Coping with grief
Plans for an upcoming semester typically include things like Spring Break, a drive to Atlanta for a Braves game or a formal dance. Rarely will plans include a painful breakup or the loss of a loved one.
However, these events are a natural part of life and the emotions and experiences that come with them are just as natural.
After a painful loss, there is a period of time characterized by a range of emotions, including sadness and anger, as the grieving process takes place.
“While grief is most often associated with death, people grieve over many kinds of loss,” said Steve Wilson, director of Counseling Services. “For example, the end of a relationship, loss of a job, loss of a pet or loss of an aspect of one’s identity.”
Keila Kolden, a sophomore pre-nursing student, lost her grandmother the day after she moved in for sorority recruitment her freshman year. She said her grandmother’s death had a profound impact on her life as her grandmother had been a guiding force in her life.
“I was super angry, and I felt really alone,” Kolden said. “I couldn’t understand why everyone was so happy and that life was still going on when I felt like my whole world stopped.”
Grieving can affect a student’s emotional, social, physical and academic well-being.
“Grief can become a preoccupying thought, making it hard for a student to focus,” said Emily May, the director of First Baptist Church of Milledgeville chapter of GriefShare, a faith-based support group for individuals who are grieving the death of a loved one. “People also tend to isolate themselves when they are grieving, putting important relationships at risk.”
May explained that these relationships can be important in processing grief. Talking to trusted individuals such as a close friend, clergy or a professional counselor can help lighten the burden of grief and aid in walking through the range of emotions and questions that arise throughout the journey.
Grief can also have physical symptoms, such as a loss of appetite and insomnia that could deeply impact a student’s health.
In her well-known research, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross condensed her studies into the five stages of grief: denial, anger bargaining, depression and acceptance.
These stages are sometimes misquoted by well-meaning friends of the grieving with comments like, “you went through the stages out of order,” or “what you’re feeling right now isn’t one of the stages of grief,” making the person grieving feel guilty for his or her experiences or making the person angry at the lack of understanding from others.
Each person grieves differently and can experience any number of these stages in any order. The time period for grieving differs based on the type of loss and the individual experiencing it.
“We live in a pretty fast paced world in which we tend to move onto the next thing pretty quickly,” said Director of the Counseling Center Stephen Wilson.. “This can make the grieving person feel like they should be over the loss. The reality, though, is that grieving can last any length of time.”
Chair of the psychology department Lee Gillis encourages people walking through grief to grieve conscientiously, acknowledging sadness and honoring the relationship that was formed between the individual and the thing or person lost.
Honoring things in the past is a healthy coping strategy and a way to move into the future.
In some situations, unhealthy coping strategies, such as self-medicating with alcohol or other substances, can take root and create more issues outside of the original grief.
“At GriefShare, we provide healthy coping mechanisms and encourage people to move forward, versus just move on,” May said. “It’s the difference between carrying a memory and staying stuck in pain.”
Healthy coping mechanisms can look different depending on the individual. For some, it could be reading religious texts, or for others, it could be working out more.
For Kolden, she found comfort in writing a letter to her grandmother after her death, telling her how much she loved and missed her.
“Grief is hard, and there’s some days where the hurt feels like it’ll never end, but other days where you think of them and just smile at the memories,” Kolden said.
Graphic by Rachael Alesia | Art Director