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Someone close to you has died, and now it is time to go back to college. It can be like moving from one world to another - from the world of close family and friends, who have all been through this loss, to the world of random people who have no idea what you have been through. It might be quite a shock to return to the pace, variety, color, sound and intensity of everyday life after a period of mourning the death of an important relative or friend. This period can last from a few weeks to several months, maybe more, depending on the circumstances of the death, your personal characteristics and your relationship to the deceased person.
Some people feel very tired or fatigued for a while. You might need to sleep more hours or to nap more often than usual. If you are feeling overwhelmed by noise and activity, you might need to arrange for more quiet time than you are accustomed to. Grieving puts a strain on the system, which people feel both mentally and physically as fatigue or general disorientation and lack of motivation. Eat as well as you can. Get some exercise, which might be one of the things you CAN do when intellectual work seems difficult.
People feel a variety of feelings during mourning - tears and the impulse to cry are commonly known, but others also feel increased irritation at times, as well as anger, fear or anxiety. Some people will find themselves having a fit of laughter triggered by some small funny thought or remark. These feelings are normal - but when you find yourself prevented from getting sleep, or from working, or from relaxing because of repeated strong feelings or thoughts, it might help to talk with someone - a counselor or a clergy person or perhaps someone at the Health Center.
Dealing with memories and anniversaries becomes a task for the newly bereaved person. Certain events can trigger memories and sadness: birthdays, holidays, and the anniversary of an illness or of the death itself can be strong reminders of the loss. Sometimes images from a movie, or certain songs or smells or bits of conversation will evoke a cascade of feelings. If you know that this can happen, you can take steps to cope with it. Anticipate holidays and other anniversaries, and plan to be with friends or family if this seems best for you. Others might want to go do something entirely different in order to change the set of associations with a given time. Most important, be kind to yourself as you experience these feelings.
If friends and roommates seem worn out by your need to talk about your loss, don’t hesitate to reach out to other resource people. Here in Waterville, the Hospice Volunteers (873-3615) conduct support groups to which students are welcome. The Counseling Services at Colby can connect you with other students who are willing to share their experiences, and can arrange individual and group counseling as needed. Call #4460 for an appointment.
Jan Munroe, PhD