Good grief - a guide to coping at university when you've lost someone you loved.
My Grandad was almost like the lifeline of my mother’s rather small side of the family. Never short of a terrible “Grandad joke” or sly cheating in card games, his wit and humour shaped so many of the fonder memories of childhood. When he was diagnosed with Cancer just three weeks before he died, I can only describe that moment that encompassed such an indescribable feeling as numb. Wanting to be optimistic but consequently fearing the worst clouded much of the constant boomerang lifestyle between London and home that took over the first weeks of my second semester.
I consider myself to always have a positive outlook on life, but ironically have an overtly irrational fear of failure. Whilst living this temporary lifestyle between homes and hospital visits I was also trying to write four 4000 word essays, adamant that I would submit them before their due date. Frustrated and fragile I wrote four appalling essays, so determined not to apply for an extension, and to cloud the sadness that temporarily took over my enjoyment of life. If I could have told my past self one thing, it would most certainly have been that it’s okay not to be okay. Anyone who experiences any kind of trauma whilst at uni needs to understand that there is always an alternative to struggling. I think it is so important to take a step out of the moment, and consider what really matters before stepping back in.
Surprisingly, when my Grandad had passed away I was less sad than I expected to be. Death is so often romanticised in films and literature that I almost felt guilt for not wallowing in my own self-pity. However, my optimism to swiftly get back into to the swing of University, and almost an itching to return to my usual hardworking self, was the hardest part of the entire process. My Grandad’s passing bonded myself, my Grandmother, my mother and my sister closer together in such an overwhelming sense that I then found myself thinking irrationally about what I would do if I also lost them. I was so desperate to get back to London, but then was terrified of leaving the women that had kept me so strong over the past month. It was an incredibly tough point of realisation that unfortunately life does just have to move on.
I think not allowing myself to ‘mourn’, to recover, to take healing time, finding myself in a tutor’s office hour the day of the funeral was in hindsight a brave but wrong decision. Plunging myself into my work, dance shows, parties, and nights out because I was under the impression that my Grandad ‘wouldn’t have wanted me to be upset’ I think was more of a mask than it was a reality. I actually didn’t cry or show any kind of upset until my 20th birthday, opening a card for the first time that was simply signed “Love, Nanny” and lacked the name that I found so hard to contemplate was missing. I wish I had opened my eyes sooner to the incredible support system I have within my friendship circles and family and allowed myself time to appreciate that death is absolutely a valid reason not to be yourself.
On a lighter note, I can honestly say that time does heal, and things do get better. After facing a shitstorm of grades at the end of a really horrific second year at University, my extensions not being granted until I could “prove such an incident with a death certificate” (I wish I could say that comforting line I heard was a joke) I took the summer to reflect on my achievements despite what my family had experienced. I was and am still so keen to flourish in my final year at King’s, and am so excited to see what the future brings. I find myself cringing when I catch myself complaining about such trivial problems; I think each and every day should be lived to the fullest, surrounded by the people you are closest to.