How do students mourn? – Article in ak[due]ll by Sophie Schädel

Grieving elderly people or children will find a variety of offers of help. But students rarely find support that is specially tailored to their age. There is such a contact point in Essen. The youth bereavement group brings together people between the ages of 17 and 35, most of whom are studying. The grief counselors Caren Baesch and Karin Ricken lead the group and talked to ak[due]ll editor Sophie Schädel about her work and perspective on grief.

ak[due]ll: Why is there a need for special offers for young people?

Baesch: The age difference to children would be too big, because a lot happens during puberty. A 75-year-old who loses her husband "till death do us part" after long care has fulfilled a task. This is a completely different situation than in the age group we are addressing.

Ricken: Adults are much more withdrawn than young people. You say to yourself: I don't need help, I have to function. With us, the participants can exchange ideas with their peers. There is an enormous need for speech.

ak[due]ll: How does your youth grief group work?

Baesch: Our meetings don't always have to be sad. Tears are allowed, but we also laugh a lot. With us everything can be said. For example, we once talked about the question of how peace and grief are related and whether the mourners have made their peace with the deceased.

Ricken: When new participants come, it's also about who they're mourning and how they relate to the person. The main part then consists of a big discussion on a topic that Caren and I have prepared and on which we ask questions. It can also be about an inheritance dispute or how the participants are doing at school or university. Between meetings, they write to each other in our WhatsApp group, make appointments or ask each other for advice.

ak[due]ll: Is grief a type of mental illness?

Baesch: No. Grief must not be pathologized. Like joy, it is naturally inherent in us. When you are sad, tiredness, listlessness and nausea are completely normal.

Ricken: It's only bad if someone pushes the grief away and acts as if nothing happened. Then it is more difficult to access and may need to be treated therapeutically. At some point it has to come out.

ak[due]ll: What helps with grief?

Baesch: Nobody can take grief away from you. It is an ongoing process that never ends. But she changes over time. After the first year of mourning, when all the anniversaries and birthdays have passed without the deceased, there is a sigh of relief and the actual mourning work can begin. The aim is to integrate the loss well into life.

Ricken: It's important to really understand that someone actually died. This can also mean looking at and touching it. And talking helps. The environment should simply make mourners feel like they are there and that they are listening a lot. If you are unsure how to deal with a bereaved person, just ask. Advice and answers to questions are of little help. Clear words without taboos are important. It can also be a relief to say that a violent father is finally gone.

ak[due]ll: What do you mourn anyway?

Ricken: It's very different. One mourns the one who is no longer there, the other is rather angry because the deceased is leaving right now and abandoning him. Those who are mourning are absolutely entitled to these feelings.

Baesch: Mourning is always about the fact that something old is gone and something new is beginning. It doesn't always have to be a close relative. Some also mourn because they are ill or can no longer achieve life goals. But I would say that actually everyone is mourning for themselves. Because they are sad now, because without the deceased they have to take care of everything on their own. For example, I'm sad because I'll never eat pea soup as good as the one my mother used to make.

ak[due]ll: How can grief affect studying?

Baesch: For many of our participants, the grief led to them pausing their studies or taking a semester abroad. I think that's because so much changes through grief and many ask themselves the question of meaning. Or because a long illness of the deceased prevented them from traveling for years. The death of a loved one always shows us that death is unpredictable and that our own life is finite too. A bachelor's degree simply no longer has top priority.

Where and when? The youth mourning group in Essen, financed by donations, meets monthly on Saturdays from 14:00 to 15:30 at Weigle-Haus, Hohenburgstr. 96, 45128 Essen. You can find information and a contact option for registration at