Writing by Jessica Stone // Photographs by Arianna Ceccarelli
Grief…I know about it all too well, and it never gets easier. As someone who has recently lost important loved ones, one might think I would have a general understanding of the process, but does anyone?
Hearing the news of my 31-year-old cousin’s sudden passing, all I could do was spit out expletives and cry. There were no words that I could find comfort in– only these angry words that kept my mind from going completely numb and shutting off. The pain was too intense to feel on my college campus; I wanted to go home. But in reality, I didn’t want to deal with this pain– not anywhere.
After talking with my parents and understanding the little facts we knew about what had happened, I got a flashback to the week before finals in my second semester of freshman year. Two people that I had cherished at one point in my life had passed, both somewhat suddenly, and I had exams to take, papers to write. It all seemed inconsequential. What I remember is crawling into bed and wishing I could wake up from this horrible nightmare. The questions swirled in my mind: Why did it happen? Why did God do this? WHY? I hid from everyone and dodged my feelings, in an attempt to simultaneously answer the infamous question of “why?” but also to avoid it. The pain was unavoidable and I felt hopelessly lost. I never wanted to feel this way again, but I knew I would, as death is an important, albeit devastating, essence of life
Growing up, you learn to be more proactive. Proactive with job applications. Proactive with grocery shopping. Proactive with grief. Since I had really lost myself in emotions and medications after freshman year, I didn’t want to go there again. I thought that being rational and in control would maybe help me understand my cousin’s passing. I decided not to openly discuss his death, and, if I needed to, it would be calm and factual. I walked straight into the counseling office to inquire about individual, private counseling, only to be reminded of how helpful group counseling can be. As I walked across campus, a friend was extremely sympathetic and offered a shoulder to cry on. I said, “Thank you,” and meant it, but assured her I just needed my mind focused on something else. The next morning, I woke up to my housemates cleaning my dishes from the day before, and presenting me with chai tea and brownies. Their actions said, “It’s OK to cry and we’re here for you.” I thought that I just wanted to “deal with” his death alone. But, deep down, I was asking myself how I could stay “rational” about the loss, when it seemed like the universe was ordering me I had to face it– and in reality, it wasn’t rational at all.
I forced myself not to deal with the loss for five days of school and rehearsal, thinking I would “deal with” death at the funeral. But I was really just in shock. This just built up inside of me until the moment I laid my eyes on him at the wake. I suddenly found myself in a flood of tears– my own and those of everyone around me– for this amazing young man who touched hundreds of lives with his incredible spirit and infectious smile. He was and will always be our “Big Bad Boy.” And it was so undeniably powerful and comforting to share the grief with others who adored him as I did. We were not alone, but together in a vital human community.
In my counseling appointment before the wake and funeral, the therapist had asked me, “Why do we have funerals?” Funerals and wakes are things I just accepted, never questioned. So, when she confronted me with this obvious question, I stammered. This question was never asked. Ever. But I found myself pushed to answer it. “They are mainly for the living,” I said. She nodded and explained how she viewed them: they allow us to come and grieve together in a common space, as well as share memories so the person can live on in them. I completely agree. For me, grieving cannot be a wholly individual or rational process. It needs to be shared with those in the same position, with a full acceptance of emotions. It’s the only way to stop us feeling even more alone than we already do.