Dear 100 Hour Board,
Today I got the news that one of my friends had died earlier in the week. I've known people who have passed away before--but they were all old; old people in my ward or great aunts and great uncles. Never one of my peers. I can't say that this friend and I were super close, but... we were still friends. And despite the fact that I would have been just fine if after we graduated BYU we never really saw each other again, the reality that he's dead seems to have affected me so deeply. Am I crazy for feeling so much for a guy I'm now realizing I actually didn't know that well? Is it weird for me to be crying when I think of his family and friends who were much closer to him that I was (because it hurts to think of the pain they must be feeling)? And why is it that I can slip so easily into talking about him in the past tense? Why is it that death, a mere separation, is so hard? Even when it's applied to someone I feel like I don't even have the right to feel as bad as I do for? (Note that I realize I do have a right to grieve, and I believe that everyone has a right to feel whatever they may feel, but knowing those things is a heck of a lot different from feeling those things. Especially when applied to myself.)
I'm sorry for your loss; as well as the pain and confusion that you're feeling. I don't know exactly what you are experiencing, but one of my peers died unexpectedly in a crash a few years ago and my reaction was quite similar to what you described. I didn't know them very well, but when they passed away one of my friends called me to tell me what happened and when I heard about it I started to shake and cry really hard. I was just about about to go out to eat with my family and the whole evening I was visibly shaken. It was a tidal wave of emotions: sadness for her and her family, anger that it had happened, shocked that someone I knew had actually died, denial, hollowness, confusion and embarrassment for taking it so hard. I also felt like because I didn't know them well that my feelings couldn't be valid. I felt somewhere between guilty, unworthy, and out of place for taking it so hard. I knew about the Plan of Salvation, I had experienced death before, I knew that we weren't close, and yet some how against all logic I was totally distraught. I honestly felt a little crazy, but looking back I can see a little bit better why I reacted that way, and it makes a little more sense to me know. You aren't crazy, but you also aren't crazy for feeling crazy if that makes any sense. Hopefully I can at least answer part of your questions in a way that makes sense.
So first off, it isn't weird for you to cry when you think of the pain their family and friends are feeling. Feeling other people's pain is literally the definition of empathy; and it's a normal and noble feeling. Typically we feel empathy most strongly for those we know and love, but humans in general are pretty good at feeling empathy for total strangers. Also, I think that you do a particularly amazing job of writing empathetic answers to pretty sensitive questions from total strangers, so I'm not all that surprised that you can empathize so much with people that you know in real life passing through something so hard.
Now, why is it that this death in particular so hard? I think that it's because while we know that death is something that happens to other people, or something that will happen to us in the future, it's really hard to internalize that it's something that could actually happen to us. To me, it's kind of like when you finally move out, or when a friend gets married, or when a family member goes on a mission. It's totally normal for those things to happen and shouldn't come as a surprise but for lots of people when it actually does happen it can be a very surreal experience. I think that while this person wasn't close to you in relation, they were probably close to you in age, phase of life, where they are from, things they've experienced, and other circumstances. I think these similarities make it all seem more real to us. Death and loss move from becoming concepts to becoming cold hard realities. When my acquaintance died I remember being super angry at God and questioning the Plan of Salvation and what that temporary separation really meant. I think that what makes it so hard is the difference between theory and application. A lot of time I'll think I understand a concept from a lecture and then I'll try to apply it and it will be so much harder. While losing a great aunt who you love very much is sad, I think that it still fits really well with the theory and knowledge of death that we have. Losing someone who you don't know very well, but who was a lot closer to our current situation may not be as sad, but makes us confront that separation on a personal practical level.
I think that's about as well as I can personally answer your questions. Hopefully this isn't just me rambling and that my answers will make sense either now or sometime later. As for the past tense thing, I think that our brains are just really good at forming narratives, and things that aren't currently part of our narrative get filed in the past. I find my self slipping into past tense talking about people I had classes with last semester who are alive and I could text right now and hang out with, but no longer form part of my day to day life. So I think that you slipping into past tense while talking about him isn't out of the normal.
