"Someone close to me died."
Experiencing or anticipating the death of a loved one or community member takes on many different meanings for people. Grief is a natural process of adjusting to such a significant loss. Some days the grieving person is focused on their pain; other days they may feel less distressed or even have a “good” day. Often people in grief feel like they are going "crazy" because their responses can vary significantly and can manifest in physical, emotional, mental or spiritual issues.
While every person grieves every loss differently, all people may experience a number of changing emotions, including sadness, anger, guilt, shame, ambivalence, and confusion. Some people will express their grief more emotionally or by crying; others may be "action takers" or work out their responses by exercising, writing or taking some creative action. All of those styles are normal, but grieving people are often uncomfortable and embarrassed at the changes they are experiencing and how they respond to things.
Grieving people may become easily overwhelmed with too much sensory or cognitive input, and their energy levels may vary from hour to hour. Sleeping and eating habits may be disrupted. All of these things can be complicated by diminished memory and concentration powers. Grief takes a long time to become integrated into our lives. Don't assume that someone has forgotten or moved beyond their grief several months after the loss; that's often when some people begin to experience the greatest pain.
What to Do
If you need to let the university know about the death of a student, staff or faculty member you can contact Becky Jones in the Registrars office at 303-492-8673 or the Office of Victim Assistance (OVA) at 303-492-8855. In an emergency situation call 911 or UCPD Dispatch at 303-492-6666.
If you are affected by the death of a loved one or community member OVA can be helpful in dealing with the immediate aftermath. You may be worried about issues like retrieving the person’s belongings or resolving their relationship with the university. OVA can help with that. Other issues might include helping you with contacting affected community members, or the media. OVA can support you in making funeral or memorial arrangements, help you to organize vigils or memorialize an individual with a plaque or tree on campus.
Grief and loss is a natural process and the first people who are often most helpful are those in your community who also knew the person who passed. Seeking support or counseling when dealing with the death of a loved one or community member, however, may also be a part of working through grief. There are many resources available on campus for faculty, staff and students that can offer assistance around the death of a loved one. OVA can also refer you to campus and community resources for longer term support.
If you feel that your current housing arrangement is no longer appropriate for you, OVA may be able to help you arrange temporary housing.
Grief can impact all facets of a person’s life. The structure of an academic routine can be useful for some people, while others find that concentrating on school work is next to impossible. If you are finding it difficult to focus on your academic work, OVA can discuss options for managing these issues.
It is common for students to need some time off after a death to attend memorial services or reconnect with family and community. While taking this time away can be challenging during the academic year, it is often possible to make arrangements with professors and does not require you to drop out of school. OVA can talk to you about working with professors. At the same time, some students feel that they can no longer stay in school after the death of a loved one and OVA can help you with various withdrawal options.
How to Help
To stay healthy, the only way to deal with grief is to go through it. How can you support someone you care about who has suffered a loss?
- Help them take care of simple physical needs, like getting nourishing food, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep and exercise, and most importantly, having people around them who are willing to help them.
- Help can often come simply in silence, being willing to spend time with them, especially when they are feeling low or like they're not much fun. Your presence is the greatest gift you can give them.
- Reach out to them, rather than expecting that they will know what they need and waiting for them to call you.
- Offer concrete help, like “can I give you a ride to class?”, or “can I make those phone calls for you?” They often won't know exactly what to ask for.
- Don’t be critical of the amount of time a person is grieving even if it seems long to you. Grieving takes as long as it takes.
- Don't expect them to be fully productive. Give them permission to need more down time than they did before the loss.
- Don't take it personally if they don't act the same as you expect. They are in a time of deep change and they need support to be exactly where they are.
- Listen when they want to talk. It's one of the most important gifts you can offer.
- Honor the relationship you had with them before the loss. Don't abandon them, especially when you are uncomfortable because you don't know what to say or how to act with them.
- It's better to say “I'm sorry for your loss”, or “I don't know what to do exactly but I want you to know I care about you,” than to avoid them out of discomfort.
- Don’t immediately encourage them to drop out of school or quit their job.
- Make agreements with your friend to tell them when you can't support them, so they will feel comfortable coming to you without worrying about burning you out.
- Don't promise more than you can do. Know your limitations emotionally and be aware of how much time you can invest.
- Help people find a number of sources of support. Close friends, family, casual acquaintances and classmates all play different roles in support.
- We can never understand another person's loss. Let your own similar losses inform your caring without comparing or imposing your story on theirs. It can be helpful to tell them how you coped, without giving them advice about what they should do.
- Most people want (at least intermittently) to talk about who or what they lost. Give them the choice every day to decide what they want that day: conversation, hugs, maybe just time going to a movie.
If you find yourself upset or troubled after you have been with someone who is grieving, find someone to talk to, take a run, journal about your feelings, or take a bath. Please feel free to call us if you need help or want ideas about how to help your friend. Grieving is hard work, for those going through the loss, and sometimes for those who care about them.
Other resources to help yourself if you are grieving or support people who are grieving:
What can I do to make a difference?
It may sound odd to talk about prevention when we talk about death but many of the deaths in a college environment are associated with risk factors that many people want to address. These can include suicide, substance abuse, risk taking in the outdoors, mental illness and interpersonal violence. To learn more about efforts to address these issues at CU see the links below.