This morning I attended the funeral of my friend and colleague.
The meager obituary that appeared online didn't capture that my friend was born in Africa and possessed a very quiet and kind demeanor, and absolute love of the outdoors and sports. The first time I ever spoke to him, was the day after I ran / hobbled through my first marathon in 2009. I was living in California and he was living in Virginia and during the course of our call, I told him that I'd just completed a marathon the day prior. Truth be told, I was partially expecting that he'd be amazed at my athleticism because how many people do we know in our every day life that run marathons?!
Instead, he asked how it went? When I told him I didn't think I'd ever be able to walk again, he told me that the best cure for the stiffness from a marathon, is to go out and take a run. While he was extremely humble and did not boast about his own accomplishments, I would later learn from others, he had not only run marathons, but also ultra-marathons ... those races that are greater than a traditional marathon distance and often encroach on 50 or more miles. I listened to what he had to say about recovery, but in recognizing that I was not in the same league as my colleague, decided my cure was to take Tylenol, sit in the hot tub, and vow never to run a marathon again.
The obituary in the paper also didn't mention that my friend leaves behind three beautiful children aged 2, 4 and 8. When we met on a business trip in California, he relayed the recent story about rescuing his (at the time) one and only child from Maryland. Since he was a successful attorney, it shocked me that the nanny he had carefully screened, prior to hiring, had the gall to take his infant daughter across state lines and embark on a shoplifting spree. When security stopped her in the mall, she had a baby carriage stuffed full of stolen items that were carefully tucked in the lower basket and around the sleeping child. After she was taken in to custody, he got the call that his baby was at the police station. Once I'd heard the story, I immediately phoned my husband and said, "Remember that nanny we were talking about hiring for the children? FORGET IT."
Today, I'm heartbroken that he's gone. I'm heartbroken that my friend, who shared my sense of claustrophobia and would always park outside beneath the lovely trees at our office, instead of in the bowels of the parking garage beneath the building, will never walk in to the office with me, again. I'm heartbroken for his mother and father, and siblings, and sweet children who undoubtedly feel his loss most profoundly of all. I'm heartbroken that circumstances in his young life were so grave, that he felt like there were no other options - than to leave it. I'm heartbroken that the people in his life didn't recognize the signs of his desperation.
Today, I'm angry at his choice to leave this world and his children without a father, and his parents without a son. I'm angry at the circumstances and relationships, that I can't even pretend to comprehend, that led to this decision. I'm angry at myself that I'm judging people that I don't even know and even if I did, I have no right to judge.
Today, I'm confused because there's a lot that isn't being talked about regarding how my 38-year old colleague died. There's a stigma that comes with it, that people don't want to openly discuss because it seems so incomprehensible. But on the heels of the seventh suicide that has occurred in the past two years at our local high school, I think it's critical to talk about it.
Today, I recognize it's critical to be extremely cognizant of our actions and words, and be kinder than necessary to those around us, because everyone is fighting their own battle. Charlie recently shared this video with me and it struck me how so many of us are waging internal battles, that are simply not visible to the naked eye. Especially the naked eye that's always in a frenzied rush (i.e., most of us).
We really need to be kinder to ourselves, too. How easy and acceptable it is in our culture to push ourselves so hard, as we try to live up to standards that aren't feasible or sustainable in any kind of physically or emotionally healthful way. I've come to believe that it's just a matter of circumstances. We might fiercely claim that we'd never do something to harm ourselves. But if the circumstances of our lives were perhaps slightly different, we might be faced with a sense of hopelessness and despair that we consider simply unlivable, especially when fueled by depression. So instead of taking a different path on the hike of life, we decide that we don't want to hike anymore.
In the past twenty years, suicide rates have climbed almost 30% and have surpassed car accidents as the #1 cause of death. This is the second person from my life that has been lost to this epidemic and I wonder if either of these people realized just how much they are loved, and how sorely they will be missed? Today at my friend's funeral service, it was standing room only. Several of his family members from South Africa were in attendance, and I so hope that they were able to grasp how many of us were impacted by the gift of his gentle existence, and are now devastated by his loss.
There's that one scene in the movie, "It's A Wonderful Life" where angel-to-be Clarence Odbody, after showing George Bailey what the world would be like without him says, "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"
The obituary didn't mention that there are so many holes left by my friend's passing.
And as I sit here on this perpetually rainy Saturday, it feels as if the skies are weeping, too.