University student with head on hands behind a pile of books

8 things Channel 4’s Big Boys taught us about grieving at university

We’ve been glued to Big Boys on Channel 4 – crying and laughing along with the main character Jack as he navigates first year of university after the death of his dad. Written and narrated by Jack Rooke, the series is partly autobiographical, and explores grief and mental health in young men. Here are 8 things Big Boys taught us about grief.

Statistics show that one in every one people will eventually die. But it’s sh*t when they are 56, and your dad, and the only one who knew the Sky Movies pin.

Jack Rooke, Big Boys

1. Grief can be funny as well as sad

Unsurprisingly, given that it’s a comedy, there are lots of funny moments in Channel 4’s Big Boys. What might surprise you is that a lot of the funny moments are related to Jack’s grief. For example, his mum giving him the wrong letter from his dad on his first day of university or his cousin ordering flowers spelling out ‘Ankle’ instead or ‘Uncle’ for the funeral. When you are grieving you don’t have to always be sad, there can be plenty of moments when you laugh – don’t feel guilty about that.

2. People don’t know what to say or do (so they make you lasagne)

Death is still a taboo subject and people don’t know what to say or do when someone has died. Jack and his mum experienced this after the death of his dad. Friends and neighbours would drop off lasagnes (Jack counted 26!) but already be in the car by the time they opened the door so they didn’t have to talk. Others would say unhelpful things like ‘He’ll always be watching over you’. People want to help but don’t always know how.

3. You need to do what’s right for you

Don’t put pressure on yourself when you are grieving. Jack takes the decision to defer his university place for a year because it’s the one-year anniversary of his dad’s death and he’s not ready to start. Whether it’s going to university, taking exams or even just going out with your friends, if you don’t feel ready then it’s ok to say. There is no timetable for grief and you will have good days and bad days – do what’s right for you.

4. Grief doesn’t define you

The death of his dad is a huge part of Jack’s life in Big Boys but it’s not the only thing. He also faces the challenges other teenagers do at university – discovering his sexuality, learning to look after himself, finding himself and making new friends. You may feel very different to your friends, but you are facing a lot of the same things as them, just with grief added on to make everything more complicated.

5. Life goes on even though they aren’t there to see it

Jack faces plenty of milestones during Big Boys – moving out of home, starting university and coming out to his mum. At all of these moments, he is acutely aware that his dad is not there to experience them too and wonders what his dad would have said or done. This carries on throughout life – it might be learning to drive, getting your first job, getting married or having children. Your grief may be more acute at these times as you miss that special person.

6. You will feel responsible for looking after the rest of your family

Since his dad’s death, the other people in Jack’s life seem to become even more important, particularly his mum. They spend a lot of time together and help each other cope. However, Jack also feels responsible for looking after his mum now his dad is no longer around. This can happen often when a parent dies, especially if you are in your teens or early 20s. You may feel like you need to step into their shoes and look after your other parent and siblings. Remember to also look after yourself.

7. Your friends will help you through

Jack makes new friends at university, in particular his housemate Danny, and those friends help Jack to cope with his grief. Whether it’s friends, family or a professional (maybe a teacher or counsellor), your support network will be there to help you. Sometimes, you might need to ask for help, but remember that you are not alone.

8. Grief can be your superpower

Jack isn’t the only person struggling, his friend Danny struggles with his mental health and Jack helps him through. Grief can give you a sensitivity and empathy for other people’s struggles that you might not have had before. It can put you in a unique position to support your friends, just as they have supported you.

Big Boys is available to watch on All 4 – for over 18s only.

Where to get support

If you are a bereaved young person (aged 0-25) or you are supporting a child or young person who is struggling with their grief, please call our Freephone Helpline team on 08088 020 021 or email We can provide advice, support and resources.

If you need urgent support, the Winston’s Wish Crisis Messenger is available 24/7 for free, confidential support in a crisis. Text WW to 85258.

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