect with your peers and loved ones. Whether this is through video chatting, texting or talking on the phone, set up times to catch up with others.
  • Set goals for yourself. Focus on your future and get things done!

Walking through the grief journey can be difficult and unpleasant, but remember the tough days will pass and the intense sadness you may be feeling today or next week or next month will begin to fade as the days go by. If you need additional support during this time, resources are below.

As you continue on this journey, find ways to commemorate this year. Maybe graduation or prom will not look like you dreamed, but you now have the ability to think of new ways to celebrate these special events with friends and family. Write a letter to your future self, draw a picture or make a craft, put on that prom dress or cap and gown and take some pictures. Share with us how you plan to celebrate the next few months! We would love to see your comments below.

Be kind to yourself, have hope and continue to move forward.

Sincerely,

Texas Children’s Hospital Social Work Department


The Disaster Distress Helpline

Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 

A confidential, 24/7 crisis line for anyone experiencing emotional distress during or after a natural or man-made disaster.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255

A national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

The Harris Center Mental Health Call Line

Call toll-free 833-251-7544

The Harris Center has activated a Mental Health Call Line to support our community during COVID-19.

The Trevor Project

Call 1-866-488-7386, text START to 678678

A free, 24/7 crisis hotline for LGBT+ youth in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk. 

Post by:

Melissa Cunnyngham, Elizabeth Cummings and Blair Alger