Kayla was sunshine. Her personality burst forth through her infectious laughter. Growing up a year apart for almost a decade, we shared school plays, long nights, and weird inside jokes. We took silly pictures and wandered the mall together. We weren’t BFFs, but we shared a connection, and I was never more proud of her than when she came back from her Kairos 15 retreat her senior year and told me what she had learned. It hurts to remember that her note to me is one of the only things I have left from her.
Grief doesn’t come with a handbook. No matter who you are in relation to the person who was lost, no matter how they went – it’s unpredictable.
They don’t tell you that the word “murder” never gets easier to say or hear. Even when friends joke about things, like “I’m gonna murder you,” or “I murdered that test,” it jolts you. You’d never thought it would happen to someone you knew.
They don’t tell you that the nightmares, while horrifying, eventually stop. Or at least, come way less frequently. Thank god.
They don’t tell you how triggering elements surrounding a situation like this can be. How an event unrelated to your loss can bring back so many memories and pain – like yesterday’s two-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre. The situation is different, but the connection is there.
They don’t tell you that you’ll have regrets, even if they don’t make sense. You’ll wish you had tried to connect more before it happened, and you’ll even illogically regret things after it happened. I had to learn that there is no correct way to mourn someone – everyone handles this pain differently, and one way of coping (as long as it’s healthy), isn’t superior to another.
They don’t tell you how powerless you can feel in the face of death and the unknown. Especially when your high school community has dealt with loss not once, not twice, but six times in the last two years.
They don’t tell you that this isn’t something you can just “get over.” Ever. It may occupy less space in your mind, but there will always be something missing, no matter how small.
But what they also don’t tell you is that the way to feel powerful again is to find a purpose for this pain.
Going through losses like this changes a person. My perspective on life has been shaped immensely through the tragedies of the past two years. I love hard. I seize any opportunity (probably more than I can balance) to make a difference. I realize that one can’t take any day for granted, because there are absolutely no guarantees in this life. I’m working on living in the moment. I try to wake up in the morning with a positive attitude, because every day is another chance to do anything – start a movement, make someone’s day, spread joy, fall in love – the possibilities are endless.
But it’s not always that easy. Life is definitely not easy. When things get hard, I get frustrated. I try not to give up on anything, but sometimes I just can’t handle it all. But when I truly find myself at an impasse, struggling to make a decision or see something clearly, I ask myself: “What would Kayla do?” And therein usually lies the answer for which I had been searching.
What they also don’t tell you is that even after a loss like this, you’re capable – and allowed – to be happy again. People, things, and opportunities will come into your life and fill you with more happiness than you ever thought possible. You will get your crap together. You will be successful and accomplished and have moments you can’t even believe are real because your heart is bursting with such pure joy. Even after something like this happens, you will be able to be the happiest you’ve ever been in your life – and the ones you’ve lost wouldn’t want anything less for you.
I’m at an incredible place in my life. So many things lie ahead of me, and I’m grateful every day to have the chance to attend the best university on earth (in my humble opinion), be surrounded by amazing people, and be allowed great opportunities through jobs, extracurriculars, and more. I’m 21 years old, which is simultaneously the oldest I’ve ever been and still pretty young by most peoples’ standards. And while it’s great to bask in the blessings I have, I am humbled by the fact that not everyone gets these chances. At the end of the day, even just having my health and loved ones is enough.
They don’t tell you that while you definitely won’t forget what happened, instead of a huge, gaping hole in your heart, the loss will begin to feel like reaching out for a hand that isn’t there. It will never be comfortable, but it will eventually become bearable.
They don’t tell you that no matter how far removed you feel from the church, you will hope with all your heart that there is a heaven, because you couldn’t imagine them going anywhere else.
They don’t tell you that crying never becomes fun, but it actually can make you feel better, if you let it.
They don’t tell you that a year can go by so fast, that you will never have all the answers, that you still may not believe it actually could happen to your town, your friend, to you.
They don’t tell you that the sun will rise again, that you will laugh and smile and love again, that you will be able to feel them at times, through a butterfly or a song or a warm feeling in your heart.
They may not tell you any of these things – but I will.