Coping with Grief and Loss
Whether you knew David as a friend, through a shared class, or are just now learning about David, this type of sudden loss is difficult to make sense of. Such death can leave us feeling shaken, unsure, and vulnerable.
The grief response following sudden loss can be intensified by the lack of opportunity for family and friends to prepare for the loss or say good-bye. It is important to remind yourself that you are not alone. Reach out to your friends, family, and other supports to acknowledge the loss and share your feelings. 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
- Remorse or regret
- 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
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.
Each one of us has a unique style of coping with painful circumstances. The list above may help you generate ideas about how to manage your feelings of grief. Talking to friends who have dealt with a similar loss can also help you consider new ways of coping. Healthy coping skills are important in resolving a loss and only you know what coping skills will work best for you. While these strategies cannot take away your feelings of loss, they can 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 to feel more pain and sadness. Well-meaning friends may avoid discussing the subject due to their own discomfort with grief, fear of increasing negative emotions and/or not knowing what to say.
People who are grieving are likely to fluctuate between wanting some time to themselves and wanting closeness with others. They may also 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. 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.