All of my trousers hang in my closet in a specific way so that they stay creased down the center of each leg. The black pair that I thought would be best for the occasion were for some reason folded with my jeans on the shelf. I can’t remember putting them away there, especially since I always hang my trousers. When did I last wear them? Work, probably. But why would I put them away so sloppily? Anyways, it doesn’t matter. There I was, standing in my closet thinking about the last time I wore these stupid pants, steaming them as quickly as possible because they go best with the top I was planning to wear to a 13 year old girl’s funeral.
What the hell is wrong with me?
I knew her when she was in fifth grade. I was working as an interpreter in all of her classes for one of her deaf classmates. I didn’t know all of the hearing kids very well, just the ones who spent time with the deaf students because I interpreted their conversations. And since this particular student was so inclusive of the kids who were “different,” I grew to know her pretty well. At times I forgot that she was a kid like the rest of them. She frequently asked me how to sign certain phrases so she could chat with her deaf friend without my help. She would even learn how to sign phrases on her own and beeline it for me first thing the following morning asking, “Ms. Amy, look what I learned… Am I doing this right? I want to show ___.” She wanted to work for NASA and told all of her friends she loved them whenever she felt like it.
As I sat in a pew with former coworkers I hadn’t seen in years, listening to stories told by her family members whom I didn’t know, trying to focus over the sound of sobs sneaking out of every body in the church, I wondered why I felt so compelled to be there. This was a child I only knew for a year, and while that is a good length of time, surely she hadn’t thought of me since she left for 6th grade. Truthfully I only think of former students every once in a while if something pops up that reminds me of them — a unique name, a strange allergy, a silly game, the word Fortnite. I saw kids at the funeral with whom I used to spend five days a week for an entire year, yet I didn’t know what to say to them. The thought that continued to ebb in and out of my brain was what gives me the right to grieve for a girl I haven’t seen since June of 2019?
Whenever someone dies young, I think of Sam and how there are only so many stories about him. Eventually, we all run out of stories. A couple years after he died, one of his high school teachers reached out on social media to tell me about his last day and the little things he was looking forward to doing that weekend, like ice fishing, and that in his last hours of life he was in a really great mood. Sam felt alive for the thirty seconds it took me to read that message. I suppose my selfish subconscious knew the stories that were told during her funeral would make her feel alive one last time for me.
Another thing that happens when someone dies young are the inevitable what could have been‘s that flood your brain like hot, thick cement. My head felt so heavy and warm I thought I was going to pass out. When I found out this little girl had died, I grieved for NASA because they’ll never get to have her. I grieved for the kids at her future high school or college who feel isolated, because they will never get to be touched by her kindness. The realization that all she’ll ever be is exactly what she was when she died was so unexpectedly painful because she was just purely good. It felt wrong that the whole world never gets to see it.
There I was picking out my pants, thinking to myself, why the fuck do I get to steam my trousers today when she was supposed to eventually steam a graduation gown, a wedding dress… Do astronauts steam their uniforms?
And after I parked my car down the street from the church, I walked past a man who was stumbling drunk and screaming vile things at 10:00 on a Friday morning. I thought to myself what is his existence worth in comparison to hers?
I know that sometimes grief comes in the form of horrible thoughts like these. Now I am drawn back to this abandoned blog to try to verbalize this mess of feelings — a mixture of anger and amazement for how much love our bodies can hold as I pour out grief for a girl I knew for one school year. I am reminded of how much or how little life our bodies can hold as I try to wrap my head around a really amazing person leaving this side of existence after only 13 years by drowning. And that somebody had to polish a casket as small as hers. I’m just incredibly sad but not for myself, not really for anyone in particular. Of course I am sick for her family who are reconciling with the fact that they are left with one child to continue to care for and raise while they are missing his older sister. Of course I am sick for her friends who are potentially experiencing a loss like this for the first time. But I am so sad in a generalized way that these things happen in real life over and over again. I am planning my own wedding, attending my friends’ baby showers, celebrating 60th birthdays and graduations and these are things that seem like a given. Duh, I’m getting married. Duh, my friend is throwing a baby shower. Duh, my mother is turning 60. Duh, my sister is graduating college.
Your body prepares you for all of these milestones and your brain is anticipating the good feelings that accompany them. Unexpected loss briefly throws my entire world off its axis and right now I’m in the stage where I’m trying to do my tasks at an angle that isn’t comfortable. It’s hard not to be selfish with grief. It’s challenging to explain a loss that seems so small but feels so big. It’s impossible not to have an existential crisis while you steam your pants for a child’s funeral.