Her father is yelling at someone. She’s swimming somewhere between fantasy and reality. A final beep from her cell phone jerks her awake, into consciousness and out of her dream. She sits up on her bed, confused and dazed by the shouting that’s coming from the living room. Her father is on the phone and asking someone on the other end, “How did it happen?” Nothing resonates until she remembers her phone had made a sound notifying her of a new text message from her cousin. A text that changes her forever. The text reads: “My brother is dead.”
My friend has suffered two major blows to her heart in the year 2014. One in early July and one in mid-October . Both times a close family member passed away. And both times, it felt unreal. She prefers the quiet of anonymity, and I will respect that. She was 18 when this took place, fresh out of high school, and standing at a crossroads. Life after graduation was so hectic, and college was right around the corner. All the pressures of adulthood seemed to squeeze her, greedily wanting every drop of life she had left. Her anxiety and depression were all too real, keeping her up at night and placing fear and doubt into her heart. And things only worsened.
The cool Saturday morning of the 18th of October plays like a movie scene in her head. Over and over again. She picks the moments apart, trying to digest every little fragment. Hoping against hope that it is all a dream, and she will wake up from it soon. Maybe he played a bad joke on her family? Maybe he’s going to strut back into his house, his arms raised, and a broad smile on his lips, announcing that he has returned home. Maybe… Just maybe. That is all she has left to hold onto.
She places the phone back down and walks to sit on the edge of her bed. She is in shock and does not know how to react to this news. A hundred and one thoughts racing through her head, all wanting her attention at the same time. She is paralyzed. Her head throbs. She wants to get up, scream, shout. Do something. But not one body part seems to be able to respond. At last she walks to the door and heads through it towards her dad’s desperate shouts. He glances at her, evidently aware that she knows. He hangs up the phone and proceeds to explain how it happened. Her cousin was on the back of a truck. There were several other people in the vehicle. They were going fast, and another car was approaching them from the opposite direction on the one-way road by the lake. The cars crashed, metal against metal, bumper to bumper. There were minimal survivors and a maximum of casualties.
How could that happen? How could her strong, talented cousin die? He did not deserve it. As grief washes over her, all of her memories with him return and begin to play in her head. They remind her of the times they would go to the gas station and buy sour candy and microwavable pizzas. The times they watched movies together, laughing until their sides hurt. How he and his sister would tease her for not liking horror movies. She would never again see the smile that played on his lips as he taunted her, or hear his laugh as it echoed off the walls. Why did he have to go? Their family was just recovering from the death of a different family member. It felt as though God and the universe were against her. Nothing was right.
She returns to her bedroom and sits back down on her bed, trying to make sense of all this information, still in shock. The feeling is unreal and numbs her limbs and mind. Everything she thought she knew is gone and replaced by a mixture of incomprehensible emotions. The day vanishes.
The funeral takes place three short weeks later, ready for the mourners to accompany the deceased once more before final goodbyes are said. Nothing seemed real to her up until this moment as she stands in the cemetery beside his coffin, a single red rose in her hand. The beautiful rose looks odd in this environment, surrounded by graves and people drenched in black clothing. Something so delicate should not be in the middle of an event so tragic. She bends a little to place the rose on the smooth top of his coffin. She turns to look at the spot where more of her family members are huddled together, crying and reassuring each other that this moment is, in fact, real. At that precise instant the tears that have been looking for a way out finally escape. Her tears fall down her face like rain after a decade-long drought. The funeral ends.
Her cousin’s sister is distraught and fighting against the thought of never seeing her brother again. The feeling of finality the funeral brought to her family has made acceptance necessary, but not easy. She tries to comfort her cousin’s sister as best as she can, while fighting her own battle inside against the tears that threaten to escape. She tries not to show how much his death has affected her, because she needs to be the strong one while everyone else is crumbling. However, no one knows that her depression and anxiety have returned; behind closed doors she drowns herself in negative thoughts, succumbing to the anxiety provided by isolation. She lays awake on her bed, unable to let the drowsiness sweep her into unconsciousness. Instead, her tears run down her cheeks once more, as she realizes that he is never coming back and she will never get to see him again. And the darkness overcomes her, and the night ends.
Days, weeks, and months have passed. Depression hangs over her like a suspended dagger, threatening to fall at any minute. Sadness haunts her, following her everywhere she goes, but it is not as terrifying as it used to be. Time has brought closure to her, but always reminding her that life must keep going. No matter how awful the situation, life must go on. Christmas that year was not the same, it will never be the same, but a silent understanding amongst family members keeps them all from falling apart. Sometimes the days are bad, and the thoughts are too much. But sometimes the days are bright, and full of hope. She tries to pick up the broken pieces and make herself whole again. However, her cousin took a large piece of her to his grave, and left a gaping hole in her heart. She will never again be the same, but this does not stop her. She attends college, is excited for her future, and tries to smile. Her life is just beginning.
Her experiences with death have left a lasting mark, however, in the form of a never-ending thought. She says, “The thought is always there: who is next? It’s always buzzing in my head. Who will die next? After both of my cousins passed, one after the other, the thought has never left. And I’ve become more conscious that life isn’t eternal. And death always comes.” However, the deaths of her loved ones have also instilled a valuable piece of wisdom: “I learned to appreciate people, because you never know when they’ll be gone.”