The death, or impending death of a relative, friend or pet is the most expected and well-known trigger of grief among college students. “In terms of death losses, the two most common are the death of a grandparent and the death of a friend,” says Servaty-Seib, who is co-author of “We Get It: Voice of Grieving College Students And Young Adults.” “Interestingly, these two may also be the most commonly disenfranchised experiences of grief faced by young people. It is not common for society to [not] give as much acknowledgement or even as much weight to these losses as they might to the deaths of parents and siblings. However, these losses are crucial to college student development.”
Regardless of the relationship one had with the person who died or is dying, Servaty-Seib says it is important to acknowledge that everyone grieves differently based on the specific relationship he or she had with the deceased. “The best approach is to be open and direct about how everyone will grieve differently — and how it’s not only okay, it is absolutely to be expected,” she says. “Family members need to be respectful of those differences and be open to conversations about those differences.” The death of a fellow young adult, such as a classmate or friend, often hits especially close to home, too, because it forces the student to face — often for the first time in their lives — his or her own mortality. Losing a peer to suicide is of especially high concern among young adults, too. “The research shows that it is the leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults,” Coleman notes.