When A Friend’s Pain Defines Personal Purpose

I have a fairly good life. I am gainfully employed, live in a seemingly free country, with all the benefits of free speech and liberty. I have a family, we are all healthy. Our lives are determined by our actions. Given all of that reward I sometimes question my purpose, and I begin to doubt my ability, and I frame a rather skeptical outlook on my future. I’ll then beat myself up and struggle with the reality of my fortune. However, it is when I hear of the pain of someone in my life, close or connected that I really begin to recognize the gifts I have received. It is then I feel guilty for not appreciating what I have to live for.

That self-serving attitude causes a depression that can more often than not, be debilitating. I used to believe my depression was situational – created by short term events. I have now as I finish the 5th decade of my life realized my depression is clinical. I add fuel to it by recognizing an addictive personality – so many factors of my life have been defined by addiction. I feel fortunate to have responded to recovery in the manner I have. As a friend often says, life is good.

All that said, I believe life doesn’t really happen until you experience someone else’s pain. How many funerals have we walked away from where a person took their own life, and everyone is left with questions. It happens frequently and we are always sad, and for the moment, we do catalogue our own possibilities, and we do recognize how lucky our lives can be. But then reality sets in and life becomes again burdensome, and for me specifically I begin to question purpose.

Recently I was told of a friend’s battle with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. This friend is someone I knew in a previous time, and our lives have gone many directions in the last ten years. However, the impact of this news has literally shut me down and made me reflect again on what is my purpose. She is a beautiful person with beautiful children, and I can guarantee she did not choose this path in her final days. She’s younger than me, and today I am faced with the reality of finding perspective.

I spent this last weekend in my hometown, and I watched a music festival that was a lot of fun. My wife and I enjoyed the blues, and I spent rare time with my extended family. Whenever I return to my hometown, I am flooded with childhood memories, couple that with time with my family and it can be precarious. We came home refreshed and in good spirits and the foreboding feeling I receive when returning to my world seemed to creep up slowly. I again began to experience my depression, and the choices I make in my life become centered, and I began to wonder about purpose.

It was then I received an email about my friend. She was diagnosed recently and her condition is untreatable. Here is the quandary. Where I spend the night questioning my purpose and allowing my depression to win, suddenly I hear of this person who has everything in the world to live for and she knows it will be taken away. She doesn’t want that, not now, not in the prime of her life. I thought about her pain all night, and I realized that any time I feel sorry for myself I need to think of my friend and recognize I have chances that other people do not.

People are given windows into the lives of others for a reason. In this case, my friend’s pain is unfortunately my saving grace. I am not debilitated, I am not suffering a terminal illness, I am not losing my mind. God help me that those factors always evade me. Instead I will take her challenge as an inspiration that in her toughness might I show some strength in recognizing I do have a purpose in this life. I do need to move forward if not just for her, for my own well being.

Let’s pray we all might continue to find our purpose and strength to exemplify the life our friends and family might not have the luxury to fully experience.

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Talking About Suicide

The other day I ran into an old friend. We had begun laughing about a coffee clutch of several gentlemen we knew that would gather daily in the summer. We’d both joined a couple of times, knew them all about as well as we knew one another, just regulars at a little coffee shop in our neighborhood. I hadn’t seen him for quite some time, and he told me that the circumstances of that gathering were a sad memory. I said I agreed, because I knew one of them had taken his own life a few years back. He nodded, we both sort of looked at each other, and then he told me another one had as well around the same time.

See, there were six guys, they all had morning routines, but they met for that 20 minutes or so for coffee and laughs, sometimes hung over, often times more powerful than the one next in their earnest desire to present their lives to one another – friends, coffee, beautiful summer mornings. I wondered about the remaining four, and how their lives had changed losing two friends, two members of a coffee clutch that seemed to last forever. I wondered about the true nature of a man’s loneliness to bring themselves to such desperate a measure as is, suicide.

See there is a lot of argument out there. A very dear friend of mine lost his brother many years ago to suicide. He would argue it is not a selfish act, whereby society for the most part might disagree because of the world left behind. But it is truly more than selfishness, because I would be willing believe not one successful suicide would ever imagine the fallout their actions will leave behind them. I do have to believe more often than not the act is one of a victim’s desperation so much so, they are unable to see any other options.

My friend and I on this day talked about the tragedy, and he said to me that there is more to life. He reminded me of his brother that he watched in chemo in a hospital room fighting every day of his life for a chance to live, and the same for all of the patients on that cancer ward.

See its hard to put it in a simple box of explanation. There certainly are those circumstances that lead to a sort of euthanasia frame of mind when struggling with a terminal and painful disease, but that raises the question of how some of the most afflicted people in the world will provide a more genuine smile than a healthy human being at the top of their game.

Suicide isn’t selective, we both agreed as we finished our coffee ready to go about our day. I think what was important for both of us was the validation of our existence and the appreciation for knowing two people whose lives had touched us in different ways and had made decisions we would always struggle to understand. In the meantime, we’d had a good talk and were lifted again in that standstill moment of time.

