Dead Parents Society leads weekend getaway

By GRACE GILLOOLY

SABINE POUX
A poster in Proctor Dining Hall advertised the trip to the Ben and Jerry’s factory in Waterbury and a dinner in Burlington.

During Fall Family Weekend at Middlebury, sports games, pumpkin-carving and art museum exhibitions are just some of the many events that families can attend. While the weekend serves as a joyous reunion for students and their loved ones, the event can also be a painful time for students who have lost parents. 

The Dead Parents Society — a student organization that offers a support network and community for students who have lost loved ones — scheduled a weekend getaway from campus amid the abundant parent- and family-oriented activities. The Sunday of family weekend, Jilly Dos Santos ’19.5, president of the society, led ten members to the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury. They also explored a pumpkin orchard and had dinner in Burlington. 

“It can be hard to see everyone’s parents coming up and doing things when you might not have them yourself,” Dos Santos said.  “Answering questions like, ‘Are your parents coming up?’ can get awkward. We don’t shy away from answering those questions because that is just the reality of life.”

The Dead Parents Society, founded by Tabitha Mueller ’18, Maddie Stewart-Boldin ’18.5, Silas Keeter ’18.5 and Joe Dempsey ’18, was conceived as a support group for bereaved students to come together and air their grief.

Member Mia Pangasnan ’23 feels the value of the Dead Parents Society comes from relating to peers who have experienced similar loss in their lives. 

“It’s not a therapy group at all. We all talk about our experiences and the little microaggressions that we hear when people ask us certain questions,” Pangasnan said. “As serious as the matter is, we all really relate to each other and therefore, we’re able to make jokes that we probably wouldn’t be able to make with other people.”

 In discussing the obvious distress associated with their membership, students use comedy and sarcasm to lighten the mood and create a sense of hope and community within the group. Members joked about the Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard, referencing their collective experiences with death.  

 Despite the tragic circumstances that unite the group, members describe the club culture as one of honesty and authenticity.

 Pangasnan feels this trip is an important alternative to staying on campus. 

“If you have no parents, a single parent, or [are] in circumstances where parents aren’t able to come to Parents’ Weekend, you really have no one here,” Pangasnan said. “So many of the activities are focused on bringing your parents to this and that, bringing your dog to the Snow Bowl, and the people who have lost parents can’t really do that.” 

In this environment, there is no necessity to appear strong, Pangasnan said. This group and the trip intend to create a space where people can be completely emotionally transparent. 

“On this trip, we don’t have to pretend with each other. If we’re not okay because of Parents’ Weekend, we can talk about how we’re not okay,” Pangasnan said.

The Dead Parents Society offers regular meeting times, every other Tuesday from 8–9 p.m. in Gifford Annex Lounge. 

Dos Santos emphasized that students seeking professional help with grief should go to Parton or CSAC for individual therapy, or attend Parton’s monthly grief group hosted by a professional counselor. However, for students who are also looking for a peer-created space to discuss loss, the Dead Parent Society is open to all. 

“We will probably be doing another event toward the end of the semester on campus, so people can be on the lookout for that,” Dos Santos said. “You don’t have to come to every meeting, you don’t ever have to come again if you don’t like it, and it’s just a fun space for community.” 

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