When The Death Of Someone You Know Makes You Feel Guilty For Living

September 12, 2014  |  


Yesterday there was an unpleasant surprise in my Facebook feed. As I scrolled past goofy videos and nonsensical opinions on Ray Rice, I came across a photo collage of a girl I was friends with in college along with the words “I am numb,” which caught my attention. I clicked “read more” and unfortunately found out my old friend had passed away suddenly. Shocked, I began scrambling through the messages on her Facebook wall trying to figure out what had happened. Aneurysm. In a matter of hours, messages asking for prayers had turned to R.I.P. statuses filled with disbelief that a woman loved by so many was gone.

Immediately, my mind went back to my most vivid memory of the funny girl from Columbus who I’d had one too many reckless nights with during our freshman year of college. I remembered how she’d encouraged me at one of my low points and I knew when I got home I had to read the journal entry that refreshed my love for her and uplifted my soul that May day in 2004. I wrote about confiding in my friend after I’d been turned down for a scholarship and a peer leader position at my university all in the same day and was feeling rather inadequate as she assured me:

“Don’t let that discourage you. When you make it big, nobody can tell you anything.”

I retorted, asking, “am I really gonna make it?” and she told me without hesitation:

“You are smart as sh*t and lately I’ve been thinking about the idea of a virtuous woman and trying to recognize that and you are one of those women. You really are an inspiration to me.”

As I read those words I instantly burst into tears I didn’t feel compelled to shed earlier. I saw us sitting in the caf at 19 envisioning how our lives would turn out 10 years later, feeling torn that her prediction for my life had come true and guilty that her life was cut short before she’d gotten to see so many milestones. My mind raced thinking, “what about her babies?” as I thought about her three children and the questions they must be asking her husband. And in the same breath, I thought about the fact that I’m just one woman, single, child-less, and her loss is so much greater than mine would be at this point in life.

As I thought about that, I reflected on the fact that I’ve always reacted very strongly to the passing of people around me — even if I only knew them from a distance. In high school, a boy I’d had maybe one conversation with was gunned down and I sobbed so hard in class I was sent to the counselor’s office. Last year, a guy who used to date a friend of mine passed away from Sickle Cell Disease and I was inconsolable when I heard the news. Later, when I’d told his best friend how emotional I was he confusingly asked “why?” Today, I realize the reason is their deaths makes me feel guilty for being alive. I think about the fact that they were parents, they had people depending on them, they still had things to accomplish. And though I’m certainly not ready to pass from this life, I feel the urge to ask not just “why them?” but “why not me?”

I also feel a pressure to make every minute count. How dare I sit around idly passing the time when there are others who weren’t given the chance to have just one more day to do something great? It’s that weight that fuels my misplaced guilt and makes me feel as though I haven’t done enough and I need to do so much more. But how can I ever fill the shoes of all the peers who’ve passed before me? It’s an impossible task I need to relieve myself of, but when I think about all the things I was taught growing up in church, I remember that reflections like this are what I’ve been taught deaths are for: To remind those who are living to live and know that if they are still blessed to breathe, they still have a purpose to fulfill. Hopefully my mission will end up being accomplished.

To donate to the Ashley Marie Mitchell Memorial Fund, click here.

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