I just finished reading John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars tonight. I will be honest and say that I was skeptical about the book when I first heard about it and after it became a movie. I originally thought what most adults might think — why do I want to read some teenage angst/tragedy book? What I’ve realized, though, after reading it to the end, is that it’s so much more than a teen tragedy or a “cancer book,” since as Hazel Grace, the protagonist says, “cancer books suck.” It’s a book that fairly accurately depicts young people who are so unlucky to be forced into a terminal illness, which also pushes them into a world of thinking about their own mortality far sooner than the rest of us do. When we are forced to grapple with our own mortality, we are also required to mature quicker, which makes us unlike the rest of our peers. We ask questions that others may never think to ask. We are also hurt by statements that other people wouldn’t think twice about. I was really moved by the depth of the writing and the development of these characters. They exhibit a maturity and understanding of the world at their age that only someone with a terminal illness would have.
When Augustus dies, Hazel reads through messages that friends and family write to him. She is very upset by one comment, where the friend writes something like, “Your memory lives on with us, dude.” Why would she be so offended by this? But then before she explained why, I already knew. Augustus had to die, but the assumption this friend has made is, you had to die, but I will live my life forever and ever in this world without you here. Don’t worry, though, you’ll be with me in spirit!” It takes a certain level of experience with death to be able to relate to this sentiment.
In the book, Green writes, “Grief does not change you. It reveals you.” It was a very emotive moment in the book. Grief reveals many parts of a person that may be unknown to others. It reveals strengths and weaknesses and areas of vulnerability that may have been hidden for a long time. I didn’t tear up when Augustus died. I teared up as I was reading Hazel’s reactions of anger and sorrow to those responding to Augustus’s death, to her anger around people who wanted to write for the sake of showing they were writing to him after his death, but who had never bothered seeing him in the months leading up to his death — not even once. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you, man,” one boy wrote. Hazel was pissed. And I was, too. Well, he’s dead now, so I guess you don’t have to worry about going to see him… or at least, saying you had the fake intention of seeing him!
As sad as it is, whenever I think about death and terminal illnesses, I always think about Ed. I think about how I prematurely lost him, how he prematurely lost to the world. The grief really never goes away. With cancer, you can say you died of a terminal illness. It’s “acceptable” in society’s eyes. If someone hears you died because you had a mental illness and committed suicide, it’s not acceptable and stigmatized. I’ll be long gone from this world when the day comes that suicide and mental illness are no longer denounced.