Comment Writer Vic Greer reflects on her own experience of grief and considers what we can learn from loss
Content warning: This article discusses death and loss.
The one undeniable fact of life is loss. Life is not guaranteed, life is not permanent, and yet coming to terms with this fact is arguably one of the toughest human obstacles to overcome. Particularly for young adults trying to forge their own path in the world, it can seem impossible to comprehend.
Death creeps up on you, it is rarely seen coming, and it throws your whole life into disarray.
In the past three months I’ve experienced several losses, some more traumatic than others, and yet each time I was knocked down with shock and unease. It hits hard every time, but especially when the person who passed was young and had a full life ahead of them. It’s nearly impossible to sum up such complicated emotions into a few words, but when I was talking things through with friends and a bottle of wine, I landed on the following. Life feels so precious but pointless at the same time. I hadn’t processed this phrase until I’d said it, but it rang true for everyone I was with.
Life is precious because it is fleeting, it’s beautiful, it’s full of adventure and new experiences. It’s full of the giving and receiving of love to people you care about, or even strangers on the street. Life’s beauty comes from the simple, random acts of kindness you show to someone that you’ve never met, and can form a human connection with.
But despite this, life feels pointless. It is cruel and unfair that lives are snatched away so indiscriminately, making mundane stresses feel trivial and almost selfish to spend time thinking about. That blank 2,000 word assignment you’ve got due in a week hardly seems important when the police have just asked you how someone seemed the last time you saw them. The dirty plates your housemates have left sitting in the kitchen stop bothering you. Life starts feeling stagnant, and the guilt of not living every moment to the fullest starts to kick in.
Pain is comforting. I vividly remember the first time I woke up without that deep feeling of dread, sadness and dulled panic which had become so familiar to me, and strangely I almost missed it. Not ‘almost’, I really did. I felt guilty for feeling better, and then guilty for longing for such painful emotions to return. Grief is comforting. I wasn’t expecting that. People in their early twenties aren’t particularly well versed in grief, and it isn’t commonly discussed. But it is something we all have, or will, experience.
So how do you carry on? How do you feel assured in your future and keep working towards it?
I don’t believe that anyone has a definitive answer for this, and I really wish I had one to share. All you can do is hold on to the seemingly delusional belief that better times are coming, and there is still joy to be found.
Everyone desires human connection. Those fleeting moments when a stranger says ‘good morning’ as you walk down a street, or someone compliments your outfit, and you gradually begin to trust in your humanity again. Grief and loss feel isolating, so learning how to lean on people and build connections seems like the natural remedy.
So what has loss taught me?
As someone who has already struggled with their mental health and had to make the decision to actively work on getting better, loss taught me that really living, not just surviving, is a choice. Make no mistake, I’m not saying that the choice is easy or that everyone is in a place to be able to choose to keep fighting, but in my personal experience, I had to remind myself to keep moving, keep connecting and keep putting good into the world.
Loss taught me that life is both precious and pointless. It can be beautiful and special, but perspective is a gift. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t work hard on your assignments or your job, but at this point I’m choosing to blindly believe in the notion that a bad grade doesn’t mean a bad life. An unsuccessful job interview doesn’t mean an unsuccessful life. I know it isn’t always easy to see, and the position I’m in is certainly privileged, but there are still good things coming.
My sister gave me a necklace for my 19th birthday which says, ‘We are all made of stardust’, that I wear every day. At the time I just thought it looked cool and loved the planets engraved onto the front of it, but that phrase has never rang more true than it has these past few months. Every fibre of our being is made from stardust, we are a product of the universe experiencing itself. Death is painful and deeply unfair, but I take comfort from knowing that it isn’t really the end. Physically, your body returns to nature, and emotionally your life and your identity live on through other people.
Ancient Egyptians believed that you die twice: first when you take your last breath, and again the last time someone says your name. In this way, you live on through the memories and stories of other people.
Death is cruel, indiscriminate and unavoidable, but it is possible to keep our loved ones alive, even when they are not able to do it themselves.
I wish I had a solution for everyone who is grieving, but I think that simply knowing you’re not alone is the strongest remedy there is. Death and grief are universal, fundamentally human experiences, and being able to find the goodness in life after someone passes is the greatest show of strength.
So, from one twenty-something year old to another, I know you’re hurting. I know you’re struggling to see what the point in all of this is, but you have to keep trying. A deeply bitter-sweet silver lining of loss is learning. Learn about yourself. Learn what is important to you. Understand how you would want to be remembered, and keep working towards that.
Humans are flawed, we make mistakes. But continuing to grow and develop is the greatest show of humanity.
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