Edward Freeman from Killeen, Texas, is a finalist in the Dear GMA Advice Guru Contest. Read his response to a viewer-submitted question below!
Question from Hugh in Connecticut.: This year, my school suffered the tragic loss of a classmate of mine. Four weeks into the school year, he took his own life. I was a new student, and the majority of students were not. For them, it was a much greater loss due to their closer relationships with the boy. As somewhat of an outsider, it puts you in an odd situation. You don't feel the same loss as they do, yet the atmosphere is that of devastation and grievance. What should I do?
Hugh, the fact that you are new to the school puts you in a unique situation. You have the advantage of seeing this tragedy with fresh unbiased eyes, while at the same time some might see you as an outsider intruding in "family business." The way people react to death can be very unpredictable. I get the sense that your friends are young, so they may be all over the map. This death is also even more traumatic because it was a suicide and unexpected.
The fact that you don't feel the same loss as many of the others is normal. It is clear that you are a sensitive young man and you seem to care a great deal about your classmates and their feelings. The position you occupy may make it easy for people to open up to you or it can make you the target of ridicule and scorn by others because they are angry about their friend's death.
There are several things you can do to help those around you. Start by being open and aware, pay attention to how the people around you are behaving. If they seem sad or angry you can be the person who simply listens to them because often times people feel the need to share their feelings, thoughts and memories about their friend and they may not want to "burden" others who are grieving. You may be the person who some of your new friends can talk to without feeling guilty especially if they feel anger towards the young man, which are very common and natural feelings to have about someone who dies. People often feel abandoned by a loved one that dies but not everyone feels comfortable about expressing these negative feelings to others who were also close with the person. You could be the perfect person for someone who needs to talk about negative feelings.
Additionally, I caution you that these are some very heavy emotions and you could become overwhelmed with other people's grief, so protect yourself. Please make sure you have someone you can talk with as well. Parents or family members can be a good place for you to turn especially if you start feeling intense emotions yourself. Just being around such strong emotions can cause you to experience effects from them as well. Also, Hugh, if you think anybody is feeling any extreme emotions or talking about hurting themselves or anybody else, contact the school, your parents or the other person's parents right away. Do not leave this situation to chance because sometimes when a suicide occurs, other people mimic the behavior as well.
These types of situations can be tricky, especially for a very young person. You seem like the kind of guy that can deal with this pretty well, but don't go it alone. Reach out to family, friends, clergy and mental healthcare professionals for support and help if needed.