The Truth About Experiencing Grief in College

There were a number of things about college that I’m sure I never could have prepared myself for. I’m also sure that there still are, considering I am only a sophomore. However, I definitely never expected to lose someone close to me within my first month of starting school in a new place, where I knew no one. It was September of last year, when I was trying to settle into new classes and new friends. I was having a really hard time with the concept of starting over. I kept asking myself: “How am I supposed to re-tell my story to all new people? Why should I have to relive those moments all over again? Why did I ever think it was a good idea to leave everyone who already knows me, and loves me anyway?” In summation, I was just plain terrified. I’ve never been someone who likes change, and I was not liking it at all during the beginning of my freshman year. While I thought I was already having a hard time, I was not at all prepared for what was to come next. On September 5th, 2018, I was laying in bed trying to kill time before my next class, and I got a call that I think will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Hearing your parents cry is never fun, but it really is not fun over the phone from over 300 miles away. It was my dad who called me that day, and immediately I thought he must have been laughing, not crying. He manages to choke out the words: “Marky is dead.” I remember feeling shocked, and I remember thinking that he had to have been kidding. In my mind, there was just no way this was a real thing that was happening. We’re then sitting there, crying on opposite ends of the phone, and I wish I could convey how exactly that felt. Marky had worked at my family’s restaurant at home for as long as I could remember. As I drafted emails to my professors and coaches, I thought how ridiculous it was to put that one of my coworkers had died. I remember throwing my pillows off my bed and crying because it did not feel right. How could I explain to all of these new people what Marky had meant to me? How would I ever be able to convey all the memories and moments that were replaying through my head? All I wanted then was to be with people who understood. I wanted to be sitting at the bar of my family’s restaurant with the rest of my work family. I wanted to be hugging my mom and my sister, but I didn’t get that. I got a bed, in a tiny triple, surrounded by words of encouragement, but no one who really understood.

I spent the next week barely leaving my room, barely eating, and definitely not sleeping. I got called in to meet with the Dean of Academic Advising, in which he promptly marched me over to the health center to be forced to meet with a therapist. After that whole show, I had to work with both the Dean and my new therapist, who knew absolutely nothing about me, to plan what I was going to do with myself. Was I going home for the funeral? For how long? Was I keeping up with my assignments? All great questions, but none of which I knew the answer to. I kept getting anxious about going home for the funeral. I felt like I had already missed too much, and I did not even know how I would get there. My mom assured me it was fine if I didn’t make it back, but I knew it wasn’t. Going home was the only cure for the deeply rooted emptiness I felt in my chest because, in truth, I needed people who understood.

In all the talks I had about college, I wish someone had warned me that it might actually be tough to re-introduce your entire life to a mass amount of people. It was tough before my friend died, and it was even tougher after. Opening up takes time, and I had to do it on a forced timeline. Months later, my mom and I reflected on all that had happened and she told me, “I was so worried. This is the kind of thing that sends kids home.” This hit me hard, because it almost did for me. I would have missed out on making the best friends and memories of my life, but it was a choice I almost made because the tunnel vision I had on grief held me completely captive. And sometimes, it still does. This year at school the one-year anniversary of Marky’s death rolled around, and I was hit with the same paralysis. I threw myself into planning my days down to the last minute. I lashed out at my friends, at myself. I did not even realize why I was doing this, until the day of his death rolled back around. And all over again, I got to see everyone I loved together, in places where Marky was so prevalent, and I had to do so from so far away. I cried all day long. 

I’m not trying to depress all of you, but I am trying to make two points. Neither of which are about Marky, because while he is the best person I know, I couldn’t make it through an article all about him. What I am trying to say is this: 1) explaining yourself, your quirks, your life, and your relationships to all new people in college is HARD; it always will be, and 2) the way grief will hit you will depend on where you are, who you’re with, and your state of mind, but that does not take away from the relationship you had with that person. I make these points because I wish I had known them before, and am still trying to make peace with them. Both of these points end in the same way: it’s worth it. It is going to be hard to go back through hard parts of your life, or even to articulate great parts of your life in full detail. But it is how I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life, and how I healed parts of myself I didn’t even know were broken. Talking to your friends is therapeutic, and so is listening to others’ stories that you may relate too. And dealing with loss and grief in college sucks. Bottom-line, no sugar-coating it, it is one of the worst things I have ever gone through. But being away at school does not discredit your emotions, the bonds you made at home, or the way you are feeling. The pain is always worth it because the relationship you had was worth it, and because it shows you how important the people in your life are to you, and how you need to live.  I love you Marky Mark, and I miss you every single day.

 

Feature, 1, Casey Leach