Really, all of the things you are experiencing are normal, it's just that you're going through a lot of new experiences at once so it can be a lot to handle. Your experiences are real and it's totally okay to cry, and freak out, and feel weird and confused. Hopefully you won't be doing those things for extended periods of time, but experiencing it for a short time is okay. I hope you get to feeling better! Things will get back to normal I promise. Hope this helps.
One of my close friends from BYU recently passed away, and even though he had cancer and his death wasn't completely out of the blue, it's still weird and painful to consider that a man I've kissed is no longer alive. Death, however expected or unexpected, makes life seem fragile and fleeting and forces you to question the way you relate to everyone and everything in your life. Like Tipperary said, it's harder when a person in a similar situation to you passes away, and worse if it's unexpected. All of your feelings are natural and normal.
When my grandmother passed away, my uncle gave a eulogy. He pointed out my sister, my two cousins and I sitting together in a row, and talked about how my grandmother brought us together. For most of my childhood the two cousins closest to my age lived far away from me and we never spent much time together. Then one summer my grandmother invited all of us to visit her in Maine, which became a yearly tradition, and since then I've counted those two cousins among my closest friends. But somehow, up until the moment that my uncle pointed it out, I never processed what an important role my grandmother had played in my life. And suddenly the sadness I had felt at her passing took on an entirely different character, and I was filled with regret at how little I knew her, how much time I had wasted, and how little I had appreciated such an amazing and generous person.
I think those feelings are probably characteristic of everyone who loses a loved one, friend, or acquaintance. Separation is different, because physical or emotional separation can be rectified. When you grow apart, you gradually stop talking and stop craving the other's company, so being apart is no great burden. But when someone passes away, you're emotionally confronted by the finality of it, knowing that at least during this life you can never again talk to them, laugh with them. You can't grow to love them or express that love to them, or appreciate them the way that their closest friends and family do. And even if it's not someone you were particularly close to in the first place, it's hard to realize that you have, in any capacity, not appreciated someone until it was too late.
I'm truly sorry for your loss and for your pain. Death may be a natural part of life, but the abrupt nature of its pain is devastating and I'm sorry you're going through it. To grieve is natural, as is to empathize and to have regret. Being in pain is a terrible process, but in my experience it is also a refining process, one which provides better clarity and allows you to pinpoint your real priorities in life. Feel what you feel, and emerge from that pain a better and more loving person.
There is responsibility placed on those who know the deceased to remember them, be changed by them, and thus help them continue to influence life on earth. When people die young that job is much bigger. There's eighty more years of influence to carry and make up for. Your friend had a relatively short life. Which means he also new a relatively small amount of people. Which means you are one of very few people who got to know and love him and all his qualities. Maybe you didn't know him that well compared to other people you know. But what you know of him carries a lot of weight. You are helping to carry a heavy weight with a small number of people. It makes sense that you feel it deeply.
Do everything you can to help his life have all the meaning it should. That means learning what you can from his life and his death. That means letting his family know why you love him. That means understanding your exact relationship with him then and now.
I say all this like it's a fact because that's just more simple to write. But all this is really just how I came to understand my own reaction to the death of a young friend. I also felt confused by the degree of my grief and what my role was in the collective mourning process. I didn't feel like I had the right to hurt the way I did but I did let myself feel it. I'm closer to my friend's family now because of it and I am blessed. I have overcome big challenges as a direct result of reflecting on my friend's potential. In that way I really think I have given the world more of him. It probably isn't the answer to anything. But it was really all I could think to do.
Prayers for days for you and your friend's family. Thank you for all your thoughtful and uplifting work on The Board. I'm so sorry this happened to you.
To all the other writers: thank you for your responses, empathy, and concern. Though they take the mere form of words on a screen, your answers have definitely helped me.
To all the readers (which includes writers, by the way) who have lost someone: I feel for you for your pain, sorrow, and confusion. While I don't particularly feel the wiser for this experience, at least it has given me empathy for people in similar situations.
I suppose I want to close this missive by saying the world holds so much beauty, made even more exquisite in contrast to pain. There is so much good and wonder out there.