What is grief?

Grief is a natural reaction to a significant loss in your life.

Experiencing grief is different for everyone, and can encompass a wide range of emotional and/or physical responses. It’s a process as highly personal and distinct as your relationship to your loss. While a significant loss is perhaps most often associated with death, it can result from losing anyone or anything that has played a meaningful role in your life, from a relationship to a pet, friendship, or physical ability.

Kinds of Loss

Kinds of losses commonly associated with feelings of grief can include:

  • Loss of a close friend
  • Death of a partner, classmate, colleague, or family member
  • Serious illness of a loved one
  • Relationship breakup
  • Leaving home
  • Illness/loss of health
  • Death of a pet
  • Change of job
  • Move to a new home
  • Graduation from school
  • Loss of a physical ability
  • Loss of financial security 
  • Sudden or shocking losses due to events like crimes or accidents  

Common Reactions to Loss

Remember, everyone reacts to loss differently. You may experience any of a range of these emotions, which include: 

  •  Numbness
  •  Disbelief
  •  Shock
  •  Sadness, despair
  •  Yearning
  •  Anger 
  • Guilt
  •  Feeling like you want to “escape”
  •  Difficulty concentrating
  •  Feeling frustrated or misunderstood
  •  Anxiety, nervousness, or fearfulness
  •  Lack of energy and motivation
  •  Physical symptoms such as nausea, insomnia, change in weight     

Coping with loss

Remember that there’s no normal timetable for coping and recovering from grieving a loss. Below are some suggestions of healthy ways to cope with your grief:

  • Be patient. – Give yourself and others time to absorb the loss, cry, and grieve. Don’t try to control what you or others feel to “speed” the process along.
  • Surround yourself with support – talk with others about your loss. Grieve with others who share your loss, or find a support group.
  • Take care of yourself. – Maintain other healthy habits, like eating well and getting at least 8 hours of sleep.
  • Do something you enjoy – that takes your mind off of your grief, such as exercising, reading, quiet time, watching a movie, playing a game, hanging out with friends, etc.
  • Let yourself feel what you’re feeling. – Allow yourself to cry, feel the pain, and any other emotions that stem from your loss. Suppressing your feelings only impedes the healing process.
  • Express how you feel in a creative way.  

Stages of grief

 There’s no step-by-step, “right” way to process how you feel, and there’s no “normal” timetable for healing. The grief stages described below are intended to provide a context for explaining the different phases you may go through:

  1. Shock and numbness: You find it difficult to believe the death/loss; you feel stunned and numb.
  2. Yearning and searching:  You cannot accept the reality of the loss. You may try to find and bring back the loss and feel ongoing frustration and disappointment when this is not possible.
  3. Disorganization and despair: You feel depressed and find it difficult to plan for the future. You are easily distracted and have difficulty concentrating and focusing.
  4. Reorganization/Acceptance. – You have accepted the loss. You feel at peace with what happened, and can continue with your everyday life.  

Common Misconceptions

 1) Myth: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.  

Fact: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it. 

2) Myth: It’s important to be “be strong” in the face of loss.

Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.

3) Myth: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.

Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it. 

4) Myth: Grief should last about a year.

Fact: There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. How long it takes can differ from person to person.

5) Myth: You have to go through the five “grief stages” in order to completely heal.

Fact: You do not have to go through each stage in order to heal. Not everyone who is grieving goes through all or any of these stages, and some people experience them at different intensities, or in different ways.


1) I’m struggling to cope with my grief, but I don’t feel comfortable talking with a counselor. What should I do? 

Even if you think that you can manage the symptoms on your own, it never hurts to seek help early for more support, advice, and tips on coping with your grief. Consider talking with someone you trust, like a close friend, member of the college personnel team, or RHA, about any issues you’re struggling with. If you’re exhibiting some of the symptoms of “complicated grief” or depression, consider the intensity, duration, and frequency of the symptoms before you write off going to a counselor. If any or all of these factors are significant, then you should consider talking with someone from the Counseling Center to figure out better ways to address it. 

2) I’m experiencing some of the signs and symptoms of depression, but not enough that I feel I need to seek professional help. What should I do?

If you’re not ready or comfortable talking with someone from the Counseling Center, consider talking with someone you trust, such as a close friend, college master, RA, RHA, or faculty mentor. They may be able to help guide you to appropriate resources.
If you’re afraid that going to the Counseling Center implies that you’re “weak,” or “crazy,” feel reassured that this an incorrect perception. In fact, the majority of people who use the Counseling Center have very typical college concerns which have become burdensome. Also, seeking counseling is actually seen as a sign of strength, not weakness.

3) I think one of my friends has “complicated grief” or has depression due to loss, what should I do now? 

Please note: If your friend is in immediate danger or having an urgent health crisis, don’t hesitate to call RUPD at x6000.
Having a conversation with a friend about your concerns can be hard. For tips on ways to approach the conversation, check out the “Get Help for a friend” link. If you’re still unsure about how to have an effective conversation, consider contacting the Counseling Center. A staff member can help you figure out better ways to talk with your friend based on your specific situation. If you’re uncomfortable speaking with someone from the Counseling Center, start with a trusted mentor or adult in your life, such as a member of the college personnel team.

4) How do I deal with my grief in my everyday life?

 To get help or talk to someone, check out the Get Help link or contact the Counseling Center.For more suggestions for ways to cope with grief and loss, see our “Coping with Grief” section on this page. Please keep in mind that these are only suggestions, and are not a substitute for professional help or medical advice. On the other hand, if you’ve tried these suggestions for a period of time and they don’t seem to be alleviating your symptoms, consider talking with a counselor from the Counseling Center to figure out better ways to address them. 


Axelrod, Julie. “The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief.” 

“Coping with Bereavement.” Mental Health America.

“Coping with Grief and Loss.”

“Coping with Loss.” Cancer. Org.

“Grief, Bereavement, and Coping with Loss.” National Institute of Health.

“Myths and Facts about Grief.”