Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Helping him through

I am sure, of course, that you (along with everyone else in this county and many others) have heard about what happened at Virginia Tech this week. It is sad and depressing and the source of my problem.

My boyfriend attends there and I don't. I live several hours away and work full time, so although we try very hard to keep in touch (and have been doing fairly well), this new stress has brought with it unprecedented trouble.

He is a civil/environmental engineering major. As such, he was friendly with many of the under and graduate students and several of the teachers were killed in the shooting. His favorite professor was one of them. While my boyfriend was not in Norris Hall (one of the locations in which shootings occurred), he was, of course, struck by all this.

I am heading down there Thursday night, but I do not know what I can possibly say or do besides the basic, mundane, meaningless platitudes that might help. Do you have any suggestions to help me help him through this?

Caring Girlfriend

Dear Caring,

I am sorry to hear that your boyfriend had some experience with the Virginia Tech shootings. I think you're being a very kind girlfriend to want to be there with him, especially since the first thing you need to do is just be there.

Actively listen to what he has to say, and be compassionate. That includes not criticizing what he has to say, or talking about the media accounts of all of this. I doubt anyone on that campus wants to get into a gun control debate ala Rosie.

Also, avoid any of the following phrases:
  • "I know just how you feel."
  • "I am sorry for your loss."
  • "You are holding up so well."
  • "Time will heal all wounds."
  • "At least they didn't feel pain."

There is nothing worse than cliches in a time like this, so if you can't think of anything to say, just rub his back or hug him or otherwise show you care. You might consider bringing some comfort food with you (dorm kitchens are crap for making cookies). As Jews have learned from shiva, food sometimes helps.

You know your boyfriend better than most people. Pay attention to his signals. And don't be afraid to take a few moments for yourself when you two are apart. You're walking onto a grieving campus, and becoming overwhelmed by it doesn't help.

Aunt Amy

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