Although college is generally a happy time in one’s life, tragedy and loss can unfortunately occur at any time, without warning. It’s not only typical but understandable to experience a wide variety of reactions, which are often extremely disconcerting. The Counseling Center is here to provide support and assistance when that happens. Check the Events page for dates and times for the Grief Support Group open to students and staff. The information below details what you might expect when you experience grief and loss:
Grief is the healing process we go through after suffering a loss. Although we normally think of loss as the death of someone close to us, life changes such as divorce or losing a job can also bring about grief. Learn about the process of grieving and tips for coping with different types of losses.
Five Stages of Grief
- The first stage of grief is denial. It’s hard for our minds to accept that such a loss has taken place.
- Anger is the second stage. We probably had no control over the loss, so we react to our vulnerability with anger. We lash out at others or blame ourselves for the loss.
- The third stage is bargaining. We want to trade something we can do for the reversal of the loss, saying things like “I’d do anything if only this hadn’t happened”
- Depression is the fourth stage. A feeling of hopelessness about the situation takes over.
- The fifth and final stage is acceptance. We accept the reality of the situation and are able to move on with our lives.
How much time it takes to move through these stages depends on the nature of the loss, the individual who is grieving and the overall circumstances of the individual’s life. The individual also may not experience the stages in this order. For example, bargaining may come before anger. The important thing to remember, however, is that grieving happens in stages. Being stuck in one stage and dwelling on the loss too long might require the intervention of a professional counselor.
Tips for Coping
Sharing the grief with those close to us is important for moving through the grieving process. Bringing people together is one of the roles of funerals or memorial services for people who have died. But sometimes it is difficult for others to relate to the depth of our pain if a death is not involved, such as when we lose a job. In cases such as this, professional counseling may help you through your grief process to move toward the final stage of acceptance.
Time alone will not heal grief. You have to deal with it, to work through it. In the process you can actually transmit grief into personal growth. You can become something more than you were. Here are 14 lamps on the path, lights to walk by:
Accept the grief. Roll with the tides of it. Do not try to be “brave.” Take time to cry. This also applies to men…strong men can and do cry.
Talk about it. Share your grief within the family. Do not try to protect them by silence. Find a friend to talk to, someone who will listen without passing judgment. If possible, find someone who has experienced a similar sorrow. And talk often. If the friend tells you to “snap out of it,” find another friend.
Keep busy. Do purposeful work that occupies the mind, but avoid frantic activity.
Take care of yourself. Bereavement can be a threat to your health. At the moment you may feel that you don’t care. That will change. You are important – your life is valuable – care for it.
Eat well. At this time of emotional and physical depletion, your body needs good nourishment more than ever. If you can only pick at your food, a vitamin supplement might be helpful, but it will not fully make up for a poor diet. Be good to yourself.
Exercise regularly. Return to your old program or start one as soon as possible. Depression can be lightened a little by the biochemical changes brought about by exercise, and you will sleep better. An hour-long walk every day is ideal for many people.
Get rid of imagined guilt. You did the best you could at the time, all things considered. If you made mistakes, learn to accept that we are all imperfect. Only hindsight is 20-20. If you are convinced that you have real guilt, consider professional or spiritual counseling. If you believe in God, a pastor can help you believe also in God’s forgiveness.
Accept your understanding of the death, for the time being. You have probably asked “Why?” over and over and have finally realized that you will get no acceptable answer. But you probably have some small degree of understanding. Use that as your viewpoint until you are able to work up to another level of understanding.
Join a group of others who are sorrowing. Your old circle of friends may change. Even if it does not, you will need new friends who have been through your experience. Bereaved people sometimes form groups for friendship and sharing.
Associate with old friends also. This may be difficult. Some will be embarrassed by your presence, but they will get over it. If and when you can, talk and act naturally without avoiding the subject of your loss.
Postpone major decisions. For example, wait before deciding to sell your home or change jobs.
Record your thoughts in a journal. If you are inclined at all towards writing, it helps. Get your feelings out and record your progress.
Turn grief into creative energy. Find a way to help others. Helping to carry someone else’s load is guaranteed to lighten your own. If you have writing ability, use it. Great literature has been written as a tribute to someone loved and lost.
Take advantage of your religious affiliation, if you have one.