Opinion | Confronting my own mortality

Maura Kate Mitchelson, opinions editor

I can’t recall a time before this year when my own mortality has truly crossed my mind. I’m 19. From where I’m sitting, I feel invincible. But I’m starting to realize that’s not true.

On April 8, my little sister told me that two high school students died in my hometown in the past week. They didn’t attend my high school and I had never met either of them. I’d never even heard their names before my sister brought them up, but for some reason, I still felt a strong sense of loss.

They were both juniors in high school. They had years and years ahead of them; so much they could’ve done but will never be able to accomplish. Teenagers aren’t supposed to die. These boys were supposed to graduate, go to college, start a family and live long lives.

How can you grieve the loss of someone you never knew? I started to feel guilty about being upset. I’m not related to them. I wasn’t friends with them. My everyday life is the same as it was before I heard the news. The only thing I’ve ever known and will ever know about these boys is the story of their untimely deaths. I thought I didn’t have a right to mourn. How could I be so upset about something that doesn’t affect me directly?

I’ve driven countless times down the same road where one of the boys died in a car accident. I’ve sped through that turn. I’ve driven around with my friends, blasting music and forgotten to put my seat belt on, like the other boy. I’ve been in their shoes. I know what they were thinking at the time and I know it had nothing to do with dying.

I don’t have exact numbers, but it seems like for the past six years, there has been at least one death at a high school in my hometown each year. All of the deaths felt so sudden. I didn’t have a direct connection to any of the people who died, but I saw and heard about how their parents, siblings, friends, significant others and neighbors dealt with the aftermath. I signed cards and tried to show my support, but I never really learned how to react. So I tried to put it behind me and move on.

No one expects a young person to die. Last fall, one of my sorority sisters died from cancer. My friends and I knew she was sick, but it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t recover. I assumed I’d see her back on campus soon enough. After all, we were only a few months apart in age – and for me, death was just a distant concept.

At her memorial service, I cried, even though I had only met her a few times. I prayed, even though I don’t believe in God. I tried to wrap my mind around what happened, but I couldn’t. I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to.

I can’t identify why these lives were cut so short. I don’t believe that it’s part of a larger plan, but I wish I did. I hope that all of those affected one day feel whole again, even though something will always be missing.

Death is for people who have lived full lives. Death is for people who have had the chance to grow old. Death shouldn’t be for teenagers.

I’ve realized that mortality isn’t something you grow into. I’m not trying to sound like your mom, but be careful. It sounds cheesy, but life is a beautiful thing, and even though it may not seem like it, it can be taken from at us at any time.