Currently in his first year of the LLB at Dundee University, Kyle Dillon is dual qualifying with oil and gas law. Here he explains how it’s possible to experience a traumatic personal loss, but still do everyone proud by excelling at your studies.
Going to university is exciting, nerve-wracking and busy all at the same time. And, even after weeks have gone by and you start to find all the lecture theatres and you know what you have to do for tutorials, these feelings and pressures do still remain.
I can think back to only four months ago when I was in this position – excited to meet new friends and learn a new subject, nervous about being wrong or not knowing what to do in the first place, and busy with re-typing my lecture notes and preparing for tutorials all of which were ahead of mid-term exams.
Dealing with a personal loss at the same time
Well, if you think that’s a difficult way to start your university career, that’s nothing compared to what happens when you lose someone close to you, while all of this is still going on around you. The nerves build up even more as you miss lectures, the pressure of meeting deadlines still exists and believe it or not, the excitement still lingers there somewhere, as deep down as it may be.
I was only five weeks into studying at university when I got the phone call to tell me that my father had passed away. To make things easier for me, I was studying at home throughout my reading week to prepare for mid-term exams, when the rest of my world fell apart, so a long and painful journey home was not necessary.
However, when something like this happens, you hit a brick wall and picking yourself up, and forcing yourself to do the smallest of jobs becomes a major responsibility. I know from my own personal experience that any university course, not just law, forces you to take on a whole host of responsibilities, and at a time of losing someone close to you, it's difficult to even think what these responsibilities are.
What others can learn from my situation
I wish I could say that these circumstances will never happen to anyone else, however, the reality is that they will. If you do find yourself in a situation similar to my own, I would like to offer some guidance and advice that will hopefully make such a time a little easier and help you to continue your studies at university. Firstly, like I said this is a reality and people are faced with such problems more often than we would like.
As a result of this, universities are understanding and have a framework in place for when such hard times arise. Personally, I cannot fault my university for all the support they gave me when I first managed to pick up the telephone and call them. I started with a phone call to the law school secretary who took great care in making sure all the right people would be informed of my absence at lectures, tutorials and mid-term exams.
Secondly, the phone then had to be picked up again to my individual lecturers, and one thing you must be prepared for is having to repeat what happened over and over again. It was difficult saying the four words "my father passed away" a handful of times, but as soon as you hang up from speaking to the last person on your list, there is a great sense of relief, knowing you can give your mind a rest from thinking about university for a week or so.
Here, my advice would be to give your adviser, or school secretary a call and explain your situation as soon as you possibly can. You can inform them of how long you will be absent and they can arrange for you to catch up on any of the syllabus or any class tests that you may miss. Doing this will ensure that your attendance rate will not be affected, and will give you plenty of time to submit applications for appeals on any exams you have missed, or exams in which you feel you could have done better, had you been in a better state of mind.
At first I felt like I was asking too much to have my marks reconsidered with respect to my situation, but the truth is, that you would have performed better without the emotions of grieving and perhaps still feeling exhausted. You deserve the best chance you possibly can to succeed in the subject you want to pursue.
Getting back to your normal routine
Following on from my previous point, another piece of advice I would like to offer, is to not hide away from university and all the responsibilities that come along with it. Return back to university as soon as memorial services have taken place, you and your family think it is time to get back to some form of normality, and you feel ready to sit back in two-hour lectures without getting upset.
I found that learning unjustified enrichment in my private law module allowed me to escape from the brutal truth of losing my father for an hour or two, and being back in a sociable environment where nobody really knew what was going on in my life and therefore did not ask any questions, helped me greatly.
I was not faced with having to support those around me as well as myself. I could smile without feeling guilty and I could talk about something other than memories that I had with my family and how we were going to manage without our loved one. Being back in the lecture theatre or the small tutorial group gives you the opportunity to get yourself together and get away from all the heartache and depression, even if it is just for a brief period.
Furthermore, leaving lectures and tutorials aside, I returned back to university and quickly had to participate in a moot and then sit my first diet of exams only a week or two later.
Do not be put off by this, and try not to think that staying at home will allow you to avoid all of this. Even with my marks being reviewed with respect to my situation, I know for a fact that I bettered myself by sitting my exams. The feeling of self-pride as a result of being able to do so is incredible and it gives you the incentive to continue trying your best throughout your studies, regardless of what life throws at you.
Focused and ready for the next exams
I am now back at university after a number of weeks at home over Christmas, and already I am focusing on my next set of exams in March, purely because I have shown myself that I can do it, and most importantly because I want my father to be proud of me.
To any of you that may be living in a similar situation to my own, I would like to give you strength and encourage you to make your loved one proud. You will hit the brick wall and not want to do a single thing, but picking yourself up and throwing yourself back into the deep end will give you a sense of pride, and inspire you to do exactly what your loved one would want you to do, and that is to do well. Whether you lose a parent, a grandparent, a good friend or indeed a child, trying your best is all you can ever do, in any situation, and your best would make them proud of you, even if you do have to resit an exam months down the line. The truth is, you will have tried, and in your eyes and in their eyes, you will have succeeded, regardless of whether you got an A1 or a 'fail'. Stay strong and do the best you can.
I know what such a time does to you and your studies. Should you want any more advice or even just a talk with someone in a similar situation, I would greatly welcome any emails to email@example.com.