When the young die suddenly… grief ripples unlike that of when an elderly person, who has lived a full life, passes.
Yes, all grief is grief.
It is hard, painful, and raw – but the death of a young person, a person taken far, far, far too soon, and so very fast… before they graduated college… before they met the love of their life…. before they started a family… before they got to really know their own self…. those losses are especially tragic.
I am lucky – all of my grandparents are still fairly healthy, and alive. Most people my age do not have this luxury – and for this, I am forever grateful.
However, at 22 years old, the most losses I have experienced have all been of young people, suddenly, and under the age of 22.
In my hometown of Georgina, in my grade 12 year (2012), our town experienced 6 teen deaths in 6 months.
Although the reasons for each of these losses differed… car accident, hit and run, suicide…. each loss was just as shocking and hurtful as the next.
It got to the point where my fellow peers and I lived in fear… who would be next? And month by month, we lost another young soul.
It was horrific… and for a while we wondered, how will we all recover?
What happens after the good die young?
Well first, theres a lot of pain and questioning.
A LOT of questioning… Is there a God? Does heaven exist? How could this happen? Why did this happen? This isn’t happening….I see his body, but he’s not in there… where did you go? How is this real? This has to be fake? Why did you leave me?
The grief is intense.
It is also explosive – people get very angry, even violent, unable to understand. Teens party to cope… they speed… they fight… they participate in risky behaviour with a “fuck everything” attitude now that their friend is gone…
It is emotional – there is a lot of crying… a lot of breaking down… a lot of grief councillors… concerned parents… clergy… therapists…
There’s a lot of accusing… it’s this persons fault, that persons fault… a lot of pointing fingers…
There’s a lot of rumour-producing drama…. what really happened, who was there? when did it happen? Was so and so the reason for this and that? Did you hear the same story I did?
There’s a lot of grief band-wagoners… the people who seem to latch onto the grief of those who had closer relationship to the person… to which those close to the person loathe entirely for “acting” sad when “how could they POSSIBLY understand what it feels like”… but we all grieve differently and are all triggered by different things…
There’s also a hell of a lot of guilt… what could I have done to help? What if I had been there? Is it my fault? I could have prevented this if I had just….
And …. the list goes on.
But – although it seems the pain will not end… although it seems no answers of WHY will ever come to light….we eventually do begin to heal… because we are human… and we are built to survive.
And when we start to survive again… a sliver of hope will try to seep in… a very dim, but there, silver lining – will attempt to emerge.
If you aren’t like me, a person that believes that things happen for a reason… you will likely not agree with what I am about to say.
But if you are like me, or if you are at least able to look towards a bright side, even in the darkest of situations, please keep reading….
When the good die young, although heart-breaking… something “good” does happen.
Please hear me out.
When the good die young, these lost loved ones can become the greatest teachers to our youth. When you are a teen, and face the loss of another teen – that tragedy forces you to reflect on your own life – to be more aware, to take less risk, to treat others with greater kindness, to make smarter decision, to strive for more… with a sense of honour for the person that no longer has the chance at life that you do.
These young deaths also remind adults of how quickly life can change…It can push them to mend broken relationships, to talk more openly with their children, to spend more time with the ones they love and less time at work… to stop stressing about the tiny inconveniences in life that felt so big before… because there is so much else to be thankful for….
Once the hurt begins to pass, it is the fond memories of who they were, and the love and light that they brought into your life – that begins to push you forward – that begs you to be a better person – to work harder, to love more… to seize the day.
Without loss… we are unlikely to face such a purge of necessary emotion… such a serge of much needed inspiration… feelings that can change and transform our lives forever.
One loss… can change thousands of lives for the better.
When the truly good die young – we learn to stop waiting – and start wanting to live more… because we realize that we could have just as easily been the one to go had our cards been dealt that way…
When the good die young… many of us start fundraisers, host memorials, fund charities, and create foundations….
We start talk more – about REAL things, about FEELINGS, about LIFE, about SICKNESS, about STIGMA.
We also start to spread awareness and become activists… to ensure similar tragedies never happen again… We work to save others.
Without the loss of my friend, I would have never known what the “Choking Game” was – or that thousands of young people, in my own community, and beyond, were participating. I would have never shared information about warning signs, or participated in awareness campaigns about the risks….information that could have gotten to the right person at the right time.
Without the loss of my friend, I would have never written articles about loss… grief… and depression. I might not have even yet come to terms with my own depression and how loss effects me as a person… and yet, because of Kyle’s legacy and the courage he continues to give me – my entire life path has changed for the better – and I have become a passionate Mental Health activist…determined to make a difference.
When the good die young, these people can also become your life-long guardian angels… the spiritual presence you long have waited for – if you let them. They can become your new form of heaven, or god, or religion… even if you don’t believe in any of those things.
I didn’t have a relationship with God when my friend passed, but after his passing, I developed a strong spiritual relationship with Kyle.
Instead of making a traditional prayer to God for strength when I was struggling to cope, I would lay down at night and just speak to Kyle, in my mind or out loud… a prayer between us. Feeling that Kyle is out there has pushed me forward and has helped me cope with both his death and my own hurt… a true guardian of my soul.
However – the very hard truth is… that when the good die young, not all of us stick with these missions of self improvement. Nor, is our ability to look for a positive always easy.
I too am guilty of this. After Kyle’s death I became severely depressed and felt hopeless. I lost myself… I couldn’t see the positive… I didn’t understand why he had died, and I hated it and I felt guilty for not saving him.
It wasn’t until my own brush with death, an experience I believe Kyle protected me from, that I finally figured it all out. I began to realize that maybe I could take this really bad thing and turn it into something a little better… and then maybe… eventually, I too would feel a little better… so I began to talk, I opened up, I got help, and I began to write….
A lot of us vow to be better, to be kinder, to love more… and it lasts, for a while. But then it fades, and we begin to forget, we get so busy that we let go of the inspiration our lost loved on had passed on to us…. And although we should not constantly reflect on the tragedies of our past… I beg for you to make reminders.
For me, I often wear a bracelet that reminds me of Kyle. That little symbol gives me a nudge – wake up Kellie – be kinder and better today – for him and for yourself.
I invite you to also try and turn your pain into activism – honour these people in your everyday life, make their loss less of a loss and more of a lesson – of how the power of love transcends even death.
You don’t need to head a charity and run every marathon across country… but I ask you, that when the good die young…. you keep their story alive.
As life goes on…tell the new friends you meet about them – one day tell your children – tell your grandchildren.
We must keep living and we must keep fighting.
We must work to keep these souls alive, and most importantly – if applicable, to keep the awareness alive – because in return, you might be the one to keep another young life alive as well… and there’s no better way to honour someone than that.
For more information about the Choking Game click here.
Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)