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The loss of a close friend, family member or fellow student can have a very significant emotional impact. This can often affect mental wellbeing and can make maintaining a consistent academic, social and work life very challenging. University of Galway fully understands this and appreciates the significance of it on students and staff. Anything that can be done to make the bereavement process easier for students and staff will be done to the best of the university’s ability.
I will be missing a week of college due to having to travel for a funeral. What should I do?
Mention the situation to your school or lecturers. If you will be missing a class test or an assignment deadline, again, discuss it with your tutor or lecturer and an alternative assignment or deadline might be arranged.
I am really struggling to cope with the passing away of someone close to me and don’t know how to approach my feelings on it.
If there are other people around you who knew and were close to that person, then it may be helpful to discuss your emotions and feelings of bereavement with them. It’snot unlikely that they are feeling the same way and it may be of great benefit to both of you to talk. If there is no such person whom you feel you can talk to, then speaking to the Student Counselling Service, Chaplaincy or Student Health Unit may help.
What is grief?
Grief is a completely natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when someone or something significant is taken away. You may think grieving only happens after the death of someone you know. While someone dying does cause the most intense grief, other losses also require grieving, including:
A relationship breakup
Loss of health
Loss of financial stability
Significant changes (e.g. leaving university, home) can mean the loss of a secure past
Death of a pet
Loss of a dream or ambition
A loved one’s serious illness
Loss of a friendship
Loss of safety after a trauma
Family home being sold
Examples of things you are likely to experience in response to the death of someone close to you:
Sadness and loneliness: The loss of a loved one leaves you feeling sad and lonely. When you have lost a partner or close friend you may be especially lonely as you were used to a close day-by-day relationship and shared everyday activities.
Anger: This is a frequent experience after the loss. The anger comes from a sense of frustration that there was nothing yourself, family doctors or God could do to prevent the death. You may also feel angry with the deceased for leaving you.
Guilt and self-reproach: These are common responses to loss. You may feel guilty about things done of left undone, unresolved quarrels, words said or left unsaid. Most often guilt is normal, though not justified.
Anxiety and Fear: Feelings of anxiety are common and stem from two sources. You may fear that you will not be able to take care of yourself on your own and your awareness of your own mortality is heightened by the death of a loved one. You may feel very vulnerable and lose confidence in yourself and in the world.
Fatigue: Fatigue is frequently experienced and to a person who is usually very active this can be both surprising and distressing.
Despair and Helplessness: You may feel you cannot bear the pain any longer. The sense of helplessness engendered by death makes bereavement a stressful experience.
Shock: You may feel numb, bewildered, stunned and unable to think clearly. Shock occurs most often in the case of a sudden death.
Longing and Searching: You may have a sense of longing to see, hear, hold and talk to the person who has died.
Relief: It is normal to feel relieved after death of a loved one who suffered a lengthy illness. It is also normal to feel relieved that a person with whom you had a difficult relationship is no longer alive. Guilt often accompanies this sense of relief, but it is a normal part of grief.
It is also quite likely that you may experience a number of physical sensations as part of grieving. This is your body responding to mental and emotional overdrive. However, if any of these feelings persist to a point of concern then it may be advisable to consult your GP or the Student Health Unit.
Physical responses to grief can include:
tightness in the chest and throat
feeling short of breath
hollowness in the stomach
lack of appetite
One of the ways of thinking about dealing with grief is in terms of a number of tasks that we have to complete. A good model of this is one put forward by Dr. William Worden, an American psychologist, who described four key tasks.
The Four Tasks of Mourning
1. Accept the Reality of the Loss
When someone dies, even if the death is expected, there is a sense that it hasn't happened. Denying the facts of the loss, the meaning of the loss, or the irreversibility of the loss can prolong the grief process. Acceptance is the first task.
2. Experience the Pain of Grief
Many people try to avoid the painful feelings by various ways such as "being strong", moving away, avoiding painful thoughts, "keeping busy", etc. There is no adaptive way of avoiding it. Anger, guilt, loneliness, anxiety, and depression are among the feelings and experiences that are normal during this time. Ask for the support of friends. Tell them what you need from them because people often misunderstand the needs of grieving.
3. Adjust to an Environment with the Deceased Missing
This means different things to different people, depending on what the relationship was. The emotions involved in letting go are painful, but necessary to experience. By not doing so, you will remain stuck in the grief process and unable to resolve your loss.
4. Withdraw Emotional Energy and Reinvest it in other Relationships
The final task is to affect an emotional withdrawal from the deceased person so that this emotional energy can be used in continuing a productive life. You must rebuild your own ways of satisfying your social, emotional, and practical needs by developing new or changed activities or relationships. This is NOT dishonouring the memory of the deceased and doesn't mean that you love them any less. It simply recognizes that there are other people and things to be loved and you are capable of loving. Your relationship to the deceased person is not over, but it is different.
Coping with Grief
It’s important to accept the support of others in your time of grief. Connecting with others will help. Communicating to others your feelings, allowing yourself to vent emotions to them by talking or crying, even just exchanging happy stories from the past will be one of the most cathartic and beneficial things you can do during the grieving process.
Take care of yourself. A healthy body will contribute to a healthy mind and similarly, exercise will usually help you feel better emotionally and will make you physically tired so that you sleep better.
Write about your loss in a journal. If you’ve lost a loved one, write a letter saying the things you never got to say; make a scrapbook or photo album celebrating the person’s life; or get involved in a cause or organization that was important to him or her.
Give yourself time to grieve and don’t compare yourself to others and how they have coped. Grieving does not proceed in a linear fashion, it may come and go, reappear to be reworked.
Coming to terms with the loss is a gradual process and will take time. There will be good days and bad days. It is essential that on those good days that you don’t feel in any way that you are betraying the memory of the person you have lost. Their memory will remain there for you no matter what and, given time, thinking about them will no longer trigger sadness but will bring happy thoughts to your mind as you remember them fondly.
Never forget that you are not alone in the process of grief, there is always someone to support you. Reach out to friends, family or any of the support services that are here to help you.