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Coping with Grief at University

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Before coming to university, my biggest fear was that something would happen to a loved one and I wouldn't be at home with my family. That fear finally happened a couple of weeks ago. My Grandma, aged an almighty 101, passed away peacefully in her sleep on 15th February 2022. 

My Grandma was an incredible woman. She played tennis in the park into her 90s, went to feed and talk to the birds in the park every day, made jam with hand painted lids for charity, and taught me how to climb trees… not an everyday skill, but a good memory! When my Dad told me that she wasn’t very well and that time was limited I broke down a bit. I instantly wanted to go home and be with my parents, but I had to stay in Exeter as I had deadlines and commitments that I couldn’t miss here. Waiting for the inevitable is emotionally exhausting, and all I wanted was to be at home. Knowing that I wasn’t allowed to go to the home and say goodbye because of Covid restrictions was quite rough, but I had lovely memories from my last visit, and it is those memories that I hold onto. I was also a bit worried about how I would handle the news whilst being four hours away from home, but in the end, it was the waiting that was worse. I just didn’t want her to be in pain. 

Everyone deals with death differently. I personally like to be left alone and cry for a bit and just let myself be sad, to let it all out. As I was at university when my Grandma passed, I found out via a phone call from my Dad. He didn’t need to say what happened, I already knew. I called my Mum because I wanted to be at home having a hug with her. In this instance FaceTime was a good compromise. I got up early that morning because I wanted to study on campus, and after hearing the news and calling my Mum I headed off to campus and sat in the library, thinking it was a good way to keep busy. In hindsight this probably wasn’t my best move – it was still very raw. Reading about feminist artists (ironic in some ways as my Grandma was an artist herself) just was not going to happen as my brain was too pre-occupied. Instead, I sat and emailed my tutor and various lecturers as I now didn’t know if I needed to go home, or if I’d want to. I also texted my closest friends and housemates because I knew I wouldn’t want to feel lonely and that I would want to keep myself busy. All my friends were incredible in making sure that I was doing okay. One gave me the hug I needed, one came round and brought me a beautiful bouquet of flowers and some sweet treats, one even offered to make me pancakes! Some of my closest friends took me out and we went bowling, and really helped to cheer me up. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them over the past two weeks. 

If you are going through something similar, I am so sorry. I know it’s tough, so to ease the weight of the situation I have some suggestions. 

  1. Tell your personal tutor. If you don’t tell anyone else, tell them. They can help get you extensions if you need them, and tell your lecturers if you end up going home and missing class. 
  2. Tell the people you want to tell. I didn’t tell many people because I didn’t want to start ugly crying in public so I only told my closest friends. I’m really glad that I did because I genuinely don’t know what I would have done without them.  
  3. Try and keep yourself busy. Go for a walk, study on campus, have dinner with friends, watch a film with your housemates – do whatever you can to keep busy and try and be happy. Every situation is different, and sometimes you do just want to be left alone and cry. That is a totally healthy and normal response, and you shouldn’t feel rushed into feeling better. 
  4. Cry. Grieve. Let it all out now. It’s never a good idea to bottle up your emotions, especially when it comes to death. If you can attend the funeral, it’s probably a good idea to go. I personally hate funerals – death is something that scares me and makes me anxious, so facing it at a funeral is never a comfortable situation, but it is a really good time to say goodbye. It’s also good to support your other family members. 
  5. Time heals all wounds. It’s an old saying but it’s true. With every day that passes it gets a bit easier. Those days turn to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years. I will never forget my Grandma, and there are things that will happen on the odd occasion that will make me think of her, but I will start to remember with a smile as opposed to a tear. 
  6. Remember. Take a moment to go through your photos and put your favourite ones into an album, or get them printed. I wouldn’t recommend doing this on the day or day after a loved one passes as it’s still all a bit raw… I learnt that the hard way. I also like to mark the day in my diary with a small heart and the name of the person who passed. If you write a diary, it might be nice to do a small entry and write down some of your favourite memories. 

If you’re struggling and need help, talk to your friends and family, and contact your tutor. They can point you in the right direction. I would also recommend reaching out to wellbeing as they are super kind and can be good at helping to get you the support you need. 

Sophie is in her final year at the University of Exeter. She is the President and Campus Correspondent for the Exeter Chapter of Her Campus. Sophie would love to work in the media when she graduates because of her love for reading and editing... in fact as you read this she is probably wishing that she was lying by a pool with a good book and an iced coffee!
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