Loss and Grief
Loss and grief are a part of life, and sooner or later,we all experience these feelings. It’s helpful to know what to expect at difficult times: it enables us to help ease others’ pain, or cope with our own. Some things to be aware of:
- The first loss may be the most challenging (with no previous experience, it can seem like you’ll never recover, but have confidence that you will)
- An accidental or unexpected death can be more difficult to deal with
- Grief is heightened by a sense of isolation (students are often away from family members, and don’t want to burden friends)
There is no set sequence or predetermined "stages" for grief; we each go through it in our own way. A normal response to a significant loss often seems like depression:
- Your motivation may be down; don’t expect to have 100% of your energy or drive
- You may have less ability to concentrate; your mind may wander
- You may feel vulnerable or anxious
- Tears may come at any time
- You may not sleep well, or you may sleep too much
- You may feel numbness, sadness, or anger
Signs of concern include: disruption or stagnation that persists beyond a year, thoughts of suicide, and feelings of selfloathing or profound guilt.
It takes most people about a year after a loss to feel whole again, yet classes and activities go on, not waiting for the grief to pass. This may be especially hard on high achievers, but grief has its own schedule. Pushing yourself can backfire. Consider taking some time off. People will cut you the slack if you cut it for yourself.
What else helps
Keep in mind that the pain of grief is not constant – the intensity comes and goes. Know that it will pass, and that the pain will not last.
Having closure is important to the grief process. This is often achieved through ceremony and ritual. Gather together with family and close friends for a religious ceremony or a simple gettogether – whatever is most meaningful to you. Consider starting a ritual and tradition you might want to continue. Also:
- Give yourself time to grieve (feelings of grief aren’t easily "wrapped up" over night).
- Take good care of yourself.
- Reduce your academic and social expectations, and don’t over-commit.
- Have fun when you can (remind yourself of what lifted your spirits before; do these things).
- Come up with new, do-able traditions for the first major holidays.
- Family members are often at different stages in their grief, some may have difficulty communicating at first.
- You may feel like you are "backsliding" a year or so after a loss (an "anniversary" reaction).
- Ask yourself repeatedly what would help ease the pain, and take steps in that direction.
- Reach out to others.You are surrounded by a community of many caring and supportive people.
We cannot escape grief. But we can take care of ourselves as we live through it.