Grief is a normal response to a loss in one's life. Losses include, but are not limited to, the deaths of family and friends, breakups and separations, moving away from home or graduating from college. Grief reactions are common after the loss of anything or anyone whom you valued.
The grieving process can be less painful if you try to understand that loss and grief is a natural part of life. Believe that you can cope with tragic happenings. Let your experience be a psychological growth process that will help you to deal with future stressful events.
Reactions to Loss
Common first reactions to a loss, particularly an unexpected loss, are feelings of disbelief or emotional numbness. A grieving person may feel that the upsetting news could not be true and that his/her life seems somehow unreal. This reaction often allows a grieving person the time to begin to make sense of a painful situation. This denial will gradually diminish as you begin to express and share your feelings about death and dying with other students or friends.
Anger is also a quite common grief reaction, as a person may feel that they did not deserve to experience the pain that accompanies their grief. Such anger is often a reaction to the feeling of powerlessness that a grieving person may experience. During this stage the most common question asked is "why me?" You are angry at what you perceive to be the unfairness of death and you may project and displace your anger unto others. When given some social support and respect, you will eventually become less angry and able to move into the next stage of grieving. or the lost person.
You may find yourself feeling guilty for things you did or didn't do prior to the loss. Forgive yourself. Accept your humanness. Many students try to bargain with some sort of deity. Some try to bargain and offer to give up an enjoyable part of their lives in exchange for the return of health or the lost person.
As you go through changes in your social life because of the loss, you may feel lonely and afraid. The more you are able to reach out to others and make new friends, the more this feeling will lessen.
Acceptance does not mean happiness. Instead you accept and deal with the reality of the situation. Eventually you will reach a point where remembering will be less painful and you can begin to look ahead to the future and more good times.
You may at first experience a sense of great loss. Mood fluctuations and feelings of isolation and withdrawal may follow. It takes time for you, the grieving student, to gradually return to your old self and become socially involved in what's going on around you. Others who grieve may question their ability to cope and begin to fell panicky if they feel overwhelmed.
Physical symptoms such as feelings of nausea, headaches and colds may be the result of stress caused by the loss, but these symptoms should still be reported to a physician for a more thorough evaluation.
How to Help Someone Who is Grieving
- Be a good listener.
- Try to listen carefully and show interest in what a person in grief tells you so that he/she feels better understood.
- Show that you care.
- Share your feelings and talk about any similar experience you may have had.
- Avoid using the phrase "I know just how you feel."
- Use an appropriate, caring conversational tone of voice.
- Talk openly and honestly about the situation unless the student does not want to.
- Realize the uniqueness of a person's grief and that different losses affect people differently.
- While you may feel comfortable about leaving home, another person may see this event as a time of great loss.
- Try to be patient and understand a situation different than your own.
- A person's grief reactions may also be influenced by other factors in their life, including their gender, culture and life circumstances.
- People who already feel emotionally vulnerable will have a more difficult time dealing with loss.
- Don't try to talk a person out of their grief with statements such as "you must be strong" or "look how much you have."
- These types of statement often leave a grieving person feeling ashamed or thinking that they shouldn't be grieving. What they need is a supportive person to listen to them.
- Be supportive but do not attempt to give encouragement and reassurance when a student is in the depressed stage of grieving. It will not be helpful.
- Encourage a person facing loss and grief to care for him/herself. They may be neglecting their physical needs. You may also want to encourage them to postpone major decisions, since grief can often cloud a person's ability to see things clearly.
- If symptoms of depression are very severe or persistent and the grieving student is not coping with day to day activities, encourage that student to get professional help.
The Grieving Process
College students all fear death yet they all believe that they will live forever. Death, however, will enter our lives at some point. Students therefore need to learn how to live with death, dying and grief.
Why Fear Death?
- The premature interruption of life activities.
- Effects of death upon family members, classmates and friends.
- The fear of death without dignity, for example, being kept alive by a machine.
- The fear of nothingness after death.