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Grief and Loss
People encounter many difficult and painful losses throughout life. Grief and loss occur at home, at work, and at school. The death of a family member or friend, illness and injury, divorce, or job termination all include a grief process. Every change--desired or not--involves some loss.
Grief reactions are as individual as the people who experience them. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Feelings are often compounded by a sense of shock and a longing for the opportunity to “say good-bye.” The loss of meaning and control can add feelings of distress to grief. Regaining meaning and a sense of control may help students endure the grieving process. Students experiencing grief tend to function better within an already established support system such as family and friends. Grief is a natural process but may become complicated (e.g., the student is not able to function and may be depressed) and therefore needs some type of therapeutic intervention.
- Ask if the student wants to talk about the death/loss.
- Support any type of response from the student (e.g., some students may not cry, but feel guilty about this; others may feel that constant crying is “not normal”). Grieving takes many forms and is unique to each person.
- Listen carefully to what the student shares. When possible, help the student gain an understanding of his/her feelings and clarify options for dealing with them.
- Encourage the student to be with family, friends, or another support group, even though this may mean taking time away from the university.
- Recognize that spiritual and religious doubts can be triggered by loss; when appropriate, suggest discussing feelings with a counselor or religious leader.
- When/if appropriate, suggest ways that the student can give meaning to the event by memorializing the person who died (e.g., planting a flower or tree; writing a letter/poem/eulogy; creating a memory book; making a quilt; helping to plan a memorial service).
- Be aware that family may be urging the student to stay in school though the student longs to go home (particularly with the death or imminent death of a parent).
- Refer the student to Counseling and Psychiatry Services (802) 656-3340.
- For questions about withdrawing from classes, refer the student to the Academic Support Services in his/her college.
- Assume you know how the student is feeling. For example, avoid saying, “I know how you feel.”
- Feel pressure to “say the right thing” or break silences. Your supportive and caring presence alone can be comforting.
- Force discussion about death and loss.
- Minimize the loss. For example avoid saying, “Think how much worse it could be.”
- Judge the student’s response to death. Instead, accept any reaction unless it seems extreme or frightening to you, in which case you should consider assisting the student in scheduling a same-day triage appointment with Counseling and Psychiatry Services.
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