As a young woman who has not had much experience with death or loss, I quickly learned that grief is not how I perceived it when my best friend, Alexis, passed away at age 20. I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons from her death- some lessons that I wish just weren’t true.
When Alexis died, I pictured the grieving process as it was treated in movies and in books. I expected my closest friends to be my shoulder to cry on, all the while expecting my old friends to keep their distance besides a passing word or two at her service. I assumed that my closest friends would sympathize for my loss, asking what they could do to make me feel better and make the situation easier to cope with. As selfish as it may be, I wanted my close friends to make me a priority, simply because I had just lost my best friend – someone who always made me her number one.
The unfortunate reality is that my life, along with the lives of those around me, won’t stop in the face of death, and nobody is going change who they are to be there for you. When something went wrong before Alexis died, I was able to deal with the emotions and talk myself down and say “whatever” to the drama. When you’re grieving, everything hurts. The emotional capacity to deal with these situations just doesn’t exist, and nobody is going to sensor themselves or change their “true colors” because you’re hurting. Unfortunately, it made me realize that these were their “true colors” all along.
Despite this hard truth, I learned another that brings me tranquility. Some of the old friends that I thought I’d never exchange a deep conversation with again have turned out to bring me more comfort than I knew imaginable. Reminiscing about happy times with friends that I had drifted apart from has brought us closer. It made me realize that some friendships are deeper than we know, and no matter where life takes us, we will always have those friendships in our back pocket. I have rekindled friendships that waned over the years, but I have realized that true friends will always be there for you. These are the friendships that I have depended upon the most, and I am really grateful that these friends have been there for me throughout this process.
Another hard truth about the grieving process is that it never ends. It may change, and I know my grief has, but it never goes away. I know that I perceived the “grieving period” as follows: Being really, really sad until the funeral, then moving on. The truth is, the service for Alexis wasn’t the end, although the majority of people will treat it that way. In my experience, the time before the funeral is treated as the time that you’re “allowed” to be sad. You’re allowed to be lazy, and cry, and feel a little sorry for yourself. Some friends even texted me to check up and ask if I needed anything. Most people would tell me to “do what I need to do” in order to be as okay as I could be, that was, until her funeral was over. I think that a lot of people think that the “grieving period” works in the same way that I thought it worked, and after the service, people seemed to replace genuine care for cheesy clichés. Most people told me that “it gets easier,” or that “it only goes up from here,” but in my experience, it does not get any easier, because grief doesn’t simply end.
My dad died two years ago today. It's different for everyone, but my personal experience is that grief doesn't ever go away, but it does change shape and it becomes something you can hold rather than something that overwhelms you–a part of you, rather than a burden. Whatever you're carrying today, my heart is very much with you.
Grief is something that I carry with me everyday. At first, grief felt like carrying a bag of bricks with me everywhere I went. Doing anything was a struggle because I was carrying so much grief with me at all times. It hasn’t been that long since Alexis’ death, but every so often, it feels like someone takes a brick out of that bag, and life gets a little bit easier to handle. I think I’ll always carry this with me. Although the burden is becoming easier to bear, I still feel so lost without my best friend, and I don’t know that will ever go away.
When Alexis first passed away, I felt empty. Life didn’t feel real, and everything felt easier this way. I did what I had to do to go to class, or get myself out of bed, or simply function. It’s when I started living again where things got harder. I had to learn to live my life in a new way, without my best friend. Whenever I didn’t know what to do before, I would always go to Alexis. She could always, somehow, talk through things and find the perfect answer. Without Alexis, I had no one with an answer anymore. I had no one to tell me it was okay or lead me to a conclusion or step in to make me laugh when it got too hard. When something exciting happened, the only person I wanted to tell was Alexis. I was so lost without my best friend. I am still so, so lost without her, and I don’t know if this will ever get easier.
One of the hardest parts of experiencing grief is that life doesn’t stop. My classes didn’t stop. My friends’ lives didn’t stop. I know that I felt like I would be different, and I would be stronger and not let Alexis’ death stop me from getting competitive grades and maintaining a social life and taking good care of myself. Everything kept going when I couldn’t, and I’ve had to pick up my own pieces and learn how to deal with other struggles, like failing classes and losing friends and dealing with emotions I’ve never felt before.
Losing Alexis has felt like my world has stopped turning. Grieving has taught me that there is no way to predict what this experience should feel like. Everyone is going to experience grief differently, and no one can say anything that truly makes anything better.
But I can say that, so far, I have learned so much about myself and those around me, and I will continue to learn from this process. Grief never truly ends, but it does evolve into a burden that becomes easier carry.
Hannah is an aspiring pharmacist and a semi-professional car dancer. When she’s not cramming for chemistry in the University of Arizona library, she’s either teaching color guard or binge-watching YouTube videos in her pajamas. You can find her drinking a hazelnut iced coffee or perfecting her Sirsasana yoga stance.