A few weeks ago, my grandfather shot himself in the office of our family business, and I fell again — instantly — into the cloud of sadness in which I had spent so much of my life. It began with my father’s first cancer, when I was seven months old, and continued with my father’s second cancer, then the passing of my sister’s baby, my dad’s third cancer, my father’s open-heart surgery and now, my grandfather’s death making Georgia’s statewide news. At Yale, and in America at large, we so often fail to understand what it is to mourn. In my time so far at Yale, I have lost a lot — and I hope that by talking about it, I can change how we support each other through these times of hardship.
I wrote in my first column for the News that I knew I wasn’t the only one with the luck of a black cat. But even at that time, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine how much worse things would get by today. More than ever, I feel alone with all of my struggles — not only alone in how much has happened, but also in how those around me have faded away, leaving me to mourn.
There seems to be a misconception about people in times of trouble, that they need to address their sadness in solemnity and solitude. What a myth this is — in truth, grief persists without help from others. What is needed is company and support, even when it does not seem easy.
In my English seminar, we start each day by going around and saying what we are thinking about that morning. Answers vary — some talk about philosophy; some talk about food; and I, personally, have spoken about Virginia Woolf and my favorite childhood books. I know that I am never supposed to say that I am thinking about my devastation. At this point, I am not sure how to exist without making others sad.
Really, though, I don’t even have to talk about it. It’s in my eyes, I’m sure. I’m sure word gets around to the people it needs to. And then, I drown in the space I am given to grieve. I have left plenty of texts unanswered, I have not laughed at many jokes and I have skipped out on so many nights out.
It is not the obligation of the mourner to morph their trauma into something friendly — something presentable in everyday life. And so to be honest: I am not easy to be around right now. I am not obligated to be. It isn’t my duty to make plans with you. It really is not up to me to interpret what you actually would be willing to do for me based on a text that says, “If you need anything, I’m here.” I am heartbroken. What I am supposed to do right now is to get out of bed in the morning, and as my Spanish professor can attest, I am really not even excelling in that. I still have to love you and treat you kindly because it is always my job to do that. But I also have to survive in the ways that I can, and now, that is quietly — I’m not up for much more than sitting together with you and talking about how your day went.
I want to laugh, too, but for me, that time is not now. I know that this is hard. I know that it is hard to see someone so sad. I know that it’s scary to see someone stay this way for a while. I know that it’s hard to feel the need to think carefully about your every word. I know that it is hard on those around me, but if I have been a friend to you in a happy time, I am still in need of your friendship now.
But please know this: I do not want you to stay away. The interrupting moments of joy that I share with my friends are manna from heaven, reminders that though things are bad for me now, there was a time when we would have laughed together. Please believe that I am happy that others can laugh now. As strongly as I know that I am legitimate in my sadness, I know everyone else is legitimate in their discomfort at seeing it.
To those who may not know what enduring a large trauma is like, you can trust that what I am going through will not last forever. You should know how meaningful it is to me that on your sunny day, you were willing to sit in the presence of my thundercloud.
ABIGAIL GRIMES is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .