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Death is common. An everyday, ordinary occurrence, but you never think that you will ever experience the death of someone close to you. It’s always someone else, someone else’s problem. This is a lie. In reality, it can happen to anyone and it happens to everyone at some point in their lifetime. I experienced the feeling of death when I was fourteen, a week before high school started.
She was fading away, yet no one knew for it had been like this since birth. Really, it is like this for everyone. Every second that passes, we are slowly dying, but she was dying more quickly than anyone should. While she was dying, we were busy growing up. Our weeks were filled with sleepovers and late nights and re-reading all the Harry Potter books in anticipation for the next one. We danced and sang and giggled over nothing, like the fourteen-year-old girls that we were. We spent the better part of middle school together and carpooled together. I was the one full of life, singing along with the radio while Karlee, with her face plastered to the car window, was trying to sleep. She was a night owl, staying up till four or five o’clock in the morning almost every night. It probably didn’t help that she was in love with coffee, especially the frappuccino’s from Starbucks. And then one day she died. Just like that. No warnings and no good-byes. That Friday night she went to sleep and never woke up.
I was angry at God for letting this happen. No one should ever die that young. Why did He have to put us through this? Why couldn’t Karlee live? She had her whole future ahead of her and had her whole life planned out. Even if nothing went the way she had planned, she would still be alive. But she wasn’t. It was too late to try and save her.
My world was fuzzy. It seemed as if time was moving slowly, yet everything around me was moving at a break-neck pace. Soon enough it was Thursday- her viewing. I had convinced myself that everything would get better after the funeral. It would all be over and I could forget. But seeing my best friend’s lifeless body in that wooden box made it even harder. She was
sleeping, yet her hands were cold to the touch. She wasn’t going to jump out of the box shouting, “Gotcha!” and she wasn’t actually sleeping. She was really dead. As time moved sluggishly and at warped speed, I cried.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning. A cloudless, blue sky, yet my mind was as cloudy as ever. I was attending my best friend’s funeral. When I walked in, there was a wall of black. The room was filled to the brim with people. People I didn’t even know came to me with their condolences, crying. I stood still and uttered a monotone “Thank you” dozens of times.
The service was about to start and people rushed to their seats. There was not enough room for everyone, though it was not a small church, so chairs were set up in the back. The pastor went up to speak about Karlee, but I don’t remember much. I do remember hearing everyone sing “Amazing Grace,” but not being able to sing along because a lump was forming in my throat.
It was time for me to go in front of everyone, to tell my memories of Karlee. I went, blindly, to the piano, and played the song I had written, “Karlee’s Song.” I looked out to the crowd and saw, through my tears, many faces. Some I recognized and some I didn’t. But they all had one thing in common: they loved Karlee.
Her song was over and I went back to sit with her family at the front. In normal circumstances, I would have been afraid to play in front of all those people. But these were not normal circumstances. That day was about Karlee. It was about celebrating her life, regardless of how short it was.
It was Monday: the start of freshman year. I wasn’t nervous; I felt numb, except for the searing pain down the center of my chest. Apparently, that’s what happens when you lose someone. You can feel that loss physically as well as spiritually.
As we came closer to my new school, I asked my mom what it felt like when grandma died. She answered, “It hurt for a long time.” I didn’t realize then how long a “long time” really was.
School was a whirlwind. It was fast-paced and confusing, but I wasn’t scared. In my mind, it was only me and my pain. Nothing else mattered. When my grades began to drop, I tried focusing on bringing them up, so I wouldn’t have to think about anything else. But I soon lost concentration. My parents started getting worried and took me to the doctor’s office. There I was prescribed medication for depression and told to go to therapy.
Depression is serious. It’s like a cancer slowly eating away at your mind. I don’t want to sound like one of those commercials selling Ambient or Prozac, but depression really does hurt. Everything I had loved doing before her death, I avoided. Playing the piano, reading, writing- they were suddenly strange, foreign things to me. They were part of a different world. Or maybe I was. I looked at the world through a sheet. I could see everything. I could participate, but still I was separate from the world I used to be a part of.
