The Incomprehension of Sudden, Young Loss

The Psychology
4 min read

The Incomprehension of Sudden, Young Loss

The Incomprehension of Sudden, Young Loss
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Words by:

Matt Eissler

Illustration by:

Matt Eissler

Words by:

Matt Eissler


Matt Eissler


In 2013, I witnessed death for the first time.

I woke up like any other morning, next to my partner, whom we’ll refer to as Xavia. I went to use the bathroom and noticed it was locked and a light was lit inside.

Her sister, we’ll call her Hope, was staying with us and worked nights, so I figured it was her and decided to come back later.

I went back to bed and woke up two hours later, only to realize that the door was still locked and the light still on.

My concern grew as I knocked, asked for her, and realized she wasn't answering.

Eventually, I woke my partner, and we both worked to break open the door. When we did, we saw Hope lying face-down on the bathroom floor. Xavia called 911, while I checked for a pulse, only to find that her body was cold and pale, her lips a dull blue.

We both knew she was gone.

The ambulance arrived, as we still wanted to rush her to the hospital, holding on to a last sliver of hope that maybe she could still be revived.

From there, my memory takes me back in smaller moments, each memory a searing point in time that changed everything that happened after.

  • I remember her mother arriving, and holding her back. I didn't want her to see her youngest daughter like that, being carried out on a stretcher, looking the way she was.
  • I remember arriving at the hospital, meeting her mom’s boyfriend there. He was holding onto that same sliver of hope.
  • I remember looking at him when the nurse told us that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, she was gone.
  • I remember Xavia coming out of the bathroom, looking at her mother and knowing right then and there.
  • I remember her collapsing to her knees in disbelief that her little sister was gone. That despite all her efforts, she couldn't protect her. She couldn't save her this time.

Soon, her father and stepmother arrived, not knowing what had happened. We told them to come to the hospital, but did not want to tell them something so traumatic while they were en-route.

My memory takes me back, again, in beats - slowed down, and rushed all at the same time.
  • I remember hearing her stepmother's agonised screams from down the hall as they found out what had happened. I didn't see it, but I was told her father collapsed, feeling the same grief and guilt that Xavia did.
  • I remember driving them to the funeral home that day, everyone listening to the Flyleaf songs she loved the most, holding each other, trying to hold themselves together and cope with what was happening.

The Onset of Grief and it’s Friend, Guilt

The ensuing months were the hardest I’ve seen any person go through: the loss of appetite, late night discussions, the onslaught of tears, feelings of depression, of denial, of blame, of guilt.

Hope had overdosed on heroin in our bathroom early that morning, mere hours before I first awoke. She had been clean for months, fresh out of rehab, and was staying with us to help her get back on her feet.

All of us felt the guilt.

  • That we didn't protect her enough.
  • That we did not intervene enough.
  • That we didn't set aside enough time to make sure that what she was doing wouldn't lead her to a relapse.

Deep down, we all know she was her own woman and the choices she made were ultimately her own, but grief doesn't let us off the hook that easy.

The Remnants of a Sudden, Unexpected Loss

For many of us, losing a loved one is something we’re given time to process and prepare for. For things like old age or slow illnesses, there is a timeline. There is an expectation. There is mental preparation.

  • A diagnosis
  • Testing
  • Visits to the hospital where you joke with them about the terrible food, or the lack of tv channels, or perhaps using a bedpan for the first time.

Slowly, the truth of the situation makes itself known.

  • The withering away.
  • The holding their hand while they’re coping with pain.
  • The sleeping in the awkward hospital chairs because you can't leave their side.
  • The kissing of their forehead goodnight when visiting hours are over.

It isn’t easy. It isn’t supposed to be. All in all, though, you’re given time to at least accept the reality of the loss, to armor yourself psychologically, and have those memories as a farewell collection of sorts.

With Xavia and her family, there was no preparation.

What was last given to them was a text that she was driving to Philly, and that she’d be back by morning. It was a simple voice message you’d leave your sister giving her an update the evening prior.

Then 24 hours later, they cease to be. It’s something that you can’t wholly accept long term. Not right then. Not yet.

In the moment, you know what's happening.

  • You feel the tsunami of loss and grief in its most potent form, charging you wave after wave, almost blindingly so.
  • You feel otherworldly, like it's truly a nightmare you can't wake from, that this isn't your reality because you weren't even remotely ready for it. Surely it cannot be real.

But then, days pass. Next, weeks. Finally, months.

You realize she isn’t just on a vacation, or an extended trip, or even in a coma, or in hospice. You can’t still go see her face, hold her hand and just be next to her.

