OPINION: Missing people you’ve never met is a valid experience

Drawing of a person grabbing a picture frame
(Selena Lopez • The Student Life)

Many years before I was born, my maternal grandmother passed away. While I never had the chance to meet her, I find myself longing for her. I always tried to brush off my feelings by saying that missing someone I have never met is certainly not as devastating as missing someone who had been physically present in my life. However, I have found that these feelings are more complex. 

While missing people who have been a major part of your daily life is truly sad and tragic, missing people you never met can also be extremely painful. When you lose a person you got to know very well, you can be comforted by the memories you shared. However, when you have never gotten the chance to meet a person, you are only left with a vague imagination of what they could have been like in your life. It is the lack of memories that makes the grieving process uniquely painful.

While it is widely accepted that grief can look different depending on how people express emotion, there is little discussion of what grief can look like with people you have never met. In my experience, grieving over someone I have never met is disorienting. It is hard to wrap your head around the idea that you can miss someone when you have no clue what their voice sounds like, what they really look like or what their sense of humor is.

Missing the unknown is what makes the grieving process so complex. On days where you miss that person, it can be hard to find something to comfort yourself with. Discussing their death with someone who actually knew them feels disrespectful and almost intrusive. It is easy to question if you have the right to feel sad when other people’s lives were physically changed when that person passed away.

We can long for people’s presence in our lives because of the amazing stories we hear about them. My mother would tell me about how my grandmother took low-income girls to school and paid their fees instead of hiring them for domestic work like others would do. Stories like these make me feel close to my grandmother and miss her more than anything.

Missing a celebrity who passed away is an experience most of us can relate to. For example, when Kobe Bryant tragically passed away, many people shared how he was a great inspiration and how much they will miss his presence. While most people who expressed sadness over Bryant’s death never knew him on a personal level, they still grieved him and miss him even today.

Do not let other people or your own thoughts convince you that missing people you have never met is an invalid experience. Do not be your own worst enemy. Allow yourself to feel sad without questioning if you have the right to do so.

If you can, try to listen to as many stories as you can about the person you miss. While you will never completely understand what they were like, stories can provide insight into their lives, which can make you feel more connected to them.

Because you never experienced the end of that person’s life, you may never be able to fully come to terms with the person’s death. Part of the unique grieving process is learning how to be okay without having closure. The person may always feel alive in your head and your imagined realities, and that is just part of life.

If you are really struggling to cope with someone’s death, it may be helpful to visit a grief counselor. Just because you never met the person you miss, it doesn’t mean you are not worthy of seeking help. We all deal with difficult experiences differently, and sometimes you may need someone to help you process your feelings.

Mishaal Ijaz SC ’24 is from San Diego, California. She enjoys spending time with her family.

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