Tuesday 12 December 2023

Grief from a distance

Emily shares her recent experiences of loss and shares some tips that have helped her through this difficult time. 

- Emily Thorpe

A few weeks ago, I lost my Nan to dementia. I understand that my situation is not unique, and that loss is experienced by everyone. Sometimes unexpectedly; sometimes losing someone stretches out over a long period of time. Both hurt profoundly. 

Two months ago, I embarked on a year abroad to teach English in Spain. When I said a temporary goodbye to the UK, I didn’t think that would have meant saying a final goodbye to my Nan. 

Losing someone very close to me while working abroad has been incredibly challenging. I decided to stay in Spain rather than return home, which meant finding a different way to grieve. Grieving at a distance has been difficult, as it has been also loaded with feelings of guilt and isolation from family and friends. 

I wanted to share some tips for others who may be facing a similar situation. Although grief is personal, I found the below ways helpful in my journey of coming to terms with the death of my Nan. 

1. Talk to the people who surround you

I have met so many incredible people while I’ve been abroad. The teachers at school, other language assistants and even my landlady have all formed a really strong support network. Seeking support from the individuals in my life now has enabled me to talk through my emotions to process my grief whilst also reducing feelings of isolation. My chosen family have been holding my hand throughout my grief process. 

2. Maintain regular contact with home

Technology has been my best friend over the past few weeks. I have been able to remain in contact with my friends and family during this period which has been so helpful to both share our grief as a family whilst enabling me to feel more involved with ways to remember my Nan. On the point of technology, sometimes it is possible for funerals to be live-streamed too. It may be worth enquiring if this is a possibility if you are unable to return home for the funeral. 

3. It’s okay to take time off. Equally, it’s okay to carry on working. 

It is okay to feel like you need to take a step back from your life abroad. Some evenings, I practised self-care by listening to music in my flat and painting my nails. This was something that I loved to do with my Nan. However, I have still continued to teach in my school over the past few weeks. Do what makes you feel comfortable. It doesn’t matter if some people believe you should be doing one thing rather than another. Grief is personal.

4. Create your own memorial 

As I was unable to attend the funeral, I have created my own ways to remember my Nan. I was fortunate enough to be gifted one of her bracelets for my 21st birthday from my Grandad which I wear every day. Wearing this piece of jewellery has helped me to feel a little bit closer to both my Nan and my family. I have also created an album of photographs on my phone to remind me of all the lovely memories that I have of my Nan. Creating your own memorial for the person you have lost can allow you to feel just that little bit closer to home. 

For National Grief Awareness Week 2023, I wanted to share that it is important to remember that grief is personal to you. Don’t let others tell you how you should be grieving. I decided to stay in Spain and find my own ways to come to terms with the death of my Nan. Nobody should judge you for taking some time off to return home to grieve. Equally, nobody should judge you for grieving from a distance.

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at university or supporting a friend, help is available

I'm Emily, a third-year History and Spanish undergraduate at Durham University currently on a year abroad in Galicia, Spain. After struggling with various aspects of my mental health whilst in my first year at university and watching close friends struggle too, I've become particularly aware of the stigma surrounding student mental health. I believe that far too many students suffer in silence for too long, so I'm really excited to be part of a community that encourages students to have open conversations about mental health. I hope my work with Student Minds can help facilitate these conversations so that students know they are never alone.

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