She’s really gone. Just like that, gone.

I don’t say any of this to glorify or fetishize such a situation. I say these things because I felt and witnessed them in real time for years.

Because it’s not as simple as saying goodbye before they close their eyes one last time, or take their last breath, or feel their heart give one last jolt.

Your goodbye and closure is ripped from you, your family, and your friends.

You’re left there to figure out how to mend this hole that you’ve never had before, that you were given no time to pad or cushion. A hole you didn’t even know to brace yourself for.

You’ll want to numb yourself, because the pain is immense. It’s a lot like a physical injury or wound, except that you know, even in those early days, that it won’t heal, it won’t ever go away.

It’s a lifelong scar, so carved into your very mind that it changes your very being. A scar that burns like the day you got it every time you:

  • Go into their old room
  • Pass their favorite diner
  • Hear their favorite song
  • Smell the scent they wore
  • Look at their old photographs

The Burning Scar Left in Loss’s Wake

I was there for all the flashbacks, the PTSD breakdowns from the most mundane seeming things that touched that scar, the one not quite yet healed.

Many folks are able to eventually come to terms with the reality of loss, though we never truly get over it.

That’s not my story. At least not yet. For some of us, we can’t come to terms because we loved her so deeply that we cannot bear the thought of her not being here.

How do you heal the deeper tissue damage of those scars when it hurts so bad to even touch the surface with the smallest of memories?

For me, I’ve tried so hard to to block it all out.

When I first heard about Eterneva last year, all of this came flooding back.

My initial interest with the company was financial, purely based on the position they were hiring for, as it was perfectly suited to my talents.

But then, I looked at the website, the company itself and what their true mission was.

I learned about Adelle and her wanting to do this to honor her close friend and mentor Tracey, about what they wanted to do for others, and how it isn’t about just growing a memorial diamond from the physical remains of someone.

  • It is about actually confronting the pain that we’ve buried.
  • It’s about tending to our scars despite our fears of the pain it may bring.
  • It’s about ultimately having something that represents life moving forward, and remembering that we, as humans, have the power to immortalize those we love by never letting their story fade.

We can immortalize them by having something that shines just like their eyes did.

  • Or, by having a ring that can catch your eye as you make your way back to their favorite diner to celebrate their birthday.
  • Or, by having a necklace that’s lying close to your heart when their favorite song comes on.

Eterneva is about the journey of confronting our pain, the hole we were left with from their loss, and slowly being able to share our memories, knowing that when that fire bursts across our body, when that pain surges back, we’re not alone.

  • We have folks who care about us, who hold our hands tight while we learn to open up again, and let the stitching begin.
  • We have folks who can teach us that we can move forward with our loved ones, that we can truly heal and find a way to keep their memory, their stories, their impacts on this world alive.

That evening when I wrote my cover letter for Eterneva and submitted my application, I kept thinking: “I wish I could’ve done this for Xavia, for her family, so that Hope isn't just in an urn buried in a cemetery thousands of miles away. So that she could be with them everyday in some small form.”

What it Really Means to Be Immortal

Many years have passed, and Xavia and I have gone our separate ways in life. She was fortunate enough to find a community that helped her heal as she needed.

So many of us, though, aren't that lucky. We haven’t found our means of healing and moving forward.

This is why I love this company so much, and why I take immense pride and joy in what I do.

  • I have the privilege of helping others heal and move forward, carrying on the stories of those they’ve held closest to them in life.
  • I get to hear about incredible folks who’ve accomplished amazing things - in business, music, art, in their communities.
  • Above all else, I get to hear about incredible people who loved and supported someone so much that that person can't bear the thought of the world forgetting them.

As humans, we are storytellers. Throughout our existence we’ve told tales of incredible individuals and creatures who’ve captivated us with their feats, and given us comfort and joy through their love and sacrifice.

I want to help those stories be told, those legacies be remembered, those folks be immortalized.

I want those who’ve been left without that closure to be able to have a brilliant, shining reminder of their loved one, that they can look at, be asked about, and that can spark a conversation of why they deserve to be remembered, and how loved they made them feel.

In closing, during my time here at Eterneva, I’ve learned first hand how much this journey and a memorial diamond can help folks through their roughest times. It brings to mind one of my favorite verses from a beloved Paramore song of mine:

“It’s just a spark, but it’s enough, to keep me going And when it’s dark out, and no one’s around, it keeps glowing”

Folks, let’s keep our loved ones glowing with us, forever.

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