I received a number of call waiting beeps on my phone. I should have put two and two together, but I thought it was just my wife, which it was, calling to rag on me about staying at work past 5:00. I was on the phone dealing with some trivial bit of nonsense that now consumes most of my 8 to 5 interactions. “What’s up” I asked my wife. Grief was in her voice and you have one of those oh shit lumps hit your gut. “Max’s friend Ryan just committed suicide.” She finally was able to tell me.
Now it gets a bit messed up at this point. I got Ryan confused with his other friend Blake, a kid I know pretty well. I had only met Ryan once or twice, and went camping with him about five years ago when they were in Junior High school. I did not realize my mistake until I got home, so the grief I was feeling over losing who I thought was Blake built up like a tidal wave and came crashing out in tears of relief. When I found out my mistake I felt …joy…. and then guilty that it came at the expense of my son’s friend. He deserves my grief too.
What makes this hard, this losing of a 19 year old kid, who was my son’s friend and with whom I went camping with, is that it happened eight days after the death, by suicide, of the brother of one of the kids in our Boy Scout Troop. I had to face his father, whom I know; I had to look him in the eyes and try not to lose it. His son was dead, laying there in a coffin at the age of 17. His brother, whom I have known for over five years, a man now at 20, stood there like a zombie. We hugged, and then I left. I got in my car and said I don’t ever want to go to another kids’ funeral again. The pain of the last one, almost ten years ago, still burns in my memory.
My son is on his way home from college, finally realizing the placement of where it all puts you. “I should not be having to worrying about what to wear to his parent’s house” he told my wife from his cell phone when they stopped in Waco. I should not be because he should not be dead.
So here we are, the living, left to make sense of it, to ask the question “why”, to speculate, to draw conclusions over what, or if, or when. Nothing...... just a feeling of “No!” I do not know what or why, only that it happened. What they felt at the time, what lead them to make a correction that was permanent, only they know. It is easy to make bold statements diminishing their feelings to less than what they were. How could a 17 year old know true pain or grief? But it is all relative, and as real to them as it is to anyone three times their age.
My grandma turns 100 in April. Her death is inevitable, just like it is for my parents, my wife’s parents, and for me as well. Life is finite, and at 51 years of age, I understand that all too well now. But it is the gift of youth that that knowledge is kept at bay. It was not finite for Ryan or for Keith; it was open ended, a journey that awaited them and one they had not quite started to take.
What they will not know is that what they felt, though real and powerful, was not felt entirely in the context of time. These feeling experienced will pass, both physically and emotionally, eventually allowed to become deminimis as time spent living is acquired. That is the tragedy, the thing that both boys never had a chance to contemplate, that it sucks now and it will suck later, but in context, which only can come from living through both the highs and the lows, does it become easier to handle and move past.
My son should be home soon, and his grieving will begin. It is safe here, and he will soon get to be with his friends that knew Ryan. It will suck for him, and will suck when it happens again, it will never, ever, ever stop sucking, but he will find that this too shall pass.