Friday night before bed, I hopped online to quickly check my email, the blogs I read, my Facebook friends. It’s something I do, sort of an “around the horn” kind of thing, before I end my day. On Facebook I was shocked to read that my friend’s brother – an upperclassman at school, two years ahead of us – had died very suddenly at the age of 38.
I stared at the screen, repeating, “This can’t be right. This CAN’T be right.” I immediately had some totally irrational thoughts which would of course prove he wasn’t dead. First of all – and this is going to sound horrible – I thought it was some kind of joke. My friend happens to be an actor in a successful two-man sketch comedy group. I can’t imagine now why I thought it then, but I wondered if my friend was just trying to be smart. My next thought was that I had just been messaging with this friend a couple of days ago on Facebook. Certainly when things were so normal earlier in the week, it couldn’t be so totally NOT normal now. Finally, I frantically flipped through my friend’s Facebook photos, telling my husband, “But wait! They just took a trip to Disneyland! See, there’s my friend right there WITH HIS BROTHER!” I also reasoned that my friend had already reached his lifetime quota of unexpected passings, having lost his father when we were younger. Certainly he couldn’t lose his brother so young, too. I could not get past the idea that this was one huge mistake.
But then I saw the status updates of other friends of ours, and they were all expressing shock and grief at the brother’s passing. I quickly discovered that a group had been formed on Facebook to express support for this family, to share memories of the brother, and to make plans for the funeral. I think that’s when I started to cry, and I just sat there for maybe 20 minutes thick with sadness. I found my high school yearbooks and found pictures of the brother, and cried some more.
I didn’t know him very well, but I did spend two years in choir with him before he graduated. As with most extracurricular groups in high school, we were like a family and spent many hours together. I remember him as being extremely popular – tons of friends. He was talented, very funny, always very energetic and friendly. My main connection to him was through my friend, his younger brother. To be honest, I had a massive crush on my friend all through high school, so I was strangely nervous around the older brother as a side effect.
I’ve been checking the discussion board on the support group’s Facebook page, reading dozens of messages from people who knew this brother really well and who had wide and varied memories of him. It’s been good to read these messages and to see such an outpouring of love for my friend and his family. But it’s also given me a strange sensation of feeling like an imposter.
It doesn’t seem reasonable at all, but it has made me wonder – do I have any right to feel the grief I feel? Honestly, I’ve been in a funk ever since I found out, even dreaming of the situation every night. I talked with my husband about it, and I think the bulk of the grief I feel is for my friend. I just hate that he has to feel the pain he’s feeling and that, once again, he is faced with needing to be so strong at such a young age. But even in realizing that, though, I feel like a cheat. After all, my friend and I have been more “friendly” than *friends* these past many years. Emails and letter and chats have been fairly superficial – how’s the family? how’s the acting gig going? where are you living now? Does my extreme concern now come across as inauthentic?
I realize these are some pretty strange thoughts to be having about an emotion as perfectly natural as grief. If a friend of mine asked me the question I ask in my blog post title, I would tell her that OF COURSE it’s never wrong to grieve. Compassion is nothing to be ashamed of. Still, please tell me -am I the only one who has ever felt self-conscious in her grief?