I’ve spent most of my parenting life trying to equip my children with the life skills and wisdom in hopes of preparing them to face anything that might come across their path on the journey into adulthood. From the incessant daily instructions on the importance of good hygiene, lessons on respecting others, instilling in them a strong work ethic, teaching them simple household chores, to how to become their own self-advocates, I tried to stuff everything they might need into their “backpack of life.”
Everything that is, except for this — how to work through the grief of a losing a friend.
The phone rang and I saw from the caller ID that it was my son. He had only just begun his college life –two weeks to be exact — so I expected the conversation to be either an update on what’s been going on or he was about to hit me up with the “I need more cash” plea. What I wasn’t expecting were the words that spilled out from the other side of the line.
“Hey, how’s everything going?”
“Mom, things are good with school, but …… Lydia died”.
Those words hit me with such an emotional force that It took me a few moments to process what I had just heard and to regain my balance. “Mom, did you hear me? Lydia is dead”, he said it so matter-of-factly, but there was a hint of an undertone of sadness mixed in with it.
Yes, I had heard him, but I was in just as much disbelief as he was and trying, myself, to comprehend the news. I wanted to reach through the phone and hug him and tell him that everything was going to be OK, even though it wasn’t. I wanted him to be telling a sick horrible joke, but he wasn’t. He had just learned that his dear friend was tragically killed in a car accident and there was no one on campus that understood his pain. He was in a new city, trying to acclimate to college life and deal with new professors and roommates, and now this. He had to deal with the shocking news of suddenly losing a friend and learning how to handle the gut wrenching grief that accompanied it.
This was the sweet, beautiful Arianna Grande look-alike girl my son had a crush on since the ninth grade. The bubbly, animated girl who my daughter cheered with in high school. The ever so polite girl who used to stop by my house to hang with my children and their other friends from school. This was the girl whose vibrant life was cut short, while my son’s and everyone else’s life was supposed to go on.
As the initial shock slowly subsided, through the tears my son and I spoke about what had happened and how he was feeling about it. At 18 years of age, this wasn’t something that he had planned on dealing with and he wasn’t prepared for the flood of emotions that were now drowning him in sorrow. I struggled with trying to give him words of wisdom and comfort, but honestly, I was failing horribly. Could I have prepared him for the possibility of losing a young friend through talks and “what if” scenarios? Did I fail at including this topic in the million or so other topics I thought were important for him to know about? The answer was no.
Perhaps we don’t talk about this subject with our children as we, ourselves, aren’t quite sure how to handle the delicacies of death and morning. Perhaps it is because we want to avoid even thinking that these things happen. Or, perhaps we just don’t know how to navigate around the awkwardness of wanting to say something comforting, but not wanting to sound like some cliché. Wanting to be there to comfort, but not really knowing what will comfort those who are grieving. But quite possibly, we don’t expect our children to have to deal with such loss at such a young age and we want to protect them from the emotional turmoil that follows such a loss, so we avoid it.
The struggle to make sense of his friend’s death hit him in a way that he wasn’t quite expecting. He had plans to come home the upcoming weekend as a surprise to help celebrate his grandfather’s 90th birthday. Now my son would be coming home to two polar opposite events – a life celebration and a funeral. Finding the words to explain this bizarre twist of fate and to comfort him was challenging. He was going to mourn the loss of a vibrant life cut short of memories and at the same time celebrate a long-lived life filled with loving memories.
I couldn’t understand it myself, let alone try to give another motherly life lesson, so I let go. I simply told my son that I love him, that I’m here for him and that I honestly don’t have any answers. None of us do. I told him that he is entitled to his feelings and that there are no right or wrong ways to mourn. What more could I say? My heart was breaking for him, but I knew this was something that he alone had to learn to deal with. Grief, it seems, is a personal thing. It’s most likely the reason we avoid it and why it the one thing we can never truly prepare our young adult children for.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Lydia Medore, a beautiful vibrant young 18-year-old, whose life was tragically cut short, but whose memory will live long in the hearts of her friends and family – especially my son’s.