The loss of a someone close is the most stressful event that a person will go through in their life. For a student living away from home who has just begun to find their feet in the world, it can be even more difficult. Whether the death was expected or not, it can be just as traumatic.
During my second year at Cardiff, my grandmother fell ill and her passing was unexpected. It had taken me a while to settle into the uni lifestyle, and the news left me naturally distraught. I felt rather lost, not knowing whether I should be at university or at home. I went home for a day but my cousin and I decided to return to university the next day as we felt that the best way to deal with it at the time was to keep busy.
The time leading up to the funeral was very strange. On one hand I was far removed from the situation and didn’t have to face up to reality. I had essays due in within a fortnight, so tried to throw myself into my work. However, it was also incredibly isolating. Although I knew I had my family’s support, I was geographically distant so couldn’t just pop home every evening. Plus, losing a loved one just makes you want to be close to family and friends that much more. I pressurised myself to carry on as normal. ‘You’re an adult now’, I thought. ‘You have responsibilities and you need to be strong.’ But the truth is that people are far more understanding than that.
Everyone reacts differently to loss. Some people may experience denial, where they try not to face up to the reality. Some may feel sadness, anxiety and helplessness. Others may feel anger at the deceased loved one for leaving them behind. Many people experience a mixture of these among other emotions, as there are several stages to grief. The most important thing to remember is that your feelings about the situation are valid. Talking to other loved ones who are going through the same thing and others (perhaps family members from the other side of your family) who are far removed really helps. Knowing that you are not alone can make you feel (as much as I hate the word) more normal.
Be kind to yourself. Keeping things bottled up is very ill-advised and emotionally harmful. It is healthier to allow yourself to feel sad and cry as much as you want, as it releases bodily tension. Don’t feel frightened to express yourself in front of others. You are not weak! You are human. Everyone deals with grief in their own way and if anyone judges you for it, don’t waste your time on them. You certainly come to find out who your friends are during difficult times.
Cardiff University is fully supportive of both staff and students dealing with bereavement, and there are several things that they can help you with. If you are struggling at uni due to grief, go and speak to your personal tutor and explain. They will understand your situation completely and are likely to refer you to the student counselling service. This is an excellent resource that has several different options that may suit you if you wish to talk about your feelings. Firstly, they have daily drop in sessions between the hours of 3pm and 3:45pm if you want to have a fifteen minute chat with a member of staff. They can offer advice, support and self help leaflets. There is also an online service that is run on Mondays and Fridays between the hours of 11:30am and 12:30pm if you can’t make the drop-in session. If you feel that you may need further support, you can arrange a longer appointment with a counsellor. Alternatively, if talking is not for you, the student support team also organise regular group workshops that inform you about the grief process and offer some general advice.
If you lose a loved one during an assessment period, it is essential that you speak to your tutors about extenuating circumstances. Don’t feel afraid to ask, because that is what these measures are there for. It is very difficult to perform to the best of your academic ability when your mind is occupied on dealing with your emotions. Adding more stress to this could do much more harm than you think, not only to your overall grade, but to your own physical and mental well-being. Even something like a two-week extension for an essay can really help you by taking the pressure off.
Sometimes people are affected physically by bereavement. For example, if you have noticed a loss of appetite or are having trouble sleeping, don’t dismiss it. Go and speak with your GP. They will be able to advise you on the best course of action. Often it can be a vicious cycle where your negative feelings make you unable to sleep and eat properly, which in turn make you even more stressed and anxious. By dealing with the physical symptoms, you may begin to see an improvement in your emotional health.
If you are experiencing the loss of a loved one, remember you have every right to grieve. People should respect that and give you as much time as you need to do so. It will take time to adjust to the situation but it will get better.