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Coping with Grief and Loss

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The loss of a loved one is among the most traumatic events that a person can experience. The emotions of grief and the grieving process are painful but natural, expected and necessary parts of healing and recovery. There is no one way and no right or wrong way to grieve, and there is no schedule or deadline for the resolution of and recovery from loss. Everybody grieves and incorporates the experience of a loss in his or her own way. Nevertheless, many bereaved persons share some common feelings and reactions.

Common Reactions to Loss

Emotional Reactions

  • Sadness, yearning, depressed mood, mood changes
  • Feelings of helplessness and loss of control
  • Panic and anxiety
  • Fear of death
  • Shock, denial, numbness
  • Guilt, shame, remorse
  • Anger
  • Loneliness
  • Tearfulness, crying
  • Relief

Physical Reactions

  • Changes in sleep and/or eating patterns
  • Anxiety/autonomic nervous system arousal
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Increased somatic complaints or physical illnesses
  • Fatigue

Behavioral Reactions

  • Social withdrawal and/or isolation
  • Preoccupation with the deceased
  • Avoiding stimuli that are reminders of the deceased
  • Increased use of alcohol or substances
  • Changes in activity level

Cognitive Reactions

  • Poor concentration
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion, forgetfulness
  • Feelings of unreality

Factors That May Complicate Grieving

Sometimes other circumstances affect the grieving process and the responses of the bereaved. These include the age of the deceased and the circumstances of death, whether the loss was sudden or expected, and the cause of death. The nature and quality of the relationship between the deceased and the bereaved person is important, too. Earlier unresolved losses may also make the grieving process more challenging.

How to Help Yourself

  • Seek support. Gathering and using social support is very helpful. Support from others reduces isolation and loneliness and increases one's sense of security, safety and attachment.  Find someone to talk to:  friend, faculty member, family member, RA, residence hall director, pastor or someone with whom you feel comfortable. Speak to someone who can listen without judgment.
  • Participate in ceremonies or rituals to say goodbye. Ceremonies and rituals help us to make the "unreal" more real and to move toward accepting and integrating our loss. Attend the funeral or memorial service. Other examples of rituals: planting a tree or flowers in memory of the deceased, attending a wake, writing or journaling, etc. 
  • Care for yourself physically. Get adequate rest, nutrition and exercise.
  • Care for yourself emotionally. Give yourself permission to grieve. Allow quiet time alone to reflect and to explore and experience your thoughts and feelings. Allow time to heal without setting unrealistic goals and deadlines.
  • Express your feelings. Allow opportunities to express the full range of your emotions. This includes sadness, but also perhaps, fear, guilt, anger, resentment, and relief. Avoiding emotions through excessive activity, denial, or abuse of substances complicates and prolongs the pain of loss.
  • Consider speaking with a counselor who knows how to listen without judgment. The EKU Counseling Center (EKUCC) offers individual and group counseling. We can also refer you to resources in the community if you are not an EKU student OR if you would prefer to speak with a non-counselor. For more information, call EKUCC at (859) 622-1303 or drop by Room 571, Whitlock Building. EKUCC hours: 8:00-5:00 PM Monday through Thursday and 8:00 to 4:30 PM Friday. 

How to Help a Friend or Family Member Who is Dealing with a Loss

Consider the following:

  • Talk openly to the bereaved person about his/her loss and feelings. Don't try to offer false cheer or minimize the loss.
  • Be available. Call, stop by to talk, share a meal or activity, take the family or grieving person food. Your presence and companionship are important.
  • Listen and be patient. 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.
  • 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. If you are unsure how to help, feel free to contact EKUCC (ph: (859) 622-1303 or Room 571 Whitlock Bldg.) and ask to speak with a counselor. The counselor can assist you in identifying ways to help.
  • 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.

Published on January 09, 2019

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