For most, February is a month of love. Even if you don’t have someone to spend your Valentine’s Day with, you still have plenty of excuses to get together with your friends for a Galentine’s event, or even waiting until the 15th to purchase discounted (allergen-free) candy for some nice self-love. But this February was very different for me.
On February 17th, I lost a friend that I met in college who graduated last May. We were both on the student leadership team for Catholic Campus Ministry, and last year we lived across the hall in the same dorm. He successfully got a job right out of college, continued to post memes in our group chat, and was doing exceptionally well in life. Tragically, he fell 190 feet off of a cliff while hiking, dying on impact. Our whole community on campus was shaken. I have been to several funerals before for older people who had lived full lives where we celebrated their innumerable achievements, grandchildren, and wonderful life adventures. But when someone dies suddenly at 22, it just hits differently. There were so many stories that we wished could be added to Joseph’s life but would never be there. At the service, the amount of young people in the congregation was heartbreaking. The church songs that I usually love to sing were just so hard to get out of my lungs as I choked back tears. The atmosphere was so much heavier than anything I have ever felt.
For the past two weeks, everything reminded me of him. It felt so wrong for him to have left so soon when he had so much left to give to the world. I’d think of him when I saw cornbread in the dining hall, heard a pun that he would enjoy, or even just when I opened my dorm room door to face the door that was once his. I thought of his little infographics he’d make with the current polling statistics for the presidential candidates each time someone talked about the democratic debates. I thought of all different kinds of memories throughout the following days, and would wake up stressed and panicked at 5am every morning for a week, unable to fall back asleep. Although I had only known him for 2 years in college, he was still such a wholesome and positive presence in my life that I was not ready to believe was gone.
We often don’t spend enough time treasuring the ones that we love, and we take it for granted that they will always be there for us. Having food allergies or other life-threatening conditions makes the concept of loss a part of daily thought looming over us from a young age. Feeling this grief for my friend has really molded my perspective. Yes, death is something that will happen to everyone, and some way sooner than those remaining would like. But this only means that we must treasure each moment with our friends even more each day. Life is so precious- too precious to live without spreading love to those you meet. Too precious to take risks for our safety through wanting to fit in and not reading labels before eating. As we head into the month of March, I challenge you to be loving to all the people in your life. Reach out to those you spend time with and let them know you appreciate them. Whether it’s a simple compliment, a gift, or a nice hug, any small piece of recognition is special. Life is special and it is important to cherish those who impact you in it.