Catching Up, Part 6

November 1, 2017

Another thing you missed while I was away: the death of a close friend from graduate school. By his own hand.

I actually hadn’t spoken to him in several years, because he withdrew from everyone when he dropped out of grad school due to his mental health issues. Despite the ongoing issues, he ended up having a really nice life (career, same steadfast wife, beautiful children)… until he left it.

But during grad school, he was a profoundly delightful friend to have. One of my top 5 most enjoyable people to be around, ever in my life. It’s hard to wrap my mind around someone being depressed enough to upend his life by dropping out of grad school, let alone to end his life, yet almost all day every day having the most dazzling smile, the sweetest twinkle in his eye.

Out of everyone in my life with whom I’ve lost touch over the years, which is a long list, even before his death he was the person about whom I’d most often thought, “I really miss him.”

I commiserated with our mutual friends via phone, email, text, even snail mail, but I didn’t make it to the funeral (in the city where we went to grad school, a thousand miles away). I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life, but I do regret not going. The logistics didn’t make sense, friends coming in from out of town that day, school field trip I was scheduled to chaperone the next day, blah blah, but I should have dropped everything and gone. I will go next time. I wish there wouldn’t be a next time, but I know there will, because welcome to getting older. I will go next time.

Instead of going to the funeral, I listened over and over and over and over to an album that he and I both loved when it came out, Hot Fuss by the Killers. It was still on my regular rotation (including heavy rotation during all of my hours alone in the pottery studio all those years) for the next five years, until my twins were born and I stopped listening to music. But out the album came again when he died, and I’d cry and cry, even to the fun dance songs.

What breaks my heart the most is that as a young child, he was bereaved in exactly the same way that he bereaved his children. That, and the subsequent shitty treatment by the replacement stepparent, were sources of pain always hiding right behind his smile. He talked to me many times about the evil stepparent (who was still making his life difficult, even though my friend was in his mid/late 20s when we were in grad school), but we never once talked about his late parent. That pain was too great, even more than 20 years later.

I know that his mental illness was a disease. And I know that the disease makes people not think straight, including about taking their own lives. I know these things, but I do not understand them. I have a fundamental belief about the world that if you love your children enough, you would absolutely never leave them. Obviously we don’t have control over every kind of disease, accident, natural disaster, etc., but in my heart I believe that to love your children fully means that you will not allow anything to make you take yourself away from them. That if you love them enough you would never abandon them to go live without them, and you would never abandon them to stop living. I get that my fundamental belief is not true for everyone, and I get that my dear friend’s pain was so great that he did what he did even knowing who he was leaving behind. I get it, but I don’t get it.

And to think that his young children, one at an age where he will remember both the joy and the grief but the other so young that he may never have any memories of my friend, may go through all of this pain, and then in 20 or 30 or 40 years could possibly choose leave their family behind just like their father and grandparent, it tears me up inside. Even now, with some time having passed, it just breaks my heart. It also breaks my heart to think of my friend’s surviving parent, losing a spouse this way and then decades later losing a child the exact same way.

And it breaks my heart to think of my dear friend as a little kid, bereaved in this exact way, and then for the rest of his life harboring a pain so great that he’d end up doing the exact same thing, despite being the most fun person in any room, despite being universally adored, despite having the best smile of anyone I’ve ever known.

I really miss him.

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3 Responses to “Catching Up, Part 6”

  1. a Says:

    Ah, that’s so terribly sad for all involved. I’m sorry for your loss. I hope there’s someone available for his children – to let them know that they can choose a different path.


  2. I’m so sorry for all who loved him. I don’t get it, either. I’m trying to understand the place where emotions completely blot out logic. But I can get there only with logic.

  3. loribeth61 Says:

    This is so sad. 😦


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