In this blog, Grace reflects on her experience of grieving whilst at university. Get in touch to share your own story or advice for others.

An ominous silence filled every crevice of my 19-year old existence, as I sat clutching Dad’s hand and we received the very news we had convinced ourselves would never come. The abstract nature of time came crashing down, as the future of our father-daughter relationship suddenly morphed into a mere 12 months.

The year after I lost my Dad is a blur, as I proceeded to barely exist; living mostly within a repressed recess of my brain. Life, however, doesn’t bow down and offer to stand still for you whilst you grieve – not only was I waking up to the daily silence of not hearing Dad’s voice, but also the realisation that the final year of my undergraduate degree continued to loom ahead of me.

The girl whose Dad just died.

Losing a parent whilst trying to complete a degree inevitably presents itself with extra battles for you to tackle on top of your heartbreak. For example, how to overcome the hours of missed lectures or the inner conflict of wanting to be in two places at once.

Home; a safe haven where the comfort and security of my family allowed me to process my grief with no boundaries, (something which the very limited support resources I found told me was important).

And then University; this idyllic social bubble, where I could immerse myself under the false pretence of still being just a regular third year student. Faced with the fear of not graduating with my friends, I decided to return to university. But really, I wasn’t simply returning as the girl who left; I was returning as the girl who just lost her Dad.

Who wants a sobbing girl at their house party?

I compensated for this new aspect of my identity by always striving to be the most flamboyant version of myself; barely would I be absent from a house party or a night out. On reflection, it was a great way of distracting myself and I look back on that year of my life as holding some of my fondest memories. I was very lucky to have already met my best friends at university before I lost Dad and their support was invaluable.

However, I have come to realise that back then I was suppressing my emotions, in a desperate bid to appear “normal” and save my friends from the all-consuming black hole of my grief. At a time in our lives when we should be our most selfish, I couldn’t help but contemplate how my grief was impacting other people’s university experience…

No place for grief at university

The societal idea of university being “the best three years of your life” doesn’t quite align with being grief-stricken. I believe this notion only forces young people to be even more cautious when speaking of their loss, fuelled by underlying fears of being branded “the party pooper”.

Five years on, there are so many things I wish my 19-year-old self could have understood. The most important being just how OK it is to not always want to be fun, just because you are at university. Life will offer plenty more opportunities to create meaningful memories; there is no need to give into this pressure. It’s of upmost importance to be kind to yourself whilst you are grieving.

You don’t realise how strong you are until you have no option

If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, I urge you to fight any feelings you might have of being ashamed to talk about it. I lived in fear of making others feel uncomfortable, which initially led to my experience being shrouded in loneliness.

Opening up about your vulnerability only makes you feel stronger and more in control. I promise you that discussions about your loss will be met with love and admiration. Learning to speak openly has been the most cathartic process of my grief, but one I am still working on to this day. It is the catalyst I believe we all need; let’s never stop talking about loss.

Grace Lakey

5 thoughts on “There’s nothing cool about loss: Why grieving at university is such a social dilemma

  1. I have lost my dad recently during my first year of university. I can’t decide whether to go back in September when we haven’t had a memorial for him yet (as we couldn’t attend his funeral due to restrictions). I really want to graduate with my friends and not a new set of people but at the same time I don’t want to be the girl who lost her dad . Do you think graduating with your friends was the right decision for you ?

    1. Hi Kirsty!

      Thank you so much for reading my blog post, I hope you were able to find some comfort knowing you aren’t the only person to have experienced these dilemmas.

      It’s definitely a hard decision for you to have to make and I am so sorry you are in the position of having to decide. Graduating with my friends was definitely the right thing for me, it was a sense of normality that I needed. However, I do think this decision depends on a multitude of factors, so I think you need to take time to consider what would be right for you.

      Please feel free to contact me if you want to speak about anything in more detail

  2. Oh my god this is such a great blog post, exactly what I needed to read with Father’s Day looming tomorrow! Honestly I could have written this myself I lost my Dad when I was 19 at just before Christmas of my second year, going back in the January was the hardest thing I’ve done but in hindsight I’m so glad I did and graduated with my friends, I know my Dad would have been so so proud and I’m sure yours would have been too it’s such an achievement! (Something I’ve only realised 5 years on now out of my grief fog) I spent the rest of my uni days out drinking and crying on random people in club smoking areas which may not have been the healthiest way to cope but nice to know I wasn’t the only girl out there crying at house parties. It’s a very weird situation to be in to look back at those final 18 months of uni as the best and worst years of my life and again, glad to know I’m not alone in that. Thank you so much for posting this

    1. Hi Charlotte,

      Thank you so much for reading my blog post and leaving this comment, it has put a big smile on my face!

      I’m so sorry you have had to align with my story, but I’m glad you have realised you are not alone in this and other people have been that crying girl at a houseparty!

      It definitely has taken me five years to realise how amazing it is to have gone back and completed a degree! I think I just did it on autopilot at the time…

      Best Wishes,

      Grace

  3. I am so proud of Grace and the strength she showed during this devestating time. She propelled herself to be the person she wanted to be for her father if he was still here … or not. Somehow the situation she found herself in … together with the utter heartache. . Came strength and purpose for the memory and pride of her father. I am past proud of Grace and her achievements … and in a very strange way… she had her dad next to her on that journey ❤

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