If you are taking the time to read this, chances are that someone close to you has recently died. We are sorry for your loss. Grieving is seldom easy.
We recognize that it is impossible to do justice to this topic in such a brief document. However, we do believe that the information herein may be useful to you.
Grieving is a natural and important part of life. This brief handout is designed to help inform you about common reactions to grieving and to provide useful tips to promote healthy grieving.
Common emotions and thoughts:
- Shock, disbelief, denial, and numbness
- Preoccupation with thoughts about the deceased
- Anger, irritability and frustration
- Sadness and crying
- Guilt and self blame
Common physical sensations:
- Hollowness in stomach
- Tightness in chest and/or throat
- Sensitivity to loud noises
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Muscle tension and soreness
- Gastrointestinal distress
Recommendations for healthy grieving:
- Talk to friends and family about your feelings. It is especially important to speak with others who are also grieving.
- Give yourself time. Don’t rush the process.
- Take care of yourself. Maintain healthy eating, sleeping, exercise and relaxation.
- Participation in cultural and/or religious services/ceremonies, such as funerals and wakes can be very helpful.
- Avoid alcohol and other drug use. During times of heightened emotions, drugs and alcohol can intensify those emotions and leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Why are some of my friends so upset while others seem so calm?
As you have read on the first page of this document, it is common to experience shock, denial or disbelief when you learn about a death. Sometimes this can last just a few minutes and sometimes it can last for months or years. In fact, you may experience intense periods of sadness followed by periods of numbness. Keep in mind that others who are also grieving may also be experiencing these shifting emotions. It is natural have periods of denial or of not feeling anything. Please give yourself give your friends space to have some time for denial, shock, and disbelief. Sometimes it takes a while before disbelief gives way to sadness and the realization of the loss. Try to find friends to talk with who seem to be experiencing similar emotions to your own.
When to seek support for yourself:
- It will be natural for your concentration to suffer for few weeks, and you may feel as if you are just going through the motions as you attend classes. You also may feel the need to take day or two off from work and school in order to attend a funeral. However, if you find yourself unable to function in a significant life activity, such as school or work, for more than a couple of days, counseling should be considered.
- It is normal to be reminded of other significant losses you have experienced earlier in life. If these past losses bring up overwhelming feelings, counseling can be helpful.
- Some disruption in appetite and sleeping can be a normal part of grieving. However, severe and/or sustained changes in sleep and appetite can signify a need for counseling.
- While thinking about mortality can be normal after the death of a peer, suicidal thoughts should be taken seriously and require professional support.
- Excessive use of alcohol and/or other drugs suggests a need for professional support.
How to seek support for yourself:
To schedule an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) call (678) 466-5406.
In some cases (especially where suicidal thoughts are involved) you may need professional support urgently. If you feel that you need professional support immediately, call CAPS if it is during business hours.
If you need help after business hours or more immediately, go to your nearest hospital emergency room, dial 911, or CSU Dept. of Public Safety (678) 466-4050 if you are on campus.
This hand-out was adapted from materials created by Illinois Institute of Technology Student Counseling Services.
The Mourners Bill of Rights
by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
Though you should reach out to others as you do the work of mourning, you should not feel obligated to accept the unhelpful responses you may receive from some people. You are the one who is grieving, and as such, you have certain “rights” no one should try to take away from you.
The following list is intended both to empower you to heal and to decide how others can and cannot help. This is not to discourage you from reaching out to others for help, but rather to assist you in distinguishing useful responses from hurtful ones.
- You have the right to experience your own unique grief. No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don’t allow them to tell what you should or should not be feeling.
- You have the right to talk about your grief. Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don’t feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.
- You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions. Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.
- You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits. Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don't allow others to push you into doing things you don't feel ready to do.
- You have the right to experience “griefbursts.” Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.
- You have the right to make use of ritual. The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don't listen.
- You have the right to embrace your spirituality. If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won't be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.
- You have the right to search for meaning. You may find yourself asking, "Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?" Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for the clichéd responses some people may give you. Comments like, "It was God's will" or "Think of what you have to be thankful for" are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.
- You have the right to treasure your memories. Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.
- You have the right to move toward your grief and heal. Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.