When We Lose Someone

On Christmas Eve last year, my family received shocking news. A family member had died suddenly of a heart attack at 50 years of age. My grandmother, who was herself in ill health (she has since passed away), took the news with special difficulty. She began crying in the most disturbing sort of way, the sort of weeping one is sure will never end. The tragic news overwhelmed her, and she felt the death was more than she could bear.

Fortunately, however, because almost everyone in my family lives in upstate South Carolina, it was possible for a really beautiful thing to happen: My grandmother and all of her sisters, their kids and grandkids, all my aunts, uncles, cousins, and their friends joined together during that initial period of shock. The grief was only beginning, of course, but I can say for sure that in those first few days during Christmas, my whole family joined together to withstand the shock of Debbie’s death. Day and night, everyone stuck together. We brought one another strength.

Last spring, I received news that a great friend of mine had been killed on his bicycle in traffic. His name was Matt King; he had brilliant curly red hair and piercing blue eyes; and he was a person of conviction, altruism, and love. He was also my age, a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia, a true mathematical genius.

I was in the Science Center computer lab when I found out, and I couldn’t contain my emotions. I was crying, and as you may know, crying in public can be quite uncomfortable and embarrassing. So I packed my things quickly and started walking through the Yard back to Mather. I was still crying when I passed by Thayer Hall, which houses not just freshmen, but also the peer counseling group Room 13 in its basement. Wishing not to be crying out in the open, I found my way down to the basement and down the hall and knocked on the door of Room 13.

Two students answered the door, and I was able to talk confidentially a little bit to calm myself down. They had a big couch and a huge stuffed tiger (which made me laugh because Matt King was a Clemson Tiger in his undergraduate days and continued to resemble one after he had graduated). After a little bit of time, I took a deep breath and finished walking back to Mather. I was thankful the student staffers at Room 13, whose names I cannot remember, were there that night. A few days later, at Matt’s funeral, all of his friends and family, we were able to mourn together, which brought us strength.

Of course, at the end of the day, no matter our efforts, tragedies will continue to happen. We lost one of our own last week at Harvard College, Wendy H. Chang ’12, and it has sent shockwaves through our community. There is no upside to this tragedy, but a really beautiful thing happened in this case as well: A support meeting in Lowell was organized in no time and multiple memorial services occurred on campus, not only to honor Wendy, but also to acknowledge that with community comes strength.

If you are reading this and you are struggling—whether with grief over a loss or with depression and anxiety over day-to-day living—you are not alone. Reach out to those around you, whether to friends and family or to more formal resourceslike Room 13 and University Health Services. I am confident there are few things worse for grief, depression, anxiety and the like than isolation in a college dorm room. Remember, with community comes strength. Don’t be afraid to reach out. If you’re not sure how to reach out, look back in your inbox for last week's emails from Dean Hammonds or check out Harvard resources on the Harvard Smiles website. You might also consider attending Actively Moving Forward, the campus grief support group that meets on Thursdays, including this Thursday, May 3, in Emerson 106 at 8 p.m.

Finally, try to remember to check in with your friends if it seems like something is wrong. I missed a couple of meetings last week, and one of my friends sent me a text message just to make sure I was doing okay. I was okay, but still, it was great to know I was missed and that someone cared.

Seth Riddley ’12 is a History and Science concentrator in Mather House.

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