Loyola University Maryland

Counseling Center

Illness, Loss, & Grief

The Mary statue on the quad during a bright morning on campus

Loss is an inevitable part of life, and grief is a natural part of the healing process. The reasons for grief are many, such as the loss of a loved one, the loss of health, or the letting go of a long-held dream. Dealing with a significant loss can be one of the most difficult times in a person's life. 

For information about coping with grief and loss and the supportive campus resources available, please view Coping with Loss

Read on for more information about illness, grief, and loss.

Different Kinds of Losses

Feelings of loss are very personal and only you know what is significant to you. People commonly associate certain losses with strong feelings of grief. These can include:

  • Death of a parent, sibling, or other close relative
  • Death of a friend
  • Death of a partner
  • Serious illness in a loved one
  • Relationship break-up  
  • Loss of a close friendship

Less obvious losses can also cause strong feelings of grief, even though those around you might be less aware of your feelings. Some examples include:

  • Loss of health through illness
  • Death of a pet
  • Move to a new home
  • Loss of a physical or mental ability
  • Leaving home
  • Leaving college
  • Change of job
  • Loss of financial security

Sudden vs. Predictable Loss

Sudden losses--due to events like crimes, accidents, or suicide--can be traumatic. There is no way to prepare, and often no way to say goodbye.  Such loss can especially challenge your sense of security and confidence in the predictability of life.

Predictable losses--like those due to terminal illness--can allow more time to adjust and prepare. However, they create two layers of grief: the grief related to the anticipation of the loss and the grief related to the final loss.

How long does Grief last?

There is no predictable schedule for grief. It is different for everyone. Although grieving can be very painful at times, it cannot be rushed. It is important to be patient with yourself as you experience the feelings and your unique reactions to the loss. With time and support, things generally do get better. However, it is normal for significant dates, holidays, or other reminders to trigger feelings related to the loss. Taking care of yourself, seeking support, and acknowledging your feelings during these times are ways that can help you cope.

Common Grief reactions

When experiencing grief, it is common to feel…

  • Frustrated or misunderstood
  • Irritable or angry (at the deceased, oneself, others, higher powers)
  • Guilty
  • Homesick
  • Isolated–or, that you need more time alone
  • Anxious, stressed, unable to concentrate
  • Ambivalent
  • Confused
  • Numb, or without feelings 

Grief as a Process of Healing

Several authors have described typical stages or needs that the grieving person experiences. For example, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross suggested that grief involves stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Alan Wolfelt described "mourning needs," which include acknowledging the reality of the death, embracing the pain of the loss, remembering the person who died, developing a new self-identity, searching for meaning, and receiving ongoing support from others.

It is important to note that the grief process is not linear, but is more often experienced in cycles. Grief is sometimes compared to climbing a spiral staircase where things can look and feel like you are just going in circles, yet you are actually making progress. Patience with the process and allowing feelings to come without judgment can help. If you feel stuck in your grief, talking to a counselor or a supportive person may help you move forward in the healing process.

Culture, Rituals, and Ceremonies

Your cultural background can affect how you understand and approach the grief process. Some cultures anticipate a "time to grieve" and have developed rituals to help people through the grief process. Support from others can be a reminder that grief is a universal experience and that you are not alone. After a significant loss, some cultures have mourning rituals to mark the passage of time and help individuals reconnect with their ordinary lives.

A mourning ritual can occur during a meaningful time, like an anniversary, wake, or holiday, or at a distinct location, like a church, synagogue, or home. In North American cultures, for example, there are the Catholic anniversary mass, the reciting of Kaddish, and El Día de los Muertos. Grief rituals and ceremonies acknowledge the pain of loss while also offering social support and a reaffirmation of life.

You may not be conscious of how your own cultural background affects your grief process. Talking with family, friends or clergy is one way to strengthen your awareness of possible cultural influences in your life. Friends and family may be able to help you generate ideas to create your own rituals. Some have found solace in creating their own rituals, such as a ceremony with friends, or writing a letter to the deceased.

Coping With Grief

  • Talk to family or friends
  • Seek counseling
  • Join a support group
  • Seek spiritual support
  • Read poetry or books
  • Engage in social activities
  • Write in a journal
  • Eat good foods
  • Exercise
  • Take time to relax
  • Listen to music
  • Let yourself feel grief 
  • Be patient with yourself

Each of us has an individual style of coping with painful times. The list above may help you generate ideas about how to manage your feelings of grief. You may want to experiment with these ideas or create a list of your own. Talking to friends who have dealt with loss in the past can help you generate new ways of coping. Only you know what coping skills will fit best with your personality and lifestyle.

One way to examine your own style of coping is to recall the ways you've dealt with painful times in the past. It's important to note that some ways of coping with grief are helpful, like talking to others, writing in a journal, and so forth. Others may be hurtful or destructive to the healing process, like substance abuse or isolation. Healthy coping skills are important in resolving a loss. They cannot take away your feelings of loss, but they can help you move forward in the healing process.

Supporting Others who are Grieving

  • Be a good listener
  • Ask about their feelings
  • Just sit with them
  • Share your feelings
  • Ask about their loss—if it’s a loved one, ask them to tell you about that person
  • Remember the loss—continue to check in with them from time to time
  • Make telephone calls, or find other ways to help
  • Acknowledge the pain
  • Let them feel sad
  • Do not minimize grief
  • Be available when you can

People who are grieving often feel isolated or lonely in their grief. Soon after the loss, social activities and support from others may decrease. As the shock of the loss fades, there is a tendency on the part of the griever to feel more pain and sadness. Well-meaning friends may avoid discussing the subject due to their own discomfort with grief or their fear of "making the person feel bad." They may not know “what to say."

People who are grieving are likely to fluctuate between wanting some time to themselves and wanting closeness with others. They may want someone to talk to about their feelings. Showing concern and thoughtfulness about a friend shows that you care. It's better to feel nervous and awkward sitting with a grieving friend than to not sit there at all.

Campus Resources

  • Counseling Center
    410-617-CARE, Humanities 150 (across from Starbucks, one flight up the turret)
    Offers individual counseling and a weekly bereavement support group for students. Counseling services are free and confidential. Stop by or call for information or to schedule an appointment.

  • Campus Ministry
    410-617-2768, Cohn Hall 12
    Facilitates opportunities for worship, music, retreats, spiritual development, and pastoral care.
  • Academic Services/Class Deans
    Provides academic support including connecting with professors and navigating academic demands while struggling with a loss or illness.


“Sorrow felt alone leaves a deep crater in the soulsorrow shared yields new life.”

--Ladysmith Black Mambazo, from the song “Nomethemba”

Readings on Grief and Loss

  • Carlile, Molly (2010). Sometimes Life Sucks: When Someone You Love Dies. Australia: Allen & Unwin.
  • Colgrove, M., Bloomfield, H. & McWilliams, P. (1976). How to Survive the Loss of a Love. New York: Bantam.
  • Kushner, Harold (1981). When Bad Things Happen to Good People. New York: Schocken.
  • Noel, Brook & Blair, Pamela (2008). I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.
  • Rando, Therese (1991). How to go on Living when Someone You Love Dies. New York: Bantam.
  • Sterns, Ann Kaiser (1984). Living through Personal Crisis. New York: Ballantine.
  • Viorst, Judith (1986). Necessary Losses. New York: Fawcett Gold Medal.
  • Wolfelt, Alan (1997). The Journey through Grief. Ft. Collins, CO: Companion Press.
  • Wolfelt, Alan (2009). Understanding Your Suicide Grief. Fort Collins, CO: Companion Press.