Yesterday I learned of the death of one of my dearest friends, apparently at his own hand. I am bereft, and utterly at a loss to understand. More than anything I want it not to be true. If it has to be true, then I want an explanation that brings closure. Neither explanation nor closure is likely to come, and I am faced again with my belief that reality is fundamentally ambiguous and uncertain – and so I find the theme of this week’s posts begins in an unusual place. Not everyone will find this pleasant.
I know many people, and there are many toward whom I feel warmth and care; I know that many people care about me, and I am grateful to have all of them in my life. There are a smaller number with whom I can communicate intimately, sharing who I am and how I feel. Of course I have my family, who mean more to me than anything. But I have precious few people I consider friends, and I feel acutely the pain of having lost one of those few. My mind wants, demands, an explanation, and the manner of my friend’s death makes me want that explanation all the more. I know none is coming.
Losing my friend makes me remember the last time I was with him, about a month ago. We had breakfast at one of the usual dives – we always agreed these are the best places to have breakfast – and ate what we always ate, two orders exactly alike. Creatures of habit some would say; others might call us boring. I thought of it as familiar, and I think he would have said the same. Had I known this was to be the last time I would sit with him in person, I might have paid more attention to the textures and flavors; I wish now that I had. I’ll never again have over easy eggs, toast, buttered grits, bacon, coffee, and orange juice (our customary health-food fare) without thinking of him. Silly the things you remember, and the more precious for their silliness.
Had I known this was to be the last time I would sit with him, I might have complained less about whatever trivial thing was troubling me; I might have listened more. Might I have heard some clue that would have made a difference? I doubt it, but because I wasn’t paying attention as much as I might have, now I’ll never know. He told me about the joy of being able to see clearly again after having a cataract removed. He told me about a project on which he was working, and seemed pleased – he never really got excited – at the idea of collaborating on it. All odd things to be talking about a month before ending a life – I recall no clue of what was to come. Might I have heard such a clue had I been more in the present? I doubt it, but because I wasn’t paying attention as much as I might have, now I’ll never know.
I talked with him a few times in between. Mundane things, business transactions really, and promises to make sure we got a chance to go fishing soon. We spoke of entering a charity fly-fishing tournament together again this year. Did I miss something in those contacts? I doubt it, but now I’ll never know.
This isn’t about beating myself up. As tempting as that is, I know enough to know that there was nothing I could have done once his mind was made up. That’s who he was, and that’s how it always works. We don’t know why people make the choices they make, especially something as personal and as desperate as suicide. I know enough to know that my tendency to guilt is simply a way of explaining the inexplicable; as another friend said to me earlier today in our co-misery, guilt would be a better explanation than the helplessness we both feel.
In the end, I only know two things to do in the face of my sadness. One is to call to mind the first two of my 5 Wishes I wrote about last week: to be present, and to never miss a chance to spend time with those I love. The second is to tell this story, with the hope that you will remember in turn two other things:
Never miss a chance to show up. Quite literally, you will never know if the chance you miss will be the last. You cannot know it’s the last until the moment comes when you realize there will be no more chances.
Never take lightly the pain that another might be feeling. Depression – when all the jargon is boiled away, essentially the experience of profound sadness coupled with desperation and hopelessness – is something we hide, from others and from ourselves. If the pain is too great, the desperation too much, none of us know what we, or our loved ones, will do. More on depression, what it means, what might be done about it, and the importance of recognizing it, in another post this week.
For now, please find someone you love and tell them how much they mean to you. Now. Right now. Find some way to express compassion for the suffering of the world, or of a loved one, or of a complete stranger. Now. Right now.
Don’t miss any chance you have.
Les Kertay, The Moments Project