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The Grieving Student

During the course of most college student's academic careers, it is likely he or she will have someone close to him or her die (e.g., sibling, parent, grandparent, close friend, boy/girlfriend). Given the frequency of HIV-positive individuals, cancer, and other life-threatening diseases in our society today, the student could also be dealing with his or her own impending death. Each person will grieve in slightly different ways.

DO:
  • Ask the student if he/she would like to talk about the person who has died (e.g., "Would you like to tell me about your friend?").
  • Listen carefully and compassionately (e.g., "I am so sorry you have lost your grandmother, and I feel sad as I listen to you talk about her").
  • Have kleenex available.
  • Consider the option of allowing students to postpone turning in assignments or taking exams.
  • Share similar experiences you have had so the student doesn't feel alone or "crazy" (e.g., "When my mother passed away, I couldn't concentrate on anything either").
  • Be on the alert for signs that the student is feeling a need to harm him/herself as a way to cope with the pain. (See section on "The Suicidal Student.")
  • Refer the student to the Grief and Loss Support Group offered at the Counseling Center.
DON'T:
  • Be afraid of tears. Tears are a natural, healthy way to release very intense emotions.
  • Avoid discussing the deceased person with the student. He/She is often grateful to find someone who will listen.
  • Say, "It's not that bad," "Things will get better," "Crying won't help," or "I know exactly what you are feeling."