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How to Cope With the Death of a Loved One at University

How to Cope With the Death of a Loved One at University main image

It’s never easy to cope with the death of a loved one, and the experience is completely different for everyone. We all deal with grief in completely different ways, and there is no right or wrong way to cope with the death of a loved one.

Experiencing grief and loss at university can come with added stress, as you’ll still have assignments, exams and other commitments that you’ll be expected to sort out, which may feel extremely overwhelming.

Here’s a few suggestions on what to do when someone you love passes away whilst you’re at university.

Accept that your feelings are completely normal

There is no possible way to know how you’re going to feel when this happens to you, especially if you haven’t experienced the passing of a loved one before. A common first reaction to finding out news of the passing of a loved one is shock, numbness and a feeling of denial. This can last a long time, and you may even start feeling a sense of guilt that you aren’t feeling sad.

It’s very common to feel guilty after the death of a loved one – guilty that you could have done or said something that you didn’t, guilty that you should be feeling or acting a certain way, or guilty that you don’t want to spend time with the people you love and care about after it’s happened. This is completely normal, and none of these things mean that you’re a bad person, or that you are coping in the ‘wrong’ way.

Anger is another feeling that often comes following the loss of a loved one. You may feel a sense of unfairness, and an anger that people around you don’t understand what it’s like. It’s fine to be feeling this way – often the sadness comes a lot later, after you’ve actually had time to process what’s happened.

Take time out for yourself if you need it

After a death, some people try and avoid the grieving period and busy themselves with day to day activities. If this is how you choose to deal with your grief then, of course, that’s fine, but don’t be afraid to take time to yourself when you need it, even if it isn’t immediately after the death.

Surround yourself with friends and family and get support

If you feel like you want to be around people, confiding in your loved ones can be an excellent source of comfort, especially those who are going through the same thing as you. Talking about your loved one with the people who knew them well can bring you closer together to them and help you feel slightly better.

It’s good to talk about how you’re feeling, so make it obvious to your loved ones if you do want to talk, as they may be a bit cautious about upsetting you by mentioning it.

Your family and friends may be able to help you with more practical matters – such as helping you apply for extenuating circumstances or doing a grocery shop.

Identify your primary responsibilities

Sit down with a friend or family member and write down all of the most important things that need to be done in the near future. If you are helping to arrange the funeral, this might be a priority. You may also need to apply for extenuating circumstances, so you don’t get behind on your university work. If you work alongside your studies, you may also need to inform your employer about the situation.

After writing down everything that needs to be done, make a timescale of when these things need to be done. Tackling these things head on and coming up with a plan can feel like a huge weight has been lifted off your chest. 


If you feel like you need some support, sign up for your university’s counselling service. Your university’s counselling service will allow you to get professional emotional support and give you a chance to talk about the bereaved and how you’re coping. Going to counselling sessions can help you understand your grief. Your university counselor can also give you professional advice on the practical steps you need to take.

Apply for extenuating circumstances

If you have upcoming university work due, you may want to apply for extenuating circumstances which, once accepted, will offer you an extension on your coursework, exams or dissertation or a chance to re-sit an exam.

To apply for extenuating circumstances, you will have to fill in an extenuating circumstances form, which can often be found online. Alternatively, you can get advice on filling in the form from your student support center. You will need evidence, such as a letter from your university counselor or a death certificate (which can be obtained on your government’s website).

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Written by Chloe Lane
A Content Writer for TopUniversities.com, Chloe has a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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