What Makes A Life?

Filed under: Facebook, Suicide

I haven’t written for a while, probably because it’s summer and I am happy, happy to not be a sherpa to anyone except for schlepping the pool bag. And frankly, happiness is often boring to write about. You know the the saying: Don’t confuse serenity with boredom? It’s a saying I never quite “got” because to me, it’s chaos, misery, and family drama that are exciting, not serenity! Sheesh!

Today though, I have something I need to write about. A friend has been on my mind for several days – an ex – who died almost two years ago. I have no idea why, but I’ve been hit with a sudden and unwelcome excavation of sorrow about him; a larger, deeper kind of sadness than I felt when he died. One that is totally out of the blue.

It’s not like we were soulmates or anything – it was a long-ago relationship. It wasn’t even a long-term relationship, and it didn’t last long enough to be categorized as love (for either one of us). We were twenty-somethings working at the same company. I was captivated by his blue eyes, his joie-de-vivre, his intelligence. I ended our relationship suddenly when I discovered that he had another girlfriend, and was being dishonest with us both. I was devastated – totally shocked. He apologized, he tried to make it right, but he wasn’t able to because I couldn’t trust him. I got over him, but he left a lasting impression on me because despite his flaws he was not your average person: the way he saw the world, loved art (obsessively), loved music, how he dressed, in quirky-groovy hipster suits from the 1940s – a style that most men could never pull off, how he got so nervous that he would fidget whenever he came into my office. In hindsight, the fidgeting was the only hint I had that something was going on with him. Anxiety? I don’t know.

We continued to work together at the same company for a couple of years. He ended up becoming successful – a CEO. After I left the company, we lost touch but we continued to have friends in common, so I would hear updates about him once in a while. Then time passed and the world changed, and Facebook appeared.

Two years ago he tried – twice – to Friend me on Facebook. Both times he messaged, So nice to see your sweet smile up here on Facebook. 

I didn’t Friend him. My memories of his persuasiveness and his blue eