Grief and Loss

There are many different types of loss we experience in our lives.  We can lose someone through a death that was expected or unexpected.  In either event, loss can be extremely painful for those who have been left behind.  Particularly painful can be the deaths of those who were family or close friends.  But, we can also be surprised by how much we hurt over the loss of someone with whom we were not as close or with whom we had a difficult relationship.  In addition, there are many other types of loss that result in strong emotional pain that can be difficult to manage.  Moving away from our supports, ending a friendship, breaking up with a partner, death of a pet, or losing access to something important to you, such as a program or dream can cause us emotional pain and grief.

As humans, we are social beings and we create attachments and connections to people, places, and things around us.  These all combine to create our support system and our space within the world.  Losing even one aspect of that system or space can be devastating and result in a sense of loss and significant grief.  That is normal.  It is normal to grieve a loss, any loss.  And there are many ways that people experience and express this grief.  It may not be same way as another person, but it is your way - your way of tolerating and making sense of the change in your life - the shift in your space within the world.

Common Responses

Some of the common ways that people express grief and loss include (but are definitely not limited to) the following:

  • Tearfulness/Inability to cry
  • Anger
  • Isolation/Difficulty being alone
  • Physical achiness and fatigue
  • Numbness
  • Feeling cloudy/foggy
  • Insomnia/Increased sleeping
  • Difficulty focusing/Increased productivity
  • Irritability
  • Lack of interest in things
  • Guilt/Blame
  • Questioning worldview or spirituality
  • Eating more than usual/Unable to eat
  • Laughing
  • Denial/Acting as if nothing has changed
  • Not wanting to talk about the loss/Talking only about the loss
  • Increased substance/alcohol use

Something to note is that a number of the reactions listed above are opposites of each other.  This demonstrates the wide range of reactions.  Note, too, that some of the reactions might seem unhealthy to you.  However, such a response may be how someone else may react to loss in the moment.  Just because someone is experiencing a particular grief response, it doesn't mean that the response will last forever.  Grief takes time and we all have our own ways of processing and getting through the grief.  It is important to be kind to yourself and others and accept that each of us will grieve in different ways.

What can you do about your feelings of grief and loss?

  • Start with some kindness for yourself.  Accept that you are grieving.  This does not mean that you have to accept the loss yet, but accept that you are having a reaction.
  • Observe your feelings without judgement.  This isn't always easy to do, but your observations can help you notice what you need.  How can you do this for yourself?  Some people can easily recognize what they are feeling.  For others, they may need to find more creative ways to notice.  Try scanning your body for aches, tightness, tingling, or other sensations.  Maybe you will feel something connected to that physical sensation and be able to give it a name.  Some people find it helpful to observe their feelings through artistic expression like drawing, writing, or reading.
  • Based on what you are feeling, think about what you need in the moment to address that feeling.  This may change often.  So, it is important to check-in with yourself.  Sometimes it will feel great to be surrounded by other people and sometimes that same option sounds exhausting and time alone is more appealing.  That is normal.  Even numbness can inform you about what you need.
  • Remember to take care of yourself.  It may be difficult to remember to keep up with self-care, but it is an important part of moving through the grief process.  The basics like eating and getting rest can be easily forgotten when you are grieving.  Try to eat, sleep, and shower regularly.  You do not have to eat a lot or sleep a lot, but a little bit of each can help you move forward.
  • Consider whether talking to someone might be helpful.  Talking about your loss or talking about any other topic unrelated to your loss can be a relief.  Just like an over-filled balloon, sometimes the pressure builds up too much and you need a release.  By talking to someone, you can find connection and support or distraction from our pain.  And there are options for people with whom you can talk.  Maybe you could talk to a family member, or to a friend who knew/knows the loss.  Some people find comfort in talking to a spiritual leader or a mentor.  And some people, especially those who may be in school and away from significant support systems, may find the Student Counseling Service to be a place where they can talk about their loss and learn how to move through the grief process.  Choose options that fit for you in the moment.
  • Give yourself permission to be.  You will feel many different emotions throughout the grieving process.  Allow yourself to be.
  • Check in with your goals.  Ask yourself what you were working on in your life before your loss and grief.  What is happening with those goals?  Do you need to put them on hold?  Or, do you feel like you have put them on hold for too long and, as a result, you don't feel like yourself?  Would working on goals be a healthy distraction?  No one else can answer these questions for you.  If you need to put work/academic goals on hold or if you are ready to return to your goals, reach out (or have a family member reach out) to your boss, advisor, or professors.  Talk to them about what you need at this time.
  • Know that grief does not have an expiration date.  That is painful to know, especially when all you want is some relief from your pain.  Perhaps you want it to be easier or perhaps you feel that you should suffer forever.  But you cannot.  You should not.  Time may not actually heal our wounds.  But, as time goes by, it can be easier to find some distance from your pain and you can return to your connections with the world around you.  So, you actually won't suffer in the same way forever.  Instead, you will (at some point) accommodate this loss into your world.  As you connect to work, things, animals, or people, you will begin to feel more like yourself.  Consider how and when you want to (and can) return to your daily routine.  This does not mean that your grief will end, but you consider how and when you take breaks from your grief.
  • It is important not to judge yourself.  Eventually, you will find yourself engaging in your life again.  You will find yourself caught up in a TV show, you will laugh at a friend's joke, and you will cry about someting else, or you mght be focused on a task.  Don't judge yourself.  Not thinking about your loss does not mean you care less about the loss.  It means that your mind and body have sought and found the break and support needed to keep going.  Your grief will be there when you need it and the rest of the world will be there when you don't.

If you are interested in more support here on campus or if you are feeling stuck or confused by your grief and are open to trying counseling as a place to address your grief, please call (773) 702-9800 or click here to learn more about how to make an appointment.