In order to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be bereaved youngster, we invited a student who is an orphan to comment on her first-hand experiences of starting university and offer recommendations. This is a follow up blog from those posted in 2020 ‘Supporting a Bereaved Teen’ and ‘Teen in Lockdown’.
I am currently an undergraduate student studying BSc Criminology at the University of Bath. I have previously written blogs about what it’s like to be bereaved during lockdown and starting college. I am now 19 years old and I am here to share a little bit about me and my story so far.
Even though I had already experienced starting a new place of education in a different city, I still had the same nerves when starting university which surprised me. I assumed because I had been through this process before, I would feel less stressed about it. I think most humans naturally worry about change, especially when it’s a change to your lifestyle and moving away from home. I think I was most worried about making friends.
On the topic of making friends, there are apps which help you get to know people at your uni even before you start. One of which is an app called Unify. It enables you to connect to people at your university studying the same course as you and you may even be able to find people in the same flat as you. Facebook is also a good way to do this as groups are made which you can add yourself to. I did not know about this one before I moved into my flat, but everyone got along really well when we all moved in which is often uncommon. Making friends was easy (just like it was in college). Everyone is in the same boat so there are plenty of people wanting to chat to you and vice versa. However, moving in day was weird. Bath is the third place I have lived. It is very different to Lowton (where I am from) and Teignmouth (where my current family home is). It’s a beautiful city and I have really settled in well here.
Living at home in Devon in a family of 4 with my uncle and auntie guardians and little brother with 4 dogs is very different to living with people whom I didn’t know very well (yet). I found this change to be really challenging. It felt strange to be moving out, I had never lived apart from my younger brother before and moving to another different place worried me. This reminded me of when I moved down to Devon in lockdown to live with my uncle and auntie who I didn’t see that often when I was growing up. I remembered that it takes a while to get used to new people and make solid relationships, and so I had to take the time to get to know my new flatmates. By around November time, we were all close. We now regularly eat dinner together, have film nights, go out together stay in together and so on.
I didn’t know what to do regarding telling my flatmates that both my parents had died, so I didn’t. I don’t like people to feel sorry for me because there’s nothing to be sorry for, so I left it a few months before talking to anyone about it. When you are getting to know one another, parent typically come up as a topic of conversation, people ask what their parents do for a living et cetera, I kept quiet.
When I applied for the University of Bath, I made them aware that my parents had died and they told me to fill out a mitigating circumstances form. They said that I may get a university offer even if my predicted grades were lower than what they officially wanted. I received a high offer anyway, but it’s good to speak to the universities you are applying to, to see if they can help you with your circumstance. Since then, I haven’t spoken about the death of my parents to the university. The University has a bereavement helpline attached to most emails and there are multiple support teams to go to if I am struggling. I haven’t reached out to these at all yet.
I recently saw a Facebook post from an undergraduate student who lost her mum. She explained that the university has not helped support her which I find alarming, and this must be common in other universities across the UK. I cannot imagine how this girl is feeling, I know what it is like to lose your mum but not during further education which is already stressful enough. According to Research Gate, it is estimated that 30% to 55% of undergraduate students have suffered bereavement in the last 24 months. For a university to not proactively support their students in such difficult times, I think is appalling.
A lot of people tell you that university can be super lonely even though you live with your friends, but I never really understood what they meant. The first few weeks you are filled with adrenaline after fresher’s week and meeting lots of new people but then reality settles in. My course does not have many in-person hours, so I spend a lot of the time studying alone in my bedroom. When I am alone, I tend to think a lot. I begin to think of the loss my parents and the fact they didn’t get to see me get into one of the top 10 universities in the UK. I really miss them and being alone makes me miss them even more. During my first semester at uni, my self-care went through the window. I completely forgot about it.
One of my favourite things to do is have a bath but I don’t have a bath at Uni, so I had to find new things to enjoy. During Semester 2, I joined the gym with flatmate. I began going 3 times a week and it has been great. It makes me feel good about myself and helps me to clear my head sometimes. When I had bereavement counselling in 2020, I was advised to journal about my day including my feelings. This is something I have stopped doing but I’d really like to get into again (hence this blog!). I have also been in a relationship for over a year, and we are currently in a steady long-distance relationship as he is at university in Cardiff. This has helped with my sense of stability, and he is only a phone call away if I am having a bad day.
In late November/ December time, you begin looking at houses for second year of university which I think is quite early on as you haven’t known anyone for long. I had grown good, solid relationships with my flatmates so six of us are living together next year. We all clicked. This is when some of my flatmates found out about my parents. We had to sign many forms such as contracts and guarantor forms, so we were all asking each other questions. I didn’t know if this process would be any different for me as I have legal guardians. I ended up talking to my flatmates about this and they were super nice about it. They didn’t ask me tonnes of questions or get awkward, so I was grateful for that. It hasn’t become a topic since, but I know I could go to them if I was upset.
