Trying to Cure Grief

Nell Alexander ‘22, Guest Columnist

The first Monday after winter break I sat in my economics class, trying to feel normal again. As the professor started the class they ask “how was everyone’s winter break? What did people do?” and that same feeling, the one I’ve come to know all too well over the past few years, starts to take over again. I can feel it almost like all of the color is slowly bleeding out of everything I see. As I gazed around and heard my peers’ responses I started to feel more and more separate, like I am just watching time tick on for everyone else, as they recount their  holiday festivities to everyone else. While other people talk about their family ski trip, Christmas party etc. I replayed the days leading up to and following Christmas Eve over and over again. 

The week leading up to Christmas Eve was the usual for us: my birthday, Hanukkah, my auntie’s birthday, the last rush to buy gifts, etc. Everything felt relaxed and light hearted and focused on spending time with each other. Two days before Christmas Eve, though, my auntie was taken to the hospital with some stomach pain, which seemed normal for someone who had been suffering from terminal cancer for the past few months. The week before she had celebrated her birthday, gone to see guest speakers, had dinner with friends, it seemed that maybe she had just overdone and now her body needed some extra care. Initially no one was worried. If you have terminal cancer sometimes you end up in the hospital, it made sense. Then suddenly within 24 hours the conversation changed to “the immunotherapy is no longer working,” “her pain is due to a blockage,” “you should call the family.” It seemed like hospice was the next step, maybe we weren’t looking at months, but weeks or days and Auntie made peace with that. Six hours after the hospice plan had been signed, at 11pm on Christmas Eve the call came in. She was gone. The call felt like it sent a tornado through the house, who’s damage has yet to be resolved. 

When I returned to school I felt lost and alone. Even when I was with people, it felt like everyone else’s life was continuing in color, while mine was stagnating in black and white. I didn’t want to talk about the break, because whenever I did I felt like I made everyone else feel uncomfortable. I knew talking about my pain made other people feel helpless and forced them to sit with the discomfort too. So I tried to swallow it and move on. 

No one wants to talk about death for the same reason no one talks about grief: its messy and uncontrollable. Grief is an emotion unlike most because its performative. It feels like other people know what’s going on and are waiting to see how you react. You have to be just sad enough, but still polite and charming. But the truth is grief isn’t just being sad or depressed, its more complex than that. Sometimes it means feeling guilty, angry, regretful, and helpless. No one shows this side of grief because we don’t want to be selfish, we don’t want to be judged, and it really would be better for everyone if we were just “fine.”

I tried to run from my grief, distract myself, push it aside and move on, but in hung over me like a cloud wherever I went. Many days I thought about going home, being with my family, dealing with what was happening there head on, but in reality going home wouldn’t help, I needed something else. After being pushed by loved ones I sought professional help. I thought this would be a waste because they didn’t know my situation, they didn’t know my Auntie so how could they know how to help me? It wasn’t that this counselor could make the pain go away all at once, but they gave me hope that it would get better and that what I was feeling was normal. Sometimes you need to hear that it’s going to be okay from an unbiased source. Seeking help won’t be a magic cure, but it is a step on the right path.