How Theatre Helped Me Grieve

  • Christen Carter

In 2010, one of my closest friends passed away after an 18 month battle with cancer. She and I were both a sweet 12 years old. I was finishing 6th grade; she had been homeschooled for over a year. Her loss was a brick wall of emotions and realities that my 12-year-old mind was not equipped to handle. This time in my life could have been far more tumultuous than it was, thanks to one random day.

After being home sick with the flu for three days, my mother walked me into school with a signed doctor's note. One of my teachers stopped us in the hall and asked my mother if she had signed the permission slip for auditions. What auditions? Well, for the upcoming fairy tale play! We shrugged our shoulders, and my mom signed off on my appearing at auditions. One of the beauties of middle school theatre, everyone was given a role. I started attending rehearsals twice a week in February. In April, the news broke that our darling friend had lost her cancer battle. Our classmate, our friend, had passed away. The emotions of the 6th-grade hallway were palpable.

For a week, after-school activities were canceled. Funeral and memorial services were planned, counselors were visited, life was stagnant as we waded in an adolescent nightmare.

Finally, rehearsals resumed. I had cried myself to sleep for days - but as I walked into the dimly lit theatre, I heard laughter. We had a purpose; we had our roles; we had each other.

The community that theatre provided me as I was grieving provided me with a support system to keep me afloat. Few 12-year-olds are capable of processing loss in an efficient manner, but this little fairy tale gave me agency over my life that felt entirely out of control. Amidst the loss, theatre gave me a way to create. Creating a story, a character, memories, and a show was like building a new building in a ruined city. I could hold some joy in my hands while so much sadness slipped through my fingers.

Finally, it was an escape. Every corner of the school and every text on my phone was saturated with understanding, processing, and discussing the void left behind by my friend. As much as I wanted to run away, I was at least granted an escape. I could put on my costume and make people laugh. I could think of myself again when I was consumed by feelings that reached elsewhere.

Through theatre, I was given a map to navigate the overwhelming experience of childhood loss. I often wonder, almost ten years later, what route my grief would have taken if not for the positivity taught to me through theatre?