Grieving as a student and supporting friends through grief

Beth shares her personal experience of loss and what helped her, including visiting a university counsellor, and being open with her friends and family. She also explains how her friends supported her by checking in with a text and offering to help with practical tasks.

Beth talks about the experience of losing her mother when she was a student, and shares her tips for supporting a friend who is grieving.

Beth is the founder of Let's Talk About Loss.

Video transcript

Hi, I'm Beth French, and I'm the founder and director of Let's Talk About Loss, an organization that supports 18 to 35 year olds who have been bereaved.

Let's Talk About Loss was started out of my own personal grief, I lost my mum in 2015, when I was 20 years old. And at that time, I was a student at the University of Nottingham, I was just in between my second and third year of university. So I know exactly what it is like to be a student and experience grief.

I wanted to share a few of the things that I've learnt along the way, and things that have really helped me that might help you either if you're bereaved yourself, or if you have a friend who's bereaved, and you want to support them better.

My personal experience of loss

So when I was first bereaved, I didn't really know what to do, what to say, I described that time for me as being like, being sucked into a black hole. I just, I don't actually have any memories from that time. I don't remember what we did, or, or who came round or who dropped food at the door. I just, yeah, I was just existing, I guess, in my grief. And that's absolutely fine, that does start to lessen, and for me, when I got back to university, I was able to focus on my university work and, and not think as much about my grief and the pain that I had experienced.

It was certainly really helpful for me to be talking to people about how I was feeling. So one thing that I did was I went to see my university counselor, and I was able to open up and share some of the pain that I was feeling and some of the emotions that perhaps my friends around me didn't understand. They didn't have any preconceptions about me, they didn't know me at all, I could be really honest with them about how I was feeling.

I also tried to open up to my friends and, and tell them really honestly how I was feeling. That really worked for me, because my friends are very kind and very compassionate. And while they didn't know exactly how I was feeling, because they hadn't experienced that same grief, they could relate to some of the other things that had happened in their life. And they knew that I just really needed to have people around me to support me.

But also talking to my family really helped me, it was my experience that the people in my family grieved very differently to me, even though we'd all lost the same person, my mum. We're all different people, so we had really different responses. But that was something that I experienced, and it's something I think a few people who have been grieving also experience. So don't be alarmed if that is the case, but my experience was that, sharing honestly and openly with my family was really helpful because it helped them understand what my grief was like. And then they could share as well with me what their grief was like and, and how I could best support them, as well as them supporting me.

Supporting a friend

So for me with my friends, the things that really helped, were just checking in on me regularly. I had a couple of friends who would come and see me most days or drop me a text just to say, “How are you? How are you feeling today?” and that was really lovely for me, because I didn't feel that I was burdening anyone with going to them with my grief but they were sort of coming to me and asking me how I was feeling.

Similarly, I also had friends who didn't do that and they were still wonderful friends as well. I had some friends who, perhaps they didn't know exactly what to say but they always let me know that they were there for me if I ever needed, that I could reach out, and that made me feel really safe and really supported.

But one thing that did help me I would say is friends offering specific ways that they could help them, you know, maybe asking if I needed any laundry doing, or asking if I wanted to sit with them in the canteen. Just little things that I thought actually yeah, I would like that a lot. So it was really helpful that they suggested things in my experience.

Another thing that was really helpful for me was my friends remembering to check in as I got sort of further along in my grief. So obviously, in the first few weeks and months, a lot of people know to reach out to you, because you've only just experienced your grief. But in my experience, some of those people start to well, they move on with their lives, you know, it's, it's, it's my grief, it's not their grief.

And for me, I totally understood that but if they did, there was a couple of friends who sent me a text or a little message or even a card on important days. I really appreciated that because it reminded me that they were always there for me, and that I knew I could still reach out and they hadn't forgotten my mom or, or the grief that I was feeling.

Similarly, it might be that, that some people, you know, don't do that. And, and that's absolutely fine, too. For me, I had friends who reacted in lots of different ways, and everyone really in my life was just trying their best and, and learning all the time.

So I hope this has helped. The main thing to remember is that you're not alone in this and there's always someone ready to support you and talk to you about how you're feeling.

University support icon

See what support is available at your university