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Family, keeping busy and researching: What it’s like to deal with grief at university

Arriving at university was a massive shock

Grief can come in many forms, and it comes unexpectedly. It can leave you feeling isolated, lost, anxious and confused. No matter where you are, or who you are surrounded by, it will never be easy to deal with. And with the added pressures of exams, social life, loneliness and being far away from home, dealing with grief at university can make it a lot harder.

My experience

I lost someone very close to me before coming to university in September, and I can't find a single word to explain how it felt. Numbness, heartache, pain, all don't seem to suffice how it feels to lose someone so important to you.

I never factored in how much harder being at university would make dealing with grief. I arrived at university still in a state of shock, I still am now. I took being at home, surrounded by long term friends and family for granted, and coming to university was a shock to my system. It should have felt like a new lease on life, where I would have a fresh start and be able to create a new identity. But instead, I felt like I was carrying the weight of my loss on my own.

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Asking for help

When suffering a loss it is completely normal to want to isolate yourself and deal with your emotions on your own, and being at university makes it easy to do that. You have the option not to tell anyone and your parents aren't there to knock on your door and check you're okay. When you know better than anyone how heavy it can be to carry the baggage of grief; the last thing you want to do is unload that onto someone else.

But going through grief on your own can make everything feel ten times harder. It’s important to know you are not a burden. When friends ask how you are – they mean it. They care. Don’t be afraid to talk, as talking is one of the best forms of therapy there is.

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I was also quick to realise how important it was to inform my university – especially if it was affecting my studies. For the first term I thought I could do it on my own – but I was very wrong. Universities can offer more support than you may think, so I’d definitely encourage you to look into your universities policies on counselling and support.

Do some research

Everyone grieves in different ways, and grief can come in waves. Some days I feel okay, other days I don't want to leave my bed. It's also not uncommon for someone to want to distract themselves in unhealthy ways – especially at university with all the underlying social pressures. Going out all the time can feel like a great short-term distraction but not the best long-term solution. Grief will never leave you, so you have to think long-term in how to deal with it.

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So, it's important to research about the grieving process, understand the different ways people grieve, and focus on becoming more self-aware and grieving in the healthiest way possible. It may seem like staying in bed all day is your preferred option, and sometimes the thought of mere eye-contact with another person is painful – but pushing yourself to get out of bed and face the world can be a step in the right direction.

Keeping the mind busy

I can easily say keeping busy is the best advice I could give. As it became increasingly hard to spend too much time on my own, I value time spent with my friends a million times more now than I ever did before.

Of course it's important to be able to be on your own, but weekends at university can often feel long and dragged out. I find the best, healthiest distractions were to just see my friends, go shopping, go to the gym – anything that cleared my mind.

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Family is everything

Your family are your best support system and being at university it's hard not having them here. Sometimes when I'm upset, I feel apprehensive to ring home because I don't want them to worry about me. I feel like I should be at university and be completely independent and not be ringing home every night. But parents are there to support you no matter how old you are.

Keeping in contact makes me feel connected and reminds me that I'm not going through it alone. My family understand my grief more than anyone, so constant phone-calls and FaceTime are a necessity. Even a simple train ride home at the weekend can make the world of difference when I'm feeling low.

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Although I don't believe I was fully ready to come to university as soon as I did, I don't regret it, as perhaps I would have never been ready. Despite it being difficult, I have made amazing memories and friends that I am thankful for.

What I would encourage is to not be afraid to ask for help. As soon as I reached out things started to get better and I felt a sudden weight lifted off my shoulders. As much as you think you can go through it on your own, it is a lot easier with support.