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Grieving Our Westfield High School Principal


Grief is a normal and natural reaction to the death of a loved one. Most of us are not prepared for the long journey of grief which is sometimes devastating, frightening, and often lonely. We may think, do, and say things that are very unlike us. There seems to be no respite, no end to the intense feelings that we experience. Our loss could be the passing of a loved one or even the loss of a relationship, divorce, illness or even moving. The loss of our recent Westfield High School Principal has touched our community in a very profound way. Although I did not know Dr. Derrick Nelson personally, the stories told of him reinforce that he was a man of integrity, love and compassion for people all over the world and especially his students. I have talked with many students this past week who are experiencing the loss of Dr. Nelson and trying to understand how a person who was so generous to offer a bone marrow for another, (for someone he did not know) loses his own life in the process. It is difficult to understand and can cause a lot of anger while grieving.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross has identified the five stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These definitions are emotional behaviors rather than stages, per se. We may certainly experience some of these behaviors. But there is no script for grief; that we cannot expect to feel any of our emotions in a particular set pattern. Grief has its common and its unique sides. Although it is a universal experience, no two people grieve the same, even in the same family. The expression “grief work” is very true. It may be the hardest work that you will ever perform. It is draining.

A few points to remember:

  • We cannot control the feelings that arise within us. These feelings come from deep inside, but we can choose what to do with them. We can accept them or reject them. To deny only prolongs grief. Remember , what we do determines whether we remain in our grief or survive. Feelings should be recognized honestly, they are not right or wrong.

  • There are no choices with grief. You must go through it. The expression of grief is essential for good emotional and physical health even though it is painful and difficult. There are no easy answers or short cuts, no way under, over, or around your grief.

  • It is strongly suggested not to make major decisions such as moving, money matters, etc. during the early stages of grief especially while judgment is cloudy. It is recommended you wait at least one year.

  • Find someone who will listen

  • Grief has no timetable

  • Do not take on new responsibilities right away

We do need the help of friends and school grief counselors whom you trust and who will listen when you need to talk. Westfield High School has grief counselors available to speak with you at any time. Other times we may need professional counseling. We need time alone. Remember that grief takes a lot of energy. Treat yourself with the same care and affection that you would offer to a good friend in the same situation. Be patient with yourself. Go gently, don’t rush too much. Your body, mind and heart need energy to mend.

We will never forget the person we grieve for. Our feelings may be tempered more with good memories than sadness as time passes, but that isn’t to say that waves of raw emotion won’t overcome us way after we thing we should be done.

At The Hellenic Therapy Center, 567 Park Avenue, Scotch Plains, New Jersey, we

work with individuals experiencing grief. We have a team of licensed professionals who can assist you during this difficult time. Call 908-322-0112 or visit Counseling is available, day evening and weekends hours.

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