To the Student Who Lost a Parent in College
To the Student Who Lost a Parent in College

How to Deal with Losing a Parent During College

There's never a good time to lose the people who raised you, but college can make coping even more difficult.
April 5, 2017
8 mins read

Dealing with Loss

There’s never a good time to lose the people who raised you, but college can make coping even more difficult.

By Valarie Kiel, Texas State University

Going through college after losing a parent is harder than anyone can imagine.

On March 14, 2014, my whole world was turned upside down. It was my first Spring Break as a freshman in college, and while students were enjoying the hot sun and cheap alcohol in South Padre or Panama, I received news that my mother had passed away after battling stage four colon cancer. How could I continue attending school in a new city with new friends who I didn’t feel comfortable telling that I lost my mom?

It’s horrible to lose a parent at such an early age. The transition from a teenager into an adult is a confusing time as it is, so to lose a parent in the midst of everything going on in college is devastating, because, to be honest, it can sometimes feel like you’re doing it all on your own.

Of course, you have the support of the other living parent, but there’s still something empty about it. Experiencing the loss of someone who raised you may hurt now, but I can assure you that it won’t last. If you have ever lost a parent during college, know that you are not alone, and know that you are a true soldier.

To the Student Who Lost a Parent in College
Image via U.S. News and Report

Everyone grieves differently. Whether a student recently lost someone, or if it was earlier in their college career that a student’s parent passed away, there is no definitive length of time a person may grieve. While being away from family and friends, it can seem challenging to deal with the absence of a parent.

Here are four tips to help grieve the loss of a parent.

1. Talk to a Friend

The rollercoaster of emotions after losing a parent can be so troubling that some days you just need to get your mind off everything. That’s where the beauty of close friendships comes into play. Even though some friends might not understand every detail of the tough time you’re going through, they are there when you need them the most.

Good friends want to help, and you should open up and let them. Whether you need a shoulder to cry on, or just a fun day out to get your mind off of it all, friends can help brighten your mood and even make you laugh.

Although you may be grieving weeks, months or even years later, friends who weren’t directly affected go on with their lives, and it might seem like they don’t care, but they do. Don’t be afraid to let them know if you’re having a tough day, and they will understand and be there for you.

2. Talk to a Counselor

Talking to someone about what you’re going through can be difficult, especially when no one close to you understands what it’s like to lose a parent in college. If your mother or father was anything like my mother, she was my go-to person when I needed a pep talk, girl talk, school talk or even just to cry.

At times, processing the loss of a parent can develop feelings of isolation and disconnect from people, which can prevent you from being comfortable to express your true thoughts and feelings. It’s normal to feel that way; the bond that you share with your mother or father is special to you, and most people haven’t been through a loss of a parent like you have.

Talking with a counselor can be beneficial if you feel like you can’t talk to anyone around you. Also, talking to a counselor helps because they can work with you to process your feelings, which will help you to grow from a loss all by lending an ear.

3. Journal

Try going to a nice, peaceful area to write out everything on your mind. Too often, students have so much trouble fogging up their minds, making it hard to focus on other important tasks. By journaling, you can embrace the feelings you’ve wanted to release, because there are times when articulating what you want to say out loud can be hard to do.

Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a writer, journaling can be the most freeing and caring activities you can do to clarify your thoughts. Some days, you have a lot to write about, and others, you might not.

Every person is different, and there are no set rules for journaling, so write whatever and whenever you need to, and you’ll feel the cathartic release that comes with expressing your feelings and clearing your mind.

4. Cry It Out

There’s no shame in crying. Cry if you want to and cry if you need to, because you have no responsibility to keep yourself together in tough times. It’s always surprising how relieving a good cry can be.

Taking on school, clubs and activities, work and being away from home is stressful enough for any college student. Add this to dealing with the loss of a mother or father, and you have a situation that is harder than anyone could ever imagine, so it’s okay if you can’t hold back the tears occasionally.

You don’t have to be the tough one for your family, your friends, your coworkers or even yourself.

Also, know that if you aren’t ready to be back in school or work, college administrators will often understand and try to accommodate your needs in the best way possible.

As I get older, there have been countless occasions where I’ve wished my mom were here to help me through it all. But I’ve learned that the strongest soldiers get the toughest battles, because they are the ones who can make it through.

Being a student in college after losing a mom, dad or even both parents will only help you to grow into an adult who will be able to empathize and love in ways some people will never understand. College is a time of transition, and losing a parent during this transition hurts so much. Remember that days will be better and students will get stronger.

Valarie Kiel, Texas State University

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