Second hand grief is an incredible thing. Feeling the sadness of those we love hurts in a similar yet entirely different way than losing the ones we hold dear. Is second hand grief ever really second hand? Or is it a reminder, like pushing in a bruise, over and over, of our own grief? My grief began eight years ago and has grown up with me. My grief is intertwined, climbing like ivy on an old building, gnawing at and struggling to keep the light from the bricks. There are some days when grief and I get along. We co-habitate. At this point, it is almost like one could not exist without the other. I am my grief. And that is okay.
In the past three weeks, second hand grief hit me like a truck. Three of my close friends lost their people. And when we lose our people, we break. You don’t recover from this break. You will heal and you will grow but you will never be the same as you were. The second hand grief I felt for my friends comes from knowing what it is like to lose your person. It isn’t fair. It is never justified. And it hurts. Most people don’t tell you about the pain. They say “You’ll move on – remember, they wouldn’t want you to be sad.” Maybe. Maybe our people wouldn’t want us to be sad. But they would want us to feel something. I haven’t been sad about my person in a long time. I still feel things for her each and every day. Not a day passes without her crossing my mind. Eight years later, I think of her and our years growing up together with fondness. I attribute a lot of who I have to become to how I lost her. I am finally okay with it. But I will never discount the depression and emptiness that happened when I lost my person. These past three weeks have been a collection of me attempting to find the right way to help my friends know that they can make it through this. The bricks don’t completely tumble from the ivy. They become one intertwined, beautiful, crumbly mess. That is the kind of relationship I have come to have with my grief.
I haven’t been sad about Esme’s death in a long time. While her death was not fair and came much before her time, she lived more in her thirteen years of life than most older adults that I know. This was a fact I could not reconcile with when I was twelve and lost her. It was not until I was almost nineteen that I recognized that the young woman I looked at in the mirror – someone full of authenticity with endless drive, bad jokes, and a complexly creative mind – contained a story of everyone she had ever met and especially a certain person she had lost. I am becoming a combination of everyone I have ever known and loved and lost. Knowing Esme will always be one of the greatest joys of my life.
Losing your person is hard and inescapable and will leave you feeling scarred. My mind will not calm until I receive the “I’m home!” text from those that I adore. I always jump to conclusions that my people are going to go missing. As those fears and anxieties began to interfere with my daily life, I addressed them head on. But the generalized anxiety that arose from losing my person reminds me daily that I care endlessly about my communities. Telling someone “they wouldn’t want you to be sad” is telling someone “they wouldn’t want you to care as much as you do”. Emotions are complicated and natural and human. Rumi once said, “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” The ocean is vast and deep and tumultuous – you are too. You are entitled to address these complexities in your own time until one day when you look in the mirror and see that you too are a combination of everyone you have ever known and loved and lost.
Second hand grief is hard. Grief is even harder. Day by day, you will heal with your grief and grow and bloom into the by product of your communities. It is hard. But it will get better. And you will be okay.