Please Scream Rather Than Leave A Note – Suicide In Our Lives

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Kate Spade / Anthony Bourdain


The other day, I read a NYT article that indicated suicide rates are rising at an alarming rate since 1999. The same day CNN listed a similar statistic at 25% since 1999. This was the day after Kate Spade had taken her life. I thought it a natural followup of a tragic event. This morning I woke to the news of Anthony Bourdain. His series ‘Parts Unknown’ has been receiving high ratings on CNN for years. These are two prominent members of our society based upon their achievements over decades. Yesterday at a conference, a colleague of mine made the poignant statement, ‘suicide isn’t selective’ in its victim.
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I’m really having a hard time wrapping my head around this. The first time I experienced suicide was when a friend of mine’s lover took his own life because he was terminal with cancer. I remember he lived a block away from me, and I probably could have heard the shotgun had I been on my deck, but I didn’t know about it until the next day. I remember his partner’s grief, and all the confusion that followed.
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Years later, a man named Spaulding Gray wrote a wonderful piece called ‘Swimming To Cambodia’ and I immediately fell in love with his writing, his persona, though I remember being tempered when once interviewed, he stated that when he knows he is too sick to enjoy a quality of life, he will jump in the East river. His body was fished out of that same river two years later. I was devastated. and again not fascinated, more sickened by the reality of such a gesture.
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In my own family, we have experienced such a tragedy, and there are never answers beyond the telling statement that depression is often a leading component in a person’s choice to take their own life. I’ve seen it too many times to count, and I still cannot wrap my head around it.
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I know in my life I’ve struggled with depression more than I would like to admit. I’ve felt the dark moments that I suggest to all of my students as they go on to college or just live their present lives that when those moments arise, they have to call someone, they cannot allow themselves any other choice. I recognize the hypocrisy of my emotional reaction to this terrible outcome in the lives of so many people in our society and world.
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Yet, all I can do today is speak to it from my heart. I didn’t personally know Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams, countless names in the public eye. I don’t know the names of all the people that the reader’s of this commentary have lost over the years. I only know the pain and confusion is real. I only know when my dark moments come, I cannot help but reflect upon the realities that exist around me on any given day.
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I can only suggest that people use the hotline – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, rather than accepting someone’s final option as the only answer. There have got to be solutions, and more importantly there has to be a greater awareness and acceptance around the stigma that is attached to mental illness and depression.

AP File Photo

Different Moments

Recently, there were two,

lives we might call the same,

yet probably, more obviously,

vastly different lives,

worlds apart,

yet their outcomes,

well, we can probably imagine,

the same.

 

The meaning of which,

hard to explain,

yet, we want to know,

we ask the questions,

sitting together alone in our lives,

wondering just why,

when is this the time, when others

might still wander aimless

wondering only

about their next hour,

perhaps tomorrow,

even possibly a year ahead,

yet, these two …

 

Oh, to walk inside the mind of the dead,

to understand the next level,

be able to comprehend,

not likely to mend,

accept the truth yet I would

recommend,

the answer might be less

an epiphany,

more a sad reality,

but the question remains,

we all wonder about it together,

we wander the same streams,

the winding current of our lives.

 

The one, a musician,

his time came when the pain,

over came his emotions,

and later his family in the grieving period,

had to speak to the response

of his audience,

you and me,

the ones that miss him less then

they might ever possibly comprehend.

 

Yet the same,

the reality of the game,

out of our hands,

we just show up to

exclaim.

 

The other the choice is their own,

forget the others nearby,

find the solution today,

yet, that is the confusion,

we all would like to know,

now,

just why,

what fortune brought upon such pain,

and how can we all possibly

living,

not imagine its misfortune,

his misguided

solution.

 

We all do seem to have or hold or imagine,

these our different moments,

yet for me, they sometimes seem the very same.

What Rally Cry

Standing alone,

choosing alone,

no dial tone,

seems the last moments

will bend forever

the opportunity

to glance ahead,

beyond the scrutiny

deeply laid inside the victim’s head.

 

and then …

 

There is the question of whose hurt

is more measurable,

the choice,

or the outcome,

the afterward,

or perhaps it is the originator,

who by virtue of the human condition,

isn’t given any allowance

to return the favor of knowledge.

 

We just know the outcome.

The Obituary

I wonder how they felt it might read,

summing up their life,

in a nutshell,

passing through all of the bad times,

focus upon the good, the energy, the meaning,

the society we live in deems the necessary truths.

If we knew,

would we then change our mind,

if we could stand in the back of the church,

see the weeping eyes,

the countless expressions of confusion,

would we,

care.

 

I wonder what mine will say today,

as compared to years from now,

which would be more attractive,

the present reality

or that seeming legacy that time forgot,

only the pain did always remain,

a constant,

within even a moment of relief,

there would be the memory of how many times,

we might have,

he might have,

thought differently than to withstand

normalcy.

 

Oh the papers they might read,

and then in a week or two,

there his ashes would be spread.