Article Image
Sam Wilcox / Staff Illustrator

This past Wednesday, I was told that my friend Heather had passed away. My friend Julia, who flew home from a gap year in Brazil to see her, called to tell me the news mere minutes after sharing her last moments with Heather. Heather’s mother had called me the Sunday before to let me know that I should come down in the next few weeks to say goodbye. I immediately scheduled a flight for that Thursday.

I missed her by one day.

In the next few hours, I went to eat lunch at Ferris and shuffled on to class. I commented on the required readings and planned an upcoming essay in a daze. I participated out of pure reflex, nothing but muscle memory pushing me through the day. All I could think about while analyzing literature or conjugating verb forms was “This is stupid. Nothing I could be doing right now could possibly be stupider or less valuable than what I am doing right now. None of this matters. How did I get here?”

Miles away from home, I felt totally helpless. I knew, logically, that my friends from home were only a phone call away, but the physical distance was suffocating. My friends at school were supportive in every way they could be, but surrounded in my own little bubble of grief, I couldn’t help but feel alone. That, and the obligations of my life in New York seemed more apparent than ever.

She wanted the chance to go off to college more than anything. She loved learning, and writing, and experiencing new things. She would have wanted me to thrive, regardless of trying circumstances. She’d want me to commit acts of kindness in her memory.

Still, my tendencies toward self-destruction whispered, “Never go to class again! Watch BoJack Horseman and eat nothing but Frosted Flakes all day! Alienate yourself from everyone at school who loves you! Fuck it, drop out!”

Still, I’m not going to do any of that—well, I can’t make any promises about the Frosted Flakes. The idea of giving up and giving in to that sadness is so tempting, and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t the easier option. But instead of wallowing in the sadness of the circumstances, I am going to overcome it. I am going to try to take care of myself; I am going to believe in the kindness of others and see the world as a place of love and light. That’s how Heather saw the world. She no longer has the opportunity to actively change this world, but she changed me, and I’m still here—in a way, so is she.

I have three and a half years of college left. Three and a half years during which I possess more opportunities to make the most of my dreams and ideals than many will ever have, but I won’t have my friend by my side. Despite how much that breaks my heart, I know that life won’t stop on account of the fact that I feel like it should have, and I have no right to disengage from the life I am so lucky to have.

This piece is dedicated to Heather, because she is the only reason I have had the strength to write this piece in the days following her departure. To be in her presence was to know true calm, to know light, to know peace. Her energy and demeanor were comparable to that of a hundred-year-old tree: wise, quiet, and loving. She was an old soul; sometimes, it seemed that she had graced this Earth before. She was a wonder.

Rest in peace, my friend. The world is a better place having known you and will continue to be through everyone you touched. I promise.

Isabelle Robinson is a first-year at Barnard College. She can be reached at She wrote this piece in memory of her friend, Heather Quinn, who loved water and her friends—in that order. She was a poet, a traveler, and a romantic, and she will be deeply missed by all who knew her. The author is happy to share this small piece of her with you. Debbie Downer runs alternate Thursdays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact

mental health grief death distance
Related Stories