Monday 14 September 2020

Dealing with the loss of a family member during university

Rianna shares her personal experience of dealing with the loss of my grandmother during university and share her tips for seeking help
- Rianna Patterson

University life isn't easy. I lost my grandmother during my second year of university. She passed away on the first day of exams. I only managed to do one exam and then I flew back to Dominica that same week to be with my mum and help plan the funeral. I had to submit a concession for that term which meant I pursued exams at a later date. I managed to pass my exams and proceed to my final year.

I started the new school year feeling hopeful, but that had rapidly decreased as I became depressed. I was not able to fully grieve for my grandmother during summertime so the effect of her death impacted me starting in September. I spoke to the Psychology support team at my university, they were very supportive. I pursued cognitive therapy (CBT) because I could not bring myself to think positively anymore, about anything. I found it hard to get out of bed in the morning. I lacked motivation to even go to the grocery shop to buy food. University did not fulfil me, my hobbies did not fulfil me. I felt like I had no direction. 

I received an email in November which sparked an idea and that generated some desire to work towards something. I got back my motivation and kept working on this project. By the start of 2020 all my enthusiasm dropped once again as I started to go through a period of financial difficulty. I completely gave up on everything and decided to leave social media. I think the break also helped me to focus on my mental health and therapy sessions. I came back on social media after exams, started working on the film project that I am now looking to launch in November 2020, to raise awareness of Dementia. The proceeds of the film will also be used to donate to educational and mental health charities in memory of my grandmother. 

One piece of advice I would give to anyone facing the loss of a family member during university is to be patient with yourself and focus on what matters. Motivation is like a curveball, it will come and go. Grades are important but I personally believe that your mental health takes priority. I am still working on this myself to take breaks and be kind to myself but sometimes life will put you in a position where you have no choice but to be still and heal. Call a friend, there will always be someone who understands but remember your friends are not your therapist. I would not suggest depending on your friends for clarity and a deeper understanding. Seek professional help if needs be. 

Grieving is a process, it can activate a very sensitive side of you. I was very vulnerable during this time. I would take offence to everything and anything. There were periods where I felt alone and did not reach out for help. Reflecting on this, it wasn't a good approach. Speak to your university and join support groups. In the early stages of grieving, creativity gave me purpose and enjoyment, think about what works for you and try it. It might be painting or journaling. Allow yourself to feel, whether positive or negative. Suppressing your emotions is not a concrete strategy. Feel so you can heal. 

Check out Student Minds for more advice on looking after your mental wellbeing at university.
Visit the NHS website to access support and resources for those experiencing bereavement.  Let's Talk About Loss also provide support for people 18-35 who have lost someone. 

Visit Student Space for more information about coping with loss, especially during the coronavirus outbreak.

Rianna Patterson is the founder of a youth led charity called Dominica Dementia Foundation, which raises awareness of Dementia and provides support to care homes, families and caregivers affected by Dementia. She is also a fellow TEDx speaker and director of the Dementia the Island Journey Film, a project that has motivated her during her university life. If you would like to find out more about the project please visit these links: 

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