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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Reflections on grieving alone

On Tuesday, Oct 24, my day started off great. After geology class, I went to the Apocalypse Party, I got ahead on some homework and had a meeting with my supervisor for my fellowship. As I read a book for my religion class, I thought to myself, “Wow, I really am enjoying college. Things can’t get any better.”

Then, I picked up my phone. I had intended to absentmindedly scroll through social media, but when I opened up Instagram I was shocked. One of my friends had just taken his own life. 

Michael and I had been friends since sixth grade. Even with my middle school class of 250 and my high school graduating class of almost 500, we still managed to have gym class together almost every year. Neither of us were particularly athletic, so we bonded over being the last person to be picked for sports teams and trying to make it look like we were participating in class. In eighth grade we had Spanish together, and I would spend hours in the library at lunch trying to teach him vocabulary and grammar, but he finished the year with a 25 percent average. It seemed like it was a part of his master plan, though, because according to him, the class was much easier when he had to take it a second time during our freshman year. During high school you could spot him from a mile away because he was always covered from head to toe in neon colors, bright patterns and silver jewelry.

But now, that vibrant, sometimes strange, but deeply kind and caring Michael is gone. Vigils were held for him at my high school and at Rochester Institute of Technology where he was a student. A lot of my high school class ended up at schools in New Jersey and a few in upstate New York, so some were able to make a vigil in person. Many others went to schools elsewhere, where even if they couldn’t mourn him in person had classmates who knew who he was. But here I am, halfway across the country, having to honor his memory alone.

At first, I didn’t really feel anything. I remember just putting my phone down and going back to work. Michael’s death just became one more terrible thing that I read about, and I tried my best to go on with my life. I pushed my emotions aside to the point where I didn’t even think to say the Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish prayer to honor the dead, at Shabbat.

I couldn’t go on like this forever, though. His death started to weigh on me, mostly because I felt bad that I wasn’t sad enough. I went to the Dia de Los Muertos celebration to write an article on the event, and when it was time for people to light candles for those who had passed away, I thought the least I could do was to honor Michael’s life by lighting a candle for him. I got up to the microphone, said a few words about him, and lit a candle. When I sat back down, everything hit me. I was thrust out of a state of numbness and shock into a state of intense sadness and grief. 

The next few days were rough. When I woke up on Friday morning, I contemplated simply not getting out of bed for the first time all term. I forced myself out of bed and to breakfast, but I couldn’t eat anything. I went to two classes and to work, but most of my day was just focused on trying not to cry. In my A&I we had read a memoir in which the author keeps turning back to the death of a pet. We were asked to free-write about the passage, but I couldn’t focus on the words of the author, and I wrote about Michael instead. “He’s the first one in my high school class to die, and it hasn’t even been six months since we graduated. I don’t know how I should respond. Was I close enough to him to feel this bad about it? Am I too sad or am I not sad enough? Is this too little too late? I said Mourner’s Kaddish for him last night and it was the first time in months that I was able to say it right from memory. That might not be what he had wanted, but does he even know what the Kaddish is? I think it’s good that we normally have to say the Mourner’s Kaddish in a group. Doing it alone hurt yesterday,” I wrote.

The isolation of it all hurt the most. When I was in elementary school, my classmate’s mom passed away. The next day, the guidance counselor gathered us all together and talked to us about how to process it. We went through grief together, and it helped us all get through it. But here I was, grieving a friend for the very first time, all alone. Emotions aren’t really my strong suit, and I usually just keep things to myself. Fortunately, up until Michael’s death there had been very few things that I couldn’t hold in. But this was one of those things.

I decided that I had to talk to someone about it. I felt like my heart was beating out of my chest as I told Chaplain Schuyler what had happened, but after about an hour of switching between talking about Michael’s life and laughing about our comparative experiences in high school gym, the sinking feeling in my stomach went away. I honored his memory at Shabbat that night, and I talked about how I was processing my grief with friends and professors.

Grieving alone is incredibly difficult. And managing grief while having to keep up with schoolwork, the news, my job, and everything else makes it almost impossible. But if I have learned one thing from these past few weeks, it is that I don’t have to do it alone. While no one else at Carleton knows who Michael was or how much he meant to me, sharing what I am feeling with others can help me feel less isolated and help me process everything in a healthier way. I’m certainly not done mourning Michael, but I have gotten to the point where I can think back on our times together and smile. May Michael’s memory be a blessing, and may his spirit live on in me and in all of us. 

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About the Contributor
Isaac Kofsky
Isaac Kofsky, Viewpoint Editor
Hi there! I’m Isaac (he/him) and I’m a first-year prospective religion or geology major. I’ve been described as “the chapel’s press liaison” and I love eating dinner at 4:45pm, reading non-fiction, wearing sweaters, and drinking two cups of black coffee at every meal. When I’m not in Carletonian pitch meetings or in religion class, you can normally find me doing homework in the chapel or drinking tea in the religion lounge.   Isaac Kofsky '27 was previously a Beat Writer.  

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