Villanueva: Handling grief if not yours


THIS week, I was confronted with a dilemma of being totally rational to being totally irrational.

My niece, who has been living with me for about three months already, was scheduled to enroll in one of the universities here in Baguio. Shy and timid as she is, I went to accompany her to that university where I am an alumnus. I used to joke that I own one pillar of one of their buildings, having studied there since Kindergarten to my still unfinished PhD, a total of 20 years, give or take.

Anyway, she failed all her subjects from last semester. All nine units of them. Why only nine units? Well, that’s a story altogether, but to simplify it, there were no other subjects that she could enroll because all were already full. This despite strategies like pre-enrollment and forecasting done by no less by the dean, who was my professor in one of the subjects who taught forecasting.

Nonetheless, she still enrolled even if the miscellaneous fees were more than the actual tuition fees. In one of the subjects she enrolled, she luckily fell into the loving embrace of that accounting instructor who failed her the first time in another subject, and who seems to not get into terms using the textbook that she required, having a difficult time solving the problems in class, moreover, explaining it to her class, so much so that when another substituted for her when she was out, the whole class was happy to understand for the first time what they were learning.

This is a surprise for me, especially the solving part, because I teach Economics as well, and before I present a problem to my class, I solve it first, to avoid making mistakes when delivering in class because it would totally mess up the students’ understanding, and not to mention, it is so embarrassing to make mistakes in front of the students who perceive you as perfect.

My niece persisted in studying. I am a witness to those long sleepless nights she studied. She worked very hard, but she was distracted most of the time. She could not focus, not in her studies, sometimes even when we’re eating dinner. Anyway, to make the long story short, she was not able to get a passing grade in that subject. She failed.

That’s it? Where is the connection of grief there?

No, that’s not the whole story. I just presented the scenario most people would perceive the reason would be in cases where students fail in their subjects. There are reasons behind these distractions and difficulties in focusing.

Last August, a few days after classes for the semester started, my sister-in-law, my niece’s mother, had a stroke that left her in comma before she expired after five days. It was very tragic event for their family. Even I, in the extended family, was very affected by this loss. I cannot begin to imagine how she would have felt that time. She attended classes after her mom’s cremation, trying to live normally as possible, except of course the obvious absence of her mother.

After exactly three weeks, my mother died. Her grandmother who is very fond of her passed away. She has barely recovered from the loss of her mom, here comes another loss. It was excruciatingly painful for me to lose my mother. How much more for her that she lost two mothers?

From her grandmother’s wake up until now, she, her dad (my brother) and brother have been staying with me in our family home. Aside from the reason that it was also near a campus of the university she was enrolled at, so it was pretty convenient for her to go to class and go home after, there “home” in Camp 7 needs some “fixing,” as well.

Anyone who went through such events would not be able to continue to go on living his daily life, much more go to school and study, but she did. She was determined to finish her studies, a testament she wanted to honor her mother’s memories.

So, as a result for failing 9 units of the 9 units she enrolled, 100 percent failure, she was referred for counseling before she is allowed to enroll. I asked myself, if she was able to enroll a full load of 27 units, failing 9 units would only be 33.33333333% failure. Would she even have to go through this suffering?

To my surprise, there were hundreds, if not thousands who were queuing up to be “counseled” before they were allowed to enroll, and that’s only for the day I went with my niece to that university. It was the third day of enrollment and the number did not seem to be very much different daily.

Due to the sheer number of being “counseled,” the only time that she can be “counseled” is after two days, which means that she cannot enroll until after two days. That would mean that most of the subject she needs to enroll would already be all closed by then, again, because of the brilliant forecasting skills of the best and brightest people there.

She persisted the next day and she was “counseled”. The resolve, which she informed me about through a test message is, “LAST CHANCE TO ENROLL.”

And it did not sit well on me. I inquired through someone I am familiar with in that office if that is the way they handle cases of students undergoing GRIEF.

Apparently, this is the standard “script” told to students who are failing in their subjects for whatever reason the students have provided.

I am greatly troubled because I believe there should be different interventions for every “problem.” This standard is like how the Philippine government is addressing the problem on drugs. The only solution they see is killing the drug addicts and pushers. Therefore, last chance to enroll is like extrajudicial killing.

My niece’s immediate reaction was disappointment toward herself and the thoughts that she lost her mother, then her grandmother, now, her chance to go to school and achieve her mother’s testament. Then, she felt fear that she will not be able to enroll anymore, but she was more afraid of how his father would react. If I get angry, I am just a crazy cat. If my brother gets angry, he is a freaking lion. He will eat you alive.

I am greatly distressed by this event. I could sense her very low self-esteem when I was talking to her last night. As her uncle, I can only do so much. Her mother, her pillar of strength, is not around anymore to stand beside her and support her. Her father supports her but not the same as what her mother would have given, something that is appropriately called motherly.

How can people who are supposed to be advocates of students’ welfare be so insensitive to just resolve problems and ruining their student’s esteem with a standard? Do they think that this standard can help a student delinquent who is rebelling against his parents to improve his performance with a threat that he may never be allowed to enroll again? Do they think that a capricious student whose only concern in life is to look beautiful would change her attitude towards education if she were told that she may not be allowed to enroll again?

Standards do not allow creativity and freedom. Standards box people, eventually they become essentially robots, with no freedom to use intellect or wisdom.

We were not expecting any special consideration, nor any extraordinary measures be applied to her, but it would have nice to feel empathy, especially so that it is a Catholic university, supposedly teaching Christian spirit.

Grief is much like any good or service. One can never be satisfied. One can never find one single means to SOLVE it. If you don’t understand it, just shut up and find someone to help you understand it. If you understand it but you don’t have the capability to address it, refer it to someone who can. You cannot just try to solve it just because the person is already there in front of you. You can be compared to a Doctor of Family Medicine who operated on a heart transplant just because the patient was already in front of him. What do you think happened to the patient?

Our society is already replete with problems, and there is no one cutthroat standard way to solve them. The policemen who implement the orders to kill addicts and pushers follow Duterte’s standard. They followed blindly, without thinking, without the use of reason. It has not solved the problem. It has become worse even.

The same is true for this case. If the standard is really effective, why is the number of students queueing to that office continue to increase in number semester after semester?

Think again!

Ooops, Can you?


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