Grief in my time as a graduate student

While grieving during my graduate studies in journalism at UBC, I often find it difficult to focus on necessary tasks while also maintaining friendships. I have met so many people who have made my experience so much richer, but grieving can feel so isolating, even among friends.

I wouldn't wish grief on anyone, but I feel like an outsider in a group of people who don't share my experiences.

Last term, I was often reminded of a major trauma — my dad’s passing. Certain classes featured very triggering content that instantly brought me back into that state of anxiety and panic.

I brought this to my professor’s attention, who was very receptive and gave me a hug right after. I know there will inevitably be instances where the trauma rushes back, but it also reinforces the difficult emotions that I have been trying to process and recover from.

I have so much to be grateful for, despite what I’ve lost. That's the space I try to come back to as much as I can. Having gratitude for what I have — not for what I have lost — remains essential in maintaining a positive outlook.

Focusing on the good allows me to keep moving forward without always slipping into the last memory of my dad.

In June of 2021, I very suddenly lost him. The time that went by after he passed didn’t seem right. Six months had gone by, yet it only felt like a few weeks. A whirlwind of people arriving at our home with food, flowers and cards was overwhelming, to say the least. A blur of support, a nightmare that had become my family’s reality.

My capacity for pretty much everything had been diminished. I didn’t want to do anything but stay at home and sleep. My emotional exhaustion had gotten so bad that the easiest of tasks, like taking a shower or eating, became nearly impossible.

My tears were endless, and it felt like they would truly never stop.

Being overwhelmed with emotion 

Life put on pause for the grieving and the healing 

My heart aches, an empty pit 

In the shadows I reappear for a moment in time to hide my tears

Everything still feels difficult, but I am reminded of the strength and kindness of a very dear friend of mine, who often tells me that “You can do hard things.”

While pursuing my graduate studies, writing has been a way to heal, which is perfectly suited for journalism. However, I am often distracted by the “what if” experiences that I will never have with my dad. I have realized how privileged I am to have had as much time with him as I did.

People who remind me of all the good are the people that I keep close and hold dear to me. Friends who provide me ample time to speak of him, and don’t rush my process of grieving, are the ones I hold onto. Grieving will be an experience I have for the rest of my life, and one that changes over time. Grief isn’t linear, so I offer myself more space to really feel my emotions. This can’t be a process to rush. As I grieve, I remind myself that this is an act of love. Grief is all the unexpressed love that we weren’t given the opportunity to show.

I am often struck by my emotions on campus or on transit, and that feeling is something that can only be described as isolating. These emotions often come with no warning, in the most awkward of places.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve had my fair share of tears in class, but my friends have been there for me no matter what. Whether that be by squeezing my arm, telling a guest speaker that they need to switch the slide, or having a conversation with my friends outside of class, they have been there, without skipping a beat. This means so much to me.

I am working on finding ways to feel connected to my dad. There are many comforts that bring me small pockets of joy.

I feel a connection to my dad through wearing his baggy tees, fleeces and flannel shirts, or by venturing downtown to his old office, where I would often meet him for a father-daughter lunch date. We walked through Chinatown, visiting stationery stores, where I would collect small pencils and jewellery, which have become some of my favourite souvenirs.

I sip chai, his favourite drink, and always carry with me a turquoise stone, which reminds me of his favourite place of all: Kalamalka Lake, where he taught my brother and I how to waterski.

I am then brought back to all the good times. The memories I have, which are forever kept and that I hold tight. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him.

I started following online grief pages when I started graduate school. One of my favourite quotes is by Elizabeth Gilbert, who said that “It’s an honor to be in grief. It’s an honor to feel that much, to have loved that much.”

The grief you carry never goes away, but I truly believe that the weight on your shoulders does get a little lighter. Just after I lost my dad, I wrote a poem.

What has been left behind

the three shadows of my family 

The spot on our couch that remains empty 

The mugs that go unused

The feeling that this nightmare which became reality 

Flipped my world upside down 

What I would do to get one more hug

One last “I love you”

I hope this reminds those of you who are grieving that you are not alone.