Grief & Mourning

Everyone experiences loss and grief at some point in their lives. Some incidents that may prompt a grief reaction include:

  • Death of someone close,
  • Ending of a relationship, or
  • Loss of a significant aspect of our lives (e.g., losing a limb).

Each individual will experience and express their grief differently. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief is likely to be. One person may respond by withdrawing and not expressing much, while another might be very angry and start drinking alcohol. No matter what the reaction, the grieving person needs the support of others. Here is some information for the person in grief and for the helper of those going through the grieving process.

Possible Reactions to Loss

There is not one definite way of grieving, however there are some feelings and disruptions that may come and go, sometimes so powerful that it can feel relentless. For other people or other times, the emotional waves may be very quiet. Below are some possible reactions to loss and grieving:

  • Hurt or sadness. There may be a sense of emptiness, a void in life.
  • Anger. Grievers may feel angry at the person for dying, for leaving, angry at those alive, or even angry with self.
  • Guilt. Grievers may have some guilt for not having spent enough time with the person, not having done certain things for the person, etc.
  • Anxiety. Anxiety can include mild insecurities or strong panic attacks. Grievers may become anxious about their ability to be OK following a loss. They may also become concerned about the well-being of other loved ones.
  • Change in sleep and/or eating patterns. Grievers may have difficulties sleeping, waking up in the middle of the night, or feel like sleeping all the time. Similarly, there may be an increase or decrease in appetite.
  • Cognitive difficulties. Grievers may feel confused at times, be preoccupied, and/or lose concentration.
  • Thoughts of death and/or the deceased. Grievers may have dreams or have "sensations" about the deceased or have thoughts of dying themselves.

Coping with Loss

  • Life may never be quite the same again, but the goal is not necessarily to be the same as before, but to have a "new normal" feeling.
  • Give yourself the space to grieve. Be gentle with your own process and don't try to rush things along.
  • Take care of yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep, exercise and food.
  • Talk to supportive others. Share memories of your loss with others.
  • Spend time with others doing enjoyable things. Initially, you may not feel like it at all. With time, things will become more of a pleasure again. Meanwhile, keep the routine of your life going. Take time to enjoy those special people who are still with you.
  • Reminders or seemingly sudden "out of the blue" sad feeling. It may be a certain smell, certain song, or someone's mannerism that suddenly reminds you of your loss. Anniversaries and holidays may bring back painful feelings as well. This is a natural part of grieving and will decrease over time.
  • Seek personal counseling. If your routines continue to be thrown off, you can't seem to cope, or feel as if you are a 'burden' to those around you, consider seeking counseling at Counseling and Psychological Services on campus, in Student Wellness Center, third floor, Room 300B. Many people do find it helpful.
  • "Talk" to that special person you lost, or commemorate your loss. You may want to write a letter to the person, or draw a picture or diagrams about your loss. Perhaps go somewhere special to do so, play some special music, or light a candle. Do something that feels comfortable and makes sense for you. Use mementos to help you mourn, but not to live in the past.
  • It is not unusual that new death or losses may also bring up feelings about past losses.
  • There is no straight "timeline" with mourning. Instead, it may be cyclical, and others may not understand or know how to handle your grief. Be forgiving of yourself and others. If you don't want to talk about it, let others know. If you do want to talk about it, gently request the time from supportive others.
  • Avoid making big decisions; rebound relationships; alcohol, drugs, smoking to cope; or extra responsibilities during this healing time.

Guidelines for Helping

Concerned others often do not know how to interact with or what to say to the person in grief. You may also be afraid of saying the wrong things.

  • Make contact. Try not to avoid the person who is grieving. Make a phone call, send a card, bake and deliver cookies. Don't let discomfort, fear, or uncertainty stand in the way of being a friend and a support. You don't necessarily have to say much.
  • Provide practical help. If you say in general, "Let me know if there is anything I can do," the person is unlikely to make a request. Decide on a specific task you can do, and go ahead and suggest the offer.
  • Be available and accepting. Accept the words and feelings expressed either immediately after the grieving event, or weeks, months, or even years later. Be mindful to not be judgmental. And, avoid telling them how they should feel or what they should do.
  • Be a good listener. Many in grief need and want to talk about their loss; the person, related events, and their reactions. Ask them how they are feeling. Ask them about how they are doing in terms of their loss during significant holidays. Allow grievers to tell their stories and express their feelings. Be patient and accepting of their various expressions.
  • Be patient. Allow the bereaved person to grieve for as long or short a time as needed. Remember, there are no shortcuts or specific timeline to grieving.
  • Encourage self-care. Encourage the person in grief to attend to physical needs, postpone major decisions, allow themselves to grieve and to recover. At the same time, they may need your support and gentle reminders to balance time to grieve and to get back into activities.
  • Model good self-care. It is also important for you to maintain your own life and responsibilities, and to seek help when you feel overwhelmed or don't know how to be a support to someone else.

Come to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in the Student Wellness Center, third floor, Room 300B, for support and to learn more about different self care methods. If your academics are negatively impacted, we also have educational counselors who may help with your educational performance, time management skills, etc. Our personal counselors are available for appointments and walk in crisis counseling.  Please call us at 408-924-5910 to schedule an appointment or for more information.