Trying to Make Sense of Tragedy [Confessions of a Twenty-Something]

When I write these pieces every week, I do my best to make you all feel a little bit better about being a twenty-something. I’m not sure how to do that today because I’m not positive that I’m really comfortable with being a twenty-something at this moment myself. Writing my column this week seems sort of wrong and out of place, but it’s also something that I know I need to do because, as a writer, this is my form of therapy. This is my outlet. I am so blessed that I have the opportunity to write whatever’s on my mind and send it out into the world for all of you guys to read. It’s a real pleasure and privilege to be able to do that.

I should start off by prefacing that a few days ago, one of my very best friends lost her mother. It was very sudden and abrupt. There was no time to prepare, no time to dwell on the loss, no time to let it all sink in. One moment, my best friend and I were eating dinner with some friends, playing the banjo, laughing, and talking. The next moment, we were at the emergency room, receiving life-altering, devastating news about her mother. In a split-second, her entire life changed. Her family’s life changed. Everything has changed.

Do you guys remember that old song that was originally a graduation commencement speech? It was called “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen).” Basically, it was a piece written by Mary Schmich and adapted into this song that was popular on the radio for a while in the 90s. Anyway, there is a line in the speech that has been repeating over and over and over in my head since Friday:

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.”

Is there anything more accurate? I have been known to have some anxiety. I worry about everything constantly. It’s been something I’ve been dealing with for about a year now, and while I have improved—it’s still a constant battle. I worry about such trivial things–things that are improbable and not even necessary to worry about because they are things completely out of my hands.

I have recently learned that the real things to worry about are the ones you never even think of. They’re the things that come out of nowhere. The things that hit you when you aren’t looking–that completely catch you off guard—like a bombing during a marathon or a shooting in an elementary school or the unexpected death of a loved one. How could any of us have seen the Boston bombing coming? Or Sandy Hook? Or the passing of my best friend’s mother? We couldn’t. I couldn’t.

And while there was no way to prepare, we still need to find the time to process, to heal, and to find peace. These unexplainable, unthinkable events leave us dizzy and tired, so the idea of finding that peace seems impossible at times. It’s a long road of deep thought and prayer. It’s a road paved with bargaining and wishing to turn back time and fighting for just an ounce of clarity. I don’t even know how one begins to find peace or “make sense” after such heartbreak, but I do know my friend, and she is a warrior. She is a giver. She is a lover. She embodies an amount of strength that I didn’t think any person could carry. She’s extraordinary—just like her mother.

I’ve been trying to “make sense” of everything that has happened these past couple of days, but that doesn’t seem to be working out for me. I think this is because a young woman losing her mother will just never make sense. I’m sure you feel the same. It’s an unfair, surreal, and most of all tragic event that no one can justify. And while the confusion stews inside me, I have gained some sort of perspective through off all of this.

We all experience tragedy in our lives. Whether you went through something last year, ten years ago, two hours ago, or last Friday night, we’ve all been blind sided by tragedy, and to be blindsided by tragedy is to be tested. And even though my best friend’s mother was taken away from her and her family without their consent, without any warning, my best friend stood for hours—stood tall for hours upon hours. She was tested and  passed with flying colors. She laughed, talked, cried, and tried to cope–without complaint or self-pity, only grace and dignity. I was convinced that kind of character and bravery was mythical until I saw her and her family behave in such a manner after something so devastating.

And this is because as human beings, we have no choice but to carry on. We must keep moving forward, keep dreaming and hoping and living the life that we were put on this earth to live. Death is a part of life. It’s tragic and confusing and seems so very final. And while the pain is so very real, I do know that it’s some kind of wonderful to have others to lean on during these terrible times–others that lessen the pain a bit. For that, I am grateful.

In the midst of all this tragedy, I have managed to find some sort of clarity. It’s something so cliche and typical and simple, but it’s also just plain true. Life is short. There is just never enough time. Tragedies such as this remind us to hug our parents a little tighter, kiss our lovers a little longer, speak kinder words to our peers, and show a little more compassion for one another because things happen, people leave, and we don’t get a say in when they do.

Tragedy teaches us what life is all about.

Life is about love and friendship and passion and living in moments that make us feel alive. Life is about helping others and respecting those around you. It’s about trying everyday to be a better person than you were the day before.

It’s about stepping forward, being selfless, and holding up those around you who are having a hard time standing on their own. We need to love one another. We need to support and care and cuddle. Let go of the grudges. Forgive those who have wronged you. Smile at a stranger. Do the dishes for your roommate. Cherish your morning coffee that you usually take for granted. Let someone merge in front of you during a traffic jam. Dance. Put out that cigarette. Call your parents. Travel. Mind your manners. Stop complaining about the trivial stuff. Get off your phone. Take a walk.

Cry. Hug. Kiss. Laugh. Love.


This week’s “Confessions of a Twenty-Something” is dedicated to the beautiful, extraordinary, and compassionate Louise Wahlskog–a loving mother, wife, and friend. May she rest in absolute peace. 

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