Support is available when you are at your most vulnerable.
Coming to Queen’s will most likely be one of the biggest changes in your life so far, especially if you’re living away from home – learning to cook for yourself, work on your own initiative and nurse your own hangovers is a challenge, but a hugely fun one. With such big upheaval in every aspect of your life, the loss of someone close to you can make you feel perhaps even more isolated and displaced than you would have anyway. Personally, my dad passed away rather unexpectedly around a month into my first year, and I often felt as though nobody could understand the struggles I was dealing with. I hope that by sharing my experience and some coping mechanisms, I can ease the struggle for someone else starting university and experiencing bereavement.
1.Let your lecturers know what’s happening
When my dad passed away I just about felt like I was getting into the swing of managing uni work and writing good essays, so when it happened I was stopped in my tracks. One of the best pieces of advice I could give is to let your lecturers know about your situation; my tutors were more than understanding and I was able to have excused absence from my classes, as well as extended deadlines for upcoming essays. At Queen’s, the system for submitting an Exceptional Circumstance form is incredibly easy, meaning you can have at least one stress taken off you at an otherwise difficult time.
Additionally, I would strongly recommend availing of the Counselling Services available in the Student Guidance Centre as soon as you feel ready. Sometimes, all we need is a listening ear and these services have greatly helped me throughout the grieving process.
2.Don’t shut yourself away
During such emotional anguish, it seems as though the easiest option is to lock ourselves in our room with the curtains shut; but this simply is not a long term option. I can’t stress how important it is to continue socialising and trying to immerse yourself in the university experience as best you can, as this can be such an isolating time and closing yourself off does nothing but exacerbate the situation. I lived in Elms BT9 during first year and was lucky enough to have very supportive flatmates and friends, who checked in on me and often offered to do even small things, such as watching TV together in the kitchen. If you’re very early into university and haven’t made close friends yet, calling an old friend from school or your hometown can be a big help also.
The big point here is to talk. It’s okay if you don’t necessarily want to discuss your bereavement with flatmates or coursemates, since I found that just immersing myself in everyday conversation was a big help. Of course, this is an individual experience and you will find that some things help more than others as you go on.
3.You don’t have to do anything until you’re ready
I found that immersing myself in university work was the best way for me to cope with my dad’s death, but that of course will not be the case for everyone. I was offered several options which are available to students during this difficult time. For example, if you need extensive time away from university, Queen’s are very understanding and offer the chance to take on extra modules in Years 2 and 3, to ease some of the workload for you in first year. Alternatively, taking the whole year out and returning in September is always an option.
Bereavement and starting university are two massive life changes which can often feel chaotic if they occur at once. However, while studying at Queen’s you will never be alone in having to deal with it, and help is always available to keep you on the right track.
More information on the counselling and student wellbeing services offered at Queen’s.