Content warning: This story contains language that pertains to suicide.
I never expected I would live through a global pandemic in my lifetime, and I never expected to lose my best friend either, let alone at the same time. Two things that seemed nearly unimaginable to me happened just months ago, and they have completely altered my life perspective. Although quarantine isn’t permanent, her being gone is.
A week after we left school because of COVID-19, my friend Karina Berman died by suicide. I knew the battles she faced relating to substance abuse and mental illness, but I still never expected this. Because we weren’t on lockdown during her passing, my friends and I immediately felt the need to be together. We spent mornings, evenings and even full days together just sitting in the Whitman parking lot, going on drives and spending time in backyards. That’s how we coped for a while.
I remember the first few weeks after she died, every second that I was alone was nearly unbearable. I would wake up and experience the feeling of loss all over again. Being surrounded by my friends was the only thing that kept me from completely shutting down, and it still is. Because it was so difficult to meet up in groups, we would often be kicked out of parking lots and have to move other places, constantly in fear of cops making us leave. All we needed was a place to mourn and be together.
One night, we held a small memorial for her. We invited all of her close friends and people she knew that wanted a physical place to remember her. The plan was to convene at Whitman, but we ultimately moved our location to Cabin John Park.
The surreal thing is that we couldn’t just hug each other. Some people hugged, others didn’t. The thought of being scared we would be kicked out of a place for having a gathering was crazy. If everything were normal, we could gather in someone’s backyard or someone’s basement and share stories about her time with us.
The police eventually came and ended the memorial. I remember that when the cops told us to leave the park, I was outraged. How could they be so insensitive? Looking back, it made sense. We were in a gathering of more than 10 people in a park after hours. When Maryland went on lockdown, it really occurred to me that we needed to find a balance to cope with loss and stay healthy. This is a balance I still struggle with.
Something that I think about a lot is how different things will be after quarantine. Right now, there are many people I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m not going to school every day, seeing my friends or spending time with them on the weekends. It’s now normal for me to go a month without seeing people I used to see every day. When life resumes to normal, I know the loss of Karina will hurt in different ways, in ways I don’t know yet. Will this cycle of grief happen all over again when I realize I won’t ever see her in class again or when I won’t be able to drive her home from school?
I am now able to wake up, feel fine and spend time with myself without feeling sad. There are days when this is easier and days where it’s harder, but getting into a routine has really helped me. I have days where I am motivated to be productive. Those are the days where I get out of my head and get work done and exercise. I also have days where I wake up unmotivated, tired and wanting to watch TV all day. Those days are the hardest to keep my mind off of her.
Although routine has helped me, I’ve come to recognize that grief and sadness sneak up on you even when you feel like you are happy and having a good time. It’s sometimes something as small as hearing a song I used to play in the car with her or passing a place we used to hang out. Some days those small reminders of her being gone completely crash over me. Other days, I let them go and try to think of the good times.
A month ago, I wasn’t able to be alone. Right when I woke up, I needed to be surrounded by my friends or else my mind would go to dark places. Waking up was painful, and honestly, sometimes it still is. There’s still a lack of closure for me. I’m not even really sure that having 100% “closure” exists. I know that my friends and I will always wrestle with the fact Karina is no longer here. She has not yet had an official funeral and the memorial service only just recently occurred over Zoom, two things that normally take place quickly after someone passes away. A rabbi led the service beautifully with about 100 of her family and friends in attendance. Being virtually surrounded by Karina’s family and friends felt good. I always knew how many people loved her and cared for her, but hearing from people, especially cousins and close relatives, was heartwarming.
After losing a best friend during COVID-19, I’ve learned that people need people. Being alone is lonely, and not being able to spend as much time with the people you love is frustrating. The only moments of relief I’ve had during this time have been and continue to be when I see my friends, the people who knew her as well as I did. However, the pandemic has challenged and forced me and my peers to fight the sadness that comes with loss on our own. The moments alone that used to be impossible to sit through have turned from moments of extreme sadness to moments of reflection and celebration of the joyful moments of Karina’s life.