Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
February 25, 2024

Grieving in peace: coping with the loss of a loved one

By JORDAN BRITTON | November 2, 2017

Recently, I went to the Counseling Center to wait on a friend. I had been to the Center before but not for some time. While sitting in the waiting room, I noticed an assortment of pamphlets for a variety of support groups on campus. One that stuck out to me read “Living with Loss Support Group.”

As you could guess from the title, this support group focuses on providing “a safe space for students to share their feelings regarding their loss.” The pamphlet goes on to state, “Group topics will also include the grief process, fears related to loss, and coping strategies.” The necessity of such a support group is understandable, considering the ubiquity and inevitability of death.

According to the CDC, a total of 2,448,288 deaths occurred in the United States in 2003. Of those 2,448,288 deaths, 2,898 were children between the ages of five and nine. Of those 2,898 children between the ages of five and nine, 282 were young black females. Among those 282 little angels was Diamond.

On January 28, 2003, Diamond laid down for a midday nap in the home of her daycare provider, Ms. Judy. Prior to her nap, Diamond had garnered the resentment of her older brother for tattling on him and another girl. Those two had been fighting over a toy.

Her brother sat on the steps leading to the basement, fuming over his placement in time-out. Though he loved his sister, in that moment he felt nothing but contempt for her. His anger dissipated as he heard Ms. Judy frantically calling out to Diamond. Ms. Judy’s volume increased with each utterance of her name. Diamond did not respond; Diamond did not wake up.

Diamond’s brother abandoned his spot to see what was happening. He quickly found himself paralyzed as he watched Ms. Judy pick up the unresponsive girl and rush her out the front door.

Two things struck him as his sister passed by him motionless. The first was her irregular breathing. It was short, yet harsh and loud. The second was the fear etched across Ms. Judy’s face.

Being a child, he seldom witnessed an adult visibly displaying fear. It unnerved him, to say the least. Nothing was supposed to scare an adult.

Ms. Judy took Diamond across the street to a neighbor’s home. There, she waited on the ambulance while her adult daughter looked after the rest of the children.

That night, the brother and his youngest sister, who was three, did not go home. For reasons unknown to them, they spent the night at Ms. Judy’s.

It was dark outside by the time Ms. Judy returned from the hospital. The two remaining children sat eating mac and cheese and watching TV when she came in with tears streaming down her face. She walked over to the brother, bent down, looked him in the eyes and told him that Diamond would be okay. He wanted to believe her.

The brother and sister shared rooms with Ms. Judy’s son and daughter, respectively, that evening. Unfortunately, the events of that day made falling asleep nearly impossible.

The brother managed to get in a few hours of sleep but spent most of the night waiting for the sun to rise. At the break of dawn, he crept down the stairs to the living room. He paused in his tracks when he saw one of Ms. Judy’s friends sitting on the living room couch, a few feet from where Diamond had been lying the day before, and talking on the phone.

Instead of rushing back upstairs, the brother observed the woman through the banister. While eavesdropping, he heard her utter the words “the little girl didn’t make it.” The brother convinced himself that she was talking about some other girl.

A few hours later, the two siblings’ grandmother, their great aunt and a family friend came to pick them up in the children’s mother’s red Durango. The brother knew his grandmother had her own car, so it confused him to see her driving his mother’s.

Once in the vehicle, he forgot all about the peculiarity of the situation. He looked in the back-most row, carefully surveyed the vehicle and then asked, “Where’s Diamond?” Silence met his question.

Their grandmother drove them to her home in the city, 40 minutes away. The parents of the young children greeted them at the front and then took them upstairs to one of the bedrooms. Their mother sat them down on a futon and delivered the news. She told them that Diamond was in a better place and, curiously, that she wouldn’t feel pain anymore.

Thirteen years later, the brother, now 21, found himself sitting on the black leather centerpiece of his therapist’s office. He had been going to therapy regularly for four years up until that point.

During this session, he mentioned Diamond in passing, while discussing another issue. His therapist, Dr. S, stopped him and pointed out that he doesn’t talk much about her. Quite frankly, she rarely came up during their sessions.

The brother expressed that he moved on from that incident. He knew it affected him as a child, but he thought any effects it had on him at the current moment were negligible.

He admitted that it was not uncommon for him to think about his sister’s death and to even have an emotional reaction to those memories. Dr. S continued to push him on the topic.

As the brother talked, he found himself describing a multitude of ways that his sister’s death still affected him. It was almost as if he spent the last 13 years stuck in the moment he watched Ms. Judy rush out the door with his sister in her arms.

While many of the memories of that day may have faded, he never forgot the sound of her breathing. It was short and harsh. It was the sound someone makes when they’re clinging to life.

On January 28, 2003, my little sister Diamond died from a ruptured intracranial aneurysm. I was there and watched it happen. After that day, I joined the demographic of people living with loss.

My grief process was 13 years of denial and repression. My fears were the thoughts of death, mine and others, plaguing me daily. My coping mechanism was to take on the responsibility of living the life she’d never get to.

If you are living with loss, and you seek support or to support others, call the Counseling Center. Living with loss is tough, but you’re not alone.

Students may contact the Counseling Center at 410-516-8278 for support. If calling outside of normal business hours, you can reach the counselor on call through Security at 410-516-7777.

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