“Coping with Loss” – ACM’s Group Lead On Student Experience, Cornelia Okello

31 Mar 2021

This post was written more than two years ago. The content or information below may no longer be accurate.

ACM’s Group Lead On Student
Experience, Cornelia Okello

I’ve always loved the Funeral Blues poem by W H Auden; perhaps a strange poem to love but I think it captures loss and grief so perfectly. It clearly depicts the feeling of time standing still and wanting the world to recognise the significance of the absence of your loved one’s presence.

W H Auden – “Funeral Blues”

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, 

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, 

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum 

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come

While many of us hope to avoid the pain of loss, it is inevitable that we will all encounter bereavement at some point. In fact, this past year of living through a global pandemic has brought so many of us unexpected loss or bereavement after long periods of separation from our family and friends. Whether our loss is unexpected or is after a long illness, we all cope with loss differently.

Mr. Probz – “Waves”

I’m slowly drifting away (drifting away)

Wave after wave, wave after wave

I’m slowly drifting (drifting away)

And it feels like I’m drowning

The impact of grief

Thursday 6th December 2018, is a date that is etched in my memory forever. It’s the day that I was sitting at my desk and got a call informing me that my grandma had died. My grandma was a second mum to me and for the preceding year, after a traumatic incident, I’d been one of her consistent carers.

So, I took the call, said “thanks for letting me know”, put down my phone and continued working. I didn’t know what else to do so my primary functions: type emails, answer the phone, finish that spreadsheet all took over. I then shifted into hyper-drive of trying to be super-organised and efficient overextending myself to complete near enough impossible tasks. 

This unrealistic pressure can be one of many ways we respond to loss or we can experience a plethora of others, these can include

  • Unpredictable Moods: Loss brings our emotions to the surface making our moods unpredictable. The “smallest thing” can make us angry, the “simplest thing” can make us weep 
  • Heightened Anxiety: We are reminded of the fragility of life and confronted with how unpredictable life can be and the lack of control we have which can be frightening. 
  • Existential Crisis: contemplating life and death and the lack of control we have over that can lead us to question the purpose of life and it’s meaning. This can make us struggle to engage with events around us; school, work etc.
  • Disrupted Patterns:  As our body tries to process the emotion of grief we may find that our usual patterns are disrupted. It can become difficult to sleep or to have an appetite.
  • Secondary Loss: The loss of someone can have wider implications on our lives. It could impact our finances, our home life or impact our beliefs and values.

One thing that is certain for almost everyone is that coping with loss will feel cyclical, or come in waves. One day you may feel absolutely fine, the next you see a picture or hear a song and it takes you back to your lowest point. 

All of that is okay and perfectly normal!

We often hear of the five or seven stages of grief but it’s important to remember that there is no straight line through these steps.

Your route is unique.

Miguel, from the movie Coco – “Remember Me”

Remember me

Though I have to say goodbye

Remember me

Don’t let it make you cry

For ever if I’m far away

I hold you in my heart

So let’s look at some strategies for coping with loss.

  1. Take time to remember – Honouring someone’s life by remembering them is therapeutic. Remembering the ones we’ve lost adds value to their existence and reinforces positive thoughts whenever they come to mind. Memorials should be unique to you, some examples are posting on a tribute wall, lighting a candle, writing a song or making a scrapbook.
  1. Healthy sleeping and eating patterns – Managing our emotions and mental health is much easier when we take care of our bodies. Building healthy sleep and eating patterns can help us feel balanced and better able to process loss.
  1. Know it’s okay to be happy – It’s easy to think that being happy discredits our loved one’s memory. It doesn’t. You’re allowed to smile. You’re allowed to find something funny. Remember your loved ones with positive memorials rather than only honouring them with sadness.
  1. Reach out for support – It is always good to talk so remember to lean on your support systems. These can be friends, family, the wellbeing service or bereavement charities such as Cruse.  Even if you don’t feel like talking, find someone who’s happy to be with you in the silence.

Tank and the Bangas – “Friend Goals”

Maybe I should start a club wherе folk in need of love

Can stop by for conversations, hugs, advice, or how to get by

When you’re low on human glow

Just know that we’ll be near by

Being an ally

Our support systems are extremely important in helping us cope with grief and loss. There are lots of ways that you can be an ally to someone who is grieving but the most important thing you can do is be present. 

Pay attention to friends that you know are grieving and lookng for ways that you can help. If they look as though they’re not eating well, cook a meal or invite them on a picnic. If they don’t seem to be sleeping, make them a night-time playlist. Not everyone is great at reaching out for support so instead of saying “Let me know if you need anything”, get proactive!

Don’t worry about being perfect or needing to be a “bereavement expert” most people just really need someone who cares.

If you would like support with anything mentioned within this article please contact studentsupport@acm.ac.uk, alternatively, you can find out more information on our Student Services Canvas page.

If you have a concern for your wellbeing or that of someone else associated with ACM, please contact the safeguarding team:
Email – dsl@acm.ac.uk
Call – 01483 910197