Written by Step Above Stigma's Vice President of Internal Sales, Karolina Bejmert.
I’ve struggled with my mental health for a long time. In high school it was the first time that I could really acknowledge that there is something not quite right up in the old noggin. I’m the type of person who likes to think in the future, focus on things that will make you happy and let us keep trucking. So over all I have my struggles, but it really was not at its worst. As university began, it started to get worse as for many people. It was not something out of the ordinary for me that I was in a new environment, away from my boyfriend and friends, and socializing was not my favourite thing ever.
As things started to get better and I got more confident with my friend group and Queen’s in general, January 4th, 2018 happened. My best friend Victoria Benner lost her battle with Cystic Fibrosis.
Victoria and I met in the 9th grade; we were locker neighbours who shared a love for black licorice. She truly knew everything about me, she was my rock in times of stress, and the absolute funniest person I have ever know. She was the light at the end of my depression tunnel, always supporting me support, advice, and a shoulder to cry on. Victoria’s life was dedicated to staying alive. Countless hours of therapies, medications up the wazoo, and more doctors visits then anyone could imagine. But still this girl never complained about anything (expect for not being able to have a dog already). She was my makeup artist when I struggled to get my eyeliner straight, and the best cheerleader anyone could have in their life (literally).
Victoria had been in the hospital for a while. My boyfriend and I had gone to visit her during our winter break. Driving from Barrie to Toronto was the longest drive possible. It felt like forever. When I finally got there, we just talked like nothing had changed. If I only knew that would have been the last time, I was going to see her. I had gotten a call on the 3rd from Victoria’s aunt telling me that she is not doing so well and if we wanted to send her something, they would read it to her for us. I did not want to believe that she was that bad, but I sent it anyway. I still have that on my phone to this day. On the 4th, I got a second call from Victoria’s aunt. I was sitting at the table with my mom and I heard her aunt say, “Victoria has passed away” and I could not breath. My body and mind were numb. My other friend Hannah and I were close to her, so we called each other and just sat on the phone crying.
From that day forward it’s been a battle. My depression really got to an all time low. I could not move or do anything. Some days, I would eat everything in sight and others I would eat nothing. Hannah and I continued to call every little bit checking in on each other. When it came time to go to the wake, I was even more of a mess. Seeing your best friend in a casket is something I don’t wish on my worst enemy, but she still looked so much better than me. I was a little jealous. Oddly enough I think that is the day my healing started. Seeing so many of our friends from school and remembering how wonderful she was really helped. The amount of tears I shed that day I could probably fill up a pool. But I started to crack jokes, at the wake, in front of her grieving family and friends. Not a great look for me, but for some reason I felt like I had too. I felt like that’s what she would have wanted me to do, make everyone feel a little bit better.
Over the past two years I have developed some tips for dealing with a loss I would like to share:
1) Grief is a hard thing to process, especially at a pretty young age. Some people my have lost a grandparent or an uncle or aunt. Some people may have lost your parent(s). No matter what I want everyone to remember that grieving is an individual experience. Do not compare your grief to anyone else’s ever! We all process differently and at our own pace.
2) When I first began to grieve, I would push the feelings away and keep myself busy, so I didn’t think about her at all. But I realized that is not beneficial for anyone. Eventually I would have a mental breakdown and it would be at the worst time knowing me. So, I started off by trying to think of good memories when I felt sad. Sure, I still felt sad that they were just memories now, but I felt a feeling of happiness knowing I had those experiences with her.
3) I started to carry her picture in the back of my phone, on my screen saver and in my wallet. She went everywhere with me. I wanted to get used to thinking about her everyday without crying uncontrollably. It also made me feel oddly close to her.
4) Slowly, but surely, I started to tell stories with her in them again. At first, mentioning her to people was hard I would shed a tear or two but just like thinking about her, it got better. Eventually the sadness in my thoughts went away and happy memories are all that is left.
5) Lastly, I know it sounds silly, but I talk to her all the time. It really does help calm my mind, get what I need off my chest and move on. I tell her how much I miss her, updates about my life, things that bother me. For a while I even texted her phone number till one day, I got a text back from someone that was not her. Now I write her letters. Getting the feelings out really helps.
Do not get me wrong I cry about her a lot. I can’t help it I am a cry baby, she knew that, I know that, its just fact. I will always give myself a couple minutes if I need to cry. When I do, I try and remember all those times I came running to her crying and how she would have comforted me. There’s one thing she always did that made everything better. She made this weird noise; it was a mix between and piggy squeal and a snort. She would do that right in my ear while she was hugging me, and no matter how upset you were you would have no choice but to laugh.
Victoria has done so much for me in my life. I am so thankful I was able to call her my best friend. She pushes me to work on my mental health just like she did when she was here. Victoria’s mother and sister have also found a special place in my heart. They make me feel like family and not so alone. I am forever grateful for them. Most importantly, she continues to give me a sense of purpose. I want to be more like her everyday in every way possible. If I could only be half the women, she was then I would be happy.
Grief is hard. It will never be easy. Remember to talk about it with people you trust. Do not bottle it up inside. No matter what, remember the person you lost, no matter how hard it is to think about them. Now go and give your family and friends a hug, tell them you love them, because you never know how short life is going to be. If you would like to learn more about Cystic Fibrosis or to donate check out Cystic Fibrosis Canada: https://www.cysticfibrosis.ca/.