Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Relationship with Death (part 4)

And so we arrive at it, the reason for all of these thoughts about death.

Several weeks ago as I was sitting down to write, well, I was just getting started for the morning, I "got a call" (it wasn't really a call, but that's a close enough equivalent). A friend of mine from high school, one of my best friends from high school, was dead. He had taken his own life (that's how I was told to say it). The call came from the actual scene of the event.

That's rough.

I was asked to deliver the news to our group of friends from back then because I still have minimal contact with most of them and because it's not the kind of thing that gets reported in a way where people are likely to find out.

That was more rough.

Some background might be good at this point.

(I'm changing his name in this post.)

Bob is someone I knew from church. I'm gonna guess I knew him from about 2nd grade on up. I know I knew him by 4th grade, though, because we were in Mrs. Stroud's Sunday school class together. And, then, a bunch of other stuff happened that has nothing to do with this, so we'll jump ahead to the end of my freshmen year of high school when I got involved in the youth group at my church.

There was going to be this thing, this big event, in Washington D.C. the summer between our freshmen and sophomore years, the summer of '85, called Youth Congress '85 (appropriate, no?), and we wanted to go. It was expensive, though, and neither of us had rich families. It was so expensive that everyone else in the youth group immediately discounted going at all. But Bob and I wanted to go, so we set about doing that. Our youth pastor found us another group to travel with, and Bob and I worked our butts off that summer to raise the money for the trip. Actually, we had about three weeks to do it. $2000 a piece. And find a chaperon that could go with us, because we wouldn't be allowed to go without one.

That was a major bonding experience. We did all sorts of things, and our church helped us to find jobs to do. Some of them were pretty good, but they also included grooming this old lady's yard for $5.00. The woman was ancient, and she said she'd pay well to have someone come mow her yard. No big, right? But we got there, and she kept having us do more and more stuff. Trim the hedges. Trim the sidewalks. I don't even remember what all we did, but it took us an entire morning to do it. Three hours. At the end of it, she gave us $5.00. Not $5.00 each, she gave us $5.00 and said that that was the most she'd ever paid for yard work and wasn't about to start paying more now. So, yeah, we did a lot of stuff like that to earn the money we needed, but we managed to pull it off (and find a chaperon) and went to the conference. It was great!

That's kind of what our high school church experience was like.

I worked in the gym at church doing recreation stuff. It was a job I ended up earning in part due to that trip. I worked in the after school programs and I worked in the summer programs and I worked all the time. I was at church a lot. Bob didn't live that far away and, especially during the summers, he'd come up and hang out in the rec office with me. A lot of the teenagers came up, but Bob was there the most. He'd play DJ while I worked; we sort of collaborated together on music a lot and were always on the leading edge of what was new in Christian music to the point of being told some of the Christian music we brought in wasn't Christian enough. Like, we could get away with White Heart (barely), but Petra was a battle for a while. A lot of the music we discovered had its roots in that conference we went to.

Worth mentioning: One day while he was getting the music stuff set up  in the office, he went to plug in the tape deck and got blasted across the office into the opposite wall. I was standing about three feet away from him; there was a blast of blue light and a tiny sound of thunder, and he just slammed into the opposite wall. Yeah, that's the kind of events we had together.
Yes, I do have stories about D.C.

We grew up. I went off to college, and he got a job. About the time I moved back to Shreveport, he joined the Air Force. By the time he was back, I'd moved to California. Eventually, we reconnected on Facebook. Of all of my friends from my teen years and, even, my college years, he was the one I stayed most in touch with. He bought a signed copy of The House on the Corner for his daughter. He said he loved it and that he especially loved it because it had so much of Shreveport in it, especially Barksdale AFB, where he worked.

