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How do I help a loved one cope with grief?

Last Updated July 13, 2021

Grief is a normal reaction to loss. Grieving individuals usually undergo a process that may have some common stages or characteristics; however, people vary in their expression of grief and its duration. They may feel disbelief, anger, hopelessness, sadness, and/or guilt at various times while grieving. Sometimes individuals who are grieving will experience symptoms similar to those of depression such as sadness, crying spells, poor appetite and difficulty sleeping.

Common Reactions to Grief 

Emotional & Psychological Reactions:

  • Shock, numbness, and detachment
  • Denial
  • Apathy
  • Anger, moodiness, frustration, or irritability
  • Anxiety, fear, or worry
  • Guilt or blame
  • Sadness, helplessness, or hopelessness
  • Easily discouraged
  • Re-experience of the illness or events around the death

Cognitive Reactions

  • Difficulty concentrating or getting work done
  • Confusion, distraction, slower thoughts than usual
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Dulled senses
  • Forgetfulness
  • Negative self-talk, overly critical
  • Preoccupation with the life of the person who died

Behavioral Reactions

  • Restlessness, agitation, increased activity
  • Emotional outbursts or lashing out at others
  • Withdrawal or social isolation
  • Avoidance
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Care-taking
  • Nagging
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Strong need to talk about the loss

Physical Reactions

  • Headaches or dizziness
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Fatigue, exhaustion, or feeling slowed down
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or nightmares

How to Help A Loved One

  • Talk openly to the bereaved person about his/her loss and feelings. Don’t try to offer false cheer or minimize the loss. Allow the grieved time to talk without being judgmental.
  • Be available. Call, stop by to talk, share a meal or activity. Your presence and companionship are important.
  • Listen/be patient. Listening is an often overlooked gift of yourself. Allow the bereaved person to vent feelings. Don’t judge the person’s thoughts or feelings. Don’t feel you need to offer advice. Listening itself is very powerful.  You don’t need to have the answers.
  • Encourage self-care. Encourage your friend to care for himself or herself physically, emotionally, and socially. Encourage your friend to seek out support and/or professional help, if appropriate.
  • Accept your own limitations. Accept that you cannot eliminate the pain your friend is experiencing. Grief is a natural, expected response to loss and each person must work through it in his/her own way and at his/her own pace. Be supportive, but care for yourself too.

When might counseling be needed?

Counseling can help facilitate the process of grieving by providing support and education, and helping work through feelings associated with loss. Counseling may also be helpful to the student in negotiating other life demands. The appearance of any of the following warning signs may indicate that a student is in distress.

Listed below are some possible warning signs that indicate students may benefit from assistance.

  • An expressed need for help
  • Thoughts or statements of death or suicide
  • Prolonged sadness or depressed mood
  • Change in sleep or eating patterns (too much or too little)
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • A change in appearance (e.g., poor hygiene)
  • Increased irritability or agitation
  • Consistently inappropriate, illogical, or unrelated questions
  • Withdrawal from social interactions with peers, family, and significant others, frequent class absences, and expressions of loneliness

If any of these signs are observed, especially on a repeated basis within a short period of time (two to three weeks), consider visiting the TCU Counseling Center.

24/7 Counseling Helpline: 817-257-7233
TCU Counseling Center: 817-257-7863
Available for walk-ins, Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Samuelson Hall-basement, west entrance