Grief – General Information
Remember that people respond differently to loss and what works for one person may be different from what is most helpful for someone else. There is no “right” way to grieve.
- Shock and disbelief: immediately after learning about a tragedy or loss, many people may feel numb, or feel like the death can’t quite be real.
- Physical reactions including fatigue, nightmares, exhaustion, and health problems.
- Cognitive reactions including difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or memory problems.
- Emotional reactions including fear, guilt, anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, and anger.
- Wanting to check in with loved ones. It is normal to want to touch base with someone you care about.
- In the hours and days following such a loss, the shock begins to wear off, and more feelings may emerge. It is important to share these feelings with people that you trust.
- Do activities to de-stress and help yourself to feel safe.
- Structure your time – keep busy.
- Give yourself permission to have feelings and to share those feelings w/others.
- Help your colleagues or fellow students by checking in with them to see how they’re doing.
- Talk to others
- Listen to others – reassure them, don’t take their feelings personally.
- Don’t turn to alcohol or drugs.
- Keep your life as normal as possible.
- Keep a journal.
- Reassure yourself that a wide range of reactions and feelings are normal.
Circumstances or signs that may lead you to seek additional counseling support
- Memories of previous loss, trauma, or crisis that you have faced
- Experiencing heightened feelings of anxiety, fear for your safety, or rage
- Crying more than usual in response to sadness
- Multiple losses
Counseling resources on campus
- Counseling Services at the Health & Counseling Center 303-871-2205 (Ritchie Center, 3rd floor north). Urgent/Crisis appointments available daily (M-F) and can be accessed by calling the number above. Grief counseling is available to all DU staff, faculty, and students and can be accessed by calling the HCC to schedule an individual appointment with a counselor. In addition, there is an after-hours counselor-on-call available 24/7 by calling 303-871-3000.
- Rev. Gary Brower, Ph.D., University Chaplain (303) 871-4488 – available for counseling or conversation.
- Professional Psychology Clinic (303) 871-3626
- Counseling and Educational Services Clinic (303) 871-2528
- Department of Psychology
- Child Study Center (303) 871-3306
- Marital and Family Studies Center (303) 871-3829
Impact of Loss: Stages of the Grieving Process
When a loved one/classmate dies, there is a grieving process. Recovery is a slow and emotionally painful one. The grieving process usually consists of the following stages. Note that not everyone goes through all these stages, and that people often move back and forth between different stages at different times. Cut yourself some slack, and give yourself permission to feel many different things.
Denial and Shock
At first, it may be difficult for you to accept the death of a loved one/classmate. It may feel impossible, or unreal. You may feel numb, unable to cry, or cut off from your emotions. However, this denial will gradually diminish with time, particularly as you begin to talk about it with friends.
During this stage the most common question asked is, "Why did this loss happen to 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.
Many students try to bargain with some sort of deity, or the universe, offering to give up an enjoyable part of their lives in exchange for the return of 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. Be as gentle with yourself as you would be with a friend or loved one.
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. Please note that people cannot be rushed or pushed to move beyond this stage too quickly; it is important to give the grieving person – or yourself – time and space to feel deeply sad for a while.
As you go through changes in your social life because of the loss, you may feel lonely and afraid. You also may feel you are being “disloyal” to the lost person if you make new friendships. The more you are able to reach out to others and make new connections – not to “replace” the lost person, but to continue to be a connected human being – the more this feeling lessens.
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.
Ways to Cope with Death and Dying
- Discuss feelings such as loneliness, anger, and sadness openly and honestly with other students, instructors, and family members.
- Maintain hope.
- If your religious convictions are important to you, talk to a member of the clergy about your beliefs and feelings.
- Join a support group.
- Take good care of yourself. Eat well-balanced meals. Get some exercise. Get plenty of rest.
- Even if you feel you are just “going through the motions” for a while, try to get back to your normal routine as soon as you can.
- Be patient with yourself. It takes time to heal. Some days will be better than others.
Ways to Help a Bereaved Student
- Be supportive and listen, but do not attempt to give advice or “cheer the person up” when the student is in the depressed stage of grief. It will not be helpful at that time.
- Talk openly and honestly about the situation, unless the student does not want to.
- Use an appropriate, caring, conversational tone of voice.
- Show that you care. Listen attentively and show interest in what the grieving student has to say about his/her feelings and beliefs. Share your feelings and talk about any similar experience you may have had. Avoid using the phrase, "I know just how you feel."
- If symptoms of depression are severe or long-lasting, and/or the grieving student is not coping well with day-to-day activities, encourage the student to get professional help.