For Those Who Are Left Behind
October 11th, 2016
This article is a reactionary piece. It has been about four hours since the news broke, and so much has happened that I haven’t been able to comprehend, and I can only imagine what those close to him are going through.
A guy at my school died earlier today.
We don’t know how, or why, or exactly when — we just know that it was off campus and more information would be forthcoming.
I go to a small liberal arts school of about twenty-five hundred undergraduate. It’s a pretty tight-knit community. You don’t know everyone by name, but if you were shown any picture of any student, you could probably say that you’ve seen them around.
That was the extent of my relationship with this student. After searching the name on Facebook, I immediately recognized him. Never had any classes with him, never spoke to him directly — but we have mutual friends, and sometimes have been in the same conversation.
This article isn’t about me. This article is about those mutual friends.
The student body received an email about the death. I was in class, so no one had seen it right away. A friend of mine steps out of the room because his phone goes off. He swings the door open a minute later and says: “Professor my friend just died can I leave.”
I’ve never heard a collective gasp in my life before this moment.
We all rush to check our emails. And yes, a student had died. This friend leaves.
My other friend who was supposed to do a presentation that night is offered the chance not to, but he doesn’t take it. We get out of class early after that. I stay behind to a get a signature from the professor, and this friend is waiting for me to discuss this project from another class.
But now he’s breaking down too. They used to be close his sophomore year. He did the presentation as a distraction — but now there was nothing left to do that.
I hadn’t realized just how many of my friends knew the student who died. I am not a big crier when it comes to death. But I had tears in my eyes after seeing all those reflected in my friends.
Another friend of mine took to Facebook — a heartfelt message that made my throat close up, my heart ache, my body physically mourn for a man I did not know, for all the cracks in my friends’ hearts. It wasn’t about the student per se, but about death in general. I’m not going to quote it, because that message, those emotions, belong to those who knew him. But that last line — about being remembered, about the version of him that would be remembered.
That student is dead.
He is dead, and gone, and is wherever you believe him to be.
It’s the people who are alive and hurting that matter now.
One of my favorite quotes is from John Green’s The Fault in our Stars: “Funerals, I had decided, are for the living.”
Hugs are like a bandaid for your heart, but they can’t cover a wound this big. I’m not usually one who’s good at comfort, but this is different. No advice is needed — it’s just all grief, and there’s really only one thing to do.
It’s not hard — you love your friends, it will happen naturally.
I texted my other project partner who was close to him and told her not to worry — I would finish the project, go grieve. I sent the friend that had left class the midterm review notes. Be there for them in any way you can, not just “I’m here if you need anything.” Be sure to let them know that, but think: what’s a small thing that’ll lighten their load?
When friends are sick or sad, I tend to shove food in their faces. I bought one friend a pizza bagel from the cafe that was still open. I gave him the leftover cookie dough I had later — anything to bring a ghost of a smile to their face.
Distract them. Not in a subject avoidance way — talk about it. Talk about similar experiences — empathize. I had gone through this before. In 8th grade, I was in the exact same situation I am today.
Talk about other exciting things. I’m getting a cat! I fell out of bed earlier! Two squirrels were humping each other this morning! Hey, did you see the new Teen Wolf trailer? Do you want to watch the 1997 Cinderella movie with Brandy? Right now, yeah.
From now, until the day that they themselves die, their hearts will be at a funeral for their friend. You can only do so much for them, but it’s the little things that help the most.
It’s love that helps the most.
I love my friends and — and fuck. I love them so much and I don’t even know where this article was going. If it was an article. I tried to turn it into an article of some kind, of something that made sense, but death doesn’t make sense. And I’m pissed, and my throat feels like I swallowed sandpaper and I’ve brought myself to tears just writing this because I love my friends so fucking much and this isn’t fair and god now Hamilton’s in my head — death doesn’t discriminate / between the sinners and the saints / it takes and it takes and it takes — and shit fuck IT ISN’T FAIR. IT’S NOT. JUST WHAT THE FUCK.
I have never been to a funeral.
I imagine this is what that feels like.
October 12th, 2016
It’s the next day and the campus feels heavy. The sun is shining but it makes no difference. It’s not as cold outside but we’re all still freezing.
No more information has been publically released out of respect and privacy for the family, but people know. They know where, when, and how — but not why.
No one can comprehend why.
Classes were still held, but many got out early and postponed assignments.
A candlelight vigil was held that night. They had to do it on our big lawn because the Chapel wasn’t big enough.
People shared stories — people who knew him well or barely knew him. Stories of first meetings and of the last time they saw him.
As with earlier, I won’t go into detail with what people said because it’s private, but there is one that I feel like is important, to paraphrase: “It sucks so much that [he] is dead is because he was one of the most alive people we knew.”
I knew a lot of people who didn’t go because they felt like they didn’t belong because they didn’t know him. I felt that way too, but I went anyway to support my friends.
Sometimes all you can do is hold people when they cry.
The funeral is this weekend. People are organizing carpools in droves. There’s a GoFund Me page to help the family with the sudden expenses.
There’s this feeling that maybe the weight will lift, that things will go back to normal. But it won’t. He’s not coming back.
The weight can only lessen, but it won’t go away.
Death is permanent.
People will heal, but this wound will leave a scar.
Our jobs, as friends and family and human beings, is not to keep them from scarring, that’s impossible, but to keep the wound from getting bigger.
April 11th, 2017
It was the sixth month anniversary.
The shrine to him at the place where he died is long gone. But his presence is still there, and so is the pain.
It’s a cut that just won’t close, that itches all the time. You just keep picking and picking at it until it’s all red and raw. It’ll leave a scar. Grief always does.
But people are still living, the ones left behind. They remember him, they live for him, they live for themselves. They live on.