Dealing with a Family Tragedy in the Middle of the Quarter

“I’m sorry to hear about what happened.” “We’re here for you no matter what.”

If I had $5 for every time I've heard these phrases in the past 24 hours, I’d be a very rich woman. I received some news the other, while I was in my 7:00-10:00 PM chemistry lab (so you already know I wasn’t in the best mood) that my grandfather was in the ICU on life support. I was immediately told by multiple family members that I was to get on the next plane to India and stay for two weeks to say goodbye to my grandpa and help out where I could.

Now, I feel terrible for admitting this but my first thought was not about my grandpa, it was about the biology midterm I was going to miss the next day and the sociology midterm I was going to miss next week. I immediately became very overwhelmed at the thought of missing two weeks of school, two weeks of my life here, at Davis. But the other overwhelming, protective feeling of needing to be there for my family was battling that as well, so I did what any slightly emotionally unstable college student would do: I went to my car, blasted some music and sobbed my heart out for the next fifteen minutes.

I was and still am conflicted as to what to feel and how to process it, do I stay at college and stay on track for my schoolwork? Or do I throw everything aside, school, job, internship to go across the globe? I didn’t know what to do. Before I knew it, my visa request was sent in, my ticket was booked and I was expected to pack up and go to India. I emailed professors, I emailed TAs, I emailed work, explaining my dire situation and asking, pleading what I could do to make sure I stayed on track with my school work.

Now I won’t name who, but three out of my four professors said it would be impossible for me to stay on track for the next two weeks without being in class and they suggested that I withdraw for the quarter. These responses immediately caused the waterworks to start all over again, I was sobbing – actually, blubbering is the better word. My academic career was over, I would never become a doctor, I would fail. While dealing with all of this, I also had my family in the other ear, telling me that I needed to be there but also school was important but also withdrawing for a quarter wouldn’t be the worst thing. And then, the worst thing that could possibly happen, happened.

My grandfather passed away. He was on life support one second and the next second he was gone. I still haven’t fully processed what happened, given the fact that this happened about eight hours before I started writing this article. When I heard the news, I was sad of course, he was my gramps, he was the guy I would spend all day with playing cards and taking naps with, but on the other hand, the thoughts that were going through my mind were, “Do I get to take my midterm? Will I not have to take off?”

I know these are terrible and I should be grief-stricken but in my head, all I could think about was school and that brought up another thought, when did I start thinking school was the most important thing in my life? When did this toxicity of academic competitiveness start seeping into my life? And more importantly, why in times of extreme tragedy, am I fully focused on emailing my professors first before calling my own sister to check up on her? The loss is still fresh and hurts and whenever someone asks me “How are you?” I choke up and just nod my head because tears will start flowing if I open my mouth.

I deal with this family tragedy while also dealing with school and figuring out how the hell I am going to focus on finishing the quarter when all I can think about is my grieving family and how much pain they are in. I just want to remind everyone including myself, nothing is more important than family. Not even UC Davis.