To grieve in this time

TW: This article briefly talks about clinical depression, self-harm, and childhood trauma. Although the purpose of this article is to celebrate a dear friend’s life and honour her passing, some readers may find the content distressing.

Photo by Samartha J V on Unsplash

Sleeping has been a chore lately.

Anti-racism protests are raging across the US after the egregious murder of George Floyd. A global pandemic is running amok and infecting millions worldwide. Everyone is having a difficult time expressing anger and readjusting to the new normal. I am no different.

That day I woke up like normal. The alarm went off, disrupting my indulgence in the slumberland. My WeChat has multiple new messages.

One of my childhood passed away.

We haven’t talked in a long time — not since 2017. We were on the train in China surrounded by the rush hour crowd. My westernized and overly exposing dress was protruding, and she was speaking about something embarrassing loudly. I didn’t remember exactly what she was talking about. I only remember me trying my best to hide away from people’s judgemental glances.

I remember days later I was at a run-down college bar with another childhood friend, bringing her up almost empty-minded. I talked about the cuts I saw on her wrist and the bizarre behaviour of her abrupt leaving me and my other friend after an escalated phone call. I remember that I was concerned but mostly irritated — how could she leave me without saying bye?

We kind of stopped talking, mostly because I thought she was “so weird”. My ego did not allow me to handle the weirdness, the emotions, and difficult conversations. I went on with my life without thinking much of her anymore.

Later I found out through friends that she was in the hospital, being treated for depression.

Our last conversation on WeChat was me asking how she was, and her replying “everything is full except for my whole heart”, then me replying “I see”. Long before the last conversation, she has avoided my inquiry into her mental health conditions, so I thought not to intrude.

Her last WeChat post, “ I am going to get better.”

I thought about her seldom until the news about her passing away broke, then I thought about her a lot. I thought about how she laughed with her eyes curved like the new moon, how she aggressively bit her fingernails while writing love poems (she was so good at that), or how the boys all around middle school admired her. She was always violently beautiful, the kind of beauty that was impossible for little 15,16-year-old girls like me not to be jealous.

She was outspoken about the pain of growing up in a broken family with an affluent, aloof, and abusive mom. When I first met her, I read one of the blog posts she wrote about her alcohol-abusing mom was so shocking that I still remember the font and background lucidly in my head.

Did I see the sign? Yes.

Did I do something about it? No.

I miss her. I miss her smile, her beauty, her kindness, her delicate little poem, her tribute to Michael Jackson so touching, her over-bitten nails, her over-drawn eyeliner, her never-ending posts on WeChat. I miss everything about her, but mostly I miss that she was alive, vibrant, fighting back at the misfortune of life, and laughing when the world had been so cruel to her.

I am angry at myself for barely reaching out, for being judgemental. I am struggling and questioning who I truly am in the darkest hours of the night. How could I be so cold? I, someone who claimed to be empathetic, socially-aware, and was once at the frontline of mental health awareness, have been indifferent towards a close friend’s suffering. How could I?

They told me that there was nothing I could do either way, that the clinical treatment was ineffective, that all of this was meant to happen. Mental illness is complex. The severity of our brains’ reactions to trauma varies from person to person.

Nevertheless, I remember the 15-year-old her walking under the bellowing wind and her eyes twinkled while she talked about a future with a loved one. She wanted love so vigorously and her poems were filled with the love that she believed could save her. The absence of love in her gloomy and chaotic childhood could have ruined a person, but she sprouted and thrived for so many years believing in the beauty of the world.

Would it make a difference if I had reached out? Did she ever think about me and how I barely cared during the hard times? Did my slow but steady exit out of her life push her deeper into the darkness? Would it help if I ever asked “hey, who called you that day, and why did you leave” Or “ hey, is it hard being alone in America”?

No one could answer my questions, but I know that if I were to pay attention instead of burying myself so deep in the mundane troubles of my everyday life and leaving her estranged, I wouldn’t be asking these questions. How could I, someone who months ago posted a lengthy Instagram caption advocating for mental health, ignore one of my friends who I vowed to protect forever?

Am I a hypocrite? I don’t think hypocrite is the word. I think the quick gratification stemming from the fast-paced social media platforms might have let me stay merely on the surface of a problem. I think we are used to rewarding ourselves a shiny trophy for even the smallest kindness that an uncomfortable situation like such seems not fruitful enough. I think it is easy to repost a “mental health awareness” post but incredibly hard to deal with the messiness of a close friend. I think we like to be comfortable and it is so easy to be comfortable.

In today’s political climate, it is hard to grieve. I find the pain I suffer from losing her so irrelevant compared to the grieving of a world as we knew and the grieving of an innocent man killed by systematic racism.

On the other hand, In today’s political climate, it is important to grieve. My silence towards my friend’s suffering, my avoidance of the discomfort, my oblivion towards her calls for help simply because it wasn’t a “me” problem… They caused her to slip through my finger, the world to lose a beauty, me to lose a dear friend, my mind to remain in constant guilt.

In a similar and broader sense, the silence of the people led to police brutality became a “black” problem and not an injustice problem. The silence of the people led to the government profligate on warfare and weapons instead of public health and health care. The silence of the people led to the rise of alt-right and neo-nazis because we were too busy dismissing discomfort and going on with our social media scrolling.

It is so easy to be comfortable. So many people brush off the discomfort, claiming the social injustice as normality. Many of them are working class, minorities, and females. We are so uncomfortable to face the problems head-on and to have real discussions, that we forget discomfort is what started every single revolution (for the better or for the worse) and the steps we take to reduce the discomfort are how we drive the society forward.

She once was a breathtakingly beautiful and intelligent girl that ruled my middle school, and I am not allowing her to go gentle into that good night.

I want her passing to be a constant reminder that silence is not an option.

I want her passing to be your reason to reach out to an estranged friend.

May she Rest In Peace.

A software engineering student, former film student/screen writer.

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