Losing People And Finding Words


9/11 is a day that the United Stated and the world remembers those tragic events that took place on that unfortunate day in New York City. But for me personally, it is also a day when I remember a friend and schoolmate that I lost a few years ago. It was my first real loss as an adult. And I cannot till this day, say that I was very close with him. But I was very active in the African community in college. I was president at one point of the African student group, and it was during my tenure that we lost our friend, one of “our” own. And so I was partially involved in the planning of the memorial and in raising money to send his body back home, as were many others who knew him.

When you’re a foreigner in a country, especially when you share the same cultural identity on a college campus, there is an understanding that you have of each other that many cannot appreciate. Somebody asked me if I would speak at the planned memorial, and I refused to because I didn’t believe it was my place as someone who wasn’t very close to him. But also, in times like this when things hit very close to home, it can be difficult to find the right words. I think all of us as African students were reminded that we were far away from home and should anything happen to us, chances are we would not even get a chance to say goodbye to many of those we love. It was hard to think of this and to also be able to find the right words.

One of the best things about being a writer is the ability to comfort people with words. A held hand, a kissed cheek, a loving embrace can be one of the most important things that a person experiences during times of loss. But so is a kind word; a word that allows the emotions to flow unhinged, and a word that leaves those scarred by loss, for a moment, at ease. When we experience loss, words can be our reconciliation. This is why I write them for others; for their losses that are so close to home that they can’t find the right words. And I read them when I become tongue-tied or my heart becomes too paralyzed to try to find my own.

We will lose people all throughout our life, it is an unchangeable reality. We watch our grandparents and parents get older and we do not want to confront the inevitable. But then when we know people who have experienced, or experience ourselves the loss of a sibling, a cousin, a friend, and even an acquaintance that was taken far too soon, we are confronted with the inevitable. We are forced to be reminded of our immortality and the immortality of everything that exists around us. Human beings, we sometimes like to think of ourselves as gods, but we are not, and death is that inescapable reminder that we are not.

I don’t know what to do with death. None of us really do. Some of us pray, some of us cry, some of us sit quietly and think, and some find that the best way to deal with death is to keep busy. I think we all do what we can. But I do know that whoever you are, apart from hopefully a warm touch, you’ll always be surrounded by words during loss. Whether it’s remembering the words of the person who is no longer with you, or listening to others find the right words to comfort you, or finding the right the words to be able to comfort others. And maybe with enough time and love, there will come a day that you can even find the right words to comfort yourself. Maybe this is how we make peace with losing people. But don’t take it from me; I’m still finding my words.

image – Ann Althouse