Being Well Amidst Grief

May 11, 2020Louis Tay

The end of semester can be particularly painful for Purdue students, staff, and faculty.

The experience of loss is keenly felt in many ways. The loss of the typical commencement ceremony to celebrate with family and friends. The loss of job opportunities. The loss of internships. And even the loss of walking around campus and saying goodbye to our cherished communities before summer.

The felt pain of grief is real. It pounces on you when you least expect it. It can be overwhelming and disorienting.

How can we experience well-being amidst grief? 

  1. Acknowledge your particular grief – The ideas of resilience and grit can conjure images of people who shake off disappointments and losses. Perhaps like an umbrella shakes off rain. Yet, this is a mistaken idea.

    The ability to recognize emotions in oneself and others and being able to label and verbalize it helps with coping and well-being. Research shows that individuals who suffer from the ability to label and verbalize their emotions have poorer well-being. Yet, learning to verbalize these emotions led to lower anxiety and higher positive emotions.

    When you experience a vague unease or an intense negative feeling, seek to embrace it by labeling and verbalizing the emotion.

    Grief manifests in different forms for different people. Sadness. Despair. Anxiety. Guilt. Apathy. Hurt. Anger. Fatigue.

    What are you feeling? What are the companion emotions? How have these feelings been affecting your behaviors?

    Take time and create space to process these questions. Write out your answers to those questions. Talk through it with someone you trust.

  2. Invite the positiveResearch shows that people who learn how to cultivate and regulate positive emotions have greater resilience to negative experiences. Here are some known strategies to maintain and enhance positive emotions.

    Savoring: You can deliberately pay attention to, celebrate, and communicate with others positive emotions and experiences. You can draw on the past, present, or future. For example, you can reminisce about all the friendships you have developed at Purdue. You can appreciate those who are surrounding you in love during this time. And, you can anticipate the extraordinary and unusual summer experience to come.

    Positive Reappraisal: Through practice, you can find the ‘silver lining’ as it were, amidst grief. You may be surprised to find that there are many positive aspects in your life that you may have taken for granted or have ignored. Here are some possible ideas to start from:
    • With the loss of commencement: I can add this to my bucket list of unique life experiences: we will be the only cohort who would graduate without a typical commencement ceremony.
    • With being stuck at home: This is a special time in my life when I can deeply share life with my family during an extended lock-down.
    • With the loss of an internship: The loss of my internship can free me to take time off to plan for my future or to try something enterprising
Inviting the positive does not mean suppressing grief. It does not mean a false cheeriness. Rather, it means embracing your grief. But it also means choosing to welcome and converse with the positives in your life.

Leaving you with a quote from Victor Frankl:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 

Be well,

Dr. Louis Tay

Tay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. He has expertise in well-being, assessments, and data science. Check back each week for his wellness tip of the week!


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