1. This isn’t possible.
I woke up to a series of text messages and missed calls from a friend who I knew wouldn’t be trying to reach me at 9 AM on a Sunday if it wasn’t important. And I’d had several people hanging out at my house the night before enjoying a campfire. Apparently one of them didn’t make it home. After she told me this on the phone, I got out of bed, and, did what I knew how to do: I made breakfast. Ten minutes later, while sitting in silence with a friend on my porch, the truth of what she said made its way to the front of my brain, like a detour I had to take on a route home. I could no longer carry on ignoring what she’d said, and had to let my heart and brain try to embrace it. But how does that fit into daily life? To find out someone you were just with 12 hours earlier spent their last hours on Earth with you? I broke down and cried, more of a body convulsing kind of cry than tears. There was fear, heartache, and a heaviness I have never felt.
2. I’m fine.
I met my friend at work. He was 24 when he passed away in a single-car crash after leaving my house. The day after I found out he died, I went to work to be with my coworkers when they found out. We walked around the parking lot, and I mostly tried to comfort my friends who were crying. It seems my adrenaline was in overdrive at this point because I was going through the motions and didn’t feel the weight of sadness anymore.
3. This isn’t fair.
Why did someone so young die? What is the purpose? Why do I have to deal with this? Why does his family have to face this tragedy? Why did my friends not reach out to me and bring me food? Why did they not visit me? Why did my parents not say the right things? Why did my boss expect me to continue working? No one understood. I had enough energy and angst to run ten miles but also had no motivation to move or get out of bed, so my anger at God, at my boss, at everyone, manifest itself by yelling at my mom. Thank God for the idea to go pick strawberries that day to get rid of some energy and get out of the house. Being active and around other people helped.
4. This is too much for me to handle.
I returned to work immediately after my friend died, and I remember staring at the screen on my computer and not actually registering any of the text I was looking at. I was there, but my mind was a thousand miles away. Hearing other people on the phones doing business sounded like nails on a chalkboard and also like something out of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. Everything was blurry. I felt so detached, and sensitive. Their voices grew louder, and everyone was talking so fast, it seemed, I felt dizzy, nauseous, and that I would burst. There is no way to hold in tears and you should let them fall out of your eyeballs whenever you need to. Hopefully your coworkers will understand. Also, give yourself all the time you need. I wish someone would’ve said this to me, not, “take a day off,” but, “don’t rush back to work or feel you need to do anything. Take the whole week off, please.”
5. My friends don’t care. This was the biggest surprise to me.
I have a wide social circle, and feel thankful many of my friends are very supportive. But during this experience, I really wanted them to visit me but I didn’t know how to ask and felt I was inconveniencing them. Texting isn’t enough. This isn’t to make anyone feel guilty. This taught me how I respond, too, when I hear someone is dealing with something terrible and how I’d do it differently in the future. I’ve definitely said through text, “Let me know if there’s anything you need,” to a friend. Now I learned, knowing what you need is the hardest thing about dealing with death. It’s impossible to know what will make you feel better. If you can think of anything, name it! Your friends really don’t know what to say or do. What I would tell anyone to do if you’re trying to support someone who’s experiencing a loss is: visit them. Spend time with them in person and insist on it, even if they tell you they want to be alone. If you’re experiencing a loss: Tell your friends to come to your house. Tell your parents to visit you and stay with you if they are nearby. Don’t apologize for asking. They want to help you and don’t know how.
6. What am I doing with my own life?
You question what you’re doing with your life because you realize how short it is. Every 20-something can relate to the term “existential crisis.” We have them on an hourly basis. If you’re already questioning what you’re passionate about and what you want to do for a career, and you experience losing a friend, you may feel all of that uncertainty put under a microscope and magnified. You’ve seen firsthand that life is short, and it’s a gift you’ve been given that perspective at a young age, actually. After you’ve given yourself all of the time you need to heal, you will have that perspective to help you put energy into making your life into what you want it to be, whether it’s changing jobs, going back to grad school, breaking up with someone you don’t see a future with, moving, etc. But don’t expect everything to change so quickly.
7. Do people know I love them?
You might start to think long and hard about the way you treat people, realizing you never know when the last time you’ll see someone is. I noticed, so many people commented on how generous my friend Nate was. He moved a piano into my house after knowing me for less than a month. I mean, “generous” is an understatement. This made me think a lot about my own legacy. Do the people I care about know how much they mean to me? I can be pretty sarcastic to my co-workers. What if they don’t realize how much I would miss them if something ever happened to them? When I die, I want people to say I am selfless, that I loved others well, and that means I need to make it a priority to be that way. This is really hard. It feels like a ton of pressure because your words have so much weight! What if this is your last conversation with your boyfriend ever? That’s not a healthy way to think. Nobody is perfect, and you are growing, and learning every day.
8. I Should Be Over This Already, Shouldn’t I?
You’ll think you’re past it and a wave of sadness will come over you when the sun sets a certain way and you’ll question if you’re dwelling on it too much. Is it still normal to feel sad every once in a while after 6 months? Yes. It is normal to feel sad whenever you feel sad and it is totally valid. If you’re comfortable talking to a counselor, don’t hesitate. They won’t change anything, but they can help you by listening, and it’ll only come back to haunt you later if you try to bury your feelings and don’t confront them.
9. My friend would want me to be happy right now.
You remember that time your friend blared country music and had a day party in your kitchen because he was so excited it was Saturday. It feels like a burst of energy to remember how much your friend loved life, how funny they were, and how they would want you to be enjoying your life, so you try to honor them. You might dance a little longer to your favorite song or sing with the windows down in your car because you know they’d want you to be happy.
10. I don’t want to do this alone.
You may get the urge to see his or her family or write to them or hang out with other friends who knew your friend who died. Always seize the urge to connect with others when you feel led to! They are probably waiting for someone to give them the chance to open up and it feels good to talk about your friend, even though it feels heavy. You’re all doing the best you can, but no one can do it alone.