Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest"

This is not going to be a funny or witty post. This post is about loss. This post is about my friend Fred who killed himself in May of 2006. He's been on my mind a lot today. He, and the circumstances of his death, are never far from my mind but everything came rushing back when I heard the rumor about Owen Wilson's alleged suicide attempt. All day I've been planning to write about Fred, but as I sat facing the empty screen I just couldn't bring myself to do it. And then, literally at that moment, Bruce Springsteen came on our satellite radio. Bruce was Fred's favorite. It seemed like a sign.

I met Fred in February of 2005. He was my boss. It wasn't a very auspicious beginning -- he made me cry in the first week of work. He pronounced himself "an arrogant New York Jew" and wondered if I would be able to handle him. We joked that although the small town I grew up in was pretty short on Jews, I HAD actually met a few before and that I assured him that I would be fine. We worked through our initial difficulties. I was pregnant so my crying was probably fueled by hormones. Eventually we became very good friends. He was a Yankees fan and I am a Red Sox fan so we had fun ragging each other as to who would win the American League East, and eventually the World Series, and decided that it was probably for the best that I would be on maternity leave during the playoffs. We worked well together. He was a perfectionist and so am I. We both had the same customer service ethic. We both had the same sense of humor. We would both often reference lines from "The Jerk" . When he was out of the office I would change his screensaver from Bruce to a still from Brokeback Mountain. He called me farkakte (Yiddish for crazy/messed up) at least once a week.

And Fred was a little OCD, by his own admission. He was VERY germ phobic. Yet, when Punkin had to be hospitalized at 5 months, outside of my immediate family, Fred was the only one to visit. I heard a knock on the door and there was Fred in latex gloves and a mask. And he wasn't joking.

I knew Fred had problems with depression. I even knew that they were pretty severe at times. In fact, I used to call his therapist for him and make/change his appointments. He relied pretty heavily on Clonapin due to his severe social anxiety. Most of the rest of the world knew Fred was eccentric, but few had any idea the depths of his depression. Even me.

The day that Fred killed himself he came into the office for a couple of hours. He and his wife were having problems. She was seeing someone else and was leaving and taking the kids (although their problems went much deeper than that, I later learned). Fred was so angry. I tried to offer him a judgement-free space where he could vent and rant. He asked me to call and reschedule his afternoon appointment. Before he left he asked me for a hug. He was so vulnerable. I think it was the mother in me. I just wanted to make everything better for him.

I find I still can't write about the finding out, the aftermath. Suicide is a terrible thing. It completely goes against human nature and all rational thought. I thought about Owen Wilson's family today. Assuming the rumors are true, I know how they must be feeling right now. There is confusion, desperation, guilt. You can't even comprehend something so terrible, or despair so deep that would drive someone to that point. Did you miss the signs? Did they try to tell you and you overlooked it? Or laugh them off? See, about two weeks before he killed himself, Fred said "I can't live like this." I thought he meant that something had to change. I said "What?" and he said "Suicide." I went into a rage. I told him that I would never forgive him if he killed himself. He kind of laughed it off and said "I'm not serious. You know I could never do it. I'm too big a wuss to actually go through with it." And I let him convince me. But what if I had taken him seriously? What if I had told someone? Would he still be alive?

That's one of the most horrible things about being a survivor of suicide -- that's the term for those of us left behind, survivor -- the what ifs. What if I had told someone? What if I had gone to his house that afternoon after several hours of unreturned phone calls? What if I had listened to him when he confessed his thoughts of suicide, instead of flying into a rage. I know these what ifs are a dead end path and the fast track to making myself crazy, but occasionally, only occasionally now, they still go through my mind.

The suicide of someone you know changes you forever in a way that normal death does not. I have tried to find something positive from this experience, from this grief. There has to be, right? That much pain can't be for nothing. I'm still not 100% sure I know what the good thing is, but I think it is that I need to have compassion. For everyone. You just NEVER KNOW what someone is going through in their private life. It's not easy to have compassion for everyone and I don't always succeed. But, for me, that is the quest I've been given. I can't let Fred's death be in vain. Something good must come from it.


Lauren said...

L I am so sorry! I never realized that you were so close to him...youre right-fretting over the "whatifs" is not the answer...but not letting him be forgotten is something you can do...hugs!

Mir said...

The good that comes from it, as you say, is that you are more compassionate as a result.

My guess is that you change things in people's lives for the better all the time, probably mostly without knowing it. It's only what feels to us like the colossal failures that really stick out. But here's the thing: You didn't fail him. It sounds like you gave him a LOT of support (and he appreciated it), and while this is an incredibly tragic situation, I don't think you could've changed the outcome. If anything, my guess is that your friendship enabled him to hold on for as long as he did.

I'm sorry, sweetie. It is hard to be left to reconcile tragedy. But don't you dare think for even a moment that you could've saved him. My guess is that he'd be horrified to know you worry that way.

Lulu said...

Yes, I second what Mir said.

It sounds like you were a great friend to Fred. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Laurel said...

This post is a beautiful tribute to your friend as well as a reminder of those we pass every day who are really struggling. I am inspired to try to live with more empathy and forgivness. Thank you.

Sophie said...

Compassion. I needed to be reminded of that. Even in my own family, I do not know all that is going on with another person. Perhaps in being compassionate, we have to acknowledge that there is a lot about another person we can never know.

Could you have stopped him? No; now, I am sure of that. I have some dubious credentials in that area, but I've come to the firm conclusion that you cannot stop another person from thinking or acting in a particular way. It's a form of letting go. And Mir is so right; he wouldn't want you to feel responsible.

You were indeed a good friend to him, and he was obviously grateful for that.

Words, words, just words -- am I making any sense? I'm trying to express my compassion for you in this situation. Hugs to you and a listening ear... S

Elisa said...

My brother took his life this past August. 2 years and 2 days after your friend. I thought it might be good for me to read your post, that it might give me insight into what I should do to learn to live with this terrible decision. But it doesn't. I know that this is not something you could have stopped, it's not something I could have stopped. What I don't know is how to go on.

I hope that by now, you have some to some kind of peace. I hope that some day, I am able to, as well. I don't know how that will ever happen.