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.