Moving Past Grief
Coping with death is never easy, but it can be a bigger blow when it takes someone young.
By Jessica Peña, University of Texas at San Antonio
When I was eleven, my grandfather of sixty-seven years passed away after a tough battle with cancer.
I cried my eyes out for days. I cried because I was going to miss him. I cried because I still wanted to see his smiling face every day and I wanted him to be there for me. I cried for me.
When I was fifteen, a classmate and friend committed suicide. I cried so much I couldn’t get out of bed. I cried because there was going to be an empty desk in my homeroom and I didn’t understand why. I cried because it didn’t make any sense that the kid who seemed the happiest and had the most friends felt as though he had no other option to deal with the pain. I cried because I didn’t understand.
Now I’m twenty, and just a few days ago an ex-neighbor my own age lost his life in a tragic wakeboarding accident. I hadn’t really stayed in contact with him since I moved out of my old apartment, but last Thursday we ran into each other on campus and caught up a bit. By Sunday, he was dead.
I only shed a few tears this time. I cried because I knew it wasn’t fair. I cried because instead of enjoying a day out on the lake during Labor Day weekend, my old friend bled to death on a boat at just twenty years old. I cried because I’m finally old enough to truly understand what it means to have a life cut way too short.
With my grandfather, death came after he’d lived a full life and raised an entire family. Yes, it was a devastating loss. But devastating because he would be missed. Heartbreaking because the love his family and I had for him didn’t end when his life did. I was young, but I understood that he was never coming back and that’s what was sad.
But it’s different when death comes for someone who’s only just begun to live.
In a situation like that of my classmate who lost his life at his own hand, it still doesn’t seem fair. He was a sophomore in high school—well-liked and a varsity football star. But one bullet from a gun in a misguided hand was enough to bring his life and entire future to a screeching halt. He never got to step foot on the field ever again. He didn’t get to walk with the rest of his class at graduation.
He didn’t get to live.
Then there’s my old neighbor—incredibly intelligent and strikingly handsome. He was a devoted student (a college junior to be exact) and an active member in extracurricular activities. Everybody loved him. Even so, the wakeboard slashed him in just the right place to cut an artery and he bled out before anything could be done. He was twenty. He didn’t get the chance to start a meaningful career. He never got to get married or have a family.
He didn’t get to live.
Religious and spiritual beliefs aside, the only observable fact that remains is when a young person is taken away, death comes before life. And that’s just not okay.
It’s not okay that people so young around me while I’m still so young myself are yanked off the face of the earth without warning. There’s no reasoning. There’s no closure. There’s just a life stopped short, left to hang in the balance for the rest of eternity through loved ones’ memories and old photos. It’s not okay and it’s not fair.
It’s not fair to the families and friends who lose someone.
But it’s even more unfair that these innocent young people don’t get to experience the life so many of the rest of us take for granted.
No matter what anyone might believe comes after death, one thing is for sure: It’s not the beautiful life they had so rudely interrupted.
But death doesn’t play fair.
Death doesn’t care how young you are or how much life you still had left ahead of you. Death doesn’t compromise based on how bright your future was or whether or not you’d gotten to fall in love. Death sucks, and it’s one of the most infuriating and frightening things to face as a young adult, because as it turns out, we’re really not so invisible after all.
So what is there to do? Can we be afraid to live to because death could so easily end it all at any moment?
One thing I’ve learned from the tragic deaths of people my own age is that the time we are allowed is much too precious to squander.
If I die young, those who knew me can rest easy knowing I made the most of the short life I was granted. I loved fearlessly and was loved back unconditionally. I wrote passionately. I did things even though they scared me and tried new things every chance I got. I always did what I felt was right and whatever it was that made me happy. I lived for myself because my life was my own. I tried my best to make a difference and inspire people through my writing. I loved and appreciated my loved ones and all those who supported and believed in me. I valued every day I got because I knew all too well any single one could be my last.
While I wish that no one reading this would ever have to endure the heartache that comes along with losing anyone far too soon, I know that’s impossible. And while the pain doesn’t ever really go away and the emotions (anger, resentment, guilt) can seem overwhelming, the best way to honor a deceased loved one is go on living the way they would want you to because they didn’t get to.
We might not be able to evade death, no matter when it comes, but we can definitely beat it by living, not simply existing, but living every moment right to the very end.