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Opinion: Missing people is complicated but necessary

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Opinion: Missing people is complicated but necessary

A group of friends gathered at my cousin's wedding, nearly a decade after their college graduation.

A group of friends gathered at my cousin's wedding, nearly a decade after their college graduation.

Ry Lei

A group of friends gathered at my cousin's wedding, nearly a decade after their college graduation.

Ry Lei

Ry Lei

A group of friends gathered at my cousin's wedding, nearly a decade after their college graduation.

Ry Lei, Social Media Director

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It’s hard to miss someone you can’t keep tabs on. Sure, we all deal with losses — friends or family lost to lifelong illnesses, old age — but there’s something different with losing touch with someone and being left with nothing.

No phone number, no Instagram feed to stalk, no Facebook photo album to turn to when you need to be reminded of who they were, what they looked like.

No evidence to point you to the conclusion that, yes, that person did exist or that that night really did happen.

Missing people is hard. It’s complicated. You wish for those tangible pieces of them now to let yourself move forward: a photo of them with family, or friends, or any indication that they’re doing alright.

Without those, there’s a lingering feeling of guilt for moving on without them.

There’s a window of time where, for some reason, you’ll feel different: it’s the moment right after a breakup, or a fight when you’re filled with melancholic anger that will guide your fingers to the delete button.

And then, it’s gone for good.

There’s a selfish belief that once those messages and photos are gone, they will be too, that if you press delete you’ll suddenly forget the way they talked, how they laughed, what their smile looked like. You’ll lose it one day — not all at once, but with time. You will, for a short while, feel yourself let go of that person and those memories, and it will feel, for lack of a better word, right.

Until you start to miss them — until you start to miss someone who isn’t really gone. You’ll carry them into new relationships, new jobs, new moments they will never know or understand.

It’s difficult navigating a digital world without an online presence; it’s hard remembering details of our lives with others because, well, we’ve been spoon-fed. Scrapbooks and photo albums may be snippets representing only a mere second in time, but they help us remember those moments, imperfect as they may be.

When your memory starts to fail, when you start to compartmentalize your memories and push them away, those photo albums are still there. Maybe a little rust-colored, or dusty, or behind a forgotten password or two, but they’re still there.

A blurry photo won’t hug you back, won’t bother stopping by to say hello, but it’s better than the feeling that you’re remembering someone, something, or even some time, alone.

Maybe it’s the “pics or it didn’t happen” comments from others — I’m guilty of saying it too — that make us think the way we do.

Maybe it’s being the designated photographer friend. Because, even though I have countless candids of my friends at group dinners or on school trips, there’s not much there to prove that I was there with them.

Or maybe I’m just a little too sentimental. I own shoe boxes filled with souvenirs, ticket stubs from parks and museums, postcards from every city I’ve been, letters from pen pals and friends in different states, you name it. But I know I’m not the only person who holds onto memories with loved ones — the only one holding onto memories that were never documented.

There’s something endearing about the blurry candids and the dramatic Snapchat story zooms on unsuspecting friends in the room; they make it easy to take people, memories for granted. They make missing people easier.

They make loving people easier. Because they give us access to who people are when they’re around the ones they love when they think nobody’s paying attention. Their curated Instagram feeds are a reflection of who they want to be — how they want others to see them.

But beyond that — beyond the filtered photos — there’s the awkwardly posed group photos and the photos that your friends insist they look terrible in. Those are the ones you’ll delete with the assumption that, if you need to, you can just get together and take another one.

With the assumption that we have more time with the people we love than we actually do. The cruel reality isn’t just that that time with them doesn’t always look like how we think it will, but that we can’t move on without missing people first. The truth is we’re always missing someone or something.

So we long for better days while we continue idolizing the past; busy missing those who have left instead of loving the ones who are there with us.

Having people exit your life isn’t an experience you can be prepared for. The best you can do is to live in the moment and take the silly photos. Keep them. Keep it all; the movie ticket stubs, the old gifts, handwritten notes, everything.

Let them teach you how to love letting go and moving forward.

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Opinion: Missing people is complicated but necessary