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Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato


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Many college students have already experienced a death of someone close to them before they come to college. Some experience a death during their college years. If a death occurs during the college years, it can be a more difficult time because the student may be living far away from others who are experiencing the same loss and may not know other students well enough to get the support that they may want. The following information about grief may be helpful to a student experiencing a death.

Grief is a Normal and Natural Process

Grief is a normal and natural response to a death. Each person grieves in their own way. Most people are resilient and are able to cope well after a death.

Common Reactions When a Death Occurs

There are some reactions which are common following a death. These reactions can be felt in varying degrees of intensity. People are sometimes surprised by how intense – or how mild – these reactions can be. The following are some examples of possible reactions. (Some people experience few if any reactions following a death.)
Emotional: longing for the deceased, sadness, anxiety, anger, irritability, moodiness, guilt feelings, fear, helplessness, relief, emotional numbness, lack of ability to feel pleasure, diminished self-esteem
Social: difficulty in relationships, fear of groups or crowds, loss of interest in social activities, withdrawal from relationships
Cognitive: shock, forgetfulness, worry, confusion, preoccupation with the loss of the loved one, concentration problems, memory difficulties, loss of creativity, sexual disinterest, vivid dreams

Physical and Behavioral: tearfulness, lack of motivation, accident proneness, tightness in the chest and throat, fatigue, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, difficulty taking deep breaths, sleep disturbances, restlessness, loss of appetite, increase in appetite, nausea, cramps, diarrhea, indigestion, inability to sleep, sleeping too much, muscle tightness, sexual difficulty, headaches, diminished productivity


When to Consider Seeking Counseling

 As stated previously, most people are resilient and are able to independently adjust well after a death. For those who struggle with debilitating symptoms of a serious or long-term nature, counseling can sometimes be of help. The following are examples of when to seek counseling: suicidal thoughts; obsessive preoccupation with death; prolonged and marked impairment of day-to-day functioning; intense preoccupation with feeling worthless; and extreme avoidance of thinking about the death through abusing alcohol, abusing drugs, and/or engaging in risk-taking behavior.


Possible Helpful Thoughts

·         Realize that there is no “right” way to grieve.
·         Be patient and kind to yourself. Maybe set smaller goals and accept some reduction in your efficiency, consistency, and energy. 
·         Many people find that staying in the routines of their daily life (within reason) can be helpful.
·         It is often suggested that it is usually best not to make major or sudden decisions for at least a year after a death.
·         Remember the basics. Maintain good nutrition and healthy sleep habits. Exercise regularly and in moderation. Do not abuse alcohol or drugs.
·         Some people choose to talk to others about their grief (such as a friend, spouse, relative, or spiritual leader) and find this support to be of help to them. There are grief networks in many communities for those people that want more support.
·         Some people choose to work through their grief on their own and find the solitude to be a helpful antidote for them.

Important to Note

Grieving will not change the fact that a death occurred nor will it erase the memories of the person who died. The bereaved person can go on to live a full life, however. Some bereaved people even report that reflecting upon the impermanence of life after experiencing a death has caused them to live more thoughtful and meaningful lives.