The phrase “life after death” is often an obscure and mystifying set of words we attribute to the world that we don’t understand. Where does the soul go after it dies?
My mum’s biggest promise to me was that university would be the making of me. We would curl up together on the sofa, after face-timing Katie or looking at her photos, and we’d smile with pride at our gorgeous girl dancing and submitting her essays.
I think part of my university experience has been trying to find that for myself. To have a moment of deep pride in my accomplishments. I think it has felt quite easy for my achievements to have slipped by without that wonder twinkling in my mum’s eye, and feeling my chest swell up with all I’ve accomplished. It is another feeling I’ve never been able to recreate. It is painful to see in others and any hint of congratulations towards me makes me cringe.
But what have I achieved in university?
- Advocating For Myself
- Prioritising mental health
- Making Homes Wherever I Go
- The Grief Reality
ADVOCATING FOR MYSELF
When I first had to submit supporting evidence to these big companies, I felt small, belittled and vulnerable. I was afraid they would somehow disregard me, and I had no one to advocate for me other than Katie, who oftentimes was busy with her own life (as she should be!).
I think it is cold and cruel of student finance and universities to ask for death certificates and certification of depression, anxiety, PTSD or sleep problems. I understand that they need this information, however, a “I’m so sorry to ask” can go a long way.
The result of three years of typing out and photographing my broken heart is that I’m pretty effective at it now. I know the buzz words, I do it promptly to ping it back as soon as they request it. I often advise my friends on emailing tutors, module convenors, or applying for extenuating circumstances.
I have become the best advocate for myself that I could possibly be. I am so proud of that because these organisations do not make it easy.
I have so many amendments I want to make as a university grieving student, but most importantly, I would just want these companies and universities to realise they are dealing with a 20-year-old broken heart who is absolutely terrified of everything. Be compassionate in absolutely everything you do, and explain the process.
In my entire three years of university, I went to Devon twice. Katie hosted Christmas twice at hers, and I hosted Christmas once at mine. We stayed with my uncle for Easter once and spent Easter together every year. This year, I had nowhere to go for Mother’s Day, so spent it alone.
As I mentioned in my last post, I have constantly been locked into university life with no cosy weekends at home, where someone else does my washing and cooks me dinner. My simple dream was always to be picked up from the train station, taken back to my family home, and sleep in my bed. My mum would, of course, be excited to see me, and she’d hover around me, getting under my toes, whilst I unpacked. I cannot express to you the loneliness that hugs my heart that I haven’t had that simple experience.
But what I have had to develop is resilience and prioritisation. When I grieve, I look after myself and do not chain myself to my desk to get my work done. I treat myself the way I imagine Mum would treat me; with care and attention to my needs. I will be worn out, but I make sure I am eating healthily, on top of my self-care, and going to the doctors when I need to. It gets exhausting and lonely, but I know I am doing the right thing for my future and degree.
Most young people who have been dealt a harsh card of reality, have had to become effective prioritisers; because what alternative is there? If you don’t look after your person, who will? If you don’t look after yourself, who will?
I say this and it sounds sad, but I am proud of this skill. It is something I will have had to learn sooner or later, and no one can take that away from me.
Making homes wherever i go
Now that I am powering up for my next move in August, I am reflecting on all the moves I have had in university. I moved 6 times, in second year I moved house 3 times.
Because my city is my home, I have instilled in myself the importance of a nice, calm environment that is my sanctuary. When I moved during the pandemic, I dragged two heavy bags from the midlands to the south, containing crystals and blankets. I thought “If I’m going to be locked in a room, it might as well be nice”.
My university experience has taught me how important your environment is for mental wellbeing and maintenance.
The Grief Reality
The Grief Reality was with me before university and during university, it just exploded. I never expected to be interviewed on my home news show, or work with Comic Relief or the Student Grief Network. I never expected there to be 5,000 followers of this group.
I never expected to have written almost 20,000 words with Katie and you all, with As Told By You.
I never expected to make reels or have an active Instagram page. I am so over the moon at everything we have all accomplished.
My proudest achievement to date is my dissertation. My dissertation was titled “A Qualitative Study into Group Identity Construction in Grief and Loss”. I hosted an online grief group and analysed how metaphor was used to talk about grief. I examined old and new models of grief and looked at how to appropriately describe loss. No matter the grade I get, the hard work I put in and the passion it inspired in me, will always make my chest swell with pride.
Finally, the people I have met during my university career definitely changed the trajectory I was on, for better and for worse. I have grown, I have cried, I have laughed.
I always called myself an extremely introverted person, but do you know what? I think I was just around the wrong people. I am definitely an introvert, but being around loving people is the most healing thing for you. I re-read my old journals and I love seeing people heal me throughout my university experience. My pinboard is full of photos from my birthday, cards people got me, and memories in photo booths from nights out.
I might not have Mum, but I have a huge network of people who know her name, and who knows her face. I have stories that one day I will sit down with her smile, and tell her everything.
University was nothing like Mum said it would be. It was amazing, but it was also full of life lessons, hard work and grief. No one could have foreseen a pandemic, or moving 3 times in one year. But third-year has been worth it all. It was truly amazing, and I’ve loved every second of it.
Thank you, everyone, for bearing witness to my university life, and for hearing my reflections on it all.
This has been my life after death.