I had plenty to worry about when starting University. Would I get on with my flatmates? How would I cope with the workload? Would I be able to make my money stretch for the whole term, with surviving purely on a diet of frozen chips and cereal? I’m sure these are the thoughts of every new first year student. But for me, there was one more thing that I couldn’t get out of my mind; What will I say when someone asks me about my Mum?
I had lost my Mother to Bowel Cancer just the year before, when I had just turned eighteen years old. I remember my eighteenth birthday, as I went to school in the morning, and then was allowed to take a half day off school to go and visit my Mum in her hospice. Just two weeks later, she passed away.
I’m now 31 years old, so am able to look back on this time with reflection, and wanted to
share some of the key things I’ve learnt, just in case you too are struggling with grief at a
Don’t try to hide it
In our teenage years, we are so consumed by what other people think about us. This
becomes especially clear when we start University - we want people around us to think that we are fun, easy-going and a good person to hang out with.
I remember being so worried that someone would find out about what I was going through, and terrified of the awkward conversation that would follow. I would actively avoid conversations about the family I’d left at home, and change the subject when my new friends started talking about their plans for going home for Mother’s Day, just so I didn’t have to unexpectedly break the news to them that I no longer had a Mother to buy flowers for. This scenario might sound familiar to you, if you too have lost someone close to you.
So what happened when the time did come, and I did speak to my new friends about the loss of my Mum? They were amazing, that’s what. They were supportive, they were curious and they allowed me to speak openly about my feelings and about the person I missed so much. Even to this day, 13 years later, my two best friends from University will send me a ‘thinking of you’ text on the anniversary of her passing - how wonderful is that? My one learning here is that when you feel ready to, do speak about your grief and the person you have lost. In many cases, having a new support group outside of your immediate friends and family can be really liberating, and people may just surprise you.
Turn your sadness into motivation
One thing I struggled with was knowing that my Mum wouldn’t be at my graduation
ceremony, or see the successes I went on to have once I’d completed my degree. If you too have lost a close family member or friend, you might well be having the same thoughts. I found that by channeling that sadness into even more of a desire to do well, and really make them proud, I was able to use this loss as motivation rather than something that might hold me back.
For example, my Mum always used to love reading anything I’d written, and would support me on the (many!) times I tried to write a book, even though I never made it past chapter three! I studied Journalism at University, and in my third year I got a double page spread published in the Daily Mirror - a national newspaper! Part of the driving force behind me working so hard on that, was the knowledge that my Mum would be so proud to see my words published for others to read.
Lean on others
No one can tell you that being a student whilst grieving is going to be easy. Yes there will be new friendships, fun times and workloads to keep you busy, but there will still be moments of pure sadness as you think about the person you have lost. It is therefore so important to lean on the other people in your life more than ever.
When my Mum died, I was still at the age where being close with your parents wasn’t exactly ‘cool’. I’d rather go out with my friends than sit at home with my family. One thing that became clear to me after losing a parent as a teenager, is that it’s actually pretty cool to have a strong relationship with your family.
Going off to University can open our eyes to the great support network we have at home, both family and friends, so don’t be afraid to lean on them more than ever. The three years I spent away from home actually strengthened my relationship with my Dad more than anything, and I do think my grief and my loss only added to that. It’s so important to remember that no matter how you feel, you are not alone.
This is just my experience of losing a parent as a student, but I hope it helps others out there to realise that they are not alone, and to never be afraid to talk about it. For further advice and support, please do feel free to reach out to the team here at Onyx Support.