How To Deal With The Loss Of A Loved One In College

Last year in the middle of a very tough semester I lost my grandmother. In this post I share a few lessons I learned the hard way about how to deal with the loss of a loved one in college.

 

This is a very difficult topic for me to talk about but I feel that because it is so hard to talk I feel I should share my experience. If you’re going through a similar situation I hope this helps you get through the semester and on to the next. I wasn’t able to keep it all together in the end, but I hope that my mistakes can be a lesson you don’t have learn the hard way.

Just one short year ago my family went through one of the hardest times I can think of. And we’ve had some tough times. Without warning my Grandmother’s health began to rapidly decline and in a matter of two very short (yet somehow painfully and exhaustingly long) weeks we lost her. It was completely devastating and the aftermath left my family in a complete state of chaos, the aftermath of which still breaks my heart to this day.

During this time I was a full time student with a six course workload, two classes of which I wasn’t supposed to be taking concurrently (Geology 1 and 2). This in itself was already making me a nervous wreck, I was buckling under the pressure of juggling papers and reading assignments. Not to mention that seasonal depression was setting in with every cold front on the horizon. I was in no way shape or form ready to deal with something so earth-shattering. But when are we ever?

From the time my grandma entered the hospital we all suddenly felt like we were playing hurry up and wait. Instead of worrying about homework or showing up to class, I only thought about when she would be going home and what would we have to do next. Was she going to be ok? What would her quality of life be now? And inevitably, how long does she have? It seemed the more questions we had the less time there was to say goodbye. Before any of us could have come to terms with what the hell was going on she was gone. My dear, sweet, beautiful Abuelita had left us. Nothing would ever be the same.

All during this time I started falling in to terrible habits which would lead me to failing a class I previously had a near perfect grade in and scraping by with B’s in the rest. In hindsight I realize I could have avoided these problems but I was overwhelmed and had no idea what to do. Here’s what I would have done if I had known better.

 

  • Break out your planner and make a list of all the assignments that are due in the next 2-3 weeks.

I know this sounds like it could potentially make you feel worse because the amount of course work could be overwhelming, but hear me out. The next few months are going to be tough and that first week after losing someone is going to be the toughest. You’re family or friends will be preparing funeral arrangements and you’re all going to be very busy and you’ll be thinking about anything but school. You need to know what assignments are due so they don’t catch you off guard. Being prepared is your best defense.

  • Talk to your professors about what is going on.

You’re professors are understanding people and if you’ve done a good job so far in the semester they will help you work out a plan so you can get your work done. Just be open and honest about your limitations. Here is where I made the mistake of taking a professors good faith for granted. I should have pushed myself a bit more to get the work done, but unfortunately I was too overwhelmed to be honest with myself. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold it together enough to finish my work and I didn’t say anything. This leads me to my next point

  • Be prepared to have to drop a few classes.

Here’s the deal, dropping a class might seem like giving up or the worst case scenario for most college students, but it happens. And it’s ok. I know it can feel like money down the drain or as if you’ve put in so much work so far just to see it all fall apart. It’s hard and it sucks but when you’ve gotten to a point where you’re considering dropping out all together from the stress, dropping a class or two might be enough to help you keep going. If I could go back I would have asked my teacher to drop me and kept going instead of letting myself abuse her kindness (she gave me more extensions than I deserved) and giving up entirely. That failing grade will always be on my transcript and I lost a few scholarship opportunities due to the sharp drop in my GPA. It’s a tough decisions but just be honest with yourself.

  • Leave your problems at home.

I know this is a very hard thing to do, but you have to leave your problems at home and just get through your classes as well as you can.  The distraction of being in class can help you clear your head for a bit. Make the effort to participate and truly be present during class. Before you know it will be over and you can get your homework done and head home to deal with more pressing matters. Sometimes school can be the island of calm you need to help you get by in an ocean of grief.

  • Make sure that you get closure

This applies to your life as whole, not just your college life. In order to help you keep moving forward you need to allow yourself to mourn the person you’ve lost. You have to let yourself feel the enormity of the pain in order to get to a point where you can view it objectively. That’s a tough thing to do, especially if you’re anything like me. I’ve lost some very special people in the past few years and my gut reaction was always to squish down my feelings and try to pretend I was “okay”. I’ve learned that that doesn’t really work and if anything it makes things worse because instead of dealing with the pain when those around you are mourning (Who are your best support during these tough times,) you’re going to find that it will hit you like a ton of bricks a few months later out of nowhere and it will feel like it just happened yesterday. And that hurts so much because it makes you realize the sad fact of losing someone: you never get over it. It always hurts just as much, but the thing is when you deal with your emotions from the beginning you’re able to get to a point where you can keep moving forward regardless of how sad you feel. That’s the secret to “Time heals all wounds”. The wounds don’t ever really heal, but time gives you enough distraction, enough happiness and joy to make you focus on other things.

 

The people we love will one day leave this world. As heartbreaking and devastating as that is we have to keep living, we have to keep moving forward. Time doesn’t stop and there are so many beautiful things left to experience. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and live a life your loved one would be proud of. I know that’s what I’m doing. My Abuelita didn’t have a perfect life and in many ways she was denied many things but she was the glue that kept my family together, she was the matriarch, the soul and she may not be here with us physically but she’s here with us in spirit. She’s in our silly laughs, our curly hair, in our traditions and faith. My Abuelita was shining light in all of our lives and she’ll live on in our hearts forever.