The University Record, October 1, 1997

Feelings of grief normal for everyone

By Rebecca A. Doyle

"When people hear about something like this, they feel bad, they feel vulnerable˜they react to the situation in a variety of ways and they don't always understand why," says Nora Gessert, staff development associate in the University's Faculty and Staff Assistance Program.

Members of the University community˜shocked, outraged, fearful, anxious, saddened and grieving˜reacted to the news of the violent death of Tamara Williams in different ways. Those who had known her well, whether they had cared for her 2-year-old daughter or taught one of the classes she attended, were most likely to be affected. It is normal, Gessert says, for even those who were not close to or had no contact with Williams, to have an emotional response to the violent events surrounding her death. Violence often surprises them and can cause difficulty coping with loss.

"Things like this can remind people of other losses," Gessert says, "or just make them feel sad enough to have difficulty sleeping. It's important for us to know that none of those reactions are abnormal."

Closeness to the victim or the memory of a similar personal experience will intensify feelings people might have. Gessert says those who were closest to Williams should not be surprised by those reactions, and even those who did not know Williams at all should be aware of their feelings and take steps to get help.

Signs to pay attention to are:

The most important thing people can do for themselves is to think of the feelings they are having as a normal reaction to a horrifying situation. Gessert says that people who experience those symptoms should find someone to talk to.

"It doesn't matter whether it is someone you know or a counselor, as long as you talk to someone. Getting those feelings expressed is important, and research shows that the sooner it is done, the better it is."

Keeping a journal or just writing down your feelings, keeping track of how much you eat and when you eat, getting regular exercise, limiting caffeine and resisting alcohol are important in healing and keeping healthy. If intense feelings persist more than a number of weeks to several months, counseling is necessary, Gessert notes.

The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FASAP) has published a booklet titled "Grief and Loss in the Workplace," which is available from their office. To request copies, send e-mail to fasap@umich.edu. University staff and faculty who would like to talk to a counselor can call the FASAP office, 998-7500.