Every day I cried. I could sit in my room in silence, staring at my lilac wall for hours. My mind was empty. Sometimes, I would write letters to her in those hours of solitude. I would pray to God, asking Him to tell Karlee I said, “Hi.” I would have a whole conversation with her, even though she couldn’t respond. It made me feel a little better, like she was still here. But I kidded myself. I once thought I saw her in my hallway. It was about twelve o’clock at night and I couldn’t sleep again. I had heard a noise in the hall. It was just a floorboard squeaking as if someone stepped on it, but I thought one of my parents was up, so I walked to the hallway. I quickly glanced down the hall and looked away. A second later I did a double-take.
Karlee was sitting on the floor with her head bent low, looking at her hands with her mousy brown hair in her face. She was wearing what she usually wore: a sweatshirt and jeans, and just as pale as she always was. My heart thumped in my chest. She slowly looked up at me, her light green eyes boring into my dark brown ones. Her mouth split into one of her famous smiles, while a voice in my head said, “She’s happy.” I blinked and she was gone. I watched the spot where she disappeared, waiting for her to come back. She never did.
This was the most vivid hallucination I’d had. I’d had others, but this was the most terrifying because it looked so real. I didn’t need to convince myself that I was going crazy, I was absolutely positive.
After this, I found myself doubting God a lot. I wasn’t sure if He was there and if He was then He probably didn’t even know I existed. In some part of my mind I knew who He was and what He had done for me, but I still hated Him, real or not. He had allowed this to happen. He has allowed a lot of bad things to happen, and claims that it was going to prepare us for something bigger? That couldn’t be right. Because it looks to me as if it’s tearing us down, not building us up like He said it would.
I wanted to believe in Him. I wanted to know that someone would always be there for me, but I couldn’t. In school during chapel, Mr. S spoke and he was telling us about this woman who lost her daughter. She had walked into the grocery store, collapsed, and died right there. The woman prayed to God asking Him why He did this. Mother’s aren’t supposed to see their children die. It’s the other way around. She asked Him this every day. After about a week, she suddenly felt this calm and heard God say, “She was mine, before she was yours.” In that dark chapel, I cried. I knew, then, that things were going to be ok, someday.
I had my first therapy session. I didn’t say much. She talked a lot and told me stories of all these other kids that she knew who died, which didn’t exactly make me feel better. But there were these really cool slinkies next to the tissue box that almost made it worth coming in every week. I did learn why I had some hallucinations, though. My therapist said that they were common for people who had someone close to them die. So maybe I wasn’t going crazy after all, which was a relief. I wrote a lot on how I felt about Karlee’s death and we talked about a lot of them. She picked them apart to determine how I felt since I didn’t really talk.
“I wish I could change the past.
All the things I should’ve said, but didn’t.
It’s too late for that now.
Too late for all the regret...and guilt.
I should’ve cherished every moment
And locked them inside my heart.
And whenever I open it, I’d get this rush of happiness.
Or maybe pain.
At remembering the good times….
But I didn’t do any of these things.
I took for granted and lost out.
Though for now, these memories are still fresh,
I know somewhere down the road they will fade.
I’m terrified to forget and sad to remember.
But no one ever said you could have it both ways, now did they?
It’s inevitable, though.
You can’t escape it.
Sometimes I wonder why He let this happen.
Why do I have to keep the memories alive, when the person I’m remembering is gone?
Why should I even try?
I dwell on this so much it becomes a part of me.
Like this darkness pressing itself around my mind,
Suffocating me, until I can’t breathe any longer.
The darkness clears.
And I hear Him,
‘She was mine before she was yours.’”
It was the first I’d written since her death. It took me a year to start feeling a little like myself again. I know I will never be the same person I used to be. I’ve grown in a lot of ways. I will never take for granted how fragile life really is and that you have to make every moment count. Even when faced with a difficult situation, God will help you through it. I didn’t see the bigger picture then. I still don’t, but I see enough of it to know that God has a plan for my life. I just wish Karlee didn’t have to die. I don’t know what my purpose is, but I know that this has made me stronger and it has prepared me in some way.