Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Have you ever noticed how many people die after the holidays?  Maybe it's just my imagination, but in my world, my little corner, there's been a lot of death recently.  Earlier this week we laid to rest my mom's sister - her only sibling.  Although not unexpected, especially considering that Helen had spent the past 3 years in a nursing home, loss is still hard.   Having time to prepare, time to accept and time to say goodbye somewhat eases the journey, but still, losing a loved one is difficult.  While we are feeling a loss, we have some relief knowing that at least for Helen, her illnesses, her difficulties are over and she is at peace, reunited with her husband.   Sometimes, often times, death does not come with warning and is not expected.  Sometimes it takes someone we view as too young to die. Sometimes it leaves us with questions, questions that don't always have answers, questions sometimes too difficult to ask.

Today John and I attended the funeral of an old friend, a neighbor and schoolmate, someone our own age.  There's something about those deaths that really hit home, force us to face our own mortality. Although I hadn't seen this particular friend in probably 40 years, I remain connected to him through his brother, so that 40 years seems insignificant in relation to my memories of him as well as my fondness of him.  Some people have the kind of personality that is so alive, so vibrant, so doesn't matter when you last saw them, it always feels like yesterday.   That's the case with this friend.  I know that had I run into him on the street, it would have felt like no time had passed since we last spoke.  That's just the kind of person he was.  Because of that, when I got the call with the news of his death, those 40 years seemed irrelevant, it did nothing to lessen the shock or the sadness I felt.  Some people are just like that.

As much as I hate wakes, (who doesn't?) I knew I had to go, I needed to go.  I knew I needed to be there to give our condolences, a hug, a word...........yet I knew that there are no words to say at a time like this, no words to lessen the pain.  I also knew that once there I'd find solace in the faces of old friends, friends who had also lost their friend, classmate, neighbor.  And I was right, I was reunited with some very dear friends, friends who've moved away, moved on in life.   Isn't it funny how in our darkest hours of death, we are provided comfort in our sorrow by a roomful of people who we'd never have seen had it not been for this gathering.  It reminds us that all of us have times where we feel lonely or like our world is small, yet moments like these bring together a roomful of people who reach out to us in our hour of need, caring enough to share in our pain.   Together we stood, laughing, remembering, reminiscing......for a moment trying to ignore the reason we were all in the same place.

As you would expect, this vibrant personality had many, many friends.  The rooms were overflowing with friends and family coming to pay their last respects.  In addition to my friend's siblings and mother, his death left eight children without a dad, his grandchildren without a grandfather.  The service was held at the funeral home and was one of the most beautiful funerals I've ever attended. Stories were told about him by his firstborn son, and his mom.....stories that painted a bright and vivid picture of a life well lived and a man well loved.  It seems my friend loved everyone and everyone who met him loved him.  He had a huge heart, always helping others, often people he'd just met.  Once he even saved someone from drowning!  He had a love of life and a passion for his hobbies.  His son told us that whatever his dad took a liking to, he dove in head first learning everything he could about it and enjoying that hobby to its fullest.  His son also admitted that their relationship hadn't always been a perfect one, but that his Dad was always there - to listen and advise and that his Dad had great advice, based on his own life and his own mistakes.  In fact, just a week before his death, they'd had a great conversation and his Dad, like always, was there to help his son in need.  His son told of a man who was rich in friends, loved by many and followed his own star.  And that he did, he was always like that, a free spirit, chasing after whatever moved him.  But, his life wasn't perfect; no one's is.  He had some health issues, some serious but he had overcome some pretty big obstacles and trudged on.  You would think a man with a life so full, with so many who loved him would have been on top of the world.  But it seems that may not have been so because my friend took his own life......once again living and dying on his own terms.

I will never understand how this happens.  How does someone who is so loved, so cared for, choose to end a life?   It tells me that life is so complicated.  We never really know what is going on inside someone's head.  We think we know, we judge from the package they present of what their reality is, but we just never know.  Obviously inside of this loving, caring, smiling individual was a tormented human being.  No matter how much he was loved, that love could not save him.  What do you say when someone tells you their loved one committed suicide?  There are no words.  There are no answers, only questions, many many questions.  Questions that will never be answered.   One thing I know is that there is nothing anyone could  have done to change it.  Yet, I imagine that will be the one question asked over and over and over again.  As in any death, we mourn the loss,  we shed tears over the deceased.   But those that are gone have left this world and are reunited with their loved ones.  They are no longer in pain, no longer tormented, no longer suffering.  It's the ones left behind who are left to carry on despite the void that replaces someone we held so dear.

So today I bid farewell to an old friend but I know that heaven is probably a little more fun now that he's there.  I hold his family in my heart and in my prayers as they try to understand and find some peace where there are no answers.  I urge you to hug someone you love, be compassionate to those whose life isn't as easy as your own, and take time to listen when a friend needs a shoulder.  You never know how much difference that might make in someone's life.  Godspeed my friend, may the angels greet you with a smile and may you always know how much you were loved.


  1. Gail,
    My sweet 23-yr old son decided to end his suffering on Thanksgiving weekend, 2011. As you can imagine, we were devastated. Like you I will never understand why he did it. I know he was having a hard time in life, but I would have never thought he would turn to suicide. It has taken me four years to be able to speak of it in with people in casual conversation. Folks are always so kind...not saying much but listening to me. Sometimes that's what I need.

    I enjoy your blog, and especially loved all your pictures over the holiday season. Blessings to you in 2016.


    1. Oh Lynette, I am so sorry. Such unspeakable heartache that no one should feel, especially a mom for her son. I am so glad that you are now able to share your story. As I said in the post, there are no words to ease your pain. I appreciate your bravery in sharing with me here and hope that knowing others understand, even if just a little, helps. Thank you for following the blog! God Bless You!


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