Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Saying Goodbye, My Open Letter to the World

This is going to be more than a little personal, but something I hope you can indulge me on for a few minutes.

I am writing this in Oregon, stealing away a few moments from my own grieving family after losing a young man over the weekend to suicide - my young cousin, Danny. Though he was only 19, he had been struggling with depression for some time, but most of his friends, and even his family, were unaware to what extent he was suffering. Many of us knew he had been diagnosed and was being treated for depression, but we clearly had no inclination how deep this ran. In the days before his death, Dan made honor role in college for the first time in his life, had completed another great piece of art and was spending time with friends. In my last conversation with him days before his death, he was excited - genuinely excited - at the prospects of his summer jobs and perhaps a bit of travel. I've heard again and again this week the same stories of happiness from Dan's closest friends. All seemed well, and then he was gone.

This isn't an obituary, but more of an open letter. People, if you're suffering from depression, if this disease has any sort of hold on you, please don't be ashamed to tell someone. When I was younger I thought long and hard about taking my own life, it was a miracle I didn't come to think of it. It took years, but eventually I told someone about this, and shortly thereafter I found myself in counseling for the first time in my life. I won't go on to claim I'm the most mentally fit person in the world, but I feel miles away from where I was.

If you need help, don't be ashamed to ask, there are a number of affordable services available to you. If you need medication, don't be embarrassed or angry, our bodies are more complicated than we'll ever fully understand.

Finally, if you have been through this yourself, losing a loved one to suicide, know that if you did everything you possibly could, if you were with someone every day... sometimes that isn't enough. Our family has been reading up on this a lot lately, the theories surrounding suicide are varied as can be. We really don't understand. I figure it's best for us, our family that is, if we don't dig so deep to find answers - there simply may not be one. Also, the more we ask, the more we probe internally, the more we think of things we might have said or done, things we might have been able to hear differently given the final outcome. Asking, probing our minds, is natural I suppose - I am still doing that today - but ultimately I know that the "what if" game doesn't have an ending, there simply aren't any answers.

On a more practical level, if we're here on this earth for any amount of time, we know that we'll come face-to-face with death at some point, and too often that includes an untimely death. There is nothing right to say to the grieving, nothing that will comfort or make any sense. That said, the comfort comes in your being there. We've had a lot of calls and visits this week and while each carried a new wave of sorrow, each also provided a level of comfort that may seem so minute it hardly seems worth it. Trust me though, it is worth it. If you don't have the words, don't have any idea how to behave (should I hug, shake hands, stand there) do not let that stop you.

Oh, tell those you love that you love them today. Tomorrow too.

Also, on that practical level, there are two items that seem appropriate to bring to the grieving: bottled water and Kleenex.

I appreciate the kind thoughts you have. I am disabling the comments on this post, I really don't want this to be more than an open letter, a baring of my soul to my beer drinking friends. Many of you have been such a big part of my life the past several years, and I count you among my friends. Really. Thank you.