Nithya, who attends our Nottingham meet up, has written this incredible piece about the loss of her friend Jessica. If you have a story to share with Let’s Talk About Loss, email us on hello@letstalkaboutloss.org to get in touch with us.

She died about four weeks after her 18th birthday. Beautiful, gentle, radiant Jessica. Gone.

I felt hollow, as though someone had physically removed some of my organs. I struggled even more when I moved away from home to start university. I couldn’t find the words to tell people about Jessica, let alone reach out at the times I was hurting the most.

There was also the fact that I was studying medicine, a decision I had made months before Jessica had died. Her death changed everything in a way I could not have prepared myself for. My grief was messy.

Haunted by her memory

I felt haunted by Jess. I couldn’t listen to professors talk about sarcoma and metastasis without thinking of the tumour in her leg. I couldn’t learn about chemotherapy drugs without wondering which ones were the ones that made her vomit, which ones made her the most tired, which ones she hated the most. I never asked her. I saw her in the faces of patients in hospital, even in the elderly patients.

The first time I was on a ward a doctor told me to listen (with a brand-new stethoscope I barely knew how to use) to the chest of a dying 75-year-old patient. Even with my untrained ear I could hear crackles accompanying each laboured breath she took in and out. Tears blurred my vision. Those crackles were an indication that her cancer had spread to her lungs and I wondered if this was what Jessica’s lungs had sounded like too.

Birthdays and the pain they bring

I vividly remember what should have been Jessica’s 19th birthday. I didn’t go to lectures, I didn’t eat, I didn’t talk to anyone all day. It’s strange how much weight a date can hold. On this day a small part of me wondered if I could ever practise medicine, when it felt like Jessica’s ghost was constantly by my side.

After all my exams from first year were done and dusted and I was back at home for the summer, I saw Jessica’s parents at a charity event they had organised. They asked me how medicine was going and I smiled and said fine, and her dad hugged me tight and said “Jess would be so proud of you”.

He went on to tell me how much of an impact Jessica’s doctors had on both Jess and the family. Even though they had not been able to offer a cure, they were kind and dedicated until the end. I’m not sure if her parents remember this conversation but it was a turning point for me. I had forgotten that Jess was one of my biggest cheerleaders when she was alive. I had forgotten that even when the drugs and surgeries fail, medicine is not futile. I had forgotten that love is a powerful force when life feels almost unbearable – and what is grief if not love with nowhere to go?

My friendly ghost Jessica

The 16th of May 2019 will mark 5 years since Jessica died. I still see her in patients on the wards, mostly in young patients with wide eyes and shaven heads. It still aches, it still hurts, but I don’t mind as much anymore. It pushes me to be kinder, braver, and better than I could ever imagine. As I write this, it is just a few days before my next set of exams and I am smiling imagining what she would text me: “Why are you so nervous? You know you’re going to do fine!”. Through the long hours in the library her memory is a reminder of why I am studying.

It is hard accepting that there is no finish line when it comes to grief. I think she will always haunt me, but that’s okay. She’s a friendly ghost.

Nithya Ezhilchelvan

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