Jon-Michael Young

"Grief: An Unwanted Community"
College Writing 1, Ms. Michelle Lorenzen

There are some words that you can define as much as you'd like but you will never truly understand what it means until you have experienced it first-hand. Grief is one of those words. It is defined as a deep sorrow especially when relating to someone’s death. I thought I knew what grief was because I had dealt with loss before in my life. Some distant relatives, family pets, a grandpa when I was still young, to name a few. But no definitions nor prior experiences could prepare me for what I dealt with this past summer. On July 30th, 2021, I lost one of my best friends to a cancerous brain tumor just 2 months before his 19th birthday.

Connor James Christian, that was his full name. Yet, whenever someone would call him Connor, it took time to register in my brain that they were referring to him. That's because to me and our circle of friends, he was Hooch. Connor had always been a quiet kid, it was almost like he was observing every little detail in the conversation or environment. When he talked, it was most likely something important. That's because Connor was incredibly smart and was in gifted classes since he was in 2nd grade. I had known Connor since we were both 11 when we were on the same baseball team and throughout the years, we had shared some of the same classes in school. And then there was Hooch. Hooch was like an alter ego that would come out when we would be online playing video games. He was loud, outspoken, crude, and hilarious. This was the kid that I grew to love like he was my own brother. Since freshman year, we would play video games for hours on end; sometimes even well into the morning to the point where we would finish playing just 3 hours before we had to go to school. It definitely wasn’t a healthy habit but I know for a fact none of us would have ever traded in those late nights for anything in the world.

I can remember the day I found out Hooch died in vivid detail. It was in the afternoon where I had just gotten back home from visiting my grandfather in the hospital. I was in the bathroom and could hear footsteps quickly approaching the bathroom door. When the door cracked open my mother’s face appeared. Her eyes welled up with tears as she asked, “Did you hear what happened to him.” I immediately assumed she was talking about my grandfather whose condition was worsening after he was hospitalized due to having multiple seizures. I simply muttered “no.”

It was then that she informed me that Hooch had died. She abruptly closed the door and I could tell that she had begun to sob as she walked away. I don’t know how long I sat in that bathroom. It could have been minutes. It could have been hours. I sat in that bathroom in pure shock. I didn’t cry nor did my eyes even get watery. I remember feeling guilty because I didn’t even feel sad. I was either feeling every emotion possible or none at all. I was like that for hours, feeling indifferent about everything.

It may sound dark but I was expecting this kind of news. Except I thought it would be about my grandfather. A 90-year old man who was lying on what was presumably his death bed. My family and I had said what we thought were our final goodbyes to him twice and to everyone it was a foregone conclusion that he would pass soon. Yet my grandfather is miraculously still alive as I write these very words. No, instead, it was my friend who was the same age as me. When Hooch originally told me about his tumor, I was without a doubt shocked but at no time did I ever think he would end up dying from it. The thought never crossed my mind. It was as if reality had been turned upside down, like it was all the end of a bad joke, or a dream where nothing made sense. A man who everyone thought was at the end of his life and a boy who everyone thought had so much more life to live. How could I ever wrap my head around this?

I called our friend Krystian and wanted to know how he was feeling. Maybe he’d be able to help me contextualize what was going on in my head. It turned out no one had told him yet. I simply said, “Listen, I’ve never had to give this news to anyone before so I’m just going to say it, Hooch went in for surgery on his tumor earlier today, but there were some complications‚Ķ he passed away.” Silence. For the next 10 or so minutes we stayed on the phone. I waited for a response but could only hear soft sobs on the other end until finally Krystian managed to let out “I’ll call you back later,” and he hung up. But still, I didn’t cry or feel any normal emotion one would associate with this situation. Even after giving this devastating, life changing news to a dear friend, who had actually displayed what I would consider appropriate emotions, I was indifferent. There was no way I could rationalize the way I was feeling. It was like I was in a state of limbo and no matter how much I thought about it, no matter how much I tried to cry and feel sad, I couldn't do it, I couldn’t accept it.

