Grieving At University

Trigger warning for grief, the loss of a loved one and depression.

Over the Christmas period I lost my grandma, and it didn’t come as a shock but at the same time was entirely world shattering. She had open-heart surgery at 70 years old which had a survival rate of 1 in 5. She made it through the surgery like the strong woman that she was and put her brave face on as her health started to deteriorate for the next ten years. When she got ill again over Christmas and was taken to hospital, it seemed like another dip in her health that she would recover from. Unfortunately, instead of recovering, she had an end of life care plan put into place and was taken back to her bungalow, where my grandpa could look after her until she passed.

Nobody talks about grief. It’s this bogey-monster that everyone ignores until they are forced to face it themselves. You almost don’t believe it’s real. Yes, everyone is aware that death is part of the human lifecycle. But it’s almost easier to make your loved ones a superhero that will never be defeated and will remain with you forever.

The important thing to remember is that grief is a personal journey, there is no right way to mourn a loved one. There is no right way to process the barrage of unfamiliar emotions, but it is important to find your way through it the best you can and develop selfcare that keeps you in touch with friends, family and techniques to support your own emotional and mental health.  

The University lifestyle doesn’t really allow for breaks: there is no time for a vacation, no time to get sick and definitely no time to grieve. With my first January exam one week after my Grandma's death, my feelings of loss got pushed aside as I really wanted to pass them. Mitigation was an option for me but pushing my exams until August just seemed to prolong my fourth and final year a little too long for my liking. It was easier to push the unfamiliar feelings and hollow emptiness down and focus on my academics, which was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do during my University experience.

The funeral was a whole other experience too, it’s like the overwhelming nature of Christmas but without a mega roast or cheerful music, and everyone is crying a lot. There is a social bombardment of people who knew your loved one, that know of you, but you don’t really know them. I spent most of the day supporting my sibling and cousins, as it seemed easier to do that than confront the feelings hiding underneath my own self-built walls. Two days after the funeral, I had to come back to Uni as it was somehow already week 3. The beginning of 2020 felt strangely like a dream, like the whole experience so far hadn’t happened at all.  

I realised that the best thing I could do was to be open and honest with people who asked me if I was okay, who were wondering why I wasn’t able to make any social events or why I was asking for their lecture notes. I also realised that I should probably talk to someone about these feelings that were buried and work on getting back in touch with them, so that the entirety of 2020 didn’t end up feeling like some weird dream.

Apart from this article being rather cathartic for me, I hope the main takeaway is that there is no right way to grieve and there is no right time to experience feelings of loss or bereavement. But there are ways that you can celebrate and enjoy the life of a loved one even now that they’ve passed, and things you can do to protect yourself and your feelings whilst running on the treadmill of university life. The loss of a grandparent can be huge, as they feature in your life regularly and in a particularly special way, so never let anyone invalidate your grief. It doesn’t matter who you lose or what relationship you had with them, your grief and your feelings are valid.

Grief is a lifelong journey, so confide in your friends and family, take the time to process however slowly that may be, and realise that you are not alone.

Women in jean jackets with flowers

Linked below are some bereavement help lines and some resources that you may find helpful if you’re suffering with the loss of a loved one.

Chaplaincy on campus can offer pastoral care and support for bereavement 

Cruse – bereavement support including 1:1 telephone support on 0808 808 1677 and information about managing grief

Macmillan bereavement information and supportive resources

Balloons is a charity in Devon who support young people who are experiencing bereavement.

Nightline - 01392 724000 Internal free phone 4000/4001.  Listening and information service for students, 8pm - 8am term time