James and I met through friends when I was 15. I immediately felt what every teenager has felt at some point: head over heels in love, the crazy kind of puppy love that leaves you unable to think about anyone or anything else. Like most teenage romances, ours wasn’t without fault - we were young, passionate and argued a lot. We eventually broke up and I was heartbroken, but James had already promised to take me to my high school ball, so we went together and spent the entire night holding each other.
When Jesse hung up, I called my mum and, through tears, said: ‘James has died.’ She knew as well as I did that those three words would change my life forever. He was the first boy I'd ever taken home to meet my parents and she'd comforted me through my first heartbreak all those years before. I somehow drove the three and a half hours back to my home in Hawke’s Bay and went straight to James’ house. For the next three days, I sat beside the body of the first boy I’d ever loved.
A few months after James and I had broken up, he’d started dating my friend, Poppy. Despite still loving him, I was happy for them both. Looking back, I’m not sure where that maturity came from at 17, but I’m glad somehow it did because it meant I was able to stay close to both of them (Poppy and I are still friends now). James was just minutes away from his and Poppy’s house when he lost control of the car. In the early hours of the morning, after he failed to come home, Poppy was driving to James' parent's house when she saw his car wrapped around a tree, surrounded by emergency services and sirens. She had to be restrained at the scene to stop her from running to him - I can’t even imagine it.
For years, I felt a strange guilt whenever I spoke about James. I thought that because we were no longer together and because another woman went through far worse than I did that I had no right to grieve or to claim James as my own. It meant that a lot of the grief I felt, I went through alone, or in the safety of my mother’s arms.
When Miller died, Grande’s Instagram was filled with disgusting comments accusing her of being responsible for his death (it got so bad the singer had to turn her comments off). She posted a black and white portrait of Miller to Instagram, and a week later paid tribute to him writing: “I adored you from the day I met you when I was 19 and I always will… I’m so mad, I’m so sad, I don’t know what to do.”
On Friday, Grande released a new single, ‘Imagine’ - a love ballad which seems to be written about Miller (it references his song ‘Cinderella’ which was written about Grande). People quickly responded with accusations that Grande was ‘milking’ Miller’s death – suggesting that because she was no longer dating him when he died that she would somehow no longer feel anything towards the person who was once her best friend, who she slept beside for years, who she ran to when her Manchester concert was bombed and 22 of her young fans were killed. When these accusations first started, Grande responded by writing on Twitter, "I pray you never have to deal with anything like this ever." She later tweeted, "Some of the shit I read on here makes me sick to my stomach. It scares me the way some people think and I don’t like this world a lot of the time. If only we could be more compassionate and gentle with one another."
Grief is something you can’t understand until you’ve experienced it firsthand. It’s relentless and catches you when you least expect it: a song you have no connection to will suddenly make you break down when it comes on the radio, a smell can bring you to tears, you’ll be feeling happy and then seconds later will feel as though a knife has gone through your heart. But one element of grief no one really talks about is the confusion of it. With James, I felt guilt for grieving so heavily and for still loving someone so much when I felt I had no right to. And anger with him for being so stupid and drink driving, when calling a taxi or crashing the night would have saved his life. When my dad passed away three years ago, I felt guilt for not being the best daughter during my teenage years and anger for the way he’d acted in his last few months. These conflicting feelings – which Grande referenced when she wrote that she was “so mad” with Miller after his death – are hard enough to navigate without the entire world weighing in with an opinion on how you should – or shouldn’t – feel.
It’s been just three months since Miller died and everyone – or everyone on Instagram, at least - thinks Grande should have somehow moved on, forgotten about it, or realised she doesn’t have the right to speak about her loss. This is ridiculous - it’s been almost 10 years since James died and I still think of him all the time.
Grande is not milking Mac Miller’s death, she’s mourning it. Something anyone should be able to do when someone they love dies - famous or not famous, publicly or privately.