Counseling offers students a grief retreat

Allison Mueller

Kalika Valentine-Erickson/ Winonan

With deaths of family, friends and members of the community, grief becomes a predominant emotion for those who suffer from their losses. While grief may seem isolating, there are people around who are experiencing something similar and professionals available to help.

Eunie Alsaker, a counselor at Winona State University, said that approximately “22 to 30 percent of college students are in their first year of grieving somebody close.”

Alsaker is currently on sabbatical from her job as a counselor with Winona State counseling services. Since she specializes in grief counseling, she decided to use her sabbatical to meet with people from Winona area hospices, high schools and colleges to determine what types of bereavement resources are available within the community and question how the community can increase those resources.

“One of my hopes for the year was to look at what are the needs for the greater community…of the bereaved,” Alsaker said.

Through her research, Alsaker came to a realization that grief comes with unique challenges. Some of the challenges Alsaker saw were that college students are typically away from their family and their natural support system.

“Grief can make it hard to think straight, hard to focus, hard to remember, and a college student has sixteen weeks to be academically successful. That can be really rough,” Alsaker said.

Erika Trefz, a junior with a communication studies major and a double minor in public relations and women and gender studies, recently lost her grandfather to leukemia and knew the struggle of being away from support.

“I didn’t realize that losing my grandpa would have such a negative effect on me,” she said. “It hurt to see my family struggling with my grandpa’s final days of leukemia and then his death. It affected my focus, my motivation and my well-being.”

Because of the differences that college students face, Alsaker wanted to come up with a way for college students to learn to cope with grief that was specifically for their age group.

On Saturday, Jan. 31 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. there will be a retreat titled “Healing After the Loss of a Loved One” led by Alsaker and Jamie Sanders.

This retreat is free and open to anybody between the ages of 18-25 who are in any stage of grief. The retreat will be held at the Toner Student Center at St. Mary’s University in the President’s Room. Food will be available throughout the day at no cost.

Because everybody copes differently, the retreat includes a multitude of coping mechanisms ranging from yoga, to journaling, to discussions.

“There will be circle time, a time to talk and connect with others, but there will also be alone time for some journaling, something in the creative arts, some type of art project, music, poetry, movement and yoga,” Alsaker said.

Following the retreat, there will be a five-week grief group through counseling services led by Kateri Johnson. Those interested can sign up for through counseling services.

People can participate in the retreat without participating in the grief group or participate in the grief group without participating in the retreat, but doing both is encouraged.