Good Grief: The Society Talking About Student Bereavement
Society has been taken over this week by the Bereaved and Young Student Network (BAYSN). This LUU society are doing their best to support students who have ex-perienced death, by surrounding them with students who understand to help them navigate their way through the strange landscape of loss.
Sitting on the fresher’s stall for the Bereaved and Young Student Network (BASYN) was surprisingly entertaining. The majority of people who approached the table gave a not-so-subtle ‘oh’, looked mildly awkward and hurried away. A few people even backed off in physical repulsion, as if the very mention of grief might kill them off too. But it wasn’t all bad, I should commend the students who didn’t run a mile, who had been bereaved themselves or just stopped out of sensitive curiosity. Your openness was refreshing.
Noting these different reactions became a little game for us, but it also revealed a more serious issue. Amongst the student population, death and bereavement is still largely seen as a subject that is better off out of sight and out of mind. This is primarily because many students have never lost someone close to them – a fact I certainly don’t wish to change – but wish it did not have to put those who are grieving in such a lonely position. Feeling like your situation is misunderstood or, more likely, ignored can be frustrating and alienating – hardly helpful when you’re already dealing with the fact that someone you love is no longer here. Of course some of us are lucky to have friends or family to whom we can talk, but for students who haven’t established these close relationships, or for those who don’t like reaching out, this hushed approach towards death can make a painful situation even worse. What’s more, the pressures of the student lifestyle, which suggests we should all be having fun all day everyday, is hardly compatible with the grieving process. Crying sessions and existential crises aren’t exactly prioritised.
Though grieving as a student can be tough, it is possible to enjoy your time here nonetheless. The student bubble may not naturally accommodate your situation, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time to do things you enjoy with people who make you happy. And more importantly, give yourself time to grieve. Acknowledge how much it hurts, write about it, talk about it, and in doing so the pain will become a little less. Though not always easy, your time here at university is a wonderful opportunity for healing and growth. Life can be good, yours included.
Anna May, BAYSN Support Session Coordinator
“The student bubble may not naturally accommodate your situation, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time to do things you enjoy with people who make you happy.”
BAYSN was founded a little over a year ago by myself and a few other students. A friend of mine lost her father over the summer holidays and, having been in the same situation before starting university, I sent her a message to see how she was. I remember plenty offering me sympathy after my father’s death, but only one offered any sort of empathy. It was this one person who made all the difference.
We spoke about how she was getting on and how the initial shock was wearing off, but not that awful empty, heavy sadness that comes after a bereavement. In the initial period everyone around you shares in your grief (to an extent), then after a time they go back to their daily lives and expect you to do the same. Unlike them, however, your world has been shattered, life as you know it has been turned upside down and everyone expects you to have “moved on” just a few months down the line. This wasn’t just my classmates but surprisingly my teachers too. Part of you wishes you could but another part doesn’t want to leave someone you loved behind. It’s a very isolating place to be.
My mother did an amazing job looking after my brother and I and she had the sense to join a group that brought bereaved families like ours together. We finally had a support network of people our own age, who could relate well to us and listen in a non-judgemental way. I found this source of support a lot more beneficial for coping and my well-being than the minimal support I got at school.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t a society at Leeds that offered the same sort of support to grieving students. Bereavement is very common and an inevitability of life, but people don’t talk about it. There may be a pressure not to discuss grief as people are meant to be living their “best life” at university, meaning such a taboo subject commonly gets swept under the carpet.
BAYSN aims to bring grieving students who are struggling together so that they can offer each other support and a listening ear when it’s needed and help break the stigma surrounding loss. We do this by putting on socials throughout the year, such as bowling nights, a Christmas party and curry nights. This year we’re also holding some group workshops where students can discuss their experiences and ideas of grief in a supportive and safe space. We are planning an attempt at the Yorkshire Three Peaks next April to help raise some money for the network and charities that members hold close to their hearts.
Bereavement can bring all sorts of emotions to the surface on its roller coaster (anger, sadness, depression, joy, laughter, relief) and while these ups and downs can be a challenge and even exhausting, it is still possible to enjoy your time at university while you grieve. BAYSN aims to help students achieve this!
Andrew Durham, BAYSN President
Let me start by saying, don’t let the “young” part of our society’s name put you off. We welcome members of all ages and, as a mature student, I am considerably older than the main student body. During the summer before I started my degree, my father passed away suddenly and completely unexpectedly. He was my last surviving parent, having lost my mother to breast cancer 27 years earlier.
My first contact with BAYSN was in October 2017 when I saw one of their posters. I messaged the Facebook page to check I was eligible (due to the “young” part) and had a conversation with the President, Andy. As our page says, everyone on the committee really “gets it” as they’ve all been through bereavement and are currently studying. It doesn’t matter if you need to have a cry, talk or need a hug, someone is there with you.
We have a macabre sense of humour which helps to open up the conversation about death. By increasing the dialogue, widening acceptance and having safe spaces to talk about death and bereavement we can improve the health and wellbeing of those affected by it. We’re also hoping to make these conversations become part of the norm so everyone can feel comfortable around the subject.
At the end of last year, I wanted to give something back so I made the decision to stand for Secretary. Having completed my first year, despite all the stress and problems associated with my Father’s death, I felt I was in a place to help others who may find themselves in the same situation.
Lizz Johnson, BAYSN Secretary