A Letter of Grief
When I heard the news that you had passed, I spent a good 10 minutes awaiting the response to my “Wait, is this a joke?”, praying that it was. Because I would really, truly, rather be furious at you for playing a mean joke, even if it was out of character for you. It was either that or accept the fact that just like that, you were gone. Then came the news I dreaded. That it was true you were gone and that it was a tragic end to your struggles with mental health. I guess it is one of those things we hear of now and then. I just never imagined that I would have to experience losing someone, what more you, that way.
To be frank, I did not know how to feel or react. You probably would not have been surprised that I threw myself into my work. I immediately took it upon myself to inform the people I felt you’d like to have known. I figured that by breaking the news to others, I’d be helping myself come to terms with you being gone. After all, repeating it, again and again, would make it more real, right? I was wrong. It was just a way to keep myself busy so that I would not have to face how I felt.
I remember being at your funeral when I spoke to our friends and your mother. I remember the shock. I remember us saying, “I couldn’t believe it. I thought she was doing fine.” I remember seeing your grandfather in shock, your parents grieving, your mother asking every one of us when was the last time we spoke to you. I remember your brother apologizing for having to meet us under such circumstances. I remember thinking we were too young to be here. And I remember shutting myself down because I felt like it was selfish of me to feel this way when we weren't even as close then as we were back in school.
The grief, however, ended up as a huge spectre that loomed over me for the next month or so. I joked that I had too much work to have an emotional breakdown, but no amount of work allowed me to ignore the hurt, anger, guilt, and sadness I felt. It really morphed into an active and draining effort to keep it out of my mind. I was just scared to face it and felt like I did not have the right to feel those emotions. In fact, every time someone asked me how I was dealing with your death, I’d just say, “One day at a time”, when really, I wasn’t. Often afterward, I’d think, Did anyone ever ask you that and mean it? And most importantly, I really, truly wished I was one of them. I couldn’t imagine how lonely you felt to the extent where you had to end your own life.
I remember speaking to someone and they told me that there was nothing I could have done to change the past. “What if…” is a dangerous and useless thing to ponder upon because ultimately, we wouldn’t know what happens otherwise and it is not the reality.
A month later, I took heed of the advice for me to face the grief. It was getting to me physically. My whole body hurt for weeks because I refused to confront the emotions I felt. I knew it was not healthy and was doing more harm than helping me ‘cope’ with my busy schedule. So, I took out the last thing you wrote for me. A small note from when we were wrapping up our term as leaders in our CCA, over 7 years ago. I took a deep breath and carefully peeled the sticker you used as a seal for a folded piece of paper. I read the words over, and over again. And the dams broke when I read the heartfelt words you wrote. Reading that while my heart was filled with guilt and regret of not being there for you was enough for me to lower my defenses and face all the emotions I felt when I lost you. The hurt of you being gone. The anger of you leaving the many people who cared for you and ending everything after watching how much you’ve overcome. The guilt that I didn’t do a better job in letting you know that even though we weren’t very close, I’d still always be there for you because I cherished our friendship. I felt sadness and grief because I lost a friend, and we are just too young to experience such a thing.
But I knew it was more than that. I knew that what I felt was a reaction to what really was a tragedy. That while I was having all these thoughts and feelings, the reality was that you were the one who struggled with your thoughts and feelings for so long in your private life silently. That I will never truly comprehend what you went through and the struggles you faced. That me thinking “What if”, was my saviour complex speaking. It was not just about me. It was about you being so overwhelmed and I am very sorry that it got to a point where you wanted everything to end. Could anyone have done anything? I have no idea and it is a futile thought to pursue because it does not change what happened. What I choose to do now is to celebrate your memory.
So, I started to make sure that I cherished the people around me and made sure they knew that. That I made myself available for friends I knew were struggling. Also, while it took a tragedy to realise this, I started working on providing space for myself to feel and take care of my mental health. Most importantly, I chose to remember you as the resilient, tenacious, caring, and supportive leader and friend. The one who gave her everything to the people around her. The one who, time and time again, rose above the adversities thrown her way. And the one who pushed so many people to be better versions of themselves, me included. Because while you may be gone, your memory lives on.