Two years ago, I wrote this for the community of teens I work with. I have been asked to repost it here.
There has been much cause for grief among the teens in this community recently. I have watched the shock of suicide shake the core of a group of friends, fundamentally changing the way they see the world. I have seen the Facebook posts in support of a friend who just succumbed to cancer, showering his family in love and support, even when their own hearts are breaking over the loss of their friend.
I am on the periphery of the young adult world. I have not been a teenager for a decade. The teenagers I know, however, I care about very deeply. And it pains me to see all the grief that is swirling around the community right now because, in my own way, I understand how it feels.
When I was 18 and a freshman in college, I lost two people whom I loved. One was my ex-boyfriend and the other was our mutual friend. They had been drinking, one of them decided to drive, and their lives ended against a tree as their car split in half on opposite sides of the street.
I was not prepared for the way that grief was going to overtake the next several years of my life; I don’t think there is a way one can prepare for such grief, especially when it envelopes you so suddenly. The spirit and strength I have witnessed among those affected by death in the past days and months has left me awed.
The one thing I wish someone had told me after my friends died was there is no one “right” way to grieve. Sometimes grief comes in waves–-you’ll be plodding along, enjoying your day, and suddenly you will feel as though the wind has been knocked out of you and the only air you can gulp into your lungs burns with the pain of having to live life without the people you love. Sometimes grief exists as a constant ache, deepening when you can’t stop yourself from thinking about why it’s there.
I don’t believe the grief experienced over the loss of a loved one ever goes away. I do, however, believe it can be transformed. I believe with the right amount of time, and tears, and stories shared among friends, family, and anyone with experience in dealing with loss, grief can give us an unexpected gift–-it can make us empathetic, compassionate, kind human beings who want to help each other; who want to help strangers. It can change the trajectory of our lives, stirring in us a passion to find a cure, or raise awareness about an issue. It can, if we fight for it, make us better human beings.
If we don’t fight for that transformation, through, grief can swallow us whole. It can sneak up on us and suck all the strength and hope right out of us. For years, it did this to me. If you are feeling this way, please know that I have been there, too. You are not alone. Know that there are people who can and will help you. Be strong enough to ask them for help. There is a link with applicable resources here.
I set out to write this post to express my admiration for the compassion and strength demonstrated by the communities that have been impacted by these recent losses. But I also wanted to say, and it’s worth repeating again, that there is no one “right” way to grieve. It manifests in each of us differently. Our responsibility as survivors of these tragedies is to make sure no one is isolated or ashamed of his/her grief. It is only through a commitment to each other that we can begin to find a place of comfort.