Quick Help Guide Grief

What is Grief? 

When most of us think about grief, we think about a reaction to death, and the loss of a loved one or family member. While death is certainly one cause of grief, grief can come from a variety of sources.

While grief is a normal, and natural part of life, it's also an incredibly painful part of life than can be extraordinarily challenging to navigate.  Studies suggest that 22-30% of undergraduate students are experiencing symptoms of grief at any given time.  Grief is unique for each individual, and because we all handle difficult situations differently, we can never be sure what a grieving process will look like exactly until we are in it and experiencing it.

Experiencing grief while in college can be particularly challenging.  Grief can impact every aspect of our lives, and can often result in low motivation and impact academic performance.  While it's natural for your functioning to shift when in a state of grief, it's important to know how best to feel cared for, supported and validated within your grief.  Additional symptoms of grief include shock, numbness, persistent sadness/tearfulness, sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance, anxiety, fear, guilt, loneliness/isolation and anger.  

Loss of a Loved one

This can be a friend, a family member, or a pet.  Students who are away at school and not within close proximity to the loved one who passed tend to experience an amplified sense of loss due to the physical distance from them, lack of time spent together before the loved one passed, or the lack of in-0person connection with friends and family members who are also grieving

Medical Diagnosis

A serious medical condition or diagnosis for a friend, family member, or ourselves can result in feelings of grief and loss.  Debilitating illnesses are jarring events, and even if the diagnosis does not result in death, there is a loss in expectations around how you or your family members might function, and loss of opportunities due to the diagnosis

The End of a Relationship

Be it a romantic relationship or a peer, relationship loss can be devastating.  We can experience grief and loss due to the way in which this person had become embedded into our loves, and we can experience intense grief and loss as we learn to live our lives separately from an individual we were once very intertwined with.  


While transition (i.e. graduation, studying abroad, reintegration from study abroad) can be exciting and fulfilling, it can also be an intense time of loss.  It's normal to hold both feelings of excitement around what's to come, as well as grief around all of the good things that growth and change requires you to leave behind.  

Taking Care of Yourself

Most likely, you are familiar with the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression. and acceptance).  It is a misnomer to think that once someone has gone through or experienced each of these stages that they would be through with the grief process.  Grief is not a process to 'get over' but rather a complex, painful, nonlinear journey that is unique for everyone.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but there are coping strategies and resources available that might assist you as you navigate the grief process.

1) Talk about your loved one who died - it's important for you to continue to tell their story, 'introduce them' to new people, and maintain the connection you feel to them.  You will always have a relationship with the loved one you have lost.  That relationship certainly looks and feels different since their passing, but it's okay to continue to invest in and value that relationship.

2) Be patient with yourself.  

Grief is a lifelong journey, requiring time, energy and grace.  It's ever evolving, ever changing.  It's unpredictable, and shows up at times you might not anticipate and in ways you might not anticipate.

3) Take care of yourself.  

This means going back to the basics and making sure you are: Sleeping (6-8 hrs each night); Eating at least 3 x daily, Hydrating appropriately; Continuing with good hygiene methods; and avoiding excessive drinking or substance use.  

4) Lean into your faith, and seek support from those within your faith community that you find to be safe and comforting.  

5) Express grief.  

Some like to process grief verbally, while others might prefer alternative mediums of expression, such as art, music, poetry, or journaling.  Do what feels right for you, recognizing that what feels helpful one day might not be what feels best the next.  

6) Create your own way to honor and/or memorialize your loved one.  

Celebrate their life in any way that feels right for you.  Try supporting a cause they believed in, or nurturing something that they once loved.  This could be a donation of your time or money to an organization that was meaningful to them, planting a garden, starting a scholarship, making a donation in their name, donating some of their items to a meaningful charity or organization, or perform acts of kindness in their memory.

7) Laugh.  

Sometimes we can feel guilty when we catch ourselves in moments when we AREN'T sad.  It's important to give yourself permission to not feel sad all the time.  Your emotional disconnect from your grief, or temporary distractions from your grief is not an indicator that this person wasn't important to you.  While playfulness and laughter may be difficult at first, it's important medicine for the grieving soul.

8) Take a walk

When we grieve, we literally and symbolically need to keep moving.  Grief can slow us down, and it's important to keep moving physically, which is important for our emotional well being.  While you walk, think of your loved one.  Cry, notice your surroundings, do your best to be in the present.  Walk daily, even if its for a short distance.

9) List your Wins

Before bed, name three things you were able to accomplish today.  This could be getting out of bed, eating a meal, taking a walk, brushing your teeth, etc.  Early in grief, simple day-to-day tasks can feel daunting.  After all you have been through, it's important to recognize your accomplishments .  In time, your wins will become bigger, but it's perfectly fine to start small.  

10) Recognize Something That Continues

Note things in your life that continue, even after your loss.  That loss was painful, overwhelming,  but it did not destroy all aspects of your life.  This could be your academic goals, your work, your faith, your love and care for other friends, family members, or loved ones.  Your pain is a data point that your love for the person who is lost continues, and their love for you continues as well.

How to Help a Friend

Check in on them (or better yet, show up!)

A text, phone call, or e-mail inquiring about how they are doing and offering support is fine, but someone who is experiencing grief might not know exactly what they need.  A better plan might be to just physically show up with some concrete suggestions like offering to take notes for them, helping them with their laundry, bringing them a meal or a cup of coffee.  These actions are sometimes more helpful for someone experiencing grief than a "let me know if you need something" or "what can I do to help" text message.  

Be a Good Listener

Remember that it is not your job to help this person feel better or take their pain away.  Grief can not be alleviated with a simple solution.  Show up ready to listen, and to create space for them to experience pain in any way they need to.  Avoid offering advice or passing judgement around what they share, and simply do your best to understand their experience.  

Name names

Don't be afraid to mention the name of the individual who has passed.  It wont make your friend any sadder, in fact, by NOT mentioning the person who has passed, the griever will feel even more alone in their grief.  Discuss the person who has passed by name, and share any memories of them if you have them.  Sharing memories or mentioning the individual can help your friend focus on their loved one's life instead of their death.  

Be real, and avoid silver linings and platitudes

If it's your nature to 'look on the bright side' now is not the time for that sentiment.  Statements such as "At least they are in a better place"; "God's plan is perfect"; "This too shall pass" or "Time heals all sounds" may all be true, but these statements are also incredibly painful and invalidating of the person's current experience.  Most individuals will come to create meaning for their loss in their own time and on their own terms.  Now is not the time to facilitate that process.  Some helpful statements might be:

"I don't know what to say, but I am here"

"It's okay to feel _______.  Whatever your feeling is normal and appropriate"

"It's okay to cry, and I may cry with you"

"I love you"

"I wish I had the right words, but just know I care"

"I don't know exactly what you feel, but know I want to support you on this journey"

What if these suggestions don’t work?

The Student Life Office and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) can help you get in touch with specialized help on or off campus. Individual counseling is available on campus in addition to support offered by staff in Campus Pastor’s office, Student Life and Residence Life. 

If you need immediate assistance, please call 911, the On Call RD at (805) 565-6273 or Westmont Public Safety at (805) 565-6222.

On- and Off-Campus Support

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) - *805-565-6003

Campus Pastor's office- * 805-565-6210

Related Scriptures

  • Psalm 34:18
  • Matthew 11:28-30
  • John 16:22

Additional Resources 

Hospice of Santa Barbara - * 805-563-8820 www.hospiceofsb.org - Offering free workshops and support groups

Grief Share - Montecito Covenant Church. Free support group. www.griefshare.org