Loss and Grief

College offers many challenges: new friends, new classes, new responsibilities, and a new environment. When, in the midst of all this stress, a student is faced with the death of a loved one, the effect can be devastating and incapacitating. It is only through the grieving process that a person can find the comfort and hope to go on with life.

The Grieving Process

The grieving process has four phases which may occur in any order. One stage is fear. Questions you may ask yourself include: Can I survive without this person? Will I be able to stay in school? Who will I look to for support? Another stage is guilt, when we may regret missed opportunities with the loved one. Sometimes we feel guilty that we are surviving and they are dead. Sometimes we experience a third stage which is anger. Perhaps we are angry at the world, with the unfairness of it all. We might be angry at the loved one for leaving us--then feel guilty for feeling the anger. The final, quieter stage is that of sadness. We feel deeply the loss, and experience the physical pain of grieving.

How to Grieve

Shared Grieving

Most cultures have ceremonies and rituals to help people accept the reality of their loved one's death, to release some of their sadness, and to help them take their first steps to the acceptance of their loss. Talking to friends and relatives to share the powerful feelings of the loss can help relieve some of the pain. Sometimes, students will feel the responsibility to "be strong" for their parents' sake. They are there for everyone else, helping them deal with their grief, but keep their own feelings inside. Remember it is important to heal your own sense of loss.

Share Your Feelings

One of the most helpful ways to grieve is to share your feelings with people you can trust. Unfortunately, a student may be living with people who are practically strangers. If this is true, it is important to seek out a counselor or visit a close friend or relative with whom it is possible to be relaxed to talk about thoughts and feelings. Sharing feelings about the loss with an accepting person can help one understand its real meaning and will help heal the pain.


Besides talking, it is important to allow yourself to cry--as often as needed. Depending how one is raised, unfortunately, this might be seen as a sign of weakness. If so, you can still allow yourself to cry in private, and then perhaps in the company of a trusted person. Talking and crying are fundamental means of self expression. They allow feelings which are locked inside us to be expressed, and help dissipate the sadness.

How Long Should Grieving Take?

Sometimes the most caring friend may send "it's time to get on with your life" messages, causing the grieving student to feel guilty about feeling sad. The experts point out that there is no right amount of time to grieve a loss. "It takes as long as it takes," they point out. One thought to hang on to is that no matter how severe the pain, it won't last forever. Given enough time, the pain diminishes to a manageable level so you can refocus your life and redirect your energies. However, if your sadness seems to be lasting too long and/or is too intense, see a counselor or other health professional for further evaluation.

Things to Remember

  • Since your energy level may be low, don't push yourself
  • Discipline yourself to eat well, to get enough sleep, and to exercise in your usual manner
  • Avoid physical excesses
  • When you do not have close friends nearby, keep a journal. Write down the thoughts, feelings, and memories you have about the lost person.
  • Allow your friends to slowly pull you back into your regular social activities
  • Eventually, you can: Enjoy music! Enjoy nature! Read Poetry! Enjoy your good memories!

Allow yourself to reclaim life and the special things it holds for you.

If you'd like to speak with someone at Counseling and Psychological Services, call 734.487.1118.