“My friend died unexpectedly at 24 years old; I have also been walking around for a month with the possibility that I had breast cancer – so yes, I want to live life and do things that make me happy.”
Sitting at a red light, these words hung in the air, seemingly sucking all of the air out of the car. My mom finally replied and neither of us could tell who was more jarred by the intensity and unfiltered nature of my statement. This was the first time I chose to acknowledge two incredibly scary and frankly, unfair events in my life at the same time.
To have someone you care about — someone who is part of your life in a constant way, someone who you genuinely care about and who genuinely cares about you — unexpectedly ripped from your life is unfair. I’m not a stranger to death. I’ve experienced death and loss. During those times, however, they were all expected: whether it is a death of an elderly relative, a childhood pet, or the end of a relationship, the signs are present and it gives you time to prepare and brace yourself.
In these situations, there is at least a warning sign and a process that leads up to the loss.
To lose a friend, a person not much older than myself, shook me to the core. It made me challenge my beliefs, my views, my existence. It wasn’t fair. It will never be fair and it will never be okay— even when justice prevails, which I wholeheartedly believe it will.
A few weeks after losing my friend, I went to the doctor for my annual gynecological exam, one of the many things I cram in before going back to school (and it also definitely is my least favorite). The exam is always methodical and I could probably stage a scene, from memory, of how it would unfold. This time, my doctor found a lump on my breast and immediately sent me for tests. Even though my doctor told me not to worry at 22 years old, it became a possibility that I had breast cancer. I went for a sonogram of the lump; waited for results; made other appointments;started my second year of law school; went through the motions; pretended to care about law when I had an unknown thing in my body; Celebrated my first week of classes by going for a biopsy; waited for results; went through the motions of commuting and class and doing work without really caring about any of it and then, FINALLY, good news. The results were fine. I might need to get the lump removed. I might not. But I definitely don’t need to worry about cancer.
I recognize that I am also unbelievably fortunate. Even though I am still processing and grieving the loss of a friend, I am fortunate to be healthy. There are so many people, of all ages, battling insurmountable odds with unfair diseases.
I needed to write this, not for pity or for attention (I want nor need either), but because I’ve been fundamentally changed by these two events in my life.
I wake up every morning beyond thankful for a new day. I keep Kevin’s memorial card next to my bed so each day starts and ends with a reminder of how precious life is and how I should try to be half of the person he was. Last year, I spent every waking moment doing my work. I passed on so many fun and exciting events just to spend more time with my books. I’m trying to be more strategic with my work so that I don’t miss out on the important things in life. In reality, I won’t remember the time I was called on in class and wasn’t prepared, but I will always remember the opportunities I passed on to spend time with the people I love. Going through scary events puts things into perspective. I’m not saying I’m easy-going and laid back now, I know for a fact that neither of those will ever be descriptions of me, but I am making conscious decisions to let the small things go, not get worked up, and find the positive side to mediocre or bad things.
These experiences have also made me realize how brutal and judgmental we can be toward one another. The saying that goes something like: “Be kind – you never know the battle someone is facing” is actually TRUE.
In just two weeks of school I can’t even count the number of times someone told me I was “lucky” because I wasn’t as stressed as them. Just because I was not outwardly showing stress, my classmate assumed my life was so much easier than theirs. What my classmate didn’t know was that I had done the assigned reading multiple times but I didn’t absorb any of the information because I was distracted by my biopsy results. If I chose to outwardly express my stress, like my classmate, I probably would have hyperventilated right there in the classroom.
In another instance, a classmate asked me about a part of the lecture that they were confused about and I replied that I wasn’t listening to that portion. They looked at me puzzled and with a sense of judgment on their face. What they didn’t know was that I had disclosed my friend’s death to the professor and explained how discussing violent crimes still makes me uncomfortable. My professor had given me permission to tune out that portion of class because of the topic being discussed.
The point I am trying to make is that we do not know what other people are dealing with on the inside. You don’t walk around telling people all of your issues.
You don’t compare metaphorical battle wounds with people on the subway.
You don’t need to disclose something bad going on in your life in order for people to treat you with kindness. I think whether you are grieving or not, we all need to stop comparing our stress and hardships and overall life to another person — it will get us nowhere. Try to be mindful that the exterior does not always match the interior. Most of all, try to do one thing that makes you happy every single day because life can change in an instant and you are not guaranteed all of the days you think you are entitled to.
I hope people who are grieving and reading this allow tragedy, hardships, or roadblocks to provide perspective on the greater scheme of life. When you are ready, make positive changes, honor your loved one in the ways you see fit, and to live the best life you can.