I just found out that a classmate died tragically and suddenly on Thursday. She wasn’t a friend, but I had a few classes with her, and I admired everything about her. I felt cooler just being in her presence. She was musical, smart, kind and funny—and I knew that just from sound bytes in college lecture halls. I actually made a point not to look at her Facebook profile, because her life seemed to be a lot of what I wanted, and it was hard not to feel jealous.
And now she is gone.
Loss like that is so complete and so shattering, and I feel touched by it from the very outskirts of her life. Her friends and family are devastated, and I can’t stop thinking about what they must be thinking, what they have to be feeling and doing right now. She must be present in their Christmas traditions, in songs she loved, in dirty laundry, in the YouTube videos that she made, her voice so rich and full of emotion. Her traces radiate from an empty center, and her loved ones now have to move forward with all of that weighing them down.
I remember when my grandfather died feeling exhausted from grief—not because of all the thinking and crying, though that saps energy. It was more from realizing how long it would take to heal, and that things would always be a little bit worse, or a little bit emptier.
When young people die, I question what it is we are here for anyway. I always wonder about those big questions, but they become pressing when someone barely got the chance to become who they were. They can’t have fulfilled some big purpose, because they didn’t have time. This classmate did amazing things with her time on earth, but she could have done more. She could have been more.
There is no way to make this better, and that’s what death is, how loss works. When I went to see my dentist, crying with Novocaine stuck into my gums, she said that we had to appreciate every moment we’re alive, and I think that’s true, though it’s hard for me to do that. I’m more likely to freeze up and hold onto my family and friends too tightly and fear the future.
I guess there is no one right way to process this kind of tragedy, and I don’t really even feel entitled to process it when my life overlapped with hers so briefly. Still, my plan seems to be to write about it, though it doesn’t make any more sense now than it did when I found out yesterday. So I’m lighting candles in her honor, I’m writing songs, and I’m pushing love and hurt into the blogosphere. I’m not really hoping that her friends and family recover quickly, or even completely, because that would do her a disservice. I guess I’m hoping that celebrating her life and her talents help her glow a little brighter until it all goes dark.
I hope that you can keep her in your thoughts and hearts. I know I will be.