Coping with University Life After a Bereavement
September 12, 2023
Going to university and being away from home puts distance between you and your family and friends. This may feel like a good thing – you may feel relieved to have some time apart from what’s been going on – or you may feel guilty, left out and isolated from others as you are grieving.
As the weeks and months pass you’ll find ways of managing this change. In this blog, we share some ideas that may help you during this time…
Negotiate and plan with your family
- Discuss with your family – decide how much you would like them to check in on you. Don’t feel afraid to let them know if you need space, or if you change your mind and actually want them to check in more.
- Use technology – remember you can use facetime to feel close to your family or friends whilst you are away.
- Set up an emergency contact system – this could be one person that you contact if you feel you are really struggling with your emotions, or different people for different times/days of the week.
Communicate with your university
- Tell your university what is going on – ask them what support is available; pastoral care, counselling support, university based support groups etc.
- Talk to your tutors – if you are distracted or struggling let them know; ask about extensions to deadlines, mitigating circumstances or even a leave of absence if things are really difficult.
- Arrange to sit near the door – if you need a moment out, this will help if you need to leave quickly and quietly.
Take care of yourself
- Let your new friends know about your loss – some of them might feel awkward and not know what to say, but others will be able to empathise and offer support and a listening ear.
- Explain your boundaries – you may not always feel like joining in but you’d love it if people would continue to invite you to things anyway – or say you need a time out, but in a couple of weeks you’d like to be invited again. Everyone deals with things differently, so let them know what works for you.
- Find out if there are any local support groups – if you can’t find much, or the times don’t match your availability, you can always look for online support (Student Minds and Grief Encounter are two fantastic organisations – Hope can also offer you support if your bereavement was due to a serious illness like cancer!).
- Take time out – take a walk, sleep, exercise, sing, dance or do whatever it is that unwinds and de-stresses you.
- Ask for help and share your worries – ask your friends, ask your tutors, the university, your counsellor, or a family friend. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or to ask someone if they have time to listen.
Keep an eye on the positives
You have left home, made a start on that uni course that you have been working towards over the past few years and you are surviving – maybe even thriving. That is all worth celebrating!
So remember, there are benefits of leaving home – even if sometimes it doesn’t feel that way; uni can really help develop your independence, improve your confidence, create new friendship groups, and put some distance between you and the things that used to really grate on you at home. Hopefully the course you are studying will engage and inspire you, but uni life in general will help you manage your own money and budget (although yes we know, sometimes with mixed success..!), teach you how to take care of yourself, and start you on that path towards adult life.
Celebrate the wins
When someone you love has died, it’s easy to feel guilty about enjoying yourself – but it’s OK! Grief is a swirling ball of rubbishness (too much?), and can hit you when you least expect it, so embrace those times where you are doing well. Celebrate those little things, and the big things; whether it be meeting a new friend who really gets you, learning new stuff, meeting that deadline, learning to cook a half decent meal or finding your favourite food on offer at the supermarket and managing to balance the ten packs you’ve just bought in the cupboard like some sort of kitchen Jenga, allow yourself to smile and be proud of these moments. Especially kitchen Jenga.