March 18, 2011

RP-1: A mentor's story -- Coping with tragedy in the mentee's family

Helping a mentee to deal with a traumatic episode, such as the death of a parent, is a huge challenge for mentors. Here, one mentor shares her experience

CHILDREN and youngsters face diverse kinds of challenges in the early part of their lives and as they grow up. When we hear some of the stories shared by mentors we also come across challenges such as dealing with personal tragedies or challenges that include loss of a parent, marital discord, domestic violence, alcoholic parent, etc. Mentors try to help their mentees cope with these challenges. In many cases it is a tough responsibility and a demanding experience for mentors.

The loss of a family member is a particularly difficult time for anyone. This is more complex in the case of a child if the deceased person is the sole earning member of the family. Besides the loss of a loved one, it adds pressures and stress – who will now take the decisions concerning livelihood, finances, education, and many other issues? Dealing with the uncertainty that comes from that situation is sometimes overwhelming for children. How they handle the grief, how they cope with the situation can also influence the life decisions they make.

A mentor or friend can often offer support through the grieving process and help one come to terms with the situation.

Sometime last October, we came across one such story from a mentor at one of the Reflective Practice Sessions* and we discussed it again at a refresher training meet in January.

Deepali has been mentoring Pramila** from one of our partner/community centres in Adugodi for almost two years. Pramila, who was doing very well in school and whose parents have been supportive of her wish to study further, is pursuing her pre-university course in a Bangalore college.

Things changed dramatically for Pramila after her father passed away. Deepali visited Pramila’s home the same week. During her visit she realised Pramila was trying not to display a lot of emotion so that she could be strong for her mother. There were discussions going on at home about whether Pramila should continue studying or start working as her father’s job was their only source of income. Deepali then spoke with Pramila’s mother and explained that it was important for Pramila to continue her studies since she was capable of doing well and it would help her in the future. Pramila’s exams were scheduled for the same week, unfortunately, and she said she did not want to write them and needed Deepali’s help to talk to her principal. Deepali agreed and accompanied her to the principal’s office.

sharing the story, her feelings, her sense of helplessness and her concerns for her mentee, Deepali broke down in tears. After taking some time to recover, she continued. Deepali then told the other mentors that she had had a similar experience when she lost her mother a few years back. She shared her story and talked about how she could relate to Pramila’s situation.

At this point, fellow mentors offered validation and agreed that they could relate to her feelings and the situation. They also agreed that this was a very challenging time to play the role of a mentor because anyone would feel overwhelmed in such circumstances. They reassured Deepali that she had taken the right step in terms of her being there for her mentee. It’s probably not easy for someone who loses a family member to explain the situation to others (in this case, school authorities and teachers) and Deepali certainly helped by accompanying Pramila for the discussion with her principal.

The mentors then explained to Deepali that it is natural to feel the way she did. That everyone goes through such a phase when there is a loss in their own family or that of a friend. But as much as she wants to help Pramila and be strong for her, it was also recommended that Deepali gives herself time to come to terms with the situation and talk it over with someone close. Most of us are not prepared to deal with such a situation and there may not be an immediate solution or support we can offer as mentors right away apart from being there for the mentee and sharing the grief.

The group of mentors also suggested that perhaps the immediate step is to let all parties come to terms with the situation, grieve, and vent their feelings. This may take a month or a couple of weeks. So just being there to listen to Pramila was the best thing that could be done at the moment. Perhaps discussions about Pramila’s future could come later when Pramila was ready and there are different options that can be explored later. For now, it is good to keep in touch with her family and continue visits to keep track of the situation.

Pramila eventually went on to write her exams and is pursuing her final PU exams this year. Her mother is now supportive of her desire to study further. Pramila has plans to complete a college degree and earn her own living. Deepali continues to mentor Pramila and is currently helping her through decisions regarding a college degree and career options.
  • Compiled by Jeeno P. Jacob, Programme Anchor — Dream Mentoring Programme | Dream A Dream

* Once a month, mentor meetings are organised by Dream A Dream. The session is a forum to discuss challenges and seek support and advice from fellow mentors, senior mentors, and Dream A Dream.

** Name of mentee has been changed to protect her identity and maintain anonymity.

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