“Everyone you meet has an effect on your life, in big and small ways, in ways you don’t realise in hindsight, at the first greeting or the first handshake or maybe never at all. No person you meet is truly not worth it. It is quite enough that people were in your life, if even just for a small fraction of time that much will do.”-Tarsus Arciga
It’s 9:30, I am sitting in the Lake Wanaka Centre, I remember every detail perfectly what I was wearing sitting at the ticket booth. The older lady walking through the door at the time her hair greying and wet from the rain; she was standing in a red jersey. It’s strange the details we remember. Ignoring my friends call, using the two minutes free wi-fi they provide I log onto Facebook to reply to the messages from last night, I see a photo of you with I’ll miss you. It was your last day of school yesterday so I carry on down not paying much attention. I see another three photos, this time heart pounding in my chest I know something is wrong I can feel it, I think back to the missed calls on my phone I ignored. Starting to tremble I press to see more, my phone drops to the ground before I can finish, Tears leave my body, I can’t speak, strangers are asking if I’m okay? Asking what’s wrong? But I can’t reply, I am no longer present. Thoughts run through my mind How is this happening? How is this real? This doesn’t really happen? it can’t, not here not to us. This isn’t true I’m just reading it wrong.
I’ll always remember, 10th October 2016, Around 5:45 pm you were driving home after signing out of school for the last time, you got a new job, you were happy. And in a split moment, we lost you. A mixture of gravel roads, speed and suddenly we were being told we were 1 of the 5 students who have experienced loss of a friend before we were 18, we were being told we are part of a statistic.
In the following days we watched people, they were doing the grocery shopping, mowing their lawns, going to work and we still had school. Classes carried on as normal almost like nothing had happened, but all we wanted is to scream. To scream how are you still carrying on like nothing has happened? How are you going about your daily lives? Can’t you see our world is falling apart? Can’t you see the world should be stopping? School was a blur it was weird to be in class without you, there was no fighting between you and Marcus, no rugby ball being thrown across the class. It was still like at any moment you were going to walk through the door and this would all be some cruel prank.
Grief caused by a loss as an adolescent is generally sudden and unexpected, it is the result of a traumatic event, an accident, suicide or homicide. It’s against our rules of nature, so we don’t have the ability to deal with it, it never crosses our minds that we will have to deal with it in our reality. There is no romantic factor that it shows in the movies or some sudden understanding or clarity, we don’t get to find closure and have credits roll and that part of our life is finished. It stays with us, places, songs, photos serve as a constant reminder of the grief, we don’t mourn and move on we learn to live with this hole in our heart where our friend used to be.
I couldn’t go to the funeral, and that made me believe I was an awful and disrespectful person, that I could no longer say that I was your friend because if I truly was how could I not go.Over time I learned that you can grieve and remember in your own way, going to a funeral is not the only way to say goodbye, you find closure in a way that means something to you; laying flowers at a crash site, lighting a candle, finding it through memories and music, writing or art. Afterwards everything that once seemed to be so important and mean so much was no longer was. Life became less about trying to get the perfect grade and succeeding and more about enjoying moments with friends and family. I began to see the real value and importance of the little things and was able to appreciate these moments more. Moments like laughing until you’re in tears with your friends, listening to music too loud, driving around with friends finding new places, chaotic mornings in the kitchen with family and I began to appreciate the many, many fights with my parents because I was lucky to be able to.I realised that with simple nights with friends sitting in the spa talking, these have become some of the best nights, appreciating the friends and family we have around us.
The day after your accident Jess and I went to lay flowers at your cross, there were so many tributes there, so many people who you had touched in life and so many people who were crushed by your death. We laid roses by the already repaired fence, this PISSED me off! Less than 48 hours since the accident and they had already repaired the fence. We wrote a message on a rugby ball and sat in silence. We played some of your favourite songs and then left. Now the rugby ball still sits growing with messages, toy tractors and many empty bottles of speights lay beside.
Losing a friend at 17 reminded me how life is unexpected and short, it taught me that it’s not worth sitting back and letting life pass you by. I have learned to go for whatever it is in life that I want, I have learned not give up on my dreams, I have learned to look forward to the future to whatever happens next, to enjoy that we can not always be certain, and to look forward to the unknown. Now when I see your photo or read a post on Facebook, when we go to lay flowers I see your goofy smile and laugh at the memories of the silly string wars and attempted rugby games with Ryan and Jess. I’ve learnt to sing Wagon wheel and Chicken Fried as loud as possible and terribly out of tune because I’ve learned that’s’ how you would want us to be living.
When you experience a tragic event it stays with you always reminding you of how easy it is to get hurt, we light candles and say prayers, hoping it will make everything okay, hoping it will make us feel better even if for a minute or an hour. But after all these prayers, tributes and memories we are still left with a hole where our friend used to be. Grief gives you a choice, a choice to fall into the dark hole that is consuming you, a choice to allow yourself to find death in life, a choice to allow the pain to stop you from being able to breathe and think. Or you can find peace in your grief, you can learn to laugh at the photos with their smiles and embrace the joyous memories you have, you can learn to find tribute towards them and you can learn to look to the future, and enjoy the little things in life… There is no right way to grieve and no one has the right to tell you how to feel, it will take time, you will learn to live with sadness, joy and pain all in one.
To our friend, To JJ
Enjoy that chicken fried
Have a cold beer on a Friday night
And find a pair of jeans that fit just right
Turn the radio up
Watch the sunrise
See the love in a person’s eyes
Feel the touch of a precious child
And feel a mother’s love
It’s the little things in life that mean the most
Not where you live, what you drive or the price tag on your clothes.
There’s no dollar sign on a piece of mind; this I’ve come to know
So if you agree, have a drink with me
Raise your glasses for a toast.