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Musings on the Road From the Funeral to the Prom

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There’s nothing really to say to the “I’m so sorry for your loss” and then a “Will I see you for photos down at the bay tomorrow for prom?” all within one breath. When my mother died two months ago, I was still in high school about to graduate. Suddenly, I was planning my mother’s funeral at 18. My mother’s funeral was the day before my senior prom.

Instead of studying for my finals, I picked out funeral readings at Mass. Instead of buying a prom dress, I tried to stop crying when I came across a dress in my closet my mother loved while trying to find something clean and appropriate to wear for the funeral. Instead of texting my date about a corsage, I went to the florist to design a funeral wreath. And so. Meanwhile, I was still expected to sing in my senior choir performance, perform a final routine with my spirit team, and carry out the role of an high school senior, about to graduate, while also somehow handling the “I’m so sorry,” “Let me know if I can help,” and “I’m praying for you” comments.

It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the intent. People felt empathy for a difficult situation and wanted to express their caring. But in a way, I felt guilty. I was angry at all the comments. I thought, be sorry all you want, my mother’s not coming back. I was exhausted by trying to find tasks for people to do so they felt they were “helping.” I was angry at God, for not answering my and their prayers. And most of all, I felt guilty and depressed, borderline suicidal.

The funeral exhausted me. I was physically tired by running around to see if the programs were in place, the flowers were not wilting, and the pianist had arrived. But more than that, I was emotionally drained. An introvert by nature, large crowds do not energize me and already exhaust me. But when after the funeral, I had to greet, console, and hug 300 people alone, I was ready to curl up in a ball and hide in a dark corner. Instead, I got ready for prom and the crush of teenagers who hadn’t experienced my loss and would make well-meaning, but highly insensitive comments. Prom was lovely but there was always a bit of awkwardness too. People saw me out of my funeral attire, and on the arm of my date, laughing at his jokes and dancing. I saw people staring at me, giving me odd looks, filled with a strange mixture of pity and confusion. It irritated me a bit. Part of me just wanted to have fun, be a “normal” teenager, and forget, forget all that happened. And part of me wondered, what business do I have to be here, when I just buried my mother.

Now, it’s been a month since the funeral and prom, and I’ve graduated high school and moved on to be a research intern at a prestigious institute. It’s been hard, coming to learn that I can still feel happiness while still depressed and that I’ll survive if no one one else understands. And maybe, that’s OK.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Originally published: July 7, 2017
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