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When someone suffers a loss, it disrupts their sense of the order of things and can sometimes lead to feelings that life is out of control and meaningless. People may deal with the death of a parent, sibling, family member, friend, or classmate. These deaths may be accidental, may be sudden, or may be the result of a long illness. An entire campus or academic department may grieve the death of a beloved professor or classmate. Feelings are often compounded by a sense of shock and a longing for the opportunity to "say goodbye." The loss of meaning and control adds distress to grief. Regaining meaning and a sense of control may help students endure the grieving process. Those experiencing grief tend to function better within an already established support system. Grief is a natural process but may become complicated (e.g., the person may become depressed and not able to function), and therefore needs some type of intervention.
If you are aware that someone is grieving or has experienced a loss, she/he may be experiencing some of the common grief reactions. These reactions to loss may include:
Change in appetite
Cognitive ReactionsDifficulties concentrating
Difficulties solving problems
Preoccupation with the event
Feelings of helplessness
Anger, irritability, moodiness
Sense of hopelessness
- Listen carefully. This can help a student gain an understanding of her/his feelings and clarify options for dealing with them.
- Encourage the person to be with, or connect with, family and friends, which may mean taking time away from classes or the university.
- Be aware that family may be urging the person to stay at school or at work, even though the person longs to be at home (particularly with the death or imminent death of a parent).
- Encourage the student to talk with someone about her/his feelings, fears, and uncertainties. Refer the person to Student Health Services at 406-657-2153.
- Feeling pressure to "say the right thing" or break silences. Your supportive and caring presence can be comforting.
- Forcing discussion about death and loss.
- Minimizing the loss and be suggestive that one must just move forward.
- Judging the person's response to death, unless it seems extreme or frightening to you, in which case you should consider walking the person Student Health Services or calling University Police at 406-657-2222.
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