Loyola University Maryland

Counseling Center

Coping with Grief and Loss

Caitlin McDonald was a remarkable young woman who touched many lives in profound ways.  Whether you knew her as a dear friend or were acquainted with her through classes, the Outdoor Adventure Pre-Fall Orientation program, the rowing team - or even if you are just learning about Caitlin now-- her death poses many challenges. This is especially so because Caitlin was so young and so full of life. Such a death can leave us feeling shaken, unsure, and vulnerable. Perhaps especially for those with little or no experience yet with death, it forces us to realize that life is not always fair, and that bad things can happen to very good people. 

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. Although it is summer, and many students are at home, feelings of grief do not take a break and 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:


  • 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

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

  • Talk to family or friends.
  • 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.

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.

People who are grieving often feel isolated or lonely in their grief. Soon after the loss, support from others may decrease. As the 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 with 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.

The Loyola Counseling Center offers individual counseling and a weekly bereavement support group 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.

Professionals in Campus Ministry are also available to offer support.  Call 410-617-2222 or stop by the office, which is located underneath the Chapel.

To find counseling support at home, please consider the following resources: Psychology Today, American Psychological Association, or HelpPro. These sites offer a search feature to find licensed counselors, social workers, and psychologists throughout the country. View our Comprehensive Referral Assistance Page for additional resources.