Getting through university following a bereavement

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Graduation day at a college with students in black robes throwing their mortarboards in the air

Emily shares her story of being bereaved before she went to university, and how she coped with the university experience without her dad. We know that university can be a really difficult time for anyone, especially if you’re grieving. We want to see Let’s Talk About Loss meet ups in all university towns and cities to support students who are struggling with loss. Get in touch today if you want to start, or join, a Let’s Talk About Loss meet up. Together, we’re talking through the taboo.

In 2012, when I was almost at the end of my A Levels, my world turned upside down when my Dad passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. When my Dad died, I lost sight of all my goals of going to university to become a (primary school) teacher and it took me well over a year to re-apply. This turned out to be one of the best things I did because getting into Swansea University to study Modern Languages, Translation and Interpreting taught me a lot throughout this crazy journey that is bereavement.

Meeting new people when you’ve been bereaved

I started studying at Swansea University a year and a half after losing my Dad and it did not happen without challenges and concerns. To begin with, one of my main worries was whether or not I told people that my Dad had passed away. At the start of Freshers’ week, moving into campus accommodation when all the conversations seem to be about where you’re from, what your family is like, what you’re studying and so on was daunting for me because my thoughts were often “at what point do I come out with the fact that my Dad is dead?” I was worried that people would judge me.

Throughout my time at university, I was fortunate enough to meet other students in similar situations to myself and this made it significantly less awkward. I was also incredibly lucky to make friends with students who made the effort to understand and empathise with what I was going through. What I took away from this is that having friends who are there for you during those inevitable days where everything feels overwhelming and upsetting makes a whole world of difference. Being able to be open and honest about how you’re feeling is important. I was lucky to be able to talk to my friends at university about my Dad, about his life and about his death.

The lack of support for students

University also gave me the chance to explore grief more openly and widely within the student community. In addition to my own experiences of being able to speak about it to friends, as well as to the staff in the Students’ Union Advice and Support Centre who were always friendly and available to listen to me, I also discovered that bereavement and grief isn’t much talked about at university. Three of the friends I made through university had suffered bereavement but there wasn’t much support available specifically to students who had been bereaved ether before they started university or while they were studying at university. This inspired and motivated me to explore this through the students’ newspaper at Swansea, by sharing my own story and inspiring others to share their story regarding bereavement.

Finally, I wish to explain what graduation was like for me. Graduating from university is a massive achievement and something to be super proud of. Personally, for me, it was an emotional day at graduation because I knew my Dad would have loved to have been there, watching me walk across that stage in my graduation robes. However, I told myself that he was there, in my heart, which is where he always has been throughout my university journey and always will be now I’m out in the big, wide world.

Emily Maybanks

Share your story with Let’s Talk About Loss by emailing us on Together, we’re talking through the taboo.