As a not-so-former emo kid, I was pretty shocked when I realized we had almost made it to the end of September without me listening to Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” For those unfamiliar, it’s a devastating song about loss, inspired by the death of lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s father. Specifically, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” highlights the overwhelming feelings associated with grief and loneliness, begging to be woken up when the grieving process is over rather than living through it consciously.
While of course, I am likely too introspective – I wouldn’t have a column if I weren’t – the end of September and overall transitional feeling the fall season brings tangentially connects to a broader discussion regarding how we as a society deal with grief and loneliness.
Grief and loneliness fall into the category of difficult topics that we can joke about but do not ever truly discuss. For example, in general it is acceptable – especially among younger generations – to tweet about having no friends, or to laugh about spending our days binging Netflix, or even to crack quick one-liners about being sad. Even Spotify maintains public playlists called “sad girl starter pack” and “*brb crying*.” But when we’re done joking about it, there is a remaining stigma around admitting that you truly are lonely or grieving. Jokes regarding such difficult topics are fine, as they ease the discomfort of the audience without critically engaging with distressing feelings, but we brush anything more serious under the rug.
But because we are afraid to discuss anything that is a little awkward or unsettling, at the end of the day college can look like you in your dorm room, sitting on your twin XL bed feeling like everyone else is just a lot better at living than you. It seems like everyone has more friends than you, everyone has a more fulfilling job than you, everyone else is happier than you, and overall, everyone else is better than you. If the rough patch you may be going through is making your college life look a lot more like a monotonous routine without reward, rather than sunny afternoons on the quad and crazy party weekends, our lack of acknowledgement of loneliness and grief makes it feel like this is your own fault. We stuff these feelings down rather than discussing them, further exacerbating a pervasive problem – I’ve even put off writing this column for weeks because it is terrifying to truly admit to having bad days.
Our refusal to discuss the uncomfortable experiences that come with being a human being makes the vast world more isolating, particularly in the relatively unsupervised and confusing time that is college. If we continue to erase – or in actuality, refuse to build in the first place – the narrative surrounding grief and loneliness, the negative feelings and related difficulties of the grieving process will continue to overwhelm people.
I understand why we don’t want to talk about grief. It’s uncomfortable, and no one wants to talk about the uncomfortable. Even more so, no one wants to listen to other people talk about the uncomfortable, becoming even more uncomfortable when forced to stare down the uncomfortable feelings others are experiencing. But if you continually swallow feelings of pain, sooner or later you are going to choke.
Once again, I don’t have all the answers here. My personal experiences with grief have been mind-numbing. As most people unfortunately do, I understand the feeling of just wanting to be woken up when the entire grieving process is over, but it’s not a realistic solution to hope for. Grief isn’t something we move on from or get over, it’s something we have to learn to live with, and move forward with every day following. You don’t get to opt out of it.
That being said, the transformative grief processes we will likely all experience at one point or another do not have to bear the weight of isolation that they currently do. We’d all benefit from opening a dialogue. Things become more manageable when you have people to turn to.