University is one of the most unique and special times of one’s life. Living in the same house or neighbourhood with all of your closest friends, doing mountains of schoolwork that never seem to end, all the while still having time to make crazy memories in between. Even so, university can also be a really lonely time. It is likely the first time you are living on your own and away from home for a long period of time. This also means experiencing new things alone for the first time, from achievements to sickness, to everything in between. For me, one of the first things I experienced alone was grief. Within three days of moving to my university town, I got the phone call from my mom that my grandmother had died. News like that is never easy to get, but when you’re away from home it hits in a completely different and new way. A year and a bit later, I got the same phone call again, this time my other grandmother had passed. Although I had been away from home longer, it didn’t feel any easier. But by this time, I had learned a little bit better how to deal with this experience on my own.
Tip #1: Be honest and open with your roommates/friends.
Although you may feel alone during this time, you don’t have to be. You may not have your family by your side, but people will still want to help. What I found extremely helpful during those times was being straightforward with my roommates on what I wanted. I am not a person who likes to be outwardly emotional. I don’t keep it piled in, I just release it on my own time. My friends all wanted to help in ways that would make them feel better if they were in my situation, but what was most helpful was for me to tell them what I wanted. For me, that was just a sense of normalcy for a bit. A space outside my room that wasn’t piled with grief. So, my friends just kept me busy, going on study dates or just chatting when I was out of my room. They let me work through my grief in my own way, while still making me feel very supported. I guarantee your friends will want to help, and it will be so much easier for them to do so if you tell them what you need!
Tip #2: Talk to your profs!
I think sometimes it can be easy to forget that your profs are aware life happens! Sometimes it feels like you need to keep personal issues and school completely separate, but this can really harm you later, trust me. The first time I dealt with grief in university I did exactly that, kept the two separate. This meant the schoolwork continued to pile up and I sat through lectures completely unfocused, leaving with not a word on my page. This time around, I reached out to my profs almost immediately. Your professors know you have no control over things like this, and that losing someone will have a huge impact on your everyday life. My profs were immediately accommodating, offering me access to class recordings and contact information for other students in the class who were willing to share notes. One of them even reached out to the Dean of Student Affairs, who then contacted me to offer even more academic assistance. This can be so handy because it allows you to stay on top of school, but at your own pace.
Tip #3: Find something that brings you comfort.
Remember that it is okay to not feel sad all the time. Just like I wanted to create a sense of normalcy with my roommates, I also tried to distract myself with things that brought me comfort. I would put on funny cartoons (i.e., Bob’s Burgers) and my favourite romcoms (i.e., Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and I would just allow myself to get totally lost in that. I would let myself laugh at jokes or just feel something other than sad for a bit. There is no guilt in that! Grief can be really overbearing, so it’s important to find a source of escapism from this, even if it’s just for 22 minutes!
Tip #4: Take care of yourself, physically.
It is totally okay to nestle into your bed, making it your sleep space, study space, and hangout place (guilty), especially these first few days after getting the news. But in order to feel yourself again, you need to take care of yourself too.
- Keep a water bottle or two by your bed! Even if you do nothing all day, you need to stay hydrated. You are already experiencing big emotions; you don’t need a dehydration headache on top of that.
- Step outside, even if just for a minute, and breathe in some fresh air. You will feel so much better if you do.
- Take a long hot shower. Rinse yourself clean, literally, and metaphorically. A hot shower can really do wonders to regulate your emotional system.
Tip #5: Take care of yourself, emotionally.
Grief is really a pain like no other, and it is not easy to go through with family, let alone by yourself. Whether you prefer to do it alone or with others, let your feelings out. It is so okay to be sad and cry. Look at all the pictures you need to reminisce on good times, and just cry it out. You cannot get through a loss without properly confronting it. Just like it’s okay to feel things other than grief, it is also necessary to feel it! Even if you can’t be with your family, talk to them. Call them, text them, facetime them, even if it’s just to cry and reminisce together.
Most importantly, recognize that it is okay to reach outwards for help. It is okay to talk to a professional. Grief is a huge pain, and one that isn’t always processable on your own. Take whatever steps you need to feel like yourself again. And you will eventually, I promise.