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'Young People Grieve Differently': COVID Loss For College Students

Contributed photo
Patricia Parker was Brianna Pittman's godmother. She died of COVID-19 in November. Pittman said grieving looks different as a college student and as a young adult.

College students coming home for the holidays this year may find a house with one fewer family member, or attend a holiday gathering with one missing face on the video chat.

Brianna Pittman of Waterbury is returning from college to fresh reminders of her loss. Her godmother, Patricia Parker, died on Nov. 22 from the coronavirus. It was a new kind of loss for Pittman, 21. She had lost great-grandparents before, but they were elderly, she said, and their deaths weren’t entirely unexpected.

Parker’s death was not part of the plan.

“[When] this one happened it was like, ‘Hold up, this was not supposed to -- this is not how life was supposed to work. I don’t know what to do with this one, this one kinda hurt, this one kinda stings.’”

Pittman thinks experiencing death is different for young people. 

“You know they’re getting old, but you’re always thinking, ‘They’re gonna be at my graduation, they’re gonna be at my wedding, they’re gonna be there when I have my first child.’ And when it doesn’t happen, it’s just like, someone who helped raise me, someone who was a part of my village is now gone.”

If it feels like young people spend less time grieving, Pittman said, that’s not true. She thinks young people have a different way of dealing with it because of where they are in their lives. She was deep in her college semester when her godmother died. She had papers to write and good grades to celebrate. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t grieving.

Still, now back in her childhood home, Pittman sees tokens of her godmother everywhere, like a picture on the wall or a coat she was given three Christmases ago. 

“Being away it’s like, out of sight, out of mind, I only feel it if I think about it,” Pittman said. 

Credit Brianna Pittman / Contributed photo
Contributed photo
Brianna Pittman, 21, lost her godmother in 2020 to the coronavirus. She says young people grieve differently because of where they are in their lives.

Knowing that grief is novel to some young people, Pittman offered advice on how to get through it. Crying, she said, is important in the beginning. 

“For the first 72 hours, cry,” Pittman said, “cry, cry as much as you can, and when it comes to the actual burial, just grieve through it. If you are religious, pray through it. Cry one more time, and then after that let that be your last thing. Every time you think of that deceased person after that, only think about the happy moments because that’s all they want to leave you with.”

There was one more thing she’d hoped her godmother could offer advice on.

“I really wanted her to meet my first love,” Pittman said.

And when she meets him, Pittman might ask her godmother to show her sign about whether the first guy she falls in love with is a keeper.

Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Ali covers the Naugatuck River Valley for Connecticut Public Radio. Email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.org and follow her on Twitter at @ahleeoh.

Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She loves hearing what you thought of her stories or story ideas you have so please email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.org.

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