*trigger warning* depression, suicide, grief
Calvin University has a January term between its fall and spring semesters. This year I went to New England where we studied the Concord writers such as Thoreau, Emmerson, Alcott, and Hawthorn. I convinced one of my best friends, Andrew Prezioso, to come with me even though it didn't count towards his major.
On the trip, I lost Andrew when he took his own life. And though I could talk about the wonderful memories I have with him, I can't bring myself to tell them because grief has made me angry. Angry at an uncountable number of things.
And while the premise of my blog may seem like a lighthearted attempt to document my life, it is also about real loss. It is not by mistake that I named these entries, Losing My Mind (and everything else) because at times my mind is nowhere to be found. I named it this because I cannot go on writing what I think I know. True loss is unexplainable. Real pain has no words. I can reach towards healing, but I cannot write anything to rid myself of grief.
But somehow I keep writing. And that won't fix one thing, but it might let the pain go. It might let the pain help.
Here is the speech I gave at Andrew's memorial. These words have given me something, as I hope they might give you.
If these words strike you, please reach out. And if you are struggling with any mental illness I urge you to seek help.
I met Andrew at the Wilderness Orientation lunch before we went onto separate trips. And Andrew, being the introvert that he was, sat by his parents, who happened to be sitting next to mine. As I was walking by, my mother pulled me over and told me that we both wanted to be Civil Engineers. We talked briefly and then went our separate ways.
After the trip, and on the first day of classes, I walked into Engineering 101, and there he was. He was the only familiar face in the room, so I sat next to him. We sat in the front-right of the class for most of the year. And after the period ended, we always got lunch together because we had no other friends to eat with. And for the introverted college freshman, the dining halls are things of nightmares.
So, for the first month, we had awkward lunches together where we talked about our summers, our high school experience, and about how ready we were to be done with Engineering 101. As we suffered together through this hodgepodge class, we became quite close. I think a big reason we bonded was because of our shared love of literature, of nature, and most importantly, of crocs. In all honesty, I don’t know exactly how it happened, how our friendship grew past the clunky conversations in the commons dining hall, and into a relationship where I truly trusted him.
I later opened up about my struggles with mental health. Freshman year was very difficult for me. I struggled with anxiety, panic, depression, and suicidal thoughts. I told him about all of this, and he listened. And most importantly he cared.
One day, Andrew decided to open up about his personal battle with depression. And to my best ability, I listened, and I sought to take care of him. We walked through our struggles together. And through this our friendship became unbreakable.
He even supported me when I abandoned him to become a Writing major. And it was with him that I figured out how to start my first attempt at writing a book. To be fair, I just babbled until I figured it out, but he let me talk.
I convinced him to go on the New England Saints trip with me, and even convinced him to be a literature minor. Many of you have asked how he was doing on the trip, and I would like to assure all of you that he did enjoy himself. He bought books, fought off the British with giant spears, and completely geeked out about Thoreau’s surveying notes scribbled on the back of envelopes.
But depression is an illness. One that can make you believe the most horrible lies.
Because of this illness, Andrew Prezioso took his own life.
Now I must introduce a metaphor because first of all, I am a writing major, and second: the rest of the story is too hard to tell without one.
As my parents and I were driving back to Calvin a week after the funeral, we were listening to This American Life, a podcast that covers all kinds of random topics. The one we listened to, discussed the most recent theory about how the dinosaurs became extinct.
The day began like any other day with one difference: a light was growing brighter in the sky. That light turned out to be a meteor the size of Manhattan that was hurtling towards the earth. This wiped out the dinosaurs near the blast but was not big enough to wipe out the whole world. So, the podcast dug deeper as to what caused the rest of this mighty species to go extinct.
They recreated this by dropping a rock in sand. They saw that some of the sand shot up into the air after impact. This is because the rock created a vacuum in its wake, that got filled by whatever was there when it hit the ground. But instead of sand shooting up, the dinosaurs would have seen that the meteor caused the earth around it to vaporize, jettisoning a stream of gaseous rock into the atmosphere. This gas would have condensed to form small glass pellets suspended in the sky. The energy of the impact was then trapped, and the earth reached temperatures of 900 degrees Fahrenheit within the next two hours.
The asteroid also would have caused a massive tidal wave that would echo around the globe. So that animals, nowhere near the ocean, would have felt a rumble, then sometime after, after the world grew hotter and hotter, they would get swept up in a sea.
At the end, they talked about how scary this is, how scary, and how fragile life is. The guest archaeologist talked about how she liked logic, and how she liked knowing what causes create what effects. The archaeologist remarked that these creatures would have died with no understanding. These beasts, who had never seen the ocean, would have died with the taste of salt on their lips. The blood of these creatures would have boiled under a blood-red sky. That all was as it should have been before the light grew brighter.
Our grief is similar to those of the beasts millions of years ago.
A meteor has come crashing down into our lives. Regardless of where you were, if you saw it all happen, if you felt the earth tremble and saw the glass in the sky, or if you didn’t suspect a thing until the tidal wave swallowed you whole, we are on this earth together. We are together grieving the loss of an incredible yet flawed person who left us too soon.
But unlike the dinosaurs, we are here to live in the mystery. We are here to live in the chaos of grief. And though I do not have great words of comfort or a simple image of a happy Andrew to share, I have faith in the mystery.
Faith in the mystery of God. Faith in the mystery of community. Faith in the mystery of healing. And faith in the mystery that we must keep living through the aftermath on one side of mortality, while Andrew, on the other, is washed with the ever-flowing wave of God’s peace.