It wasn't until later that night, at a memorial for Hooch, where things finally began to seem real. 200-300 people had gathered to honor the life of Connor J. Christian at the Lockport baseball field. Once I stepped foot on the field that we used to play on I saw the scoreboard that read CC FOREVER, I saw all of the people who had come out, but most importantly I saw our group of friends. The same group of friends that would play video games together, the group of friends that would go on late night ice cream runs together, the group of friends that had just lost a brother together. I hugged every single one of them for what felt like an eternity, each time burying my head into their shoulders and crying so hard words couldn’t come out of my mouth. I cried when I saw the display they had put out at home plate, I cried when I saw old baseball friends I hadn’t talked to in years, I cried when I saw friends from school, I cried when I saw Hooch’s girlfriend, I cried when Hooch’s father gave a speech in front of everyone, I cried more than I ever have in my entire life. All of these different people and all of these different memories had joined in this one place, at this one time, for such a terrible reason. All because they had lost a friend, a teammate, a boyfriend, a son.

My friends and I stayed at the field for hours as the number of people slowly whittled down until it was just us and Hooch’s family. As midnight approached, we finally decided it was time for us all to go home. Although it was sad, I was happy that the memorial was put together. I felt like I had found some much needed closure where I was able to let all my emotions out and accept what happened. Boy, was I wrong.

That same night I had what I could only describe as an emotional breakdown. This was the moment I finally understood the meaning of grief. I remember staying in the shower for over an hour crying so hard that I began to gag. I remember crying so hard there were moments I forgot to breathe. I remember throwing myself at the wall wanting to punch straight through it. I remember at one point even laying in the fetal position as the water continuously fell on top of me. I remember so many tears flowing down my face that even the water from the shower couldn't wash them away fast enough. And all the while I kept repeating the same things over and over again in my head. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? This should have never happened. Things weren’t supposed to be this way. He was only 18. We should have had more time together. I should still be able to play video games with Hooch. I should still be able to talk to him. He should have been able to go to college. He should have been able to join the airforce. When we grew up we should have still been able to keep in touch. I should have been able to introduce my kids to Uncle Hooch and tell them about the wild stories we had. I should have been able to tell them to wave to every single plane in the sky because it might be Uncle Hooch flying in his jet. Why? Why can’t I do any of it anymore?

People say that when you lose someone, there's not a single day that passes that you don’t remember them. I can’t really speak to this because for me it isn’t true. There are some days that go by and I don’t think about Hooch. But I still think about him frequently; when I look over and see his picture up against my computer, when I’m playing video games with the boys and I think about how great it would be if he was playing with us, even when I’m just going about my day and a random memory of him pops into my head. And every time the realization sets in again that we won’t be able to make any more memories. My heart will drop, my eyes will begin to water, and my throat will begin to close. It’ll probably stay like this for a while. Honestly, I’m not sure if there will ever come a day where I look back at what happened and think about what could have been without getting choked up.

But there is some solace in all of it. Thinking about him staring down and watching over me gives me the strength to keep me going. I can imagine his dumb little smirk whenever I embarrass myself or his laugh whenever something funny happens. He’d probably be mad at me for getting all emotional and sappy about him and I’d probably tell him to shut up and let me cry a little. Things that brothers would do because that’s truly what he was to me.

This is grief. The denial. The isolation. The anger. The bargaining, The depression. And now, the acceptance. I can’t see him anymore. I can’t talk to him anymore. And it hurts. It hurts like nothing I’ve ever felt before. No matter how much I put my thoughts into words. No matter how much you hear other people talk about their loss. You can never understand what it is truly like until you experience it yourself. It is a community. A community of people who have experienced a loss that they can never get back. A loss that will change the way they think, feel, and live the rest of their lives. It will change the way you interact with people. I can never talk to my friends about Hooch without somber undertones after every memory. We don’t have to mention he’s gone nor do we have to mention how much we miss him. We all know. We know how each other feels. We know that some days are better than others and some days it's as if we live everything all over again. We know that more than anything we just want him back. This is my community. It is everlasting and will often get me through the tough times. But it is a constant reminder that I will never get to see my friend again. It is a community I wish I never had to become a part of.

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