Back when I was overly addicted to Facebook games, we talked a lot. He'd IM me to chat when he saw me online. We did some of the games together and stuff. Eventually, though, the FB games were being too much of a distraction to me, and I started cutting them out. The cutting kept going until I'd cut all of them out. The last time we talked, which was over a year ago, he IM'd me to see if I wanted to play some new game, a game which looked like something I would like but which I knew I didn't have time for, so I kind of hedged and told him I'd take a look at it but I didn't think I'd have any time to play. In fact, I knew I wouldn't have time to play, because I was taking a stance against anything that distracted me from writing, but I didn't have it in me to just say "no, I'm not gonna play that."

I hate, now, that that was the last conversation we had. I was busy. And I was. So much so that I hardly ever even logged onto FB. And, so, I missed that he was having some kind of health issues. Not that he posted a lot about it, but I didn't even know that there was an issue. I wasn't around for him to talk to. It had been over a year since we'd talked at all when I got the message that he was dead.

And here's the thing: I don't understand. I mean, you can kind of understand when a teenager commits suicide, because, in a certain sense, they don't know any better. They don't yet know that things will get better, that things won't always be bad, so, when a teenager takes his/her own life, it's not necessarily something that is the teenager's fault. It's why we have a juvenile system. They're not old enough, yet, to "get" it. But an adult... And, AND! an adult with kids, three of them, like me. I just don't understand.

How do you get to that place? Not just a place where things seem so bad that you don't think you can go on, but a place that's so bad that you're willing to be entirely selfish and not think about what it is you're going to do will do to your children. I do not understand.

But I'd really like to understand. I want to know what he was going through. I do know bits and pieces, but I've only found those things out after the fact. I didn't know them when I might have been able to do something, to step in. I want to know what it was in his life that he thought was so bad that he would leave his kids, kids he loved, and I know he did, because he bragged about them all the time. To me, he especially talked about how much his oldest daughter liked to read.

This is the kind of thing that both baffles and scares me. I knew him. I would never have thought he would have done anything like this. Never. So I want to know what it is that could have brought him to a place where he would take his own life. What could have been that bad? Because I can't imagine anything that would take me to that place other than actually losing my children. But he hadn't lost his, and, now, they have to figure out how to go on living knowing that their father left them behind.

And there's nothing I can say to them. I don't even know them, but, if I did, there would be nothing I could say to explain what happened or make it better.

All I have is this:
I know that life can get bad. It can be dark. It can be horrible. It can seem as if all the light in your world is gone, and, maybe, it is all gone, BUT! But it won't stay gone. Life is change. Things will get better again. Ride it out. Hold steady in the storm. Don't give in to despair and give up before you know the outcome. Get help. GET HELP! Don't keep the darkness locked inside.

I have other friends doing their own battles with darkness. Some of them only talked about what they were going through because of Bob. All I know is that I don't want to hear about more friends doing what Bob did. I don't want more friends ending their lives without me ever getting to see them again. Not that I know if I will ever see any of my old friends again, but I know I will never see Bob again, and that fills me with an abiding sadness.

So, if there are any of you out there that need someone to talk to, need someone to reach out a hand, need someone to help you shine light into the darkness, find someone. If you don't think there is anyone else, you can email me. I'll do my best to connect you with someone that can help if I can't. Just don't let it pull you down until you can't find your way back out. Just don't.


  1. I don't understand it either. And it is a selfish thing because it impacts those left behind on so many levels.
    Very sorry about your friend.

  2. I'm sorry to hear about your friend as well, and I don't understand suicide either. I've had my fair share of really tough times, probably not as tough as some, but still, the thought of ending my own life has never even been part of the equation. Our graduating class has had an unimaginable number of suicides, some as recent as a few months ago, and while none of them were close friends, I still find myself wondering what could have been so terrible to merit them doing that at this age. Leaving behind their wife, kids, family, etc.

  3. I have wondered if suicide was something that you can't understand unless the darkness happens to you. It has to be a form of insanity, because we have such a strong self-preservation instinct.
    I am sorry that this has now become a part of your life story. But I am glad I came across it this morning. I have a friend that I must connect with today. It was the first thing this made me think of.

  4. I am very sorry to hear about your friend. Maybe in time you could talk to his family or those close to him and they could maybe help answer the questions so you can find closure.

