Op-Ed: Grieving and gratitude as a post-grad

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 11:43pm

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Last Thursday night, I received a phone call from my college roommate. She broke the news that a friend of ours who had graduated from Michigan with us had died while on a business trip. At the ripe age of 27, Adam went to sleep and never woke up. Upon hearing this, I was in total shock. My entire body went numb. I was completely speechless. How could this possibly be true?

Only a month prior, I had seen Adam in Chicago. We hadn’t spoken much in the last few years, but shared close friends and kept in touch through social media. For some reason, I went out of my way to see him and catch up on this trip. I was there during the week, so I met him by his office for a quick coffee. Adam was just as upbeat, kind and delightful as I remembered him to be in college. He shared his hopes and optimism for the future. He was supportive of my own creative pursuits. He had immense energy, the sunniest disposition and the warmest heart. Now, I can’t help but replay that conversation in my head, over and over again. It’s as if our meeting was yesterday, and I can’t seem to erase his words and face from my mind.

After receiving the phone call, I reached out to other close friends, sharing the terrible news. All of us were stunned. How does this happen to someone so young? How does this happen to someone so great?

Later, three of us talked on the phone. No one knew what to say or how to feel. Most of us hadn’t spoken to Adam since college four and a half years ago. One friend said Adam, or “Alo,” as our friends called him in college, would want us to celebrate his life; he wouldn’t want us to be so heartbroken over his loss.

We began sharing stories and reliving funny and ridiculous college memories Alo was a part of. After all, we shared four years of frat parties, football pregames and some hookups with this person. Our cries mixed with laughter as we remembered the joyful, ambitious Adam we all knew and loved.

You see, Adam wasn’t your average guy. With some 6,000 people in the class of 2011 at the University of Michigan, Adam managed to stand out. He was involved in more extracurricular activities than most of us. He was an LSA representative, a campus tour guide and even a Move-In Maker. He was president of AEPi and started a tutoring program called Letters to Success, in which Greek life members tutored kids in Detroit. While all of our futures were unclear, one thing was certain: Adam was bound for a bright, successful adult life.

After college as an outsider looking in, it felt like he was the king of Chicago. I, like many of our peers, followed his post-grad life through his well-crafted Instagrams of cappuccinos at hip coffee shops and his well-written, thought-provoking and insightful posts on his blog, A Brewing Thought, as well as ones he shared on Medium and The Huffington Post.

When I awoke the next morning, the harsh reality that this special person was really gone set in. I told myself it must be a joke and then remembered that he’s really no longer here. My eyes swelled up, my lips went numb and I forced myself to hold back tears. Since hearing the news, time feels like it’s moving slower than a snail’s pace. Everything feels irrelevant. Work, dating, side projects. None of it really matters. Nothing seems to relieve this numbness I feel.

Though I didn’t fly to Chicago for Adam’s funeral, it doesn’t mean I won’t miss him. It doesn’t mean the pain of his passing doesn’t hurt like hell.

How do you grieve for someone who wasn’t a huge part of your life? How do you make sense of the loss?

Since hearing the news, our friends have been sharing pictures with Adam from over the years: pictures of him as an underclassman, wearing maize and blue; later ones of him and his friends traveling the world; recent images of him as a young professional in his adult life. Just a few weeks ago, he was snapped as a groomsman in one college friend’s wedding. In all of these photos, Adam has a huge grin on his face. He was truly a bright light.

People I haven’t heard from since college have reached out to ask what’s happened, to express their condolences and sadness over this terrible loss. In a way, Adam’s death has brought many of us who live halfway across the world from each other together again. He’s forced some of us who haven’t talked in years to take the time to get in touch. Oddly enough, I haven’t felt so connected to the Michigan community since I threw up my cap at the Big House and bid Ann Arbor farewell four years ago.

We’ve also been sharing his blog posts, like this one about the Boston Marathon Bombing. In it he said, “I suppose that the nature of tragedy is such that you hope that you’ll never truly become accustomed to shock, desensitized to the emotion of profound loss.” We are truly, deeply shocked to have lost such a profound person. In the coming months, I hope to help organize a memorial for Adam, an opportunity for us all to get together and relish in the fond memories of this wonderful person.

Life is incredibly precious and short. In the wake of Adam’s death, let us be reminded of a few important things: We must be grateful for those, like Adam, who have shaped our lives in big ways, no matter the size of the friendship. We should strive to be as kind, selfless and hardworking as Alo. We should cherish the Michigan community, despite different time zones, zip codes and geographical distances. And as his best friend, Sam, shared on Facebook, we must remember “…to always hold the ones you love a little closer than you think you need to.”

Thank you for touching our lives in so many ways, Adam. While you may no longer be here, we will never, ever forget you.

As he once wrote, “We need to carry on, through the darkness, without turning.”

Alo, thank you for reminding us to forever go blue

Sara Radin is a 2011 University alum.