Understanding Grief in College

I would like to talk about something not many people are comfortable with, but is a topic I have found more people in college struggle with than I would have ever realized. A question most college students don’t quite know how to answer, or any typical person for that matter: How to handle grief in college? Many of us don’t think of real life as were packing our cars to move away from school, seemingly leaving life behind. But in reality, while we’re creating a new one, life is continuing back home. Family and friends, we’ve left are still growing through life just as much as we are. Leaving the homes we grew up in, the people we grew up with, and all the familiar things we grew to know to tackle the unknown is exciting. I won’t sit here and type this and tell you it’s easy. I’m a senior in college and still have yet to find a way to balance everything at once. It’s hard, but manageable. 

Losing a loved one is incredibly painful for everyone, no matter what the circumstances are, but losing a loved one while away at school can make things even more difficult. Amid the hustle and bustle of college life, writing papers, and taking exams, there is a dark cloud hovering over your head and a weight bearing down on your heart.

The last semester of my senior year started a little over four weeks ago, and I was mid-way through my first week when I received an unsettling phone call from my father back home that my mother had unexpectedly passed away. All of the energy and excitement I had generated to finish my college degree had washed away quicker than I could blink and was immediately replaced with despair and discomfort. I was forced to cope with grief at a very inconvenient time. Within my first month of school, I was coordinating a celebration of life and attending to family members. The death of my mother was, and still is, a burden that lingers over even the most mundane and simple day-to-day activities. Although I felt a great deal of pain and confusion, I noticed a few valuable coping skills I think are important and useful to anyone who has or is currently experiencing the loss of a loved one.

 

group of women facing backwards

1. Do Not be Afraid of Your Emotions

It is 100% easier to push your emotions into a bottle, throw a cap on it, and toss it into the trash than it is to embrace what’s actually happening. I’d be lying if I said the first few weeks after my mother’s passing weren’t full of tending to others, but I had times to myself to understand and process what was actually going on. Let yourself cry and talk it out as much as you need to, pushing those emotions down will only make things worse. 

2. Spend Time with Others Who Share Your Experience

Talking to your family and friends who fully understand your experience can be extremely therapeutic and often essential to the healing process. You’re able to share all the memories you hold and talk about what you’re feeling and how you’re processing with someone who gets it. Remember, your family and friends need you in this time just as much as you need them!

3. Don’t Lose Sight of Things You Love

There’s a time to sit in grief, to stop everything and cry and mourn for however long you need. This time frame can look different for everyone, and may not even come immediately or may come in waves, and that’s okay. The typical day-to-day is the hardest part; it’s important to feel your emotions, but also to make time for the things you love. Spend a little extra time reading, at the gym, painting, watching movies, or whatever makes you smile the most. 

4. Know That There Is Help

Grief can be overwhelming and uncontrollable; it cripples people and can create a dark place. Listen to your body and how you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to reach out to people if the pain becomes too much. Talk to your family, friends, roommates, or even a doctor or therapist if comfortable. 

5. Be Gentle With Yourself

This sucks; loss is terrible and often unforeseeable and is all around inconvenient. Forget about actual life for a second and recognize what you’re experiencing and how deeply it’s affecting you. Know these emotions and confusions are normal and encourage yourself to do your best. 

There’s no one way to handle and experience grief, as it is different for everyone. I’ve found hope through my faith in Jesus that has created a sense of peace and endurance for me to continue on one day at a time. It’s not easy, and it may not be easy for quite a while, and that is perfectly fine. Losing a loved one is never something you can prepare for. Find stability and comfort through your family and friends and do what you need to do to make it through each day!