College Without Dad

When I began my college search, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have my Father by my side when on move-in day. He passed towards the end of my junior year in high school, so I had some time before I started college to adjust to this change in my life. I didn’t even think ahead that in college there would be emotional issues linked to him. I thought I would be okay, that college was just another step in life that I had to go through.

Now entering my sophomore year at The University of Mary Washington, I have one year of experience here under my belt. One year of academics, parties, professors, and living in dorms. I also have my first year of college life without my dad. It was already a huge transition in itself, starting college and doing that alongside coping with the loss of a parent was challenging. I found myself to be a lot more emotional my freshman year in college than I was the previous year in high school. The smallest of things would be triggers memories and questions. I still get upset when I think about my dad not being around when I was applying to go here or when I got accepted here. He didn’t know that I was even thinking about Mary Washington, and that hits home when the realizations of how long it has been since I have seen him or spoken to him surface.

I left my high school and entered college with no one knowing that my dad had died. Something I quickly figured out was a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that people didn’t have to know that my dad died when I was 16. Everyone who knew me in high school knew that he died, most of them knew the details; they knew that he had a heart attack in our house outside my room and that I found him. Everyone who knew me knew what happened. But here, at college, no one knew. It was refreshing to be able to start over with a clean slate. Not to say that I wasn’t going to acknowledge my father’s death here at school, but I was able to control who knew what. The curse is simple, sometimes you want people to know, you want them to understand what you’re feeling and you want them to know you’re still hurting. On those days that are significant to me in some way or I’m just missing him, I don’t want people to say “why aren’t you smiling?” or “you haven’t laughed all day,” I want them to just know and understand.

Throughout my freshman year I found myself missing him more and more. I wasn’t sure why at first, why this year and this place was so different from home. One would think that I would be more emotional closer to the place where everything happened instead of at college. But there I was, several times a month crying at my desk in my dorm looking at his picture. I sought out therapy through the school because I didn’t understand why I had become so emotional. It ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve made in regards to my dad’s death. I started going to a session once a week with during my second semester. There, I resolved so many issues with guilt and the feelings I had toward his death. I also learned things about myself, and realized that the way I was feeling wasn’t wrong. That I was dealing with his death in the best way I knew how.

For other teenagers out there, who have just started their freshman year or who are already in college like me-It’s hard. You are in a new place, with new people and no one knows your story. Being away from family and friends, gets to you. It got to me, but luckily I had my dad’s sister nearby and that provided a lot of comfort for me. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I started college without out a parent. Of course my mom was there and she provided so much support, but there is always going to be something missing. College is a place to find yourself, really figure out who you are-but how are we supposed to do that when a part of us is missing. That, right there was the hard part for me which I didn’t realize until I was a few months in. A piece of me was gone. I think to myself, how am I supposed to figure out who I am when not all of me is here.

I utilized Comfort Zone Camp and Hello Grief to get me through the year, just as I am doing now for my sophomore year. I helped myself by writing more articles for Hello Grief, and being a Big at CZC. I became a huge advocate during my freshman year because I was able to reach more people and let them know what this organization was and how they could help. I also had friends who helped me get through, my roommate knew my story and on evenings when I would cry she would just hold me in silence. She knew that was all I needed at the time, and I have so much love for her for always being by my side on my “dad days.”

Even now, five weeks into my second year, I have some of the same feeling from last year, but I have people here who support me as much as they can. I decided to continue therapy here for the semester and I highly recommend it to any college student having feelings about their loss. Don’t be ashamed to say you need help, because I needed it, and I got it. Support, no matter how much or little always helps, even in the most surprising ways. For my birthday this year, a friend who I met a few months after my dad died sent me a birthday gift. She made me a DVD, the typical “19 things I like about you” for my 19th birthday. But, at the end of the DVD she told me what my real present was. She had been saving a percentage of her paychecks as an RA at JMU for five months. And she was donating all of the money to Comfort Zone Camp in my name. Safe to say, I cried. Her support meant so much to me, because I know she got what I was trying to share with everyone, the importance of this camp.

Going to college is a transition, one that we can’t avoid. And once we are there, we can’t blow off our feelings. This is a foreign place for some and others have never been away from home before. So going through this with the added loss of a parent is not something to take lightly like I did. I was completely caught off guard when I became so easily emotional about his death. If you’re comfortable, then let some people know your story, just so you have support when you need it. Because like I said, it’s a blessing and a curse to come into a new place with no one knowing who you are.

Special thanks to guest author, HelloGrief  community member, and Comfort Zone Camper Samantha Worman for sharing her story with us.

Photo credit.

12 Comments:

  1. mary said on October 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm ... #

    Great article! Everything you mentioned is exactly how I felt during my first two years of college, its comforting knowing someone else went through the same experience.

  2. Cassandra said on October 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm ... #

    This is a fantastic article. Thank you for being so open and vulnerable!
    I went through a similar situation. My dad passed away when I was 15 from a heart attack in our back yard and I was the one to find him. I didn’t have the best relationship with him and didn’t resolve an argument before he passed away. It was a petty squabble on my part and it is something I still regret. I went to college with the plan to not tell anyone, but I am so grateful that I did end up confiding in a few friends. God opened up that wound of grief and guilt, I started going to counseling and joined a group of students who had lost family members as well. The group was based in AMF (Ailing Mothers and Fathers) which is a nationwide organization.
    The crazy thing is, when we share our grief we realize that we aren’t alone. So many of the people around me had lost a parent or a sibling and I had no clue until I shared my loss with them.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Cheryl said on October 18, 2012 at 11:28 am ... #

    Great article – thanks for sharing! My mother was murdered just a few weeks after starting college. I had no plans to even attend college and that pressure was bad enough, but then her horrific death made it incredibly difficult. With the help of new friends and some support from home, I made it through. That was in 1988….now I am a mental health therapist helping others through their grief. I am so grateful to all of those who helped me get through each day & find motivation to go on. Giving back keeps me grounded* Take care!

