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“If you know someone dealing with a death, please check in on them,” writes VOX ATL staffer Isley Chapman. “Reaching out can be hard when you, yourself, feel like you don’t have the answers.”

Heartbreaking and Messy: Navigating the Death of a Friend

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On November 10, I lost a friend. I say lost but lost really is just a euphemism for death and in this case, death is just a euphemism for killed. On November 10, my friend was going home after dropping her brother off in an apartment complex on McGinnis Ferry Road, when a pick-up truck slammed into her, killing her.

I was at a concert and my phone was ringing off the hook. I remember letting the atmosphere around me absorb me. I remember this ethereal feeling that as I breathed in and out, the venue breathed with me. I put my phone on mute. To be able to disconnect meant to be free.

After the concert, we stood outside the venue and took pictures. I remember putting my outfit together so meticulously only for it to be disheveled and wrinkled by the end of the night. My friend flipped her phone back on, finally reconnecting with reality. I looked out onto the city, still lethargic from the concert. Everything still seemed so far away.

My friend’s face morphed from the normal indifferent expression you have when browsing Instagram to a deeply worrying frown.

“S**t …, didn’t you know her?”

It was a Snapchat post, screen-grabbed and posted on Instagram.

“R.I.P angel.”

“Gone too soon.”

“Heaven couldn’t wait for you…”

It was instant panic. It must have been fake, but who would make such a morbid joke? I opened my phone to find all of my friends texting me at once. I don’t remember even bothering to think at the time. My mind did me a favor and went numb. I couldn’t hear, vision went blurry, and my mouth went dry. I scoured my phone for some sign that it was fake, only to find all of my friends confirming the opposite. They say that you are supposed to go through stages of grief, but for me, denial, anger, bargaining, and depression all happened within minutes of each other.

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We rode home in complete silence.

During the silence, my brain started back. But like a machine that lagged for a few moments, it was now in overdrive.

I remember avoiding her in hallways. Not because she did anything wrong but because I didn’t know how to properly do the “passing in the hallway” greeting with a friend that I once would have died for, but now just held as an acquaintance. The way you could passingly say “hello” to someone you once knew so much about made me suffocate. A lump settled in my throat, knowing the girl that died was not the same one I knew, that her life had gone on and I knew nothing about it. I found myself desperately wishing time was malleable. If I could have just bent time for a few more moments with her before she was gone.

For the next day, I was just looking for the right way to grieve. I didn’t know how much grief I was entitled to. The truth was that we hadn’t been close since freshman year, and that left me feeling uncomfortable to show any sadness. It felt like I didn’t deserve to feel sad. I showed up to my language arts class with glassy eyes and no intention of learning.

Throughout the entire day, my language arts teacher was the only one to mention the death. Just the mention of her name made my heart sink, and soon I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer.

However, guilt still found a way to wrap around my neck like a serpent and make my shoulders sag. That was until my teacher said something that sticks with me to this day. She reassured us that sad events warrant sad reactions. Whether you knew her well, just saw her in the halls, or only ever heard of her that day, it was OK to feel.

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When she said that, it felt like a weight off of my shoulders. It made me face my guilt head-on, making me realize that my attempts to tame my feelings were not fruitless but also completely irrational. I feel lucky to have had the type of people around me who allowed me the space and support to grieve properly.

However, not all teens are so lucky. In statistics provided by childrensgriefawarenessday.org, one in five people will experience the death of someone close to them by age 18. And I can’t speak for all teens but her death was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. So, if you were to ask me for advice, I don’t know what I would say. If you know someone dealing with a death, please check in on them. Reaching out can be hard when you, yourself, feel like you don’t have the answers.

But death is not something that can be solved. It’s heartbreaking, messy and sporadic. Be a shoulder to cry on, have an ear to lend and remind them, however, they are feeling in the moment is valid, but things will get better.


If you are dealing with the deal of a friend or a loved one, here are some resources for you to reach out to:

The Link Counseling Center has weekly free teen grief support groups in Atlanta.

The Crisis Text Line: Text HOME  to 741741, https://www.crisistextline.org/

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

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