June 2

It was a good day. In many ways. I sit here at my computer thinking about what made it worthwhile, even though it wasn’t overly exciting or special. But it had all the necessary stuff of life for me: beautiful weather, a little work, good conversations and quality time with people I care about. I’m lucky.

Today I’m usually reminded of someone I loved long ago. He killed himself on June 2. We were both 25 at the time.  I still remember the phone call and how the sun shone through the window on the counter top where I was standing in my kitchen. I remember how I turned absently to look into the refrigerator and how, in my memory, there was nothing there. I remember how hard it was to breathe while trying to understand the message I was told. He overdosed on some pills he had found in his mom’s medicine cabinet. He didn’t want to keep living. And in the moment I hung up the phone, I knew everything was changed for me. In that split second, I was a different person. It’s strange how some moments are trans formative. How we can look back at a single point in time and say, yes, that’s when my life took a turn.  His death stripped me of my naivety. I had never lost anyone so suddenly before. Especially someone who chose to leave and never return. That moment was my epiphany.

It was only after his funeral that I was able to see a different side to the man I knew. His mother told me of his battles with depression and alcohol, facets of himself he had kept hidden from me. Apparently, he had tried to commit suicide at least once before, when in his teens. He had grown up with abuse. Everything she told me was opposite of the person I knew. A guy who was brilliantly intelligent, funny, laughed easily, well-liked. He was set to graduate from college with high honors. He had plans to live in Alaska. He loved animals. And he loved me. His mother told me that in the time frame he and I were closest was the happiest she had seen him. The most well-adjusted. She had hoped he had turned himself around. But he obviously hadn’t. And her comments only added to the guilt I already felt. I wondered how I didn’t know or hadn’t seen any signs. I agonized over what I missed because I hadn’t been paying enough attention. I recounted every time I could think of where he asked something of me and I didn’t respond right. Of when he may have needed me and I wasn’t there. I wondered how I could have saved him. I hated myself because I didn’t.

It took me many, many years to finally stop carrying his death around with me. I let it define me for too long. The grief, the guilt, the anger. I carried it with me like a treasure I was afraid to let go of.  It wasn’t until I had a long period of hard times myself that I finally understood the low point someone can get to where death seems a viable option. One particularly dark day of a very long year, I finally understood how hard it can be to stay hopeful when life seems so set against you. But thankfully, I never gave in to that despair. I knew I had things to live for. I forgave him that day. And it became easier to move on. I finally realized that setting aside the weight of his death didn’t mean I would be forgetting or not caring anymore. I needed to let him go for me. His death was tragic, of course, but it wasn’t my fault. It was his choice, and I’ll always think it was a terrible choice. He’s missed out on so much. And he had so much he could have contributed. The world really is a beautiful place. Especially on days like today when there’s sunshine and ice cream and laughter and love. I’m thankful.

 

 

April 16

You may recognize the first lines of “The Way of the World” by poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox: Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone. It’s true that it’s easy to have friends around you when things are going well; most people can handle the good days.

I’ve been blessed with a large, close family. Regardless of the moments we’ve gotten angry or frustrated with each other, when it comes right down to it, we are there for each other. And we’ve had times over the years when that’s been proven. Times when one or another of us has dropped everything and gone to be with the other. Not every family is that way. I’m lucky mine is.

But I’m also lucky to have friends I feel the same way about, especially since my family is so scattered. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had numerous people extend their condolences over the loss of my father. I’ve gotten cards from unexpected people. Hugs from colleagues. A plant delivered to my house. But what’s touched me most is that I’ve also had several close friends who checked in with me daily, sometimes several times a day. Grief manifests itself in strange ways. I’m not usually an outwardly emotional person. I don’t like to cry in public. I don’t like to draw attention to myself. I’m much more comfortable being the one other people can lean on. But I’ve found myself close to tears periodically with random triggers. A song, a card, a memory. While I feel like I’m doing ok, I know that the grieving process isn’t over. Death has a way of making you reflect not just on the life of the person lost, but on your own life. For me, it’s reminded me of the brevity of our days and reinforced my desire to live a meaningful life.  I’m sure this reflection is part of the process, but it also adds another emotional layer to an already stressful event. And I know that for other people, it’s not always easy to know what to say or do for someone during this time. Therefore, I’m so grateful to have people in my life who look beyond my I’m ok and check on me anyway. It means more to me than they probably realized.