Thursday, October 27, 2016

Same Song, Different Arrangement

One year ago today, my best friend Greg took his life.  The gaping psychological wound of his suicide has morphed into a scar.  The crushing sense of loss and grief has mellowed to quiet acceptance and frequent wistful reminders of his absence, sprinkled with fond memories of his life and our 35 year friendship.  I still think of him all the time; reminders are everywhere... when I drive by the river, I think of our mutual love for the water and all of our canoe trips... when I listen to music, I hear songs that we both loved... I still hear his voice in my head...

I see his wife making changes to the house, and think of how Greg would cringe at some of the choices she's making, primarily because of the cost.  Of course, I also think good for her, because she deserves to move forward.  I see his girls having sleepovers, growing up, laughing and smiling, and I say good for them, because they shouldn't live the rest of their lives grieving for their dad; they should be happy.

I talk to Greg's parents and brother occasionally, and they too are moving forward with life, though every time we speak, the conversation invariably turns to Greg.  This is only natural.  He was a colossal part of all of our lives, and it will never feel right that he's not here.  That's the thing about suicide... it's not part of the natural order, so it can never feel right.  But we don't talk about Greg exclusively, and the conversations increasingly focus on his life and less on his death.

As I look back over the last year, I see that we've all come a very long way since Greg's death.  We have all grieved in our own way, and we are moving forward.  I guess that should be the takeaway from what I'm writing today.  I'm not going to say it gets better.  That phrase is nothing more than a cliche that minimizes the pain.  I think it's more accurate to say it gets less bad as you move toward a new normal. I'm really gearing these small words of encouragement toward others who have recently lost a loved one to suicide.  It gets less bad.

Since music has always been a powerful influence in my life, I'm going to use a song as an analogy...  In the Late 60's to early 70's Eric Clapton wrote and released Layla, a song about unrequited love.  The song is powerful, intense and driving.  Roughly twenty years later, Clapton re-released the same song, completely rearranged.  The new version was no longer angry; instead the story was more of a nostalgic, wistful yearning.  It was the same man, telling the same story, but it was told from a wiser perspective.  My story about Greg is kind of the same thing... it's the same song, different arrangement.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


It's been a year today since I last saw you.  I knew that you were hurting, and I understood your pain like none of your other friends could, because I had experienced it.  I did everything I possibly could to help you through things, but I failed.   You came to the conclusion that you couldn't take it anymore... that life was no longer worth living... so you left.

I remember you saying many times over the years that you didn't want to be a burden.  I kept trying to tell you that you weren't;  I kept trying to get you to understand how much you were -- are -- loved.  Now, I'm sitting here, trying to translate incoherent thoughts into understandable words, knowing that you'll never read what I'm writing.  I wish that you had chosen to remain, so that I could have continued helping you through your pain.  I wish that I had been able to say the right thing, so that you wouldn't have put that gun in your mouth and pulled the trigger.  I wish you were still here.

I wish that I could bring your friends and family the magic words that would end their sense of loss and grief.  I wish that I could bring them the healing that I failed to bring you.  I wish that I didn't have the experience of losing a friend to suicide.  I know that your death has helped me bring a small measure of comfort to others who have had someone close take their own life, but that's not really a comfort.  Helping others through a loved one's suicide is how we make sense of a senseless act.

Dude... you rocked my world, and not in a good way.  I've made my peace with your death, but there's something that you'll never get... you took a piece of me with you when you pulled the trigger.  That's right, a part of me died on October 27, 2015.  And I'm not the only one.  When you killed yourself, you killed a piece of all of your friends and loved ones.

Don't misunderstand, I've rediscovered my happiness.  But it's not the same.  I'm not quite as happy as I was before.  The closest analogy I can find is that you were my right arm, and now my right arm is gone.  I've adapted.  I've overcome, but you are a part of me that even the best prosthetic can never truly replace.

Please know that I'm not saying any of this out of anger.  I'm saying it only because I miss you man.  I hope I never stop missing you.  October is never going to be the same.

Friday, October 14, 2016

It All Started Here

Thirty years ago today, I stepped off of a bus at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and onto the yellow footprints.  These footprints  marked the start of a journey that transformed me from an 18 year old boy into a Marine.  When I enlisted, I knew that my decision would have a big impact on my life, but I had no idea how much significance it would carry three decades later.  I gave the Marine Corps six years of my life.  It gave me so much more...

When I joined the Marine Corps, I had no respect... no respect for my parents... no respect for wisdom... no respect for tradition... no respect for... well, anything really.

The Marine Corps gave me the discipline to see things through to the end, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult.

Oh sure, I had friends before joining the Marine Corps.  But these relationships were nothing compared to the bonds I formed during my enlistment.  I have a lifelong connection to all Marines, whether or not we served together... even if we've never met.  This bond also helped me realize the importance of relationships in my civilian life.

The Marine Corps trained me as an Avionics Technician.  I later used this knowledge to become an IT professional.

-Love of Travel
The Marine Corps sent me to over a half dozen countries, where I experienced a multitude of climates and cultures.  During this time, I met countless people from many walks of life.  To this day, traveling and meeting new people is still one of my favorite things.

It's impossible to sum up six years of my life in a short story, but I will say this:  I firmly believe that if I hadn't joined the Marine Corps, I'd probably be dead or in jail.  I received FAR more from the Marine Corps than the Corps got from me.  This is why, when people thank me for my service, I tell them that it was an honor and a privilege to serve, not a burden.  Unfortunately, it's only through hindsight that I learned just how much I got out of my enlistment.  I'm definitely a better Marine today than I was during my actual service.

And it all started here...