We all wonder “Would anyone miss me if I was gone?”
But the reality is you are so much more important than you even know. This is my story about how the loss of a high school friend changed my perception on how much we truly matter.
It took extra care and time for me to write this. It sat in my drafts- incomplete and wondering if it even belonged in this stratosphere that I’m trying to create for you. I want to be able to give you opportunities make your life better: tips, tricks, words of advice. And even though I can’t sum this up in a tidy package like 9 Simple Ways to Believe In Yourself (because it’s not quite that easy to deconstruct), I want to share this piece of my life with you.
The Sunday before Easter…
I sat in church and listened to the Bishop talk about a person he knew when he was seventeen who had ended his own life. There was a larger meaning to the story about crosses and being close to God, but I was just stuck in this moment with him- hurled into my own memories. I don’t know how old this man is, but this event in his life has never left him and he still preaches on it. My own experiences are still vivid, and I sat in the pew thinking about how it has been almost nine years, but it could have been yesterday.
Aaron was a boy in my class. I met him in freshman year Geometry. I had a big crush on him because I liked the way his hair curled, but I wasn’t very good at talking to boys (shout out to everyone who did not have flirting down as a teen), so I just wrote elaborate notes to pass in class that never elicited anything other than a smile. He came after me alphabetically, so even though after that year we didn’t really have classes together, state test days and locker assignments always paired us together. Graduation night he had on big thick glasses and made lots of jokes about tripping on purpose when he went up on stage to receive his diploma.
A year later…
I was sitting in my apartment and surfing Facebook, when I started to see dozens of RIP posts as news of Aaron’s death spread. The one post that shook me to the core was the one reminding people to ask for help, and talking about the organization To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA). I lived in a loft apartment with my husband at the time (now ex) and tore up the stairs screaming. It’s been nine years and I still don’t understand the pure visceral ache that exists where Aaron once was.
The funeral was packed. A girl behind me that I couldn’t bring myself to look at sobbed through the entire thing while I cried silent tears. I was embarrassed for her. When they carried his casket out, they played ‘I’ll Fly Away’. I listened to it on repeat. We went to the burial site, and it was so, SO HOT (Texas- ugh). I must have looked pretty distraught because as people started to disperse, a boy that I would consider one of Aaron’s best friends came up to me. He smiled and hugged me. I couldn’t accept the comfort. I could only be painfully aware of my sweaty back, and how I “didn’t deserve” (my thoughts at the time) to be comforted by someone so much more affected by this loss.
Aaron’s death terrified me.
I had had so many suicidal thoughts in the past (and would still struggle with them in the future). I felt distant- on the fringes of people who knew him, a passing acquaintance, but still had this overwhelming grief that accompanied his death, and it was shocking to me. I’d known a couple of students who had passed- car accidents and the like, standard hometown tragedies, and I clipped the news stories from the paper and shook my head at a young life lost. But Aaron’s death was different because if I hurt, what did those close to him feel?
Aaron’s death was different because I realized how much people- and that meant me too- mattered. And that even when I was at my lowest, when I just really didn’t know if I could do this anymore or if anyone really cared for me- my absence would leave a void like this in someone’s (probably many more than I could think of) life.
How many times has someone surprised you by thanking you for something you thought was no big deal? Has someone ever told you that the only reason they can get through a tough day of work is because of you? Or that watching you do something made a difference in their life? I bet there are more than you really know. The younger children in your life building memories that will someday make up their nostalgia. The regular customer at your job. The waitress that was struggling until you came in and reset their day. So many tiny interactions that all seem insignificant because we’re processing so much information every day, but they happen whether we notice them or not. They make up our lives, and you- my friend- contribute a lot.
You have so much power!
We feel so powerless so often, beating ourselves down with “I can’t” “I don’t” “I’m not”, but the truth is you already are. You are already in the world making a difference. For me, 9 years ago, it was an overwhelming realization- grieving Aaron, taking responsibility for my mental health, and trying to own my place in the world. You are so important, and if you haven’t realized it yet, or maybe you had an inkling but weren’t too sure, I want to remind you! Write it down!
Shout it out! On those really terrible days, remember that
If it’s really unbearable, then you call 1–800–273-TALK.
I still think about Aaron-
Even if I’m not listening to a weirdly specific sermon. And Carolyn Hester’s version of ‘I’ll Fly Away’ is my favorite, but I’m always ready to hear another take.