When someone you care about dies, it is difficult to accept the fact it has happened and the accompanying feelings. For those who have never had someone close to them die, it is hard to know what to expect of the grieving process.
The sadness of someone's death may bring up memories and feelings about a previous loss. Special days, such as graduation and anniversaries of the death, can make you more aware that someone is missing.
The goal of the grieving process is learning to live with loss, which is a part of life. You do not forget the person who has died, nor stop loving that person, but you can grow to accept the death and your feelings about it and move on with your own life. Each person deals with loss differently, yet many experience similar initial feelings, such as sadness, loneliness, fatigue, and numbness. In the case of the death of someone you love, you may find the most difficult stage of grief six months to a year afterward.
When the death is of a violent or sudden nature, anger, shock, and helplessness may predominate as the initial response. In circumstances where the death is the result of an accident, survivors and others may feel guilty and somehow responsible ("if only ...").
When in mourning, behavior changes. Sleep can be interrupted or become prolonged. Normal eating patterns may change. Some people become forgetful and confused. Others withdraw from social supports and avoid all reminders of those who died. Thinking it will numb the pain, some individuals drink heavily and abuse drugs. Please note: if you have any preexisting condition (headaches, diabetes, or an addiction) this becomes your "weakest link," where the stress of the loss may strike and exacerbate the condition.
Often after a loss, the grieving person may benefit from the support of others. Individual grief reactions vary widely, not only from person to person, but also within the same person over time. Accordingly, friends need to be ready to accept and support the griever through a wide range of emotions.
Throughout the recovery period people who are grieving will experience many reactions. Some of the following reactions may be experienced many times:
- Denial, shock, numbness—reactions which distance the grieving person from the loss, thereby providing protection from being overwhelmed by emotions
- Emotional releases—these reactions accompany realizations of different aspects of the loss. They frequently involve much crying and are often important to the healing process
- Reactive Depression—natural feelings beyond sadness (e.g., feelings of loneliness, isolation, hopelessness, self-pity) that occur as the person more clearly recognizes the extent of the loss. For many, reactive depression is part of the necessary internal processing of the loss which the grieving person must go through before reorganizing his/her life
- Panic—feeling overwhelmed, confused, fearful, unable to cope, and even believing something is wrong with oneself
- Remorse—following a loss (whether through death, relationship breakup or disability), a grieving person sometimes becomes preoccupied with thoughts of what they might have done differently to prevent the loss or to have made things better. This can be helpful as the person tries to make sense out of their situation but can also lead to unrealistic feelings of remorse or guilt
- Anger—this is a frequent response to a perception of injustice and powerlessness. A significant loss can threaten the grieving person's basic beliefs about self or about life in general. As a result (often to the grieving person's bewilderment), they feel anger not only at a person perceived as responsible for the loss, or at God, or life in general for the injustice of the loss, but also—in cases of loss through death—at the deceased for dying
- Need to talk—in order to recognize and come to terms with the impact of the loss, the grieving person may express feelings, tell stories and share memories, sometimes over and over with many different people
- Physical ailments—in response to the emotional stress of grief, many people are more vulnerable to a variety of physical ailments (e.g., colds, nausea, hypertension, etc.) from 6 to 18 months following a loss
Discuss feelings such as loneliness, anger, and sadness openly and honestly with other students, instructors, and family members. Maintain hope.
Call the Counseling Center (775-8470) for support. Make it a priority to take good care of yourself. Eat well-balanced meals. Get plenty of rest. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to heal. Some days will be better than others.
Ways to Help Someone Experiencing Grief
- Take some kind of action. Make a phone call, send a card, give a hug, attend the funeral, help with practical matters (e.g., meals, care of children)
- Be available. Allow the person time so there is no sense of "urgency" when you visit or talk
- Be a good listener. Accept the words and feelings expressed, avoid being judgmental or taking their feelings personally. Avoid telling them what they feel or what they should do
- Don't minimize the loss and avoid giving clichés and easy answers. Don't be afraid to talk about the loss (e.g., the deceased, the ex-partner, the disability, etc.)
- Allow the bereaved person to grieve for as long or short a time as needed. Be patient, there are no shortcuts
- Encourage the bereaved to care for themselves. They need to attend to physical needs, postpone major decisions, and allow themselves to grieve and to recover
- Acknowledge and accept your own limitations. Many situations can be hard to handle, but can be made easier with the help of outside resources—books, workshops, support groups, other friends, or professionals
Supporting a grieving person can also be stressful for the helpers; they need to take care of themselves while also attending to the needs of the grieving person. Since helpers themselves are often grieving, they may need to address their own healing process. This may include having the opportunity to express their own emotions and turning to other friends for support.
Friends, family, roommates, RDs, coaches, and teammates can be important supporters. However, sometimes a person’s pain is such that others can’t bear to hear about it, or don’t know what to say. If what you are experiencing is more than your friends can handle, know that there are other resources for you as well.
If your religious convictions are important to you, spiritual support may be vital for you at this time. Seek out a minister. Call the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, 440-775-8103. If you live in a residence hall, speak with your area coordinator. The Office of the Dean of Students is also available, or you can schedule an appointment with the Counseling Center.