Content warning: This article contains discussion of death, loss, and grieving. The author acknowledges that this is a reflection of their experiences and does not wish to speak to anyone else’s personal engagements with these processes.
I was paying my bill at Sima sushi when I got the call that one of my closest friends had passed away in a tragic bus accident at the age of 18. Instead of enjoying the last moments of summer with new friends, my second week of my second year at Queen’s became a harsh crash course in the world of death and grieving.
Death and the accompanying grief that follows have the power to make even the most caring and sensitive people shift uncomfortably in their seats. Following a flurry of sympathy messages came echoing sentiments of “everything happens for a reason” or “you are strong for going through this,” but I did not want to be strong, nor could I imagine there was a life lesson to learn from this harrowing experience. Two years later, my grief is no longer all-consuming, but it is a central part of my life that I have accepted and grown comfortable discussing.
It was September 13th, 2019, when I got the call that my friend had passed. If you’re keeping track, that is Friday the 13th, which seems especially cruel. Strangely enough, people did not hesitate to point this out, as if her death was linked to a sinister superstition. That was just the first of bizarre responses that would come within the following months. Death makes people behave unusually, and I was beginning to learn that.
The days following that call were a blur to me, but I do remember distinct moments pretty vividly. I was hyper-aware of the fact that I was not crying when I received the call. I also remember going to an audition the next day, idly chatting with a friend over coffee the next morning, and the whole time, feeling crushing guilt for maintaining an outwardly okay facade.
I came to the conclusion that I did not know how to grieve. Though it should have been the least of my concerns, I was deeply worried about how I was being perceived. It felt wrong to enjoy parties or have fun with my friends. As the gravity of the situation set in, my preoccupation with whether I was feeling enough emotions was offset by worries that I was expressing too much. I became more in tune with my feelings, I became okay crying in public, but there was a pang of lingering guilt that others were walking on eggshells around me.
I could feel that people wanted to be there for me, but I often felt like I was serving the emotions of others. Most are comfortable with giving expressions of sympathy and understanding but show more discomfort with the less “textbook” parts of grief. I felt like I had to play the role of the perfect griever. I only talked about the incident when asked, kept tears primarily to myself, and responded with vague platitudes when asked how I was doing. This is what I thought grieving was. Processing this life event on my own without taking up too much space and eventually getting over it after an appropriate amount of time.
No one tells you anything about losing a loved one because grief is uncomfortable and messy. It often felt like I was part of a secret club filled with others who understood the pain and oddity that occur following a loss. I got a glimpse into the shrouded mystery of grief, but I felt further isolated from those who could not relate to my experience. Everyone will deal with loss, so why do these conversations bring about such discomfort? I wish I had been taught about grief earlier, not just for my own sake, but to be there for others. I didn’t know how to deal with these tough emotions until I was faced with them myself, and by then, it was arguably too late.
Among the most common reactions were apologies for bringing up my friend’s name, as if they were reminding me of her passing. I promise that you will never remind someone grieving a loved one of their death. In fact, it is often one of the only things on their minds. My friends wanted to provide distractions, but all I wanted was for them to ask me to share stories about her. Not talking about her only made me feel more lonely and isolated. Ignoring reality does not change the event that happened; it only makes a taboo topic even more so.
Death and grief are often described as love with nowhere to go. I only felt the true gravity of these words months after experiencing bereavement. The profound loss I felt each day has largely faded but even two years later, there are days when the sadness inexplicably spikes. Time does not heal all wounds, and there is no end date of grief. But as months and years pass, my life has grown around this moment. It is a central part of who I am, and the loss is as great as when it first occurred, but this weight has become easier to carry. I now have no difficulties talking openly about her death, about our relationship, and about the love I continue to have for her, but there was a time where I did not feel I had the space to do so.
I understand that death is not easy to talk about. It is less so when it is the untimely death of a young person and even less so when you have not experienced it yourself. Nevertheless, these conversations are so valuable.
Please talk to me about your grief or your loved one who has passed. Please continue to share their stories. And if you are supporting someone through a loss, please don’t be afraid to reach out. We often appreciate it more than we can express.
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