The community where I grew up lost a beloved member this week. To some she was a loyal friend. To others she was loving family member. To others she was a kind face when they needed it the most. Most importantly, though, she was her resilient, generous self. She was the glue that held many of us together. Until the end of her battle with breast cancer she never compromised any of her best qualities. I have known and looked up to Kelly for as long as I can remember. She never saw me as “just Carl and Sandra’s kid.” The way she interacted with me made me feel important in a world where it’s hard for any young person to be taken seriously. She was genuinely proud of me when I accomplished things and genuinely supportive when things weren’t going as well. When I return to my hometown, there will be a gaping hole in what I consider my home.
The loss of Kelly is my first time dealing with the death of a loved one as an independent unit, separated from my family and in a new community where people do not know the context of my grief. It makes a lot more of a difference than I thought it would. I can’t easily talk to someone who is also hurting because of the loss. I have to decide for myself when I need to tell authority figures that the reason why I’m not exactly on top of my game is because someone important died. I have to be able to draw the line between going easy on myself during a hard time and using a tragedy as a crutch.
I am grateful that when I’ve told my friends about it so far, they offered the sympathetic, “If you ever need anything you can talk to me about it.” But right now the thing I need most is for people to be aware that I’m not okay and respect that sometimes I will want people close to me and other times I will not be in the mood to interact with anyone. To anyone who I see on a regular basis, if I seem overly desperate for attention or overly cold and unresponsive, it’s nothing personal.
If anyone from Kelly’s family is reading this, please know that you are in my thoughts every day and I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you. Anyone else who is affected by her death I hope that the way each of you grieves will run its course and that you will find the support you need.