I don’t know what to say.
Eleven months ago the worst thing that could have happened did happen, and it happened to the best person that I’ve ever met. I still haven’t found a way to talk about August eleventh. The right words feel so far away– somewhere I’ll probably never be able to reach. Maybe I’ll be stuck with tip-of-the-tongue syndrome forever. This feels like thick syrup in the back of my throat. This feels like a barbell in my stomach. This feels like I-don’t-know-what-to-do-because-for-my-whole-entire-life-all-of-my-strength-has-been-in-my-words-and-now-there-are-none-left.
There are no words.
In August, I wrote a poem about my little brother, who loved and looked up to Hunter in the purest way possible. In August, my brother was trying to fix what he couldn’t understand. In August, I hardly heard him speak. We were all trying to fix what we couldn’t understand, saying things to help heal other things we couldn’t understand; I think my brother was the only one wise enough to stay silent. Funerals also try to fix what we can’t understand. I thought a new black dress would make me feel less nervous. I thought throwing it away would make me feel less sick. I thought driving to New York would make me feel like I was going to get better.
Some things are always going to hurt.
I’m not done grieving. I’ve learned that grief is the sacrifice you make for love. If you love someone, one day you will begin to grieve, and you probably won’t stop. But I think that’s okay. I think I’ve come to terms with that. It’s fine that I won’t stop grieving because I know I won’t stop loving either.
I know what you’re thinking.
I’m no expert on grief. I’m nineteen-years-old and stubborn as hell and I’m probably not an expert on anything. But in the past eleven months, I’ve become highly familiar with my grief. I feel like I’m on an intimate level with my grief. If I cancel our plans, it’s probably because I need to spend some time with my grief.
My soul sister Morgan Noll spent her first semester at Drake University writing one of the best essays I’ve ever read. It was about grief. She had such a keen, kind eye when it came to watching grief. She saw what everyone did and felt what everyone felt. Morgan taught me how to better understand grief by looking through other people. When I started paying attention to what people said to me, really hearing their words and listening to what they meant, I absorbed so much grief, held it so close, so tightly. I don’t think I can say that there are bad ways to grieve or good ways to grieve because I’ve only lived one nineteen-year-long life and every English teacher I’ve ever had has told me that I really need to stop making such bold overgeneralizations. However, I’ve grieved eleven months and I’ve had a lot of people say things that made my grief feel heavier and I’ve had a lot of people say things that made it feel lighter. I want to share them with you because I still don’t understand grief. I thought after going through something like this, I’d know what to say when someone else I love was going through it too, but it’s still so hard. However, I’ve definitely learned what not to say, and some guidelines of what you can maybe say but full disclosure: nothing you can say will make the grief go away. If you expect that in the next few words I’ll teach you how to make grief go away, I’m sorry. I’m only nineteen.
Here we go.
Words That People Said To Me That Made Me Feel Like I Was Being Eaten by a Boa Constrictor:
“Hey, I’m going through a breakup, and since you recently lost your boyfriend, I was wondering if you could give me some advice?”
“Hey, my daughter is going through a breakup, and since you recently lost your boyfriend, I was wondering if you could give her some advice?”
“Hey! I did this horrible thing to Hunter a while ago and I’m going to proceed to describe it in graphic detail without asking your permission to do so and then beg for your forgiveness and walk away from this conversation with a clearer conscience.”
“Why’d he do it?”
“Are you sad?”
“Go to college! Have fun! Move on with your life! You deserve it!”
“Can you comfort me? I kind of knew Hunter and I want you to know that I’m probably as sad as you are.”
“He’s in a better place.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“Are you pregnant?”
“Hey, I made an abrupt exit from Hunter’s life __ amount of years ago and I want you to explain in exact detail what happened to him from that time on.”
“Good morning! Here is a really cute memory that I’m texting you without warning. It is going to make you start bawling on your way to take this very important midterm. Have a great day!”
“It seems like you’re handling this really well.”
“You look great!”
“You are so strong!” (this one just gets old and is usually said by people who don’t actually know if I’m doing well or if I’m being strong).
“It’s not your fault. I am going to continue saying this despite the fact that doing so is going to make absolutely no difference in the way you feel.”
“Stay positive!” (wtf).
“Do you feel guilty that you’re still alive?” (I wish I were kidding about this one).
“I know exactly how you feel!” (no, you don’t).
“I’m going to offer to talk to you about your grief, but I’m going to use it as an opportunity to try to sleep with you! Ha ha ha! I’m really clever.”
“I’m going to offer to be there whenever you need me, but when you do actually need me, I’ll be nowhere to be found.”
“Hunter would’ve wanted you to go to school/get good grades/have fun/move on.”
“How does ___ make you feel? Wow, that must be really hard. Well, how does ___ make you feel? Yikes, that sounds tough.”
Words That People Said To Me That Made Me Believe That I Was Going To Be Okay, Even If Only for a Second:
“I don’t know what to say.”
“There are no words”
“Some things will always hurt.”
“I’ve been there and I am so, so sorry.”
“I haven’t been there but I am still so, so sorry.”
“Cry as much as you want.”
“I don’t tell people how you’re doing if it’s none of their business.”
“Let me try to take some of that weight tonight”
“I hope you’re coping okay.”
“When everyone seems to have moved on and is tired of hearing about it, you know where I’ll be, girlfriend.”
“The what-if’s will go on forever. You just have to stop listening.”
“This is so horrible, I am so sad, but we’re going to be okay.”
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
“I haven’t forgotten and I’m always thinking of you.”
“Is it okay if I send you a picture of Hunter I just found?”
“What color is grief?” (Burnt orange).
“I’m going to tell you a story about Hunter that is going to make you laugh and probably cry but I think you’ll like it.”
“We are so lucky to love him.”
Let Me Break It Down for You:
When talking to someone who is grieving, it is really important to not be too bossy or demanding, asking the broken person to do things they aren’t ready to do. Even asking if they’re okay can feel like a pretty big request and honestly, just a really dumb question. I really liked being told, “I hope you’re coping okay” because a.) the speaker didn’t imply that they had any inside info on how I was doing and b.) coping is really the only thing you can ask for after a tragedy. All experiences are different, so never pretend to know exactly how someone is feeling. You can share your story, but be sure not to invalidate any experiences that are different from your own. Sharing stories and memories and pictures is a really powerful way to work through grief, but please ask permission before launching into an extremely painful crawl through memory lane. Also, a breakup is different from a death. A breakup is different from a death. A breakup is different from a death. Don’t try to collect details of a death from those that are grieving. It’s not a story. It’s not gossip. It’s a tragedy. When it comes to feelings of guilt, don’t bring it up unless the griever does. There’s probably nothing you can say. Some things will always hurt.
In August I didn’t believe there was enough good left in a world without Hunter to ever feel love or loved again. A world without Hunter still has an uncomfortable emptiness, like the silence after an echo ends, but I have felt so loved. I hope no one reads this as an ungrateful slap-in-the-face to all those that have helped me through these eleven months. Your love has been appreciated more than I’d ever be able to finish explaining, even if I started right now. Most of you have been wonderful and are big parts of why I’m standing where I’m standing and doing what I’m doing. But I still haven’t gotten over some of the more careless words that were thrown my way. If even just one person takes my advice while talking to a loved one in crisis, I will feel so grateful. Words are all we have sometimes. Be very careful with them, because some things will never stop hurting.