By Jackson M
As I entered the church with my mother, I was first struck by how tangible the atmosphere of overwhelming sorrow was. A line of boys in suits and girls in dresses snaked between the pillars outside of the sanctuary. I had only been to one funeral before, for the death of an acquaintance's mother, but I still found the amount of kids there to be abnormally large. Of course, Andy was a friend of the entire high school. It made sense that his friends would all wish to be there to see him off. I continued to walk to the back of the line when I saw a group of my friends huddled together toward the front of the line. I tried to force a smile as I waved to them. I settled in the back of the line, watching women exit the sanctuary crying. My mother laid her hand on mine and told me to be sure to breathe. I have a habit of tensing up when I'm nervous or melancholy. The line moved forward, with each person stopping to sign the guestbook. I zoned out, trying to recall the sequence of events that had led up to Andy's death.
I first heard about his cancer in mid-February, on a bus ride back from our school's fine art trip to New York City. I was seated in between one of my best friends and my then-girlfriend, attempting to convince the bus that I really could match pitch with Frankie Valli in "Big Girls Don't Cry." As I let my abnormal falsetto ring out and approving laughter filled the bus, I felt my cell phone vibrate in my pocket. My happiness gave way to horror as the letters of the text message seemed to come off the screen and slap my face. It was from a friend who had not traveled on the trip, saying that our friend Andy had been rushed to the hospital for stomach pains that turned out to come from an aggressive stomach cancer. I didn't know what to say. I stayed silent and listened to the chatter around me. A few moments later, another girl on the bus screamed out what I already knew, informing the rest of the bus of Andy's plight.
After everybody found out Andy’s diagnosis, the entire school rallied around helping Andy in any way possible. The adults set up fundraisers and events. They encouraged us to write to him. I ended up writing a couple of letters for him and sent them off with those of other kids. At the time, I had no idea how dangerous cancer was. I was convinced that he would be alright and I would see him again. Fast forward to June. In a twisted coincidence, after seeing the movie Jersey Boys with my mother, we walked to the parking lot but my mother was sniffling. She stopped and turned to me, saying "Andy just died."
I clenched my jaw as I signed my name into the guest book, looking into the sanctuary of weeping people. To my left was Andy's family, standing over his casket. I could have gone up to say goodbye, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I don't usually cry over death, but I would have lost it if I went up there. Instead, I found my seat and sat amongst my friends and mother for the entirety of the funeral. I stayed seated and listened as various people regaled the crowd with humorous stories of Andy's life and talked about how he was in a better place now. I just wanted it all to be over. My hands were shaking and I felt hollow.
After having some time to think it over, however, I believe that I've come to terms with what’s happened. Even though mourning is a normal process, we should not let it consume us. Andy wouldn't want me to lock myself in my room and brood more often than I already do. He'd want me to be out enjoying life, and taking in all it has to offer. Even though I don't like people comforting me with the adage "He's in a better place now," at least I know that he's no longer suffering from cancer. I miss him so much and still feel sadness well up in me when I realize that he won't be with me next year. But the main thing that I've learned is that the best way to honor someone's memory is by soldiering on in your own life while learning from theirs. For anyone who has lost a friend close in age, remember what they would want you to do. We should always live life to the fullest, as the next breath is never guaranteed.