Feb. 1 marked the 10th anniversary of an event that has had more impact on my life than any other. On Feb. 1 in 2003, when I was in the 10th grade at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, a group of kids from my grade were on a school ski trip near Rogers Pass in the Columbia Mountains. The group, consisting of 14 students and three adults, was caught in an avalanche, and seven of the 14 students died.
My school wasn’t very large — we only had about 80 students in the entire grade. Everyone knew everyone. In addition, my school went from Grades 1 to 12; I had been there since the fourth grade and had known and been friends with some of those who died.
When I first heard the news, I didn’t react. I just couldn’t process it. It took a little while for the reality of it to fully sink in, but I remember exactly when it did. I was just walking up the stairs of my house to my room, and at the top of the stairs it hit me. I collapsed, sobbing.
Everyone was affected. They might not have been close with all who died, but it was impossible to find someone at the school who was not close with some of the victims. Because of this, we supported each other, the school supported us, our families supported us and we could relate to and help each other. We knew our pain was not our own — that it was shared by everyone. The sense of community that was formed out of this tragedy never disappeared.
These were the first friends I had who lost their lives too soon, but they were not the last. What I have really become aware of is that losses such as these happen often. The scale of tragedy that struck my grade was rare, but many of us have had friends die. No matter the size, it is still a tragedy, but as we move into larger environments, the loss of a friend does not reverberate across a community of 18 000 the way it does in one of 80.
I will never forget the friends I have lost. I do not think that anyone who has lost a friend will forget. I tend not to discuss the friends I have lost with people who did not know them. I avoid stories from my youth that involve them because these memories have such an emotional aspect to them. But I don’t think I should.
We hear about losses, we see crosses beside roads, but most of the time we never know who they were or feel their absence affect our lives. In the same way, it can be difficult to talk about the losses you have felt with people who did not go through the same thing. It is isolating to keep your grief to yourself. We shouldn’t prevent ourselves from talking about our loss if we feel the need. Sharing who our friends were allows us to remember their lives instead of focusing on their deaths.
I have had too many friends die, and I couldn’t write this article without breaking into tears. But I want to say, if you have lost anyone and you feel alone, you are not. While I may not have shared your loss, or you mine, we have both shared the same experience, and in that way we can empathize with and support one another.