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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 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.


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.)

Cognitive:  shock, disbelief, confusion, forgetfulness, worry, preoccupation with the loss of the loved one, concentration problems, memory difficulties, loss of creativity, sexual disinterest, vivid dreams, diminished self-esteem

Emotional:  sadness, emotional numbness, longing for the deceased, anguish, anxiety, anger, irritability, moodiness, guilt feelings, fear, helplessness, relief, lack of ability to feel pleasure

Social:  disruption in relationships, difficulty in relationships, discomfort in groups or crowds, loss of interest in social activities, withdrawal from relationships

Physical and Behavioral:  tearfulness, lack of motivation, accident proneness, tightness in the chest and throat, hollowness in the stomach, fatigue, 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 adjust well independently after a death; however, some people who are coping well after a death decide to seek the additional benefit of the support and guidance of a counselor. 

Although uncommon, there are people who experience debilitating symptoms of a serious or long-term nature after a death.  The following are examples of such symptoms: 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.  Seeking the help of a mental health professional is recommended for people with these symptoms.

Possible Helpful Thoughts

There is no “right” way to grieve.

It is important to be patient with yourself and kind to yourself. You may want to set smaller goals for yourself and to accept some reduction in your energy, efficiency, and productivity.

Many people find that staying in the routines of their daily life 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.

It is helpful to 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 groups and grief networks in many communities for those people who want more support.

Some people choose to work through their grief on their own without support from others and find the solitude to be a helpful antidote for them.


Important to Note

People’s natural instincts to endure and to survive are strong, and the intense hurt does fade.  Moving forward after a death does not mean forgetting about the person who died.  People who have experienced a death do go on to live full and satisfying lives.  Some bereaved people report that reflecting upon the impermanence of life after experiencing a death caused them to live their lives in even more thoughtful and meaningful ways.