At the funeral this morning, i was doing a decent job of keeping my shit together. Until i saw the group of about five young men – wearing ill-fitting suits, or dark shirts and wrinkled ties with their nicest blue jeans.
They were standing in the back of the church, waiting to offer condolences to the family… and one of them was sobbing uncontrollably, as another held him tight, and rocked him gently. A third went for kleenex, as they comforted the weeping boy.
Processing the death of a 16 year-old is never easy. When the cause is suicide, that challenge is multiplied a thousand fold.
About eight years ago, i was on a business trip with JB when he got the call that his father had committed suicide. This week, the call came when he was in a meeting on Wednesday morning. This time? His oldest son.
Happened in the middle of the night. Discovered in the morning by the 13 year-old brother. Nothing could be done.
When hearing such news about a friend, first you recoil at the depth of pain and shock for the family. There is no way to conceive of such pain. Then you extrapolate, and the haunting thoughts creep in from the sides – trying to imagine the pain, you wonder what it would feel like to get such a phone call… and you shudder, and try to push the thoughts away, but you can’t.
JB has very few close friends, and since he’s relatively new to the group, not many people in our organization know him. He and i worked together closely for about 20 years, but have been on different projects for the last few. After his father’s death, he leaned on me as his work confidant as he navigated his grief gauntlet.
The three of us who do know him fairly well converged at work on Thursday morning to compare notes and strategize…
What do you say? What do you do? How can you help?
There are no words. There are no solutions. There are only hugs, tears, and thoughtful gestures.
The visitation was yesterday. Two hours of an endless stream of family and friends. People who had known the parents since high school stopped by to offer condolences. Work colleagues. Neighbors. Students who knew him. Students who didn’t, but wanted to comfort the family.
One young man, with his father, both wearing their best suits, approached JB toward the end of the afternoon. The young man spoke awkwardly to JB, stuttering slightly as he said “I went to pre-school with your son. Because I was different, people made fun of me. Your son was the first person to be nice to me.” As JB thanked him for coming, and shook his hand, the young man’s father leaned into me and said “Lucas has Tourette’s…”
Since most of JB’s work is on the road, many of the people he’s closest to are from out-of-town – and several came to town for the visitation yesterday. At the end of calling hours, there were four of us left when all of the family and friends had gone. i found myself in the back of the funeral home lounge with JB and two close colleagues who’d flown in for the day.
Asking about their return flight, JB said “I think we’ve got time for a drink. I’ve got some of that amazing hooch my cousin makes at the house. Want to hit the bar?”
And so the three of us sat at the bar JB built with his own hands, drinking apple moonshine. JB stood behind the bar and read the suicide note his son had left on his laptop. A highly intelligent and articulate young man, he was not confused about his decision. Acknowledging what felt like faulty wiring in his emotional circuits, he apologized to his family, and held them blameless.
So we drank a toast. JB said “God Bless KB.” Taking perhaps a bit of comfort in friends, apple moonshine, and the thought that his son was in a better place.
Today, as i left the church and saw those young men grieving and comforting each other over the death of their friend, i wanted to hug them tightly… and tell them that the sun will still rise tomorrow, that they will laugh and smile again, and they will never forget their friend but will go on with their lives.
But they were doing a pretty good job looking out for each other. Sucks that they have to learn to do it so soon.