Surviving School while Grieving

I’ve always aimed to keep things upbeat in my writing, with the added goal of offering helpful information.  I guess I always wished I’d had a mentor myself. So I fulfilled it with writing—in the hopes I could help someone out there with their life struggles.

My mom died at the end of August and I am struggling to find any meaning whatsoever in anything right now.  I know, death is inevitable, we all die, the circle of life, and all that.  That does not invalidate the intolerable, unbearable, bone-crushing pain of losing your touchstone and best friend for the last 49 years.  That is what my lovely Mom was to me, and I cannot conceive of not hearing her voice over the phone any old time I feel like, or never feeling her warm presence again.

Day to day living is challenging enough while stricken with grief.  Indeed, showering, getting out of bed, or eating anything can seem an unmanageable task when it feels like a 1000-pound weight of sorrow is pressed upon your chest.  And focusing on university school work can seem insurmountable after losing a person who was close.

Everyone deals with grief differently.  Some people who cannot deal with it, period, will avoid you like the plague.  The best advice I can give is to keep those people close at hand who have experienced loss themselves and are reaching out to you.  Let them surround you with words of comfort and compassion, even if it doesn’t alleviate any of your pain.  People do care about you and want to help, even if it’s just an emoji hug.

Depending on your situation, you may be exhausted from caring for the ailing loved one you just lost, feeling guilty because you weren’t able to spend more time with them due to school work, or in shock because of a sudden death.  Check your university’s bereavement policy to find out your options.  Some people require a few weeks off to grieve; some people need an entire year.  Everyone reacts differently to grief and there are no rules.  Do whatever is best for you.  Losing a loved one is a crisis and if you’re an Athabasca student in need of help, go to

Academic pressures can make dealing with grief hard to face with resilience, particularly if you do not have empathetic support from family or friends.  If you decide to continue with your studies, a routine may help provide structure and relief from your grief.  Some heal best by maintaining their studies, and that is okay.  Perhaps at some point, you can benefit others with their grief by applying your grief experience in your schoolwork.

Expect a range of emotions and remember none of them are wrong.  I’ve experienced severe nausea, numbness, nightmares, and tears that never seem to end.  Most of these things are just easier for me to experience alone because they make other people uncomfortable and being around those people makes me feel like I’m not handling grief as capably as I should.  Get rid of the idea of any “should” when you’re grieving.

While you may not have an appetite, or, alternatively, find yourself voraciously hungry for unhealthy foods, try your best to maintain a healthy diet and avoid consuming drugs and alcohol to numb the sorrow.  While prescription drugs can provide temporary relief from the pain, becoming addicted will only cause further burdens to you down the road, and impair your ability to study and concentrate.

Coping with grief is not something you should undertake alone but withdrawing from social activities when you are weighted by sadness is completely natural.  Expecting yourself to be cheerful for others after devastating loss is not realistic.  It’s good to reflect about your loss, remember better times with your loved one, and let yourself feel the sadness and grief that show up.  You may need to ask for an extension on courses so you can take time off to grieve and heal.  Contact your university as soon as possible so your course work doesn’t suffer—it will still be there when you are ready.

Try not to make hasty decisions like dropping all your courses without speaking to an advisor.  Grief makes it difficult to make any clear choices.  Seek the help you need, talk to friends, talk to your family.

After the death of my Mom I was responsible for writing her eulogy and making a photo collage celebrating her life.  Avoiding any of these tasks due to emotional pain would have deprived me of the grieving process.  I also wanted to honour her and the impact her humble life made on those who knew her.  Drop unnecessary activities and make time for what you need.  Indeed, you may go months without social outings and gym visits.  It’s okay.  You can return after you’ve had time.  Discovering a creative way to honour your lost loved one in art or school assignments can be of comfort, and also help others to understand the enormity of your loss.

By far, this article was the most helpful to me after the loss of my Mom,  Christy writes authentically about her grief, and that is the most helpful to anyone suffering from the painful loss of a loved one.

Grief is inevitable when you lose someone you cherish.  It is proof of how much you cared for that person, and it honours a relationship that affected your life deeply and meaningfully.  Be gentle with yourself, find a compassionate ear, don’t suffer in silence, and don’t judge yourself for how you’re dealing (or not) with grief and schoolwork.

%d bloggers like this: