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Counseling and Career Services

Surviving Grief and Loss

  • By Muffy Allison, Counseling and Career Services
  • Please Note: This workshop will not meet the requirements for class credit.

The Grieving Process

  • Grief is a natural, normal response to loss.  Although grieving the loss of someone or something is a normal reaction, at times grief can feel enormously painful, overwhelming, and exhausting.  Beginning to understand your grieving experience, and taking gradual steps to address your pain and loss, can be important and integral components of recovering from your grief.

Types of Loss

  • Death
  • Divorce
  • Financial/money problems, loss of income
  • Job/employment loss
  • Dropping out of school/Suspension
  • Eviction/Loss of residence
  • Empty Nest
  • Loss of a relationship
  • Etc.


  • Within the first few weeks to months following a loss, you may find yourself riding on a

roller coaster of shifting emotions.  Most people go through these stages not in linear steps, but in unpredictable waves-- moving through one stage to the next and sometimes shifting back. Some people will also experience certain phases but not others. Next are ten common grief reactions:

1.  Shock/Disbelief

  • This is the numbing, disorienting sense that the loss has not really happened, not really occurred. This reaction can be intensified and complicated if the loss is sudden, violent, or unanticipated. Your mind may be telling you "there must be some mistake," or "this can't be true." These symptoms typically last from several hours to several days.


  • Trying to avoid the inevitable -- “This isn't happening to me!”  Avoidance is a simple way of coping by not having to cope. When feelings of discomfort appear, we find ways of not experiencing them.


  • Your anger may be targeted at a number of sources. You may feel waves of anger at your family members, friends, co-workers, anger at what seems senseless or unjust, even anger at yourself or the person or thing that was lost.

4. Bargaining

  • Seeking in vain for a way out—(“I promise I'll be a better person if...”)


  • You may blame yourself for not doing more, or for not being there enough. You may feel regret over "unfinished business" -- conflicts you never resolved, or feelings that were never fully discussed or shared prior to the loss.


  • You may experience a deep sense of loss. There may be moments when you find yourself without words, weeping, or bursting uncontrollably into tears.


  • There may be anxiety or panic; fears about carrying on, fears about the future. If you are experiencing the loss of an individual (partner, sibling, parent), it may bring up fears about your own sense of mortality or sense of being left behind.


  • You may go through periods of melancholy, or sadness where you feel inclined to withdraw or isolate yourself. You may lose interest in your usual activities, or feel helpless or hopeless.

9. Testing Stage

  • Seeking Realistic Solutions


  • Finally finding the way forward--(I'm ready for whatever comes)
  • *Accepting varies from individual to individual.

Other Symptoms

  • In addition to these stages, people who are grieving frequently experience physical symptoms, such as fatigue, sleep disruption, appetite changes, increased tension and numerous aches and pains.  Grief can also affect you on a psychological level. Some of these common signs include feeling distracted, forgetful, irritable, disoriented, or confused.

Grief and School


  • The college environment may be difficult for the bereaved student because of the demand  to continue to focus on his or her academic achievement.


  • Often for students the sense of unreality that is a common form of acute grief is heightened by returning to college life. It becomes easier for students to avoid the painful feelings that grief invokes, while they try not to break down or show sadness. Most often student peers are unprepared to deal with death themselves and may be unable to support the bereaved student.

Loss of Concentration

  • The grieving student can suffer from loss of concentration and motivation.
     Academic work is a college student's job in life. The inability to do that job can be painful and confusing to students who do not recognize that grief is affecting them. They fear they are "going crazy". 
  • The upcoming 5 slides offer some suggestions for students.


  • Grieving affects people physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically.
  •   Learn about how grief affects you.
  •   Know your own limits and take time for your grief during your studies.
  •   Find ways to allow yourself time to be with your loss and seek support from those who will understand.

  • For college students, sharing with peers about their loss can be alienating.  Some friends can offer more support than others, especially if they have lost someone themselves. Others may be good friends to "hang out with" and just relax.  Each kind of friend is important.
  • You may need to share with friends some of what you are going through so they can understand how you are acting. If you have intense feelings, it could be helpful to find support through counseling or support a group as a way to express yourself more freely.


  • If you find yourself turning to recreational drugs to numb your feelings, seek help from a counseling professional

Allow Yourself to be Sad

  • Cry, sob, scream, if you need to. One day you will find that you feel slightly better, and the next day the feelings will diminish even more.


  • You may find that professors are unsure about how to interact with you when you share with them you have had a death of someone close to you. Death brings up feelings that are uncomfortable for many people. Talk with your professors if you need to try and adjust your studies.
  • Some students need the structure of classes to help them following a loss. Others may need to drop their credits to a minimum load to decrease the academic pressure. Still others may decide to take a semester out of school due to the disruption in their lives and the inability to concentrate on school work. There is no "right" or "wrong" choice.
  •  We all grieve differently.


  • With Support You Can Make it Through the Storm.


  •    (803) 822-3505  (Airport Campus)     (803) 738-7136 (Beltine Campus)
  • Contact Counseling and Career Services at Midlands Technical College, for confidential short-term counseling services that can support you through your grief process.

Workshop Content

    • Some content in this workshop is taken from the website of University of California, Berkeley
      Verbal permission received from Craig Mielcarski, Director, Care Services, University of California, Berkeley 5/12/2008