Coping with Death, Loss and Grief

The death of a close friend, peer or cherished professor and mentor can be very difficult to cope with and process. The sense of loss and grief that follows is both a natural and an important part of life. It is a healthy and appropriate response, a tribute to a cherished one lost to death, not a sign of weakness. Running away from grief postpones sorrow; clinging to grief prolongs pain. Neither leads to healing. Below we discuss paths to healing. We encourage our university community to heal together.

Common Reactions to Loss
Reactions to grief can be both different and similar. No two people react exactly alike to a loss, and there are very significant cultural differences. For many, however, the most immediate response to the death of a loved one is shock, numbness, confusion and a sense of disbelief. Physical reactions such as heart palpitations, tightness in the throat, shortness of breath, sweating and dizziness are common. At other times, you may experience an upset stomach, sleep and appetite changes or a lack of motivation and energy. Emotional reactions may include feelings of guilt, despair, hostility, apathy, doubt, emptiness and preoccupation with the image of the deceased. Depressed mood, anger, a lack of concentration and extreme sadness may occur. Bereavement may contribute to some changes in your family and other relationships and may cause you to be at least temporarily more closed off from others.

Things that May Help You in Resolving Your Grief
It is important to think of going through your grief, instead of getting over the loss. By seeing the process through, you can develop personal strengths to cope with other types of loss and difficulties that may come up later in life. Acceptance of the loss means gaining a perspective - a new sense of self, understanding of others and the world and what you can do with your life. You may find the following helpful:

• Keep doing the basics (eating, sleeping, going to classes).
• Be as open as you can be in expressing your feelings; cry if you need to. Express any anger or sense
of unfairness if you feel it.
• Journal or write a letter expressing your grief.
• Play out in your mind the unfinished business in the relationship and try to come to a resolution; say
goodbye.
• Talk about it. Tell someone you trust the story of your loss.
• Try to focus on what you were able to do for the deceased instead of what you “should have done”
or could have done.
• Also allow yourself to have fun.

Things That May Interfere with Resolving Your Grief

• Avoiding your emotions
• Over-activity to the point of exhaustion
• Using alcohol or other drugs to mask the grief
• Unrealistic promises made to the deceased
• Unresolved grief from a previous loss
• Judgmental relationships
• Acting resentful to those who try to help

Where Can You Turn for Help?
Friends, family and faculty and staff can often be helpful. If you feel comfortable and trusting of someone close, there is a good chance it would help to talk with them. Members of the clergy may also be helpful. Mental health and counseling agencies such as Counseling & Psychiatry, as well as private professional therapists and counselors, are important resources.

Being Helpful To Others
Social support for the bereaved is very important. Others can provide a safe space and a comforting presence to allow the person an opportunity to tell the story of the loss and to share how he or she is feeling. You can’t take away their pain, but you can let them know they are not alone. If you are concerned for someone who appears to be having a difficult time managing alone, you may want to suggest seeking professional assistance. You can also call Counseling & Psychiatry at 803-777-5223 to seek consultation about how to help a friend.