Volume 10, Issue 4
It’s taken me a long time to write this article. Partly because I’m so ashamed it took something as significant as the death of a loved one to make me realise just how absorbed in this law degree I have become, and partly because I’ve needed time to put this into words. But it’s time to get a wriggle on with it, because I think it could really help some people.
Last November, I lost my angel of a grandmother. She had been everything from my carer when my mum first went back to work, to my confidant. She cheered the loudest at my graduation and encouraged me to pursue further study, because she never had the chance to receive a tertiary education of her own.
Late last year, her health declined rapidly, and her passing freed her from an immense amount of suffering.
I still think of her and miss her every single day. I often wear her fabulous clothing and jewellery, and carry one of her handbags on the days I know I’ll need a little extra luck.
Her death shook our entire family, and we each grieved in different ways.
While I took comfort in knowing she was no longer suffering, what upset me most during this time was something that was said to me repeatedly, by everyone from family, to friends of hers at her service that I didn’t even know:
‘Thank goodness you got your exams done before she died.’
Were they serious?
I wouldn’t have given a damn if I had to delay my degree or sit exams out of session if it meant I could have spent more time with family when it mattered.
Although I knew this comment came from a place of concern, it held a mirror up, and boy was the reflection harsh.
People I’d never even met knew the importance I placed on my law degree. It was a massive wake up call: my studies had taken over my life, and those that mattered in it had come second for the best part of two years.
In the months before she died, I had thankfully started making a really concerted effort to go and spend more time with my grandmother. But by this stage, she had lost her speech. So we sat together and looked at old photos.
I don’t want to live with regret or guilt, because we’ve all done things that seem ill considered with the 20/20 vision that is hindsight. But I wish I’d seen her as much in the first two years of my law degree as I used to. I wish we’d had even more conversations about anything and everything. I wish I’d taken down the recipe for her chicken noodle soup.
Nothing in this world is more important than spending time with family and friends. Not this degree, not clerkship applications, nothing. I hope that no one else has to experience grief or tragedy to gain this same perspective.
Times spent with family and friends are one-offs. They don’t come round again. You’ll only have one chance to celebrate your brother’s 21st, or to farewell that friend who is going to live overseas.
Unlike these one-offs, this or that section of the Act, this case or that case, and the principles for next week’s lecture will always be there on Austlii waiting for you to look up.
I’m not saying our degrees aren’t important. They absolutely are. We’ve worked hard to get here, and we’ve invested huge amounts to be here.
But don’t ever let your degree be the defining feature in your life. See your friends and family. Look after your physical and mental health, and make time for the things you truly enjoy.
In some ways it’s too little, too late for me, but I’ve made a conscious decision not to let law be the most important thing in my life this year. I’ve scheduled my classes to fall in the middle of the day, giving me more time before and after to see friends, to read for pleasure or to pursue my new favourite hobby: reformer pilates.
At my grandma’s funeral, no one spoke about whether or not she was a fantastic nurse – although I’m sure she was. When all was said and done, her work was just one aspect of her life, and not a defining feature.
We spoke instead about times we’d spent together as a family, about her love of travel and fashion, and other things she really enjoyed.
In the weeks that followed, I realized I’d want the same kinds of things said for me. So I better get busy making memories, and doing stuff worth talking about.
Claire Poyser is a third-year JD student
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