The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Trigger warning: This article discusses sensitive topics such as grief, losing someone to suicide, and mental health.
Me and grief were not always such close friends. Although I have experienced grief in the past, through the loss of my grandfather and then my childhood cat, my emotions and I agreed grief would make its way out of my life for a while. But it made quite the entrance in the summer of 2022. In May, I lost my sixteen-year-old cousin, Zada, to suicide. Then, I faced the most profound, unspeakable, and complex grief of my entire life. I spent the whole summer mourning, most of it on bed rest from an invasive surgery on my leg. I saw some friends here and there but I spent a lot of time with my family. After all this time grieving, I thought I would be ready – even excited -to return to campus for my sophomore year. This was not as easy as I anticipated.
Grief is a widely misunderstood and taboo topic people avoid discussing. I believe a lot of people think of mourning like a breakup (like I used to think), where you are really sad for a couple of weeks or months, but after some time are happier and stronger than before. But real grief likes to stick around. It is permanent, and even if it isn’t actively in your face, at least in my experience, it’s always in the background.
There is a type of grief people are more comfortable with, such as mourning the loss of a grandparent or pet: those are natural deaths. But the pain which came after the death of my cousin was unreal; sixteen-year-olds dying is not normal. I didn’t realize how stigmatized losing someone to suicide is until I experienced it myself. When my grandfather died, I received numerous messages and support from my loved ones but with my cousin, barely half that amount reached out to me. With this stigma, it was incredibly difficult to confide in people about my pain. People seemed to treat me differently. They either acted like I wasn’t actively grieving and never checked up on me or they completely distanced themselves from me.
When someone so young commits suicide, it reminds people how fragile life is and how loss can happen at any time. Your grief causes you to become a walking, terrifying, truth many people don’t want to face. I often found myself missing the life I used to have – where it was easy to go out and meet new people. I felt like I had a “typical” college experience before this tragedy but now I am having to what this new life will be like.
In the first week of the semester, I reached out to numerous professors asking for trigger warnings regarding suicide, which often meant I needed to explain why. None of the professors said “I am so sorry for your loss” or “let me know what I can do.” Ironically, I was enrolled in a class on death and my professor told me not to avoid difficult topics, even though I had explained how recent it was. There was a lack of empathy from professors on the matter which made it impossible to tell them how my pain affected my school work. “Grief comes in waves. Sometimes they are little crashes against the shore and other times they are tsunamis that like to swallow you whole”. Some days, my grief swallows me and I feel like I am drowning. I call them my “grief days”: days where I am glued to my bed, with little motivation, flooded with memories, flashbacks, and overcome with sadness. But how can I explain that type of sadness to my professors? Like, hey sorry I can’t come to class, my cousin died six months ago and I’m having a grief day but I’ll be fine tomorrow. Having to do homework, exams, and go to work and clubs while experiencing these days was extremely difficult and I often feel trapped.
Dealing with professors wasn’t the only struggle, being surrounded by peers often triggered my grief. For example, walking through campus and hearing someone jokingly say “I’m going to kill myself” is very upsetting. A lot of my time since my cousin’s death has been avoiding movies and TV shows where someone commits suicide. But I still can’t stop myself from hearing conversations as I pass by. So, please stop making suicide jokes. They aren’t funny and you never know when a survivor or family member who is triggered by suicide could overhear you.
If you are a student who is mourning, you are not alone. Just because people are uncomfortable talking about your grief or your loved one doesn’t mean your emotions are not valid. You are allowed to take care of yourself and put your healing journey before your grades. Grief is a valid excuse to miss class or assignments, or to stay home on a Friday night. Reach out to those you trust and educate them on how the death of a loved one has changed you. You don’t have to go through this alone. It will get better, I promise.
Resources for grieving students:
CU Boulder’s resource on how to comfort a friend who is grieving.
CU Boulder’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS)
Resources for survivors of suicide.
For more in-depth resources, visit the HeartLight Center
Use this website to check the triggers of TV shows, movies, and books.