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Content Warning: Discussions on Death

On the first day of school last fall, I was eager to start the new semester and be back at school for my sophomore year.

Later that evening, I was told that my older sister had passed away.

The next few days were an absolute blur for me, as I was going through a loss I had never felt before. Thankfully, classes were online at that point, so I was able to go home and be with my family.

As the first week went on and I had to join Zoom meetings and participate in my classwork, I started to think about what I should do. After going through a traumatic incident like my own, everyone forms their own response. There is no proper way to grieve someone, which made things difficult for me. It can be hard to know what to do in a new situation, especially when there isn’t a guidebook. Personally, I decided to not tell my teachers what had just happened in my life, as I didn’t feel like divulging my situation to anyone else. I didn’t want teachers to treat me differently, and it just felt normal to me to keep doing my schoolwork.

I had a situation different from many people, as I could go home and even go to London to be with my family for the next few months. Many people feel isolated and trapped at college, and going through a loss can make this isolation much worse. If I had to stay in Gainesville for in-person classes, my experience would have probably been very different, as it can be hard to function in public during times like these.

While mourning a loss, life can feel lonely, and it often seems impossible to consider that other people have gone through the same struggles. But research conducted by Actively Moving Forward shows that 35 to 48% of college students have lost a family member or close friend in the past two years. These numbers show the unfortunate frequency of this situation, which helps to connect people’s shared pain. Although it can seem uncomfortable, it can be helpful to reach out to friends in your college environment about your feelings. When you are away at college and separated from your family and other support groups, it is necessary to rely on the people around you.

Instructor Notification Form

The university offers a system for students to contact their instructors. This can be a helpful tool to use to get in contact with your professors if you need to take some time off from classes. In order to complete these forms, you must talk to the professor first and then submit some proof of your situation. The professor can deny your request to miss class or work, which is unfortunate, in my opinion. However, I think that this is still a good way for students to balance their academics during a crisis. It can be very difficult to stay motivated while grieving, so I would recommend this form to others.

Online Workshops

For me, I decided to turn to therapy as a way to work through some personal issues in the months after my sister’s passing. I reached out to the Counseling and Wellness Center at UF and was able to meet with a therapist for a few months, which was very helpful for me. They even put me in contact with a psychiatrist to further my work. I find the people at the CWC to be empathetic and helpful, especially if this is your first time trying out counseling. It can be difficult to make an appointment due to the long wait list, but it is a great program provided by the university.

While working with my therapist, she told me about the workshops and events that the CWC offers for students. They have multiple online workshops that meet every day and discuss a variety of topics. These meetings are more casual and just require you to RSVP and join the Zoom link. They have a general bereavement group and a group that just talks about death, which can be beneficial if you want to find people going through your same situation.

Take a break, and remember your needs

There is always the opportunity to take a leave of absence if needed. Even just taking a single semester off could give you time to work through some things and become mentally situated with your life. This is not always an option for students due to financial and personal reasons, but I think it could be a good thing for others.

One of the most important things I have learned from this experience is that you should never feel bad for what you need to do after having a family member or close friend pass away. Everyone’s journey is going to be very different, which is totally fine. My own choices are personal to me, and no one should regret it if they need to do something differently.

I do wish the school would offer more for students going through mental or personal struggles, as they don’t seem to have many resources. The best thing for me to do was talk to people, even if it feels awkward and unhelpful.

Losing someone is an everyday struggle that we never escape. It follows you through all major life changes, even when you think enough time should have passed. The myth that things get easier as time goes on isn’t really true if you ask me — it’s more so that we grow accustomed to the new weight we bear.

Please reach out for help if you feel yourself struggling for any reason.

Minna is an English major at the University of Florida. She is a features writer for Her Campus UFL.
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