BEING away from home and being at university is at first a strange feeling, one that definitely takes getting used to. I felt this especially in the first year, as all of us probably did. You’re in a new place, you don’t really know what’s going on or where anything is. Now being in my second-year stint of university, I’ve realised a whole new feeling when it comes to being far away from home.
At first, I was missing my family a lot and the comfort of being at home, and now I’ve realised how that can work both ways. My family have unfortunate luck when it comes to illness; we’ve dealt with all the classics: asthma, a number of broken bones (clearly we have a clumsy gene), acne, mental health issues, accidents, the lot. As a result of that and being in a single-parent household, we all are a bit of a collective and look after each other when it gets hard. So when someone gets particularly ill, and you are a four-hour train journey away, instead of upstairs in your room, it’s a whole new territory to face. You can’t make that classic panic cup of tea that will make things feel better for that person for five minutes or so; instead, you become confined to phone calls and WhatsApp messages.
It was certainly a very surreal experience being in a lecture, checking your phone every now and then to see if there’s any news about a life-threatening surgery your family member is in. Of course, I want to learn about the wonders of William Blake’s Romantic poetry, but I also really want to be in that waiting room, to be the first to know any updates, not the fourth or fifth. And of course, the weekends are convenient for these matters, and being an English student, I am blessed with very few contact hours so quick trips home are always possible. But I think what people forget about illness is it’s often not the big gestures or the planned visits. It’s the things you don’t consider or plan, it’s the needed help you never think of, like helping reach for the soup at the top of the cupboard, or a hug, a rushed trip to the hospital or even just going out to get more milk.
It’s a sudden, strange reality of growing up where you realise you are actually needed as a reliable member of the family.
As you grow, your responsibility grows, and as your parents grow older, their reliance on you grows too. It is a weird complex of you yourself eating Coco Pops for dinner whilst checking in on the health and wellbeing of your own parent, not quite old enough to look after yourself but having no choice but to become responsible for those you love. It’s never easy to have that order of care reversed, but it is an inevitable part of life that can, in a bittersweet way, be quite rewarding. I have always felt the weight of all my family has done for me and giving back in any way I can is something I am always itching to do. But as I’ve mentioned, I am now a bit of a journey and a hefty price of a train ticket away.
University is often about learning to cope by living in two spaces all at once. People often mention that both your ‘homes’ never truly feel like one because it ends up that something is always missing, whether that’s physical or within yourself. And it’s a similar conflict when it comes to an illness in the family; you feel guilty for staying at uni but it’s something you know you have to do, and your family would want the same.
All in all, there is no real conclusion as to how to confront this conflict,other than to face things as they come. It’s far from an ideal situation and in life, acceptance of things being difficult is sometimes the best option you have. Perseverance helps. Looking out for yourself so that you can look after others will help. Sometimes feeling hopeless, scared, or ‘over it’ is what will happen. We have to juggle so much at uni as it is, so having hardship in your personal life, especially when it’s far away from you is never easy, but you find your way because you have to – for them.