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How 'Big Boys' made me look at my own grief

"Statistics show that one in every one people will eventually die. But it's shit when they're 56. And your dad. And the only one who knew the Sky Movies PIN."

So goes the opening lines of Jack Rooke’s Big Boys - the story of Jack who starts university after the recent death of his father.


I went to uni myself in 2018. Like Jack, I wasn't interested in Freshers Week - I had no desire to get drunk, go to parties and clubs and generally do any student-y things. I didn't want to join any clubs or strange societies. I was perfectly happy going to lectures, meeting new people and acting like I wasn't bricking it most of the time.

I come from a small town - think Twin Peaks but with Costa Coffee. Uni was two hours away by bus and my anxious self couldn't entertain the thought of staying in student accommodation. So, I made the logical decision to stay with my grandmother who lived only half an hour away by train from campus.

My grandmother lived alone and was more like a student than I ever was. She went out dancing, met friends and ate out in restaurants most nights of the week. I'd be studying in the downstairs bedroom, and she’d come in late at night and tell me all about what she’d been up to. I always thought she was so glamorous, and she was, but really, she was lonely and welcomed me staying with her during the three years of my course.

Then at the end of the first semester, she died. And it was sh*t, even though she was 71 years old.

Someone once said we are always shocked by death even though we know it's coming. In a way, I never thought she would die. My grandfather had died a decade before when I was nine and I remember everything. I never thought he would either. It was a shock when my grandfather died, but by the time my grandmother eventually passed away, it was more of a relief. Jack's father had cancer. My grandmother had medical negligence.

I made friends at uni but none that I really keep in touch with. A large part of Big Boys is the relationship between Jack and Danny. I found myself relating to them both. Danny lives with his grandmother and she is his whole world. At the end of the series, she is taken to hospital. Danny goes to visit, and she is confused and doesn't really know who she is anymore. I felt as if someone had found those final months of my grandmother's life and were replaying them to me without my consent. It was too much. It was harrowing. It was something I needed to look at.


Big Boys deals with grief beautifully. How do you navigate the world of higher education when a part of your world is not there anymore? It's been four years and I'm still grieving. You never really stop. I miss my grandfather even though I've forgotten his voice and smell and he died 13 years ago.


In the show (based on true events), Jack defers his first year of uni because he can't get out of bed after his father dies. When my grandmother was dying, I happened to have a lecture about a book whose main theme was about death. I remember feigning sickness to a friend and running out of the hall and down to the train station where I sat alone and called my mum. I took the train not back to my grandmother's house, but back home where I stayed for two weeks. I emailed my poor lecturer because he had watched me run out of his class. I told him the truth: his lecture wasn’t sh*t, my coping was sh*t. He was very nice about it.

And so, I had to get the bus, a two-hour one, three times a week – and a school bus, mind you; as if my grandmother dying wasn't enough. I finished my degree and started another one that I am nearing the end of now. I still don’t really talk about those final weeks of my grandmother’s life. When dealing with grief as a young person, it’s important to know that it’s okay if you prefer to speak with friends or people outside of your immediate family. You are loved and supported and it’s okay to open up and share how you’re feeling - something I have only been able to do myself recently.


How do you deal with grief? Let us know in the comments.