  4. Leah said on October 29, 2012 at 7:48 pm ... #

    Thank you for sharing this. I relate to a lot of what you write. My friends and I created a grief group in college and it was extremely helpful. As life continues to move forward I am frustrated that I have to continue re-telling my story to the new friends I meet. That is what it was like in college. Every boy, every friend…they all ended up learning about my dead dad. I tried to make these awkward conversations funny, but I think most people still felt awkward. It frustrated me to listen to classmates and friends complaining about small problems with boys, friends, or classes. I wanted to scream at them..HAVE YOU LOST A PARENT? And when midterms and finals rolled around I always managed to lump my grief and school-related stress into a big ball of anxiety and sadness. I was never sure if I was using my father’s death as an excuse for stress that was actually related to school or if grief was really compounding my existing anxiety. Sometimes I wanted people to know what I had overcome so that maybe when they saw me freaking out in the library they would forgive me a little bit more. On a more positive note, I do think that my desire to make my dad proud and the reality that he had died suddenly motivated me to push myself in many ways throughout college and I suppose I am thankful for that.

  5. Ineke said on November 5, 2012 at 12:46 pm ... #

    Thank you so much for writing this. I’m from the Netherlands myself, but have always felt like I was born on the wrong continent. I have now finally found stories on this amazing website that I can relate to. Writing it down gets it off my chest. My dad died from a heart attack the first month I went to college (I was 18). At first, I thought: I had to focus, school means everything. I have fought my way through the first year, the second year and now my third. It’s so weird how I shut the world out and tried to not think about what happened. Second year was harder, I let myself slip and got anger-issues. I used to break down and cry real, real hard and long. Also, I broke things in my room I wish I hadn’t. I was so filled with anger… I live in a dorm with 9 other people, 7 of them I’ve known now for more than a year. They are the kinds that never ask, never do anything for me to make it lighter. It’s like they ignore it. Studyfriends also don’t know how to react, after 2 years. I don’t get it, why no one will help me. I haven’t seen my dad’s family since the funeral, it’s like I’m also dead to them. We haven’t always had a great relationship, but my nieces and uncles / aunts and all, not standing by me.. makes things hard. My mom and little brother help me as much as they can, but they can’t always. I’m at 1.5 hours distance and I just can’t go back everytime. I need to build a life of my own… But how can I, when everybody tends to forget about my dad, and what happened to me… Do you really think therapy would help? I’m considering it since I started my third year now and I’m still not sure how to cope… My story about the sad things I’ve experienced goes way back, back to my early childhood. It’s hard for me to imagine telling a therapist all these things: it would take me years to get it all out. So how could someone like that help me? I’ve tried looking forward but it makes me sad. I have no good relationship with my family, except for mom and my little brother. My sister acts like nothing happens and NEVER visits us. Collegefriends don’t understand. I just don’t see a bright future. It has been 2 years since my dad died, and I can’t cope. Still.

  6. Samantha said on November 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm ... #

    Ineke-Feel free to find me on my Hello Grief profile and I would be more than happy to talk with you about some of these things. My name is under SamanthaW

  7. becca said on November 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm ... #

    This is exactly what I’m going through now. The difference is that I live at home and that’s making things worse – too many memories. I want to move out ASAP but I don’t want to lose friends here. It’s been 2 years and 10 months – one year of being angry, then depressed, and now ‘complicated grief’. This is the first article I read after joining the site and it fits me perfectly. Just thanks

  8. Shirin said on December 25, 2012 at 7:14 pm ... #

    Thanks for sharing your story, Samantha. My situation’s a little different–I’m 36 and although my mother died just last year, she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s when I was 17, spring of my senior year in high school. So I started college without a parent, and that first year was really rough. Hard to see other kids getting care packages, phone calls, help moving in, etc. It’s tempting to withdraw or push people away in the midst of grief, and I admire that you’re not only owning your story, but going beyond by offering it to others for their own healing. Good luck to you!

  9. Elaine B said on May 16, 2013 at 5:05 am ... #

    Hi. Reading the se posts i cannot but admire the American way of dealing with emotions. Talking about your own grief and helping others in theirs is so cathartic. I still know that my fathers eath changed every thing even though it was 40 years ago.We moved shortly after he died and when she remarried she suppressed our right to have a photo,talk to others about him acknowledge his prior existance. This cause enormous strain and all three of us found very little relationship with her. She simply wanted un to grow up in financial poverty.So we grew up in emotional confusion. Neither is fully sensible but there has to be an allowance for both. None of us relied on my mum for emotional support bacause she was never available.

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  11. Tiffani Tope said on November 25, 2013 at 4:24 am ... #

    I’m in my freshman year of college at Austin Peay State University in TN. My dad just passed away on November 4. He was 47 and was supposed to turn 48 on November 8. I had left home on November 4 at 1:30 to go back to school. Around 7-8 I got the call from my mom that she found my dad in the bathroom when she got home from work. He wasn’t sick or anything so his death was sudden and very unexpected. The people at the funeral home told us they think he had a massive heart attack (we didn’t do an autopsy) I’ve just really needed someone to talk to who understands and is like me, and I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one having to go through college without their daddy there to help them and be strong.

  12. admin said on November 25, 2013 at 9:28 am ... #

    Hi Tiffani, We’re sorry for your loss. One way that you can connect with others is right here on Hello Grief in the Forums and Groups. You can also check out the Resources tab for places in your area where you can connect with others.

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