University is one of the biggest transitional periods of anyone’s life for an endless number of reasons.
We move away from our parents, we build some of our most meaningful relationships and we reluctantly begin our transition into adulthood.
That growing up period was somewhat fast-tracked during my time at university. After my dad was left permanently disabled by a series of strokes during my final year, my whole university experience was flipped on its head.
My life shifted from finishing a lecture and going for a beer with mates, to finishing a lecture to get home and make my dad’s dinner or help him get a shower. However it wasn’t always as simple as that.
As you can probably imagine, the immediate aftermath of his illness became one of the darkest times in mine and my families life. Regretfully so, I handled the situation very badly at first.
I’m lucky to say I had a really good relationship with my dad. We’d play football together every Friday night which is something I realise now I massively took for granted. As it happened, it was one of those evenings that his problems began. One Friday I turned up as normal, only he didn’t. I later found out he’d been rushed to hospital.
Quickly we all began to realise how serious things were and how much everything was about to change. As things deteriorated we were all told to prepare for the worst. To be prepared to say our goodbyes and the usual script associated with losing a loved one.
Is calling it inconvenient timing a tad insensitive? Probably, but I was spending a lot of money on my course and I’m sure my dad will understand. Try asking him to lend a tenner, you’d soon understand.
Obviously it had crossed my mind that perhaps I would be best dropping out for a year whilst I dealt with this. Instead I chose the healthy option of closing off, barely attending lectures and generally being a mess.
Hospital visits had replaced assignments by now, each one looking bleaker than the last. I hit the lowest point one evening when I stepped into the ward and my dad couldn’t recognise who I was – having to be reminded by his mum that I was the same son who had been visiting every night for the last two weeks.
My mum, who had split up with my dad many years before, was amazing through the whole thing and continues to be so. As were so many of my friends, who in the end were probably the ones who snapped me out of my descent into self-pity. What was going on around me was awful, I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, but dealing with it in the way I was, simply wasn’t helping anyone, not my family, not my dad and definitely not myself.
So I was left with a decision. I could continue drinking myself into stupid states, throw away my degree and feel sorry for myself. Or I could grow up and actually saviour what time I had left with my dad and help look after him.
Having two little sisters had a huge influence on me snapping out of my slump too. What sort of message would I be sending to them? Not a chance would I ever want either of them to to feel or act the way I did.
Grief is good, it’s healthy. The moment you begin to let that grief define your decisions and take over you’re in trouble.
It was tough but I started to get into the habit of balancing university work, seeing friends – something I can’t stress enough the importance of – and helping look after my dad. I gained a whole lot of perspective, not only in university but in everyday life. The guilt I had about how I handled it at first began to turn into a drive to do all I could to help in the situation.
I graduated with a respectable 2:1 and my dad got to see me do it – two things I genuinely didn’t foresee ever happening.
Fast forward to being a full-time working graduate and I’m blessed enough to say that my dad is somehow still with us, which we’ve been told time and time again is nothing short of a miracle. I spend a few nights a week at his flat, I make us food and we watch football. The whole thing is far from ideal but I accept now that we’ve got to make the most of what we have.
Whilst it was undoubtedly the darkest period in my short life – there’s no doubts in my mind that it eventually built me into a much better person, especially when it comes to handling negative situations.