If you’re like most college students, you probably expect that you’ll live forever. And you expect your friends and family will live forever too. At the very least you don’t spend much time thinking about the alternative…losing someone you love.
But death is a part of living. And whether it rips your world apart unexpectedly or gives you time to prepare, losing a loved one is as bad as it gets. There’s no way to prepare for it, and that can really leave you traumatized.
No two people react to loss the same way. When someone you love dies, you may feel helpless, angry, scared, confused, out of control, vulnerable or empty. You may feel sick to your stomach, unable to breathe, unable to sleep. You may have nightmares or heart palpitations. Maybe you’ll just want to be alone. Maybe you’ll cry all the time.
These are all symptoms of grief, and grief is a natural response to losing a loved one. It’s okay to cry, scream, hurt, worry and be angry or afraid. It’s okay to feel mad or scared. It’s okay to mourn for all the things you will miss.
Grief is an emotional roller coaster. It’s also a process. And giving yourself permission to express what you feel is part of that process.
Elisabeth Kaabler-Ross, famous psychiatrist and author of On Death and Dying, identified five stages of grief that most people go though. Not all people grieve the same way. But understanding the grieving process can help you make it less painful, especially if you’re having feelings like these:
1. Denial and Shock = This can’t be happening to me.
2. Anger = Why is this happening to me?
3. Bargaining = Make this not happen, and I will do this.
4. Depression = I’m too sad to do anything.
5. Acceptance = I am finally at peace with what happened.
There is no timetable for grief. How long you grieve may depend on your relationship to the person who died, how the person died (after an accident or heart attack, a suicide or after a long illness), your “coping style,” your experience with death and the support you get from others.
1. Face what’s happened.
2. Express your emotions.
3. Mourn your loss.
4. Give yourself permission to cry—even if it’s only in the shower.
5. Commemorate your loss in a way that seems right for you.
6. Lean on people you trust.
7. Reflect and recover.
8. Plan ahead for birthdays, anniversaries and any special days that might be hard to face alone.
1. Hide your feelings—from yourself or friends.
2. Withdraw from the world.
3. Use drugs or alcohol to escape your grief.
4. Be reckless.
5. Feel guilty that you are still here.
6. Blame yourself for falling apart.
7. Give up your own dreams.