University of Vermont

Division of Student Affairs
Think. Care. Act.
Health and Safety

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.


  1. Ask if the student wants to talk about the death/loss.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Encourage the student to be with family, friends, or another support group, even though this may mean taking time away from the university.
  5. Recognize that spiritual and religious doubts can be triggered by loss; when appropriate, suggest discussing feelings with a counselor or religious leader.
  6. 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).
  7. 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).
  8. Refer the student to Counseling and Psychiatry Services (802) 656-3340.
  9. For questions about withdrawing from classes, refer the student to the Academic Support Services in his/her college.


  1. Assume you know how the student is feeling. For example, avoid saying, “I know how you feel.”
  2. Feel pressure to “say the right thing” or break silences. Your supportive and caring presence alone can be comforting.
  3. Force discussion about death and loss.
  4. Minimize the loss. For example avoid saying, “Think how much worse it could be.”
  5. 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.

Last modified March 19 2014 10:28 PM