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Qiuyun Tan / Staff Photographer

Deaton Jones, CC '13, launched a Columbia chapter of AMF, a national organization that supports college students grieving the sickness or death of a loved one.

After his father died during finals season last semester, Deaton Jones, CC '13, said that he struggled to find the comfort he needed. "My friends were really sweet, my family were really sweet, but none of them were in the position of knowledge," Jones said. "None of them had experienced it before." Jones tried reaching out to existing campus groups, but found their support was still not adequate to his situation. To fill the gap, Jones decided to launch a new chapter of a national organization that supports college students grieving the sickness or death of a loved one: Students of AMF. AMF stands for the initials of the founder's late mother and also for "Ailing Mothers and Fathers," but the organization has now expanded to support everyone who is dealing with the death or illness of a loved one. When he looked into Students of AMF, Jones realized that the organization's founder, David Fajgenbaum, had gone to his high school, so he decided to contact him. "All I wanted was be able to talk to someone who understood well where I was coming from," Jones said. "Not someone who was sympathetic, but someone that was empathetic—someone that had been there before, or a similar situation, and we could at least grieve together." Fajgenbaum told Jones that there was not an active AMF chapter in New York City, so Jones decided to bring one to Columbia. At Columbia, Students of AMF will be organized as a sub-group of the Student Wellness Project. "There are many students, especially men, who are less likely to go to counseling," Lauren Kase, the national organization's executive director, said. "It's good to have a peer-based supporting group in addition to other services." Jones said that he plans to hold support groups every other week, with the first meeting on Feb. 11. He also said that he hopes to invite professors to give lectures and start a service project later this semester. The service project will focus on mental illness, which Jones said "killed my dad in the long run." "I want to move forward now, knowing that although his life is cut short, that's why I need to live my life to the fullest," Jones said. Although unsure of how many students will join initially, Jones believes he will make an impact if even one other person is interested. "I would never wish the feelings of solitude that I felt at that moment on anybody else," Jones said. "The norm of the society is to internalize this frustration and that challenge, and I want to move that internalization. I want to expose the conversation, I want to talk about grief, talk about loss, talk about death, talk about people's anxieties about it, their regrets, and hopefully that will help people more in coming to terms with whatever loss they are experiencing." Jones said that there is no perfect solution for feelings of grief, but he hopes the group will empower students to turn their grief into action. "I don't think this is the matter of there being some kind of doctrine or perspective that's the equivalent of some magic pill," Philip Kitcher, a Columbia philosophy professor, said. Kitcher often talks about death and morality in his classes and emphasized the importance of faculty's attention in supporting students' well-being. "When the students have really severe problems, this is something the faculty should know, should be responsive to, and they should be willing to make allowances for students," he said. One of the most important parts about coming to terms with his grief, Jones said, is reminding himself that he is not alone. "This topic of grief can't be ignored," Jones said. "It's something everybody faces. It's not something to be scared of. It's something to embrace and something to address, and hopefully with my Columbia peers."

Student Wellness Project death AMF mental health