Thursday, August 22, 2013

Real Talk With Rachel: A House With a Hole

by Rachel Kurzius

Dear Rachel,

I live in a group house with four other twenty-somethings. We are generally on good terms but are not really friends. One of my roommates was on a trip to California when we learned that he had attempted suicide there. He tried to hang himself. He survived but he broke his neck. We were all shocked.

We all wrote letters to him to send to the hospital. Before we could send them out, he died. Now we’re debating whether we should still send them for his family, or if it would just cause them more pain. We also need to figure out what to do with all of his stuff. What should we do?

House Vacancy

Dear House Vacancy,

I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. Even if you weren’t close to your roommate, these reminders of our mortality can feel like punches to the gut. I hope you have a support system you can lean on during these (and all) times.

In these moments, concern arises about “the right thing to do.” I hate to break it to you, but there is no right thing to do. That would make things too easy. We all handle death differently, so what feels comforting to some people will be off-putting to others. Ultimately, what matters most is that you try to break through the awkwardness to explain to loved ones how the deceased person affected you.

Definitely send letters of condolence to the family of your roommate. Focus on what your roommate meant to you, the words of wisdom he imparted on you, a funny memory you have of him. If the letters intended for the roommate hit these kinds of notes, then send them along with the condolence letters for the family. But if they strike more of the “hold on, life is worth living” tone, then they might remind his family of the violence of his death rather than the vitality of his life.

In terms of how to deal with all of your roommates things, you should defer to what the family needs. Would they like to rummage through his things and see his room one last time? Or would they prefer to have his valuable things in boxes and never see the rest of it again? Presumably, there is a point of contact from the family who can discuss these preferences with your household. Make sure to keep things tidy in the meantime. Be patient if the family is unclear in their wishes or lashes out in seemingly strange ways.

As you process your feelings about this death, I wanted to share something called the “Ring Theory.” Explained in full here ( ), the Ring Theory says that you should comfort and give support to the people who are more affected by the trauma, and share your own frustrations or grievances with those who are less central. That way, you’ll be able to vent in a meaningful way without impeding the grieving process of others.

All my best,


Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel via or advice @

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