Written by Teigan, a Winston’s Wish content creator
My mum passed away when I was 11, right between finishing primary school and starting secondary school.
For me, going back to school has sometimes been a major trigger as it can bring up some difficult memories. I was starting secondary school for the first time, and I had to do it without my mum’s support. It was a reminder of the first milestone she would have missed. So, as each year went by and September came around again, it was another harsh snap back to reality.
I am now 20, and have been through all of school and college, I took a gap year and then have been through one year of university. I can say I am very familiar with how hard going back to school can be when you have experienced grief.
“People wouldn’t know me and my story”
Any place of education can bring some painful reminders of grief, maybe more so than in the summer. You need to stick to timings and rules, and there’s often a lack of space for emotions and tears. I sometimes found it difficult, as especially when starting a new school or college, because it meant people wouldn’t know me and my story. It meant they didn’t know what had happened to my mum.
People often ask questions about your mum in passing, “What does your mum do for a living?”, “Is your mum tall too?”. These questions would often leave me in an internal panic and the person asking them was only doing so out of interest, but it didn’t stop the feeling of grief taking over and my heart thumping in my chest.
“Leaving old friends and teachers behind”
As well as people not knowing about your bereavement, there is also the factor of leaving old friends and teachers behind who may have supported you in the past. I know I have really struggled with leaving friends, and even more so some really special teachers who had supported me with the death of my mum. All I can say is that with these worries you may have, you will be able to make new and meaningful connections. You might meet people who will not only give you a space to feel comfortable to talk about your bereavement but may have also been through something similar.
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“Try and bring your bereaved person into the conversation”
I would say my biggest piece of advice is although it may be difficult at first, try and bring your bereaved person into the conversation. Trust me, I know this sounds really hard to do, and at first it will be, but this is the way I have made it easier for myself at school, college and university.
I talk about my mum casually, the same way I would if she were alive. I have spoken about how I am wearing her clothes or her jewellery, or that my mum used to love the book we are studying in class. By bringing her casually into the conversation, it means it’s not so hard when people ask the awkward questions, because I am so used to talking about her anyway.
This has really helped me when making new friends. You may not be ready to say outright that they have passed away, but if you find your own boundaries and what you are comfortable with, it can really help. I believe it can make you feel less alienated, and it may even help others to talk about their grief experiences, therefore creating new connections for yourself.
How to get help
If you’re struggling with grief right now, Winston’s Wish is here to help and here to listen. Winston’s Wish provides support for grieving children and young people (up to the age of 25). We offer one-to-one and group support sessions. We also have lots of online resources and a Helpline and email service where you can talk to bereavement professionals.
If you need urgent support in a crisis, you can contact the 24/7 Winston’s Wish Crisis Messenger by texting WW to 85258.