Loyola University Maryland

Counseling Center

Coping with Grief and Loss

Jimi Patrick was a remarkable young man who touched many lives in profound ways. Whether you knew him as a dear friend, through a shared class, worked with him on campus, or even if you are just learning about Jimi now, this type of traumatic death shatters the world as we know it. It is impossible to make sense of violent tragedy to such a vibrant young person and we are forced to realize that sometimes very bad things happen to very good people. Such death leaves us feeling shaken, unsure, and vulnerable.

The grief response following traumatic loss is often intensified since there is little to no opportunity to prepare for the loss, say good-bye, or prepare for bereavement. Family and friends are suddenly forced to face the loss of a loved one. Also, although it is summer and many students are at home, feelings of grief do not take a break and, especially for Jimi’s closest friends, there will be a natural desire to be together during this time of grief. Even though most of us will continue to be spread apart over the next several weeks, it is important to remind yourself that you are not alone. Please reach out to one another to talk about and acknowledge your loss, to share your feelings. Also, rely on your friends, family, and other supports at home and remember that common reactions to loss include:

Emotions

  • Sadness, yearning, depressed mood
  • Feelings of helplessness and loss of control
  • Panic and anxiety
  • Fear of death
  • Shock, denial, numbness
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Loneliness
  • Remorse or regret

Physical Symptoms

  • Changes in sleep and/or eating patterns 
  • Anxiety/autonomic nervous system arousal 
  • Exaggerated startle response 
  • Increased somatic complaints or physical illnesses, such as headaches, colds, stomach aches, and back pain 
  • Fatigue 

Changes in Behavior

  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Avoiding stimuli that are reminders of the deceased
  • Increased use of alcohol or substances
  • Changes in activity level 

Changes in Thinking

  • Poor concentration
  • Confusion, forgetfulness
  • Feelings of unreality
  • Preoccupation with the deceased or media and social media coverage

How Can You Cope?

It is important to take care of yourself following a sudden loss. 

  • Talk to family or friends.
  • Unplug from media and social media coverage.
  • Seek counseling.
  • Read poetry or books.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Pray and seek spiritual support.
  • Listen to music.
  • Remember other difficult times and how you have survived them. Draw upon your inner strength.
  • Be patient with yourself.
  • Maintain a normal routine. Even if it is difficult to do regular activities, try to anyway. Putting more structure into a daily routine will help one to feel more in control.
  • Get enough sleep, at least plenty of rest.
  • Try to get regular exercise. This can help relieve stress and tension.
  • Keep a balanced diet. Watch out for junk food, or high calorie comfort food binges.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Limit alcohol or drug use. Such substances should not be used as a way of masking the pain.
  • Do what comforts, sustains, and recharges. 
  • We have a number of helpful resources on our website for coping with distressing events. We especially recommend REACT Online, a particularly helpful and interactive program. 

Each one of us has an individual style of coping with painful times. The list above may help you generate ideas about how to manage your feelings of grief. Talking to friends who have dealt with loss in the past can help you generate new ways of coping. Only you know what coping skills will be best for you.  Healthy coping skills are important in resolving a loss. They cannot take away your feelings of loss. They can, however, help you move forward in the healing process.

How Can You Support Others Who Are Grieving?

People who are grieving often feel isolated or lonely in their grief. As the initial shock of the loss fades, there is a tendency on the part of the griever to feel more pain and sadness. Well-meaning friends may avoid discussing the subject due to their own discomfort with grief or their fear of "making the person feel bad." They may "not know what to say."

People who are grieving are likely to fluctuate between wanting some time to themselves and wanting closeness with others. They may want someone to talk to about their feelings. Showing concern and thoughtfulness about a friend or loved one shows that you care. 

  • Talk openly to the bereaved person about his/her loss and feelings. Don't try to offer false cheer or minimize the loss. Allow the grieved time to talk.
  • Be available. Call, stop by to talk, share a meal or activity. Your presence and companionship are important. 
  • Listen/be patient. Listening is an often overlooked gift of yourself. Allow the bereaved person to vent feelings. Don't judge the person's thoughts or feelings. Don't feel you need to offer advice. Listening itself is very powerful.  You don’t need to have the answers.
  • Take some action. Send a card, write a note, call. This is important not just immediately after the loss, but especially later, when grief is still intense but when others have resumed their daily lives and support for the bereaved may dwindle. 
  • Encourage self care. Encourage your friend to care for himself or herself physically, emotionally, and socially. Encourage your friend to seek out support and/or professional help, if appropriate. 
  • Accept your own limitations. Accept that you cannot eliminate the pain your friend is experiencing. Grief is a natural, expected response to loss and each person must work through it in his/her own way and at his/her own pace. Be supportive, but care for yourself too.

Where Can You Find Support?

It is often helpful to talk about the loss. If you need help with this process while home over summer break, please consider seeking support.  If you need help finding referrals in your area, talk with a trusted family physician or spiritual leader or check out www.psychologytoday.com.

As soon as you are back at school, the Loyola Counseling Center offers individual counseling and bereavement support for students. We’re in Humanities 150. Counseling services are free and confidential. Call 410-617-CARE (2273) for information and to make an appointment.

Traumatic losses, like all losses, are very distinct and are likely to affect survivors in many different ways. One cannot compare loss. The greatest loss is the one that the grieving person is suffering. Each loss, whether sudden or not, creates its own unique issues. It is important to allow survivors to grieve in their own individual way.