Professor Yan Zhao Ciupak and Caroline Cheng

Coping with Grief

Grief can arise from many causes: death, divorce, employment loss, health issues, drug or alcohol abuse, COVID related and more. How one deals with that grief can take many forms, or worse, none at all. NMU Continuing Education is offering an 8-week online program for those coping with grief, to assist with their personal or professional growth. It is open to anyone and provides practical tools applicable to adults, children and families. It also results in a grief support specialist certificate and social work continuing education hours for those who desire. 


One of the instructors and program founders, Yan Zhao Ciupak, NMU sociology professor, recently held a workshop for students, faculty and staff on “Grief, Resilience and Post-Traumatic Growth.” She wanted to stress that “there are definitely techniques and tips, but I mostly want to advocate for a culture of compassion and connection; a culture that is compassionate and holds unconditional positive regard towards victims of sextortion and crimes, as well as those who are struggling with mental health. Lots of research has shown that many elements of individual resilience stem from the family, community and culture.”

Social work professor Caroline Cheng, who also teaches the course—along with noted national author Douglas C. Smith and art therapist and counselor Molly Tomony—shared one of her favorite quotes, to hopefully guide others: 


Look to this day, for it is life, the very breath of life. In its brief course lie all the realities of your existence; the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendor of beauty. For yesterday is only a dream, and tomorrow is but a vision. But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day. (Ancient Sanskrit) 


Here are a few helpful takeaways:

• is not a linear process, it evolves over time

• often contains conflicting experiences 

• is a universal experience, but it is also unique to each individual

• can present itself as psychological/emotional, physical, behavioral, cognitive or spiritual. 


Examine how you or others are experiencing these different dimensions.

• Show compassion. Listen carefully and genuinely. Don’t worry about doing or saying exactly the right thing. Be okay with silence.

• Take all talk of suicide seriously. A longing to die is at a deep level a want to live without suffering.

• Be present in the here and now, don’t wait for a future moment. Talk about your feelings and ask about theirs: “I’m concerned about you. How do you feel?” “Tell me about your pain.” “I care about you and how you’re holding up.” 

• Avoid “at-least” statements, or saying “I know exactly how you feel,” or “You need to be strong.” 


• Be mindful of your physical needs, and of alcohol and drug use. Inhale, exhale, repeat.

• Find support. We don’t grieve alone well.

• Construct rituals, such as lighting a candle next to a photo or having a fireside ceremony.

• Write a memoir or letter to finish the unfinished on an origami crane, paper boat or plane and send it away.

• Uninhibitedly express yourself through free writing or a creative pursuit.

• Allow yourself to experience post-traumatic growth, which may involve new opportunities that emerge from the struggle; enhanced relationships with others; increased personal strength; greater appreciation of life; and an increase in spiritual connectedness. These may also co-exist with grief.