At the candlelight vigil for Zach Brunt ’15, one friend remembered Brunt sitting on a bench outside of Welch Hall Sunday night. As Brunt sat there, more and more people gathered around to talk. As they gradually drifted away to go to bed, Zach stayed, talking to friends and enjoying the evening. That was Zach: creating community and enjoying the company of others.
Brunt’s death on Wednesday was one of too many Yale has seen in the last three years. It’s tempting to count this as just another one. We’ve come to know the response to such tragedies: an announcement from Yale College Dean Mary Miller, emails from college deans offering support, a candlelight vigil.
But when tragedy strikes again, none of that helps. We don’t know how to mourn Zach, nor should we. We cannot be acclimated to tragedy. Death shocks the whole Yale community, but a different segment of people is hit hardest with each death. We can talk all we want about the strength of our community and our ability to mourn together, but for Zach’s family and closest friends, this is not another Yale death. This is Zach’s death.
Zach was a freshman. He liked physics and playing the guitar. Most of us didn’t know him. We never got to admire his bowties, to hear him laugh or to see him burst into a room and introduce himself with a story. We don’t know why he died.
His death was a suicide. His friends, his family and his professors are probably asking themselves where things went wrong. None of us will likely ever have an answer.
It’s important to ask that question, but it’s wrong for the living to blame themselves. It would be wrong to gloss over the fact that this wasn’t an accident, but it would also be wrong to lose sight of Zach’s life in the confusion of his death.
We won’t ever know what he was thinking. We won’t know how, if at all, any of us failed him, or why he chose to send so many of us reeling. What we will know, always, is how he changed the lives of his friends when he was with them. We will know that everyone who knew him said he built communities and was constantly surrounded by friends. He held doors open for people he didn’t know. He introduced himself to everyone he met in Davenport and at the Native American Cultural Center. None of that will ever change.
At the end of last night’s vigil, Zach’s father spoke. “Don’t let this happen again,” he said. We wish we knew precisely how to do that, but we know it’s our job to try. We can start by remembering the friendlier, more open world Zach built for everyone he met.
Remember those moments that death does not change. They, more than a vigil or our unanswered questions, are Zach’s legacy.