Oh the good ol’ days. Back in high school, I had a solid group of girls that I could go to for anything. However, I used to think I was “too cool for school” and only liked boys older than me. I would always neglect the boys in my grade, until I was stuck with them senior year (whoops!). But chasing after older boys came older friends helping me with that task, and they are the high school friendships that I hold dearest.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I met this incredible friend named Tres Perea. He happens to be the young man featured to the right of my photo and will go down as one of the most amazing souls that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I always hung out with Tres at the “junior” parties. He would even go out of his way to invite me to senior parties he attended and never left my side, even when I was clearly out-of-place. He never made me feel like an inconvenience and was always happy to show me off as one of his new friends. He was the most loved and electric human. Literally, his personality knocked anyone off their feet.
Tres and I became extremely close. I grew to know his whole family, his ideals and values, and his pet tortoise named Pee-Wee. It was a very sad good-bye when he left for college. Tres was insanely family based. Leaving home was extremely difficult for him. All in his freshmen year, he grew completely nostalgic, his grades started slipping, he was in a toxic relationship, and he got in trouble with his university, regarding a situation that was later found to be false. Eventually, pressures grew too heavy and Tres took his life on April 26th of 2014, right before spring finals.
I got a call when I was at home during my off-hour. His best friend in college was the one who broke the news to me. Tres was very well known in our high school. Word traveled to me and his other close friends, then to the rest of Tres’s graduated class, and lastly throughout my high school. That had to have been one of many things I wish were avoided.
Sympathy is defined in Google as feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. On the other hand you have empathy, which is defined as the ability to understand and share feelings of another. When a true misfortune happens, you do not want anyone’s pity. You’re in such a dark spot that any extra emphasis on the misfortune, surprise, makes it suck even more. What true “grievers” need is a companion to relate to and living proof that it’s going to be alright.
Here come the sympathsizers. People throughout my high school knew how close Tres and I were. I appreciate them going out of their way to at least try.. But phrases like, “He’s in a better place” or, “He had a great life” should be obvious no-no’s to say to a griever, do not ever think “silver lining” struggles makes them any better. I hated when people looked at me with eyes of pity, as if I was about to physically combust any second. That just makes me feel like my emotions are showing right through. How am I supposed to convince myself I’m fine, when clearly I look like an emotional wreck.
My feelings were built up to the brim because I didn’t have an efficient outlet. I can not express how out of left field Tres’s actions were- he was so happy. Tres’s teen suicide was one of two in our town. A lot of confusion and denial circulated between his close friends and I, all of them in college. No one within a 100 mile radius seemed to relate. No one seemed to truly emphasize. I literally was trapped in a Grandview High School pity party thrown for me.
I needed someone to talk to deeper than on a surface “how are you” level. One of my best friends confided in me that her cousin committed suicide three years ago, when she came over to get me out of the house. I was so surprised that someone so close to me could relate on such an uncomfortable issue. She was able to channel her feelings and understanding into me. It truly made me feel like someone finally got it. Mostly importantly, she stood in front of me all in one piece. Everything was going to eventually be alright. It truly made me feel less empty knowing that the frustration and confusion I felt was completely normal.
The golden difference between my best friend and everyone else was that she dug deeper; she did not just express her consdolences. I wasn’t asking to be fixed or for someone to magically bring my friend back. I wanted and had to be related to and empathized for in order to save me from the rut I was in. Sympathy only brought to my attention how deep the rut was. Struggle is struggle. It doesn’t have to be a competition on who has felt more pain. It doesn’t even have to be the same situation- pain is pain too. Just taking the effort to lower oneself to the mourner’s level and expressing that he/she is not alone is the first step to his/her recovery.