I had imagined that at this time of year I would be writing about juggling the stress of sitting exams, doing my dissertation research, and looking after a small baby. I imagined the Christmas holidays as a welcome break before heading into the final semester of my degree just as my baby turned six months old. The thought of 2021 was one of stress and excitement as I envisaged working towards a dissertation deadline and final exams with a baby who’s learning to crawl as well as eat (and throw) solid foods. And who still wakes up three times a night.
While I did take some time away from my studies over the Christmas holiday, what I hadn’t anticipated was the ever-present feeling of grief among the stress, relief, and celebrations. The transition into the New Year is often a time of reflection and although I was hopeful that it would be a time of optimism and positivity, it seems important to acknowledge and hold space for grief.
I’ve attended two funerals in my life. The first one was around five years ago and was my first experience of grief as an adult; it was an unexpected loss and I was surprised at how poorly I coped with it. The second funeral was much closer to home. Although in some ways I feel fortunate to have very few experiences of loss, I was also made aware that as time went by the losses were increasingly likely to become more personal, and grief wasn’t something I was experienced in dealing with.
When 2020 began I was 12 weeks pregnant and suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, as well as trying to complete my third year of university. This was a different kind of grief, but it set the tone for the rest of the year. I was mourning the image I’d had of a healthy, glowing pregnancy and instead I stayed inside for almost my entire pregnancy – my mental and physical health the worst they’d ever been. As we moved further along into 2020 I was still experiencing feelings of grief and at some points, complete despair. And then it seemed that the rest of the country joined me.
No one seemed to escape it. We all watched as high school students abruptly missed out on the end of term they’d hoped for and then as they had to fight for the grades they earnt. New students joined universities in September only to be confined to their residences and blamed for outbreaks. We all missed our friends and family; we missed weddings, funerals, birthdays, and Christmas. Throughout the year I watched my closest friends suffer immeasurable losses, and I could only offer comfort through sending messages or letters. And, as I had feared, I experienced losses within my family. My own experience with grief has changed dramatically and the ability to make space for grief, whether my own or a friend’s, is one of the few things I will take from 2020.
To spend an entire year coping with a sense of ongoing loss is draining. To do it while also trying to work, study, or care for others is exhausting. You don’t get to stop being a parent, or a student, while you cope. Maybe you can get away with making more mistakes or having more bad days but for the most part, exams still need to be sat, essays written, babies fed, and kids entertained – sometimes all at the same time.
[Jasmine Yancey – she/her]