It’s never easy to lose a loved one. In fact, most of us would probably agree that going through bereavement is one of life’s most difficult experiences. But coping with grief whilst at university, when you’re away from home and loved ones can often make it even harder to process everything.
However, in spite of the way grief can sometimes make us feel, having a stigma-free conversation around mental health and coming to terms with bereavement is now being widely encouraged especially with students in education.
From Princes William and Harry openly discussing their mother’s death to Ricky Gervais’ comedy-drama After Life tackling the experiences of a husband in mourning, in today’s day and age, it’s okay to not be okay.
It’s also important to remember that grief is something almost all of us will go through at some point. To help you overcome some of the challenges involved whilst at university, here are five key things to remember.
- Don’t Shy Away From The Service
You will likely need to travel home from university to attend the funeral or other end-of-life services. Often these are viewed as morbid stressors on the family of those who have recently passed. The rise of pre-paid funeral plans has helped in eliminating some of the practical pressures of planning a service, but many service providers work with loved ones to provide an experience that both balances the send-off with an opportunity for those who remain to mourn.
After all, it’s important to remember that funeral services are not just for the recently lost loved one – they’re also an opportunity for the bereaved to gain some catharsis and closure.
In many cultures, this closure is traditionally met by hosting a celebration of the person’s life filled with their favourite music, food and lots of bright colours.
Alternatively, if you study abroad and taking into account that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, some celebrants are now actually offering virtual COVID-secure funerals. While it may not be for everybody, hosting a virtual funeral could not only allow more people to ‘attend’ but – with such a wide variety of service types now available – it will also provide an authentic last hoorah for your loved one.
- It’s Okay To Feel Angry Or Hurt
Contrary to what many people believe, grief isn’t the same as sadness or depression.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has, however, long spoken about there being five key stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Her work states that it’s perfectly natural to feel anything from outright rage to extreme sadness when coming to terms with loss. But, it’s also possible to feel none of these emotions – there isn’t a one size fits all approach when it comes to grieving.
As she states in her book, Kübler-Ross said: “There is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”
Speaking to your tutor or university counsellor can provide support in the absence of family and close friends back home. Getting things off your chest when speaking to a professional allows you to talk more openly about your emotions without worrying about the friend you choose to offload onto. If you’re simply having a bad day, your university counsellors can often suggest techniques and methods of how to best process your grief whilst away from home.
- It’s Not A Race
It’s very easy to feel pressured by others to get over your loss quickly, even more so when you’re at university with looming deadlines and group projects in full swing where people are relying on you to do your part. However, it’s crucial to remember that, just as we all respond in unique ways to the death of a loved one, we also process things at our own pace.
Grief is not a linear process and it can be helpful to make lateral moves in order to slowly adjust to the change. If, for example, you are used to telling a childhood friend back home about your day, it may comfort you to continue talking as if they are there or to write down what you would say to them in a diary.
Alternatively, some people find it helpful to take up new hobbies or the pastime of their loved one whilst at university. Making even the smallest change to your routine could help you better process your feelings, but don’t feel like you need to rush. Let life move at your own pace.
- It Won’t Always Be This Way (Science Says So!)
How many times have you heard someone say: “Don’t worry, it will all be alright in the end” after you’ve lost someone? Probably too many times but – as a matter of fact – scientific evidence actually supports this statement.
Known as the Hedonic Treadmill/Hedonic Adaptation, this refers to the scientific observation that, despite major positive or negative life changes, humans tend to return to a stable level of happiness. In other words, huge emotional events in our lives (i.e. a bereavement) result in no significant permanent damage to our long-term happiness.
What’s more, the concept of a set level of happiness actually stretches back for centuries and centuries, all the way to the 1600s. It’s perhaps no wonder, therefore, why telling someone they will be okay is so commonplace today.
- You’re Not Alone
We live in an unprecedented time where emotional health issues are no longer taboo and support is more readily available than ever for students.
From the more traditional options like university grief support groups and counselling on campus to more alternative forms like ‘death cafes’, there are now a number of avenues available which look to encourage an open conversation around grief and remind you that you are not alone.
If you’re struggling with grief, it’s important to recognise the signs of serious mental health issues and reach out for additional support whenever you feel you need it.
Grieving is an incredibly difficult process for any of us to work through, especially when attending university but, by acknowledging its presence, we promise you’ll get through in the end.
The key thing to remember is that your reaction to loss is just as unique as you are. However you personally need to handle your grief, you will eventually find a way to integrate it into a new normal.
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