Losing someone while in college

Feb. 26, 2019, 1:00 a.m.

This is not a “how to” article. This not a “tips for” article. As much as I wish I could, I cannot give you advice on how to feel better following the loss of a loved one. I cannot tell you what way to grieve is best for you. And I cannot tell you when things will get better.

What I can tell you is that I understand the pain, however differently we experience it. I can tell you that I know it isn’t easy. And I can tell you that there are people out there who support you.

So, no, this isn’t a listicle instructing you on how to grieve. Rather, this is a “we will get through this” article. This is a “stay strong” article. This is an “I believe in you” article.

This is an article about the grieving for the grieving.

Losing a loved one is never easy. That’s something I should probably say right off the bat. Grieving and coping and sifting through the thoughts that might follow loss is a difficult process, to say the least.

But to do all of that in college – while learning to live on your own and balance a budget, while striving for good grades and a good future? If you had asked me a month ago, I would have said that seemed nearly impossible; if you had asked me a month ago, I honestly wouldn’t have had enough information to give a valid answer.

When first starting at Stanford, I was aware of the very real possibility that I could lose someone during my four years here. Like a number of people, I had experienced loss before; I lost my grandmother when I was 6 and just recently – 13 years later – found peace with her passing. More recently, however, my grandfather had been diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer – a type of cancer with only a 28 percent five-year survival rate.

So, yes, I was aware of the incredibly heartbreakingly real possibility that I could lose someone while simply attending a Math 51 lecture or sitting at lunch with a major figure in business. At any moment, I could be going about my day and get a notification that someone I loved had passed away, that I would never see them again. And I knew this.

Despite this awareness, I was at a loss for words when I did, in fact, get the call that someone I loved had passed on.

Like I said, losing a loved one is never easy. All the memories that you hold with them flow through your mind, and all the conversations seem to float around in the air above your head. Little text bubbles fly into your head and then, pop, they’re gone – just like that person whom, a day ago, you could have simply called.

I’m not going to get into what it feels like to lose someone because trying to explain that feeling to someone who’s never experienced it will consistently prove futile, and explaining that feeling to someone who has experienced loss is otiose. So, I’ll spare your time.

Grieving looks different for everyone. Really, it varies from person to person, connection to connection and passing to passing. Grief is different for every loss. Thankfully, I still have my grandfather with me, and, looking at his current treatments, my hope is that I’ll still be able to look out at the crowd during my graduation and see him there. Losing my grandfather, however, would definitely involve an entirely different grieving process than losing a close friend did.

For the few days following the loss, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to go to my classes. I didn’t want to do my p-sets and essays. I was confused and hurt and lost.

I was grieving. And that’s okay.

For those who have lost someone while here at Stanford: I am so sorry not only for your loss but for everything else you experienced with it. I’m sorry for the stress involved in trying to keep up with classes and life while at the same time commemorating someone you love. I’m sorry for how, at time, it may have felt like no one understood. I’m sorry.

Like I said, I cannot give you tips on how to feel better after losing a loved one. But I can give you advice on life in general. Cherish the loved ones you have around you. Make sure they know what they mean to you. Show love because there’s no harm in putting a little bit of effort into someone who means a lot.

I also cannot tell you how to grieve. I cannot tell you that you should still go to all of your classes and try to keep up with your deadlines. I cannot tell you to do that because I do not know what’s best for you and your mental health. What I can tell is that it’s okay to reach out to people. It’s okay to ask for extensions. It’s okay to cry. It’s also okay to just sit on your own, listen to music and stare at the ceiling. Whatever you’re doing, it’s okay. Just make sure you’re doing what’s best for you because, likely, that’s what they would have wanted.

And I cannot tell you when things will get better. There are days that go by when I still question what happened and what I could have done differently. There are still days when it’s hard to pick up my phone and text the people I care about, let alone pick up a pen and study for the midterms I have coming up. Yet, each day has gone by easier and easier. And I can tell you that the same will happen for you, however long it takes.

You are strong.

If you have thoughts of suicide or are concerned about the well-being of another, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or Stanford’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at (650) 498-2336.


Contact Damian Marlow at ddrue ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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