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A place for students to grieve together

RMS counselor Betsy Rose sees her first-year grief group as a valuable resource for students who have lost a parent or a sibling.

Every Thursday, a group of students gathers at Rosemount Middle School to talk about a subject none of their classmates can really understand. Not in the same way they do, at least.

The students come from all grades and from varied backgrounds, but they all have at least one thing in common: They have all experienced loss at a level that is unusual for someone so young. The students, 10 in all, are members of a new grief group at RMS. All of the group's members have lost a parent or a sibling in the past two years. Some have lost more than one family member.

Betsy Rose, a long-term substitute counselor at the school, started the grief group in October after reviewing student records and seeing a need. She believes putting together a group of students who are all dealing with similar issues can have benefits for all of the students involved. It lets them know they are not alone.

"Students, they'll come in all day long, one student at a time," Rose said. "But when you've got 10 students who have lost a parent or a sibling you can see them starting to help each other."

The group gives students a place to share feelings they might otherwise keep bottled up. It gives them someone to talk to when they don't feel comfortable talking to a parent or to friends who, try as they might to be sympathetic, don't always know what to say to someone who has lost someone so close to them.

"Some of them have some unhealthy ways of dealing with grief, like anybody," Rose said. "Some students will be bottlers when they really need to talk about it."

Participation in the group is voluntary. Rose interviewed potential members to make sure they would keep the confidences of the other group members, and to make sure they would not be better served with one-on-one counseling.

Many of the students were wary at first, but Rose promised them that if they hated the first meeting she would never push them to come back.

That first meeting got off to a slow start. Students were hesitant to share. But with icebreaking activities designed first to get students talking to each other and then to get them thinking about their own situation, things picked up.

"They're pretty outgoing students generally, but everyone was so quiet," Rose said. "Some of them had never said out loud to someone they didn't know, My mom or dad or sister died."

Students keep a journal, and they're given an opportunity to share at each meeting, though sharing is not required.

If the students give permission, Rose will share some of what she hears with teachers or parents. She'll make sure staff at the school knows who is OK talking about their loss, and who would rather others didn't bring it up.

The grief group curriculum Rose is using covers eight or nine weeks. She'll evaluate the group's progress then to see if it makes sense to continue.

For now, though, she believes it is making a difference. She said students have told her the sessions have helped. Some have said they've come to look forward to their Thursday meetings.

"(They said), 'It's really helpful for me because I can't talk about this with my other friends because they don't get it, and my parents, I just don't feel like talking to them,'" Rose said. "It's kind of weird to be, like, I so look forward to grief group. But I do, because they're starting to open up."