Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend
A friend of mine died last week. Not just any friend; he was somebody I’ve known since I was 7 years old. It’s horrible enough when somebody close to you passes away, but it’s ten times, a million times worse when they end their own life.
And that’s what my friend did: He committed suicide. And I’m still having trouble processing that. Not a day goes by that I don’t think to myself that I just imagined the phone call telling me that he was gone. But I didn’t imagine it. It’s real.
There’s something very special, very magical, about childhood friendships. Being a kid means not having a care in the world, not having to worry about all the horrible things adults have to worry about, and having endless summer days (and maybe a snow day or two in the winter) to just play. At least that’s how childhood should be, in my opinion. And it’s exactly what my own childhood was like, something I’ll be eternally grateful for. It’s said that the friends you make when you’re young will remain friends for life, and that’s certainly the case with B. (I’ll just go ahead and refer to my friend as ‘B’ if that’s alright with you. Those of you who know me know who I’m talking about.)
We lived in the same prototypical suburban neighborhood. We met in 1977, the same time a little movie called ‘Star Wars’ was hitting the screens. We bonded over all things Star Wars, and a group of neighborhood kids grew up having the times of our lives, doing all the things kids did before smartphones, video games, and the internet took things over. Suffice it to say that the mid to late 70’s was a pretty awesome time to be a kid. My wife and I try very hard to give our kids the same kind of experience growing up that we had, and even with all of the technological distractions, I think we do a pretty good job.
Anyway, around this time, 1977, B and his Dad invited my Dad and me on a camping and canoe trip they had started a year or two earlier with some family and friends. A Father-Son getaway for a few days. This camping trip became an annual tradition, and kept going. The memories we had, the fun we shared, on these trips each summer would fill volumes. Trust me, there are stories.
Time went by, and my family eventually moved out of the neighborhood. In middle and high school, B and I slowly grew apart, joining new social groups and finding new interests. Not in a bad way; these things just happen. The friendship remained, and was rekindled every summer on the Father-Son camping trip. And, amazingly, the annual camping trip kept going. Year-in-and year-out. The years grew into decades. The Sons grew up, went our separate ways, started our own careers and families… but the camping trip remained. Eventually we had to add ‘Grandfather’ to the name as the original Sons started having sons of their own. In time, my own two beautiful boys joined the fun. Every year, we gathered in the woods of Northern Michigan and camp, canoe, eat ridiculously delicious food, drink large amounts of beer and wine, and enjoy each others’ company.
The fact that this Father-Son camping trip kept happening year in and year out was not lost on any of us. Does anything remain a constant in this go-go society we live in? Hardly. This annual camping trip had a life of its own, when it could have, and probably should have, just faded away. Yet here we were each summer, laughing and bonding, and the years just dropped away. The annual trek to the woods was a time to see old, old friends and reminisce about the good old times, all the while creating brand new times. It was, and still is, almost a magical thing. I don’t know how else to put it. Everything changes, we all change, but the Father-Son camping trip remains a constant. There’s not a better group of guys around, trust me.
But now… it’s changed. There’s no way it can’t. B has left us. One of the founding ‘Sons’ of the almost 40-year old Father-Son tradition is gone. One of the people I’ve known the longest in my life is gone, leaving behind children who will feel his loss their entire lives. There is a Father-Son camping trip planned for this year, of course there is, but it will be different.
He’d been having personal issues for several years. He struggled mightily with his demons. And for B, the demons won, and as somebody’s suicide often does, those of us who knew him can only ask why. How? How could things seemingly get so bad that he did what he did? How could he possibly do this? HOW???
Everyday life is a struggle. It’s hard. I get that. Trust me, I get that. Add in a little depression, and issues with dependency, and things can seem a whole lot worse. A whole lot worse. That’s where B was at. Rock bottom, at least as he saw things. I have days where nothing’s going right, where I’m depressed, wondering what the hell’s the point with any of this… It can get bad. Ask my wife. But never, NEVER, have I ever considered ending my life as a viable solution. That’s what’s so hard for me about B’s death. How low must he have felt? How could somebody so full of life throw it away? Even with his issues and problems (again, who doesn’t have their fair share of terrible things to deal with?) his life was good. It was good. Nobody with as many close, life-long friends and two beautiful children as B did can really call what they’ve got bad. But he must’ve thought he had run out of options. He checked out, leaving behind a family that’s grieving terribly, children that will have to deal with his choice for the rest of their lives, and a legion of friends like me left only to ask ‘why?’
I don’t have any answers. Only questions. And deep sadness. Losing my mother last fall, and now B, is so hard, and so sad. It makes getting anything done difficult. Keeping my thoughts concentrated is often a chore these days, which is why I’m writing this. I don’t know what else to do. I’m coping the best I can, which is all any of us can do when things seem bleak. Mourn for those who we’ve lost, and keep our loved ones close. Our families, our friends, are really all we have in this world. When things go south, they’re all we’ve got to fall back on. I know I do. I hope you do, too. Nothing in this life is easy, but none of us can get so discouraged that we feel like removing ourselves is the only solution. It’s a cold, cruel place, this world we live in, but it’s also miraculously beautiful. ‘Stop and smell the roses’ is a cliche’, but it’s true. We all need to slow down and appreciate what we DO have. Our friends. Our family. So smell those roses. Listen to the birds sing. Find the joys in your life, focus on them like a laser, and never let them go… friends we make as children…the thrill of the opening crawl of a Star Wars movie…the ice cold waters of a Michigan river on a flawless summer day… the off-color jokes and stories told around a roaring campfire…the joy of watching children grow from infants into amazing young adults in the blink of an eye… Bad times will come, and bad times will go. They WILL go. It might not be easy, it is almost never easy. But none of us should ever stop trying to work through the shit to get to what’s truly important. Please don’t ever give up.
So goodbye, B. Thanks for the good times, the lifetime of wonderful memories, and most importantly, thanks for being a friend. I’m sad that you’re gone. That’s all.
p.s. B always had every new Star Wars toy and action figure, way more than I ever did. I mean, he had it all. I was so jealous of his collection. Still am.