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Love and loss

I had a long conversation yesterday with someone I haven't seen in a while. He came in town because a friend committed suicide. No one saw it coming, and he hadn't spoken to this friend in a while. The thing is, the last time I saw him was at another friend's funeral – someone he'd been really close to and had a falling out with, who was killed in a car accident a couple of years ago. My friend has attended more than his share of friends' funerals for someone in his early twenties. And the conversation we had on my porch came three weeks after I lost my father who slipped into a coma just a couple of days after being admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.

This isn't going to be a blog about how we should say all the things to people that we want to say in case we don't have the chance later. Worrying about not having time to say stuff isn't a very good reason to cough up a bunch of emotional sentiment that doesn't feel natural. What struck me yesterday was how important friendships really are. Lots of people will go to bed tonight after the funeral wondering if there was something they might have said to stop what happened. I don't think there is. In the conversations I've had with suicidal students through the years, I've learned that you can't tell them about all the things they've got going for them or how different things will look in a few months – because that's YOUR perspective, not theirs, and they can't see things from your point of view. All you can do is promise to be right there with them while they work through their crisis - but they're not likely to tell you how bad things are until it's too late. So you're left just hoping that you made it clear how much you cared for them.

I told my friend on the porch that what I remembered about him and his friend who died in the auto accident is how they always laughed when they were together, how one of them always had a crazy idea that the other thought was pure genius, how proud they were of each other's successes, and the way they pulled everyone around them into whatever rule-breaking stunt they were planning. They shared a love of music, a gift for storytelling, and a bond as brothers. I rarely saw one without the other. I never knew what caused the rift in their friendship that didn't get mended, but I'm pretty sure the friend who died knew that the love was still there. In spite of the stubbornness that kept both of them from reaching out to fix things, the months of silence didn't diminish the years of friendship they shared. I hope my friend can focus on the good times they had.

There are lots of things I might have told my father if I'd known I only had a few hours to say them. But the truth is, he knew. And I know the things he'd have told me if he could. I'm hoping that the friends who will be suffering this fresh loss we're now facing, a tragic and violent death made harder because it was exacted by the victim's own hand, will understand the same thing. Whatever pain is so great it causes someone to take his own life might temporarily overshadow his best days, but the terrible passion of that moment doesn't negate the years of companionship offered by his circle of friends. He knew you loved him. He just – for one tragic instant - couldn't find a way to love himself. He leaves you behind to stand as a testament to the good times. If he could, he'd ask you to be happy for the memories you'll have forever, and the friendship you were lucky to share.

Posted in May, 2010

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