“College life was the most perfect distraction for me”IZZY THOMAS

Whenever I pictured starting university, it was with my parents stressing over how to cram all my inevitably over-packed bags in the boot of our car. It was with me sitting in the backseat attempting to distract myself from my rambling thoughts – Will I find my room? What will my housemates be like? Will they like me? Do I even deserve to be here? It was with my mum welling up at watching her baby leave and my brother being mad that he would have to deal with twice as much of her suffocating love. It was also with my dad. It was with him logically sorting out every practical thing for me to distract from his own fears of whether I would survive on my own.

As you may have guessed my first day did not transpire in this way because my first day of university was about two months after my dad died. On October 1st, my mum drove me to Cambridge in place of my dad. In addition to all the worries I had expected, I arrived with the anxiety of how I would tell strangers that I had just lost the most important person in the world to me. Not to mention the crushing guilt that I would be leaving my brother to watch my mum’s heart break and know that there was nothing he could do to help.

“I was so unprepared for losing him that when he was gone all my words went with him”

My dad passed away suddenly in August 2020, exactly a week before results day. It was not of COVID-19, but from acute heart failure. He was such an enormous force it seemed impossible that anything would ever be able to cut him down. I was so unprepared for losing him that when he was gone all my words went with him. As the one who had always been good with words, who dreamed of becoming an actress, and who had just met her offer to study English at Cambridge, I felt it was my duty to speak at my father’s funeral. On the day all I could manage was force out a reading of W.B Yeats’s The Lake Isle of Innisfree. I could not utter a single thought or feeling of my own because words would never be enough to sum up a human being’s life, let alone my own father’s.

When October rolled around, the moment I had spent years building up in my head no longer seemed to matter, yet it was starting Cambridge that saved me. It was my dad who had taken me to my interview and had irritated me by proceeding to give me a mock interrogation during our drive. It was my dad who had bored all his colleagues at work by telling them that his daughter would be going to Cambridge despite my insistence that it had not been confirmed yet! It was my dad who knew more than anyone else that I would meet my offer, despite not being there to see it on results day.

“But for all its emptiness, college is charged with the expectation of the community returning in thrilling numbers”

College life was the most perfect distraction for me. I was meeting new people, finding my way around college, around the city, probably drinking too much, and getting to grips with the workload. I did not have the capacity to focus on my grief as well. Being at college meant that I was not constantly haunted by the emptiness of my home or by the absence of my dad’s voice. Of course, the usual questions about family filled me with dread. Even now I am unsure as to how many of my friends and acquaintances know about my dad.


Mountain View

Grief in the time of Coronavirus

A particularly memorable moment was when a fellow fresher stated that they “wouldn’t be here if their dad had just died”. Guilt is one of the most complicated elements of grief and although this person’s comment was made unwittingly, it increased my guilt fivefold. I felt guilty leaving my family and actually enjoying myself at university. Above all I felt guilty that it must have appeared as though I did not care about my dad when, in reality, my brain was desperately trying to numb me so that I could just get on with my day. I recognise the un-healthiness of it, but at college I could pretend my dad was still at home and I was the one who had left.

Starting university in the depths of mourning is difficult but returning home is infinitely worse. So when it was announced that Lent Term would be entirely online, I was devastated. The prospect that I would be trapped in a home that no longer felt like one until Easter was unthinkable for me, so I requested to return. College is empty. The cacophony of the chapel choir, the booming voices of the porters, and the general bustling of over-excited freshers, weary second years, and fretting third years, is not there anymore. But for all its emptiness, college is charged with the expectation of the community returning in thrilling numbers. An expectation of return that is impossible in my house.