Death, Grief, and Community

A friend of mine died this week. And I'm really struggling with what to say about it.

It's not the first time I've experienced the death of a peer/someone my own age. And I didn't know him especially well; we worked together at the New York Film Festival, and I liked him a lot as a person, but it's not like I had known him from childhood. But his passing makes me very sad, and I don't know what to do with this grief.

There are two things I'm primarily thinking about. One is the impostor syndrome, and how I keep feeling like I don't deserve to feel this way about his passing, even though I intellectually know that's absolute bullshit. The other is how beautiful the community that comes together after a senseless death like this can be.

That first point, where I'm concerned about how worthy I am to be concerned, is pretty self-involved, I know. Not only am I entitled to my feelings, but I did know him, I was touched by his presence, and I feel his absence in my life. I know that there are other people who feel it much more strongly, and I'm doing my best to be there for them without overwhelming them with my own desire to help or intruding on their private spaces. But it's a sad thing that happened, and I am allowed to feel sad and share that sadness. And I am allowed to think about how that sadness and his absence affect me.

In the nerdiest possible way, my thoughts on that particular topic keep coming back to this scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation:

I intellectually get all of that. But I almost didn't go to the memorial service yesterday because I was worried that I didn't deserve to be there with people who knew him better and loved him more than I did. Ridiculous, of course. And I did go, and not only am I glad that I did, but I saw that the room was absolutely packed with people who had cared about him, and his family was comforted by how many people care.

There were so many people there. I already knew that he's a wonderful, kind, considerate person, but in the auditorium where the service was being held, not only was every chair filled, but all of the extra chairs that had been put out were also filled, and there were people lining the walkways so standing room was also filled. When people joke in that only-half-joking way about wanting to fake their own death to see how many people come to their funeral, this service was exactly what they want to happen. This community was huge.

I couldn't possibly speak for everyone there, but I know that I took comfort from how many of us were there feeling sad together. It absolutely sucked that we were there, but at least we all felt shitty together.

There isn't any kind of lesson to be learned from this. I don't believe that peoples' deaths and the things that we do after them are there to ~guide me on my path~ or anything. (Even I'm not that self-involved.) But this is my experience surrounding it, and I wanted to get it down in writing.

I want to end this by saying a little bit about him. His name is Noah Witke. He was 25. He was a liaison for the Film Society at Lincoln Center, and I knew him from his work with the theater team volunteers at the New York Film Festival. He was one of the friendliest staff members. Not to say that anyone who is a staff member for NYFF isn't friendly, but he's the kind of guy who, no matter how busy he was, would make time to stop by you as you're working, ask how you're doing, and really mean the question. He would remember people. He graduated from Julliard in drama, which is just ridiculously impressive. (For those of you who don't know, Julliard only accepts 18 people every year.) He was intensely curious about the world. When I was on shift at NYFF at the end of Yom Kippur, he's the staff member who was there as I left to go get food, and when I told him where I was going and why, he got super into the mini discussion we had about the holiday, and Judaism, and what it means for us before I ran off to actually eat. And then later that evening, he asked me what I had gotten, and got legitimately excited by the fact that I, too, was the kind of person who would get a pint of ice cream just because I could. He was caring, full of life and joy, and there are few people who deserved this less than him. People are sharing photos and stories of him here, and I think these stories capture who he was as a person better than a description ever could.

Anyway. I'm not sure what else to say. But I'm going to miss him. And this sucks.