CW: This post contains themes about death/dying.
Someone I love lost somebody close to them who I had never met. Sitting with my arm slung around their shoulder, I did my best to listen and understand—to be there. Then, I asked them to tell me about their friend.
They loved to dance. They knew how to take command of a room. They loved sushi. Their child meant everything to them. They had the best smile. On and on, one liners spilled out of my loved one’s mouth as they filled the air with memories of their friend. Things you don’t always read in obituaries more focused on sharing the facts of location, employment, and family tree.
It was this thought that took me back to an incident that I seldom speak about and never imagined I’d write about. Two of my friends and I had our worlds flipped upside down by witnessing and responding to a terrible tragedy that left one person dead. It was weeks before any of us were brave enough to look at the news reports of the event.
When we did, one of those friends told me how surprised they were at the articles and videos they’d seen. It was very matter-of-fact… very to the point… very “who, what, where, why, how.” Every journalism class or workshop I’d taken told me the journalists were doing everything right. And still, it wouldn’t make sense to me.
But we were there, my friend and I discussed. We know there was so much more.
It’s the “so much more” that I’ve been coming back to for a while now. More than a “survived by” line. More than a “born in” county. More than a “in lieu of flowers” instruction. There is always so much more.
I snap back to the present day… to my loved one… to their loss. I think about what happens now. How do we hold onto memories when something traumatic and deeply painful occurs? Where do we go from here?
And, on a larger scale, where do we as a society—as a global population—go from here. This past year has been a loss of historic scale as the coronavirus pandemic tore through communities around the world. How do we make sense of a number as large as half a million? How do we make sense of 1?
We remind ourselves that there is so much more. We peel away the statistics and the news stories and the articles telling us what we already knew and saw and lived. We return to the people we loved. Who they were.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to forget that day, trying to undo the trauma of that experience. I no longer look up news articles from the event. Instead, I read about the person who passed. I learned their story. I grieved for their life and for their family. I held onto who they were.
Because they were more. Because my loved one’s friend was more. Because everyone who has passed from COVID-19 was more. More than a news article. More than a memorial flower. More than a number.
They were people… who lit up rooms when they walked in. People, just like you and me, who loved the sound of their partner’s laugh. People who planned for their futures and went on road trips and burnt their cooking sometimes too. They were people who loved to dance.
May we remember that. And may our lives and our actions honor their memory every day.