Christmas came around quickly, and after three months of living away from home, It was time to go back for the holidays. I had around 1 and a half months off as I had at-home assessments rather than exams. It was weird going back home, I had moved into my brother’s old bedroom so he could have my old ensuite bathroom, but it really didn’t feel like I was home. Most of the things in my room at uni are from my old bedroom, so uni feels really homely. I didn’t have the same familiar space I used to have at home. Beside this, I also had to change my routine. when you live independently, you have your own way of doing things so when I was at home, I was hard to get back into the routine at home and having to do things differently. I don’t have as much freedom as I do when I live on my own and I don’t have many friends nearby. Apparently this sense of not feeling at home is common after moving out to go to uni. New décor and furnishings have helped, it’s clean and cosy, and I have personalised my space a little bit. But it will take some getting used to.
The other thing I found hard was going back to work. I work in a Psychiatric Intensive Care unit for the NHS, so it isn’t the easiest job in the world. I was really worried going back for the first time as I hadn’t been in months, I would have new patients to meet, new staff members and the constant stress about what was going to happen that day. After my first few shifts, I was a lot more relaxed, and I find my job very rewarding. I feel a sense of fulfilment having a job where I get to help people who are struggling with their mental health.
However, I was really looking forward to going home and having a dishwasher, good washing machines and not having to cook every day. I enjoyed spending some time with my family before I had to go back to uni. Additionally, I feel more loved and supported as I have a stronger foundation at home now. I love regular facetimes and the our group chat about random stuff too which keeps me up to date with what’s going on so when I come home I don’t feel as though I’ve missed lots of stuff.
Going to university also gives you a lot of financial independence. Being bereaved due to a parent’s death and being 19 years old, means that I have a lot more financial situations to sort out with the help of my legal guardians. I had received a letter in the post regarding my mum’s old pension and a change of contact information after my father died. I had to do lots of investigating to do, such as making phone calls and visiting old banks to search out old bank accounts – which I think was great practice for the future. It was really tricky to navigate this, but my auntie and uncle helped me with every step.
You soon discover that your flatmates become more that just friend when you’re living with them. We spend every evening together. We do film night, pre-drinks, nights out and just sit in a chill. I am very lucky to have good relationships with all my flatmates, I know a lot of people who don’t get on well with theirs. I think this is bound to happen though as people have very different personalities.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at university so far and I find I have only the odd days where my grief gets to me. Through having counselling, a couple years ago, I understand that this is normal, and I have learnt ways to deal with it. Grief will never go away and it’s something that I will always experience but it is important if you are bereaved, that you understand ways to cope. If you are starting uni as a bereaved student, make sure that the university know. It could lower the grades for your offer, and you are more likely to be told about the services available to support you. Your flatmates and friends won’t judge you or look at you differently but don’t feel pressured into telling them that you are bereaved. Take your time.
I’m nearly at the end of my first year now. It has flown by. As much as I’ll miss my friends for the 3 months we will be living apart, I can’t wait to spend time with my family and friends from home over the summer break. After spending Christmas and the odd weekends at home, I have gotten used to my new space and home feels more like home again, it just took some time getting used to. I also love that this semester specifically, I have always had a date in the diary booked in for the next time I am coming home.
Writing this blog encouraged me to read back previous blog I have written. Whilst reflecting on them, I have realised I am lot calmer, settled and feel less pressure. It has enabled me to see how much I have grown over the past few years which is something I am proud of.
Safe-guarding.co is very grateful to this young student for openly sharing experiences and recommendations for this blog.
Useful Resources for Bereaved Teens:
If you feel like grief and sadness is interfering with daily life, talking to a GP may help, they can suggest some options to offer more support, or may refer to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) or bereavement counselling.
Grief is a process and the need for support or counselling can come at any time. This is why it doesn’t matter if it’s a short or long time after your loss, you should ask for support whenever you think you need it. Please see the below links for additional resources:
For more information on how to support schools/ colleges and resources to develop staff knowledge of safeguarding in learning environments, please contact us.
With the ongoing concerns about the spread of the Coronavirus (aka COVID-19) we have changed the way we work to ensure that we continue to deliver high quality safeguarding training courses. Our ethos of “Doing the Right things to Do things Right” is being achieved via our distance learning courses and we offer video conferencing, interactive training and blended learning on a wide range of Safeguarding topics. To find out more about the services and training courses delivered please visit our services >> or contact us >>