On Losing James: A Letter to My Son's Friends
I felt this need to connect and support the circle of friends immediately after James' funeral. Out of that, I wrote and, through Facebook personal messages, shared this letter to my son and his friends after the burial, which was punctuated by a light snowfall. I did it more in hopes of giving them each tools to deepen their friendship, but also to use this sad occasion to build themselves as individuals.
And I have realized, since I first shared it, that grief is an ongoing process of healing, and as a society—not only the mental health professionals—we have to continue to be there for those who are distressed emotionally and otherwise.
I always thought I could never handle having a daughter, as they are stereotypically considered dramatic. I am blessed with three boys who teach me all sorts of things every day. I especially have learned that it's not about the drama—which happens regardless—but about the love. Everything is. About how it's felt, shared, and created.
Dear friends of Yusuf,
Falling snow represents in many places a cleansing, a new life, and a chance for transformation. What a beautiful way to see James leave this world, both to remember him by and remind us of what we still have to left to do.
I've had the honor to get to know James through your eyes and memories, which make me wish I had met him even once. I've also only met some of you for a few minutes as you've blessed my home with your loving friendships and sharing. But it's said in some traditions that you get to know a person's true character when they're confronted with pain and difficulty. So getting to know you all during this sad time has truly inspired me.
Here's what you've moved me to think about, and what my brief conversations with James' mom about her feelings brought to my mind:
Be mirrors for each other. Each one of you is a loving person. I've heard such sweet things said to one another, such positive reinforcements that really represent true friendship. Keep finding good things to say to one another, and also be strong enough as friends to say when something is wrong, negative, or harmful in any way. This is positive peer pressure—help one another to do good by recognizing that goodness in action and speech is important and valued by all.
Be friends with your parents and other adults. I know it's hard because you think they only want to tell you what to do, but they've lived through much of what you're going through, even if you think it was long ago. Your experiences will still be your own; you'll find your own way. But sharing your life with them will connect you as friends who will be there for a lifetime. Being truthful and open with them will only make your relationship stronger and more sincere. Remember that we parents love you unconditionally—this means no matter what, and forever.
Help each other take a stand. With one another's strength, and your parents' support and love, make a commitment that no one will let him or herself harm their body, mind, or heart. That means commit to saying that things that hurt—cutting, drugs, lying, mean-full actions—will not be tolerated. Don't let excuses such as "it's not that much," or "just to feel good," or "helps me get through" by. You know these can have long-term effects, and also hurt in the short term even if you don't mind it. At the very least, remember it hurts for those who love you deeply to see you engage in any of these actions.
Remember that everything that matters comes from a place of love. Everything that hurts—like losing a dear friend—eventually helps you find love as well, in its own time. I pray for only the best moments of love for each of you in your lives. And that the tears you have or are bound to have in your lives, whether they come out or not, are ones that help you water your character and heart so you grow into your beautiful selves. I know each of you will bring such Love to this world because you are each such amazing persons.
With much love,
Afeefa Syeed is a cultural anthropologist working in international development and the mother of three boys. Afeefa can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.