By Katie Stewart |

The words “mental health” seem to easily roll off the tongues of most millennials. We comfortably talk about self-care, yoga and the need for quiet time. But, what about the difficult and sometimes ugly, inescapable moments of self-reflection?

My mother died about a year and a half ago to a brutal nine-year battle with breast cancer. While driving back and forth from the Carrollton Hospice hospital to Baylor, I was nearing the end of the spring semester and in the midst of final exams. Baylor professors and mentors were very kind, supportive and genuine in their concerns. They were willing to work around our family crisis.

I learned that after you experience the death of someone close to you, everyone around you is quick to offer their condolences. But, as the days and weeks go on, life picks back up and people forget. I would think, ‘I know you’re going to a Stoney LaRue concert, and you just bought a new car, but hey, do you remember my mom just died?’

That’s when I decided I needed to go to grief counseling. I was enrolled for the fall semester, but I was not taking summer classes at Baylor. However, the counseling center considered the severity of my situation, and they let me use their services in the summer anyway.

It would be unfair to say my counselor didn’t do a good job. She was kind and reassured me that her office was my new safe space. But how much of a safe space could she offer when she was in her final hours of getting her professional counseling credentials? She wasn’t a licensed counselor yet. I was happy for her to become a future counselor, but simultaneously, I felt a sense of selfishness: Don’t I deserve a “real” counselor for my grief?

I had hoped that she could take all my years of mess, all the years of trauma and ugly truths and turn them into a simple answer to my question: How do I grieve the death of my mother?

Our sessions started out with my background, but what I quickly realized was that in this quiet, private and safe space, I was still uncomfortable talking about my mental health. It’s easy to talk about self-care and mental health when it’s not you. It’s easy when you don’t have to think about the emotional abuse you never acknowledged before or the anxiety that was never thoroughly processed.

Grief counseling became a time in my week where I cried and felt extremely uncomfortable. I wasn’t uncomfortable because of my counselor, but simply because I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I didn’t have any answers to my questions. How long will I grieve? Will I hate myself for a long time? Will I be angry forever? Will I be able to hold on to true memories without my brain blocking important parts of my relationship with my mother?

My experience with grief counseling at Baylor was good enough to want to go back, but it didn’t feel like professional counseling. It’s possible my counselor was gone by the time the fall semester rolled around, but it would have been nice to receive a call from the counseling center to just simply check in… just to make sure I was alive and back at Baylor. Perhaps they could suggest for me to return to self-care and tending to my mental health.

I have learned that through this strange chapter in my life of grieving, there is a new normal that has developed. Life moves on, friends and acquaintances haven’t all forgotten, but what should they say, what should they ask? People talk about self-care and mental health as if we’re all comfortable with it, but the truth is – no one knows what to say, and that’s okay.

If you know anyone who’s working through grieving, my advice would be to simply just check in on them. It’s okay to acknowledge that you don’t know what to say, but that self-care and mental health are a part of grieving. It’s a new normal.