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Dead Parents Society Offers Students Support

By BENJY RENTON

Clubs and student organizations are abundant at Middlebury, ranging from a capella groups to outdoor clubs to visual arts organizations. However, one lesser-known club unites those affected by the loss of loved ones: The Dead Parents Society.

Founded by Tabitha Mueller ’18, Maddie Stewart-Boldin ’18.5, Silas Keeter ’18.5 and Joe Dempsey ’18, the club is open to students who have lost parents as well as to individuals willing to fill a support role. In a conversation, all four of them realized they had lost parents and wanted to start a club where students would feel comfortable talking about death.

“I thought a space needed to be made for students to talk about something that is so integral to who they are,” Mueller said. Often death is a taboo topic and many students do not feel comfortable talking about the passing of their parents. This organization aims to have a shared community where members can talk about not only death, but their lives at college as well. The name of the club is based on the movie Dead Poets Society, and the acronym (DPS) is also a spinoff of the acronym for the Department of Public Safety.

The club meets every two weeks over snacks and has discussions ranging from topics surrounding death and loss to general check-ins about college life.

“The conversation shifts depending on what people want to talk about,” Mueller said. In addition to their meetings, the leaders of the club will also host death day recognitions, held on the anniversary of a member’s loved one’s death. These often take place in the form of a dinner or a movie night. The group also gathers for holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah, times that can be stressful and difficult for its members.

Mueller and the other leaders of the club emphasized that the Dead Parents Society is not a therapy group; resources such as Counseling at the Parton Center for Health and Wellness and the Counseling Service of Addison County exist to assist students seeking mental help and medical attention. Rather, the group is a place for community and valuable discussion.

“It’s a space for people to gather and feel like there are no expectations placed on them in regards to the person they lost,” Mueller said. The group was created out of the need and desire to create a space that is free of judgements, as not everyone processes grief in the same way. Members of the Dead Parents Society are not just those who have lost parents; any student who has experienced the loss of a sibling or close family member in any way is welcome to join. Currently the club has between 20 and 30 members and uses a Facebook group and posters around campus to communicate its upcoming meetings and events.

Assistant Professor of Geology Will Amidon serves as the club’s advisor. As a father, he said he relishes the “deep love and support that goes on between a parent and child. It is hard for most of us to understand how losing a parent changes your worldview and your day to day social/emotional outlook.” As advisor, Amidon recognizes the need for the group and is optimistic for its growth.

“I am so glad that these students have found a way to connect with each other and find folks who do understand their experience,” he said. “It is certainly a pleasure to know these students who have a very different outlook on life than most of their peers.”

Through creating a tight community around their shared experiences and a safe environment in which they can discuss the topic of death, members of the Dead Parents Society strive to provide support and a space for those affected by the loss of loved ones.

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