  5. Wow...what a place to be in and so close to the holidays. I send thoughts your way. Your post was very deep and brought much tears to my eyes. Depression is hard to understand- suicide even harder. Especially when you do not suffer from it. It is hard to find a way out from the pain of depression. No one wants to die...they just want to pain to end. Talking about suicide and depression is so important. It is important to let people who suffer from it know that there is help- a way out, a way to end the pain without ending life. There is hope.(The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a great organization that raises awareness and provides support.)

    I'm glad you shared this story with us. I'm am glad you talked about it. Thank you.

  6. I was a psychiatric nurse for a few years....
    my conclusion
    complex, terrible,and sometimes unfortunately unavoidable

    With my sympathies

  7. Alex: yeah... I just wish I could have known what was going on with him there at the end.

    ABftS: For me, I guess I can understand the despair, but what I can't understand is deciding that the impact on those left behind is worth the price.

    Donna: Well, I'm glad for that. I hope you make contact.

    G_G: I don't think talking to anyone is going to help in this case no matter what the full extent of what he was going through. Knowing him and how much he loved his kids, I will never understand how he made this leap.

    Rebecca: It's too bad we are so culturally disposed to ostracizing "negative" people. It's no wonder people hold their darkness on the inside until it overwhelms them.

    John: Well, I don't think it's unavoidable; I think people just think that it is.

  8. Hey, what a very very sad thing to have happened. I feel like you've written an important post, for anyone out there who is struggling to find their way out of the arkness. As I've shared before, I have a brother who committed suicide, it will be two years ago this Jan. 9...and even still as I write those words I find myself tearing up. I still cannot really believe that he's gone, or that he's gone because he chose to go.. People who are in the middle of that dark abyss aren't thinking of what it will do to their families...they just want the pain to stop. I can't speak for your friend, but in my brother's case, he struggled for years with alcoholism and depression and sometimes I used to hope and pray that he would finally hit his 'bottom' so he would be ready to receive help...unfortunatley for some individuals, their bottom is death. At least that's what they told me in grief counselling. All his life he could count on me to talk him through his troubles...a few hours before he died he called me and I, not being in the mood that day to hear him moan about his shit, didn't answer the phone.
    The thing is, we can never really know what's in someone else's mind...what their thoughts are...or even what their reality's true, you will never see your friend again, and I will never see my brother again...and millions of people the world over who have been directly affected by suicide will never see their loved one again..this needs to stop..thank you so much for encouraging people to get help, to reach out...and if anyone out there knows someone who is struggling to live...please, be that shoulder they need, their life may depend on it..if it's too much for you to handle, help them get professional help...thanks again Andrew, for this heartfelt and helpful post...and condolences to you.

  9. How horrible. I've had a friend from high school commit suicide in the past year and although we were never that close, it was still devastating. My heart goes out to everyone.

  10. Yeah, that's a tough story, but sometimes we just don't know what's going on with someone else. I think there are times when they don't even know and in one strange moment of thinking they just let it go. Suicide is a very self-centered act with no real meaning to it and kind of thoughtless toward how it will affect others.

    I had an uncle who was dying of cancer. His adult son and daughter went to visit him before he was gonna die. Instead of waiting for them he instead shot himself in the head in his living room. When his kids got there they found him like that. What a thing to do to your own kids. I know he was hurting, but I think he probably left them a a bigger hurt to carry with them the rest of their lives.

    Suicide is the result of a bad state of mind, but it's not the right decision to make.

    A Faraway View

  11. Eve: No, we can't know what's in other people's minds, which is both good and bad. It's so hard to just keep holding other people up all the time, too. At some point, people have to get over that and learn to walk on their own. But you just can't tell when they're ready for that.

    Rusty: It's one of those things that, even when you don't know the person, can have a huge impact.

    Lee: I just can't imagine that, especially knowing they were coming. At that point, it's hard to think that that was not deliberate.

  12. Oh man. This is important stuff to talk about and share.