Today I find out that a friend of mine has died over the weekend. They say he “passed away”, but given a long history of severe depression you don’t need many pieces to put together what really happened.
I hadn’t talked to him in a couple of years, and only sporadically in the few years prior to that. But go back a few more years and I have a friend that I used to work with, that I used to see almost every weekend, and that I was close enough to that our families spent a couple of Christmas Days together. My heart is torn apart thinking about the loss of that friend, but he was taken long before this weekend.
I watched as mental illness took away his competence, then his joy. I watched as it tore him away from his family. I watched the empty space where my friend used to be.
When something like this happens, the typical question we ask ourselves is: could I have done more? Absolutely, yes. When there’s death involved there’s always something else we could have done. When there’s no alternative, no opportunity to turn back the clock, we obsess over the things we might have done differently. There’s always something.
Ask me if I was shocked about this news, and the answer is yes. Ask me if I was surprised, and you’ll get a different answer. I could have done more, but I suspect the only difference I would have made would have been to assuage my guilt a little more. My friend, at least what remained of him, spent years getting the best care he could probably have gotten. But it wasn’t enough.
I don’t know what his last day was like, and I doubt I ever will. But I like to think that the end came not after a moment of desperation and despair, but after a moment of peace. I like to think that there was a moment where he simply decided enough was enough, and made a choice.
We’re supposed to end pieces like this by reminding everyone that help and counselling are available. They are. But all I want say is this: if you think someone you know is having a bad time, let them know you’re there. Just say ‘hello, I’m here’. You never know, just reminding someone at the right moment that they’re not alone in the world might be the thing that makes all the difference.