#UniMentalHealthDay: Managing grief with your studies
Bereavement will touch us all in life eventually. Losing a parent, grandparent, friend or loved one is difficult enough, and can be hard to handle at university.
I’ve recently taken a break from blogging following the sudden death of my mum, Lindsey, over the Christmas break.
That’s her in the main picture, at Tate Modern with Untitled (Bacchus) 2008 by Cy Twombly.
Mum’s death has been a complete shock to everyone and is particularly hard as my dad, Clive, also died just three years ago.
Since it will be University Mental Health Day on Thursday 9 March, I thought I would write again. I want to contribute in some way to all the information, advice and guidance that supports student wellbeing.
Let me just say now that the experience of grief is unique to each person. There is no single, clear way to navigate it.
But here are a few things that helped me. I hope they might help you, too.
Talk to your Personal Tutor
This is the most practical thing you can do in the immediate aftermath of loss. Your Personal Tutor can discuss with you what needs to happen next in terms of managing your studies. That might include deadline extensions or mitigating circumstances. They will also be able to signpost you to relevant services and support if you need it.
For me, sorting out the practical stuff first gave me the mental space to cope with the emotional impact of my mum’s death.
Allow yourself to grieve
Making room for all the feelings that followed my mum’s death has been so important… bottling them up or putting on a brave face only ever delays the inevitable.
“It’s okay to not be okay” is something we hear a lot and that’s because it’s true.
Some days are harder than others. Some days I can listen to my mum’s favourite songs, or look through old photos of her and smile. Others I take like a punch in the gut.
The key is to know that all those feelings are valid. There is no approved timeline or roadmap to follow when you experience loss. Your journey is your own.
Someone very wonderful shared this tip with me after I lost my dad. She said that I might accidentally forget things, and to remember that I wasn’t ‘going mad’… it was just my brain’s way of reacting to shock.
She was 100% right. I did forget things. I lost track of time, I left my wallet at home, I forgot passwords.
Making lists and notes (and using phone alarms) has been so useful. But it’s also about giving myself permission to drop the ball when I need to.
Having a supportive network around you can make a real difference. But let’s be honest, not everyone automatically knows how to support someone moving through grief.
If you’re studying away from home, you might not be around the people experiencing the same loss as you.
In these situations, grief can become really lonely. So it’s important to reach out for emotional support.
- Wellbeing Services at Warwick can help with a wide range of issues, including bereavement.
- The Chaplaincy also offers support whatever your religious beliefs, if any.
- Cruse Bereavement Care has a webchat facility with a bereavement counsellor, which I’ve used in the past and can thoroughly recommend.
You’re not alone in this.
Remember them in your own way
Another piece of advice I received was to talk to a loved one out loud when I missed them most, as if they were with me in the room.
“If they were here with you right now, what would you talk about?”
I’ve ‘chatted’ to Dad in the car driving home, and to Mum while ironing… initially I felt a bit absurd. But after a while, the action became restorative.
Songs, art-making, creative tributes, sharing memories, journalling… all these things can have a reparative effect in the short-term.
#UniMentalHealthDay gives the student community all the opportunity to reflect on our wellbeing needs. That includes how you, or your friends and family, are coping with loss.
So it’s in this spirit I leave you with the words of bell hooks, from All About Love: New Visions (2001).
“Death is always there to remind us that our plans are transitory. By learning to love, we learn to accept change. Without change, we cannot grow.”
For my mum, Lindsey Dean (1961-2022).