Students grieve for many different reasons: relationships, academics, family issues, the death of a loved one, illness, political repression, etc. As a TA, you will most likely encounter at least a few students who may need some…

Campus Tragedies

The Virginia Tech University shooting on April 16, 2007 is a prime example of a community tragedy that affects the collective student body across campus. Regardless of whether students were individually harmed or safely tucked away in their dorm rooms, a major event can personally touch all the members of that community. Here is the scene on campus when, one day after the shooting, Virginia Tech students gathered for a candlelight vigil:

Voices from the Vigil (1:45)

Common Stages of Grieving

The grieving process usually consists of the following stages. Note that not everyone goes through all these stages.

  • Denial and Shock: At first, it may be difficult for you to accept your own dying or the death of a loved one/classmate. As a result you will deny the reality of death. However, this denial will gradually diminish as you begin to express and share your feelings about death and dying with other students or friends.
  • Anger: During this stage the most common question asked is "why me?" You are angry at what you perceive to be the unfairness of death and you may project and displace your anger onto others. When given some social support and respect, you will eventually become less angry and able to move into the next stage of grieving.
  • Bargaining: Many students try to bargain with some sort of deity. They may offer to give up an enjoyable part of their lives in exchange for the return of health or the lost person.
  • Guilt: You may find yourself feeling guilty for things you did or didn't do prior to the loss. Forgive yourself. Accept your humanness.
  • Depression: Experiencing a sense of great loss. Mood fluctuations and feelings of isolation and withdrawal may follow. It takes time for the grieving student to gradually return to his or her old self and become socially involved again. Please note that encouragement and reassurance to the bereaved student will not be helpful in this stage.
  • Loneliness: As you go through changes in your social life because of the loss, you may feel lonely and afraid. The more you are able to reach out to others and make new friends, the more this feeling lessens.
  • Acceptance: Acceptance does not mean happiness. Instead you accept and deal with the reality of the situation.
  • Hope: Remembering becomes less painful and you can begin to look ahead to the future and more good times.

Ways to Help a Bereaved Student

  • Be supportive but do not attempt to give encouragement and reassurance when a student is in the depressed stage of grieving. It will not be helpful.
  • Talk openly and honestly about the situation unless the student does not want to.
  • Use an appropriate, caring conversational tone of voice.
  • Show that you care. Listen attentively and show interest in what the grieving student has to say about his/her feelings and beliefs.
  • Share your feelings and talk about any similar experience you may have had. Avoid using the phrase "I know just how you feel."
  • If symptoms of depression are very severe or persistent and the grieving student is not coping with day-to-day activities encourage that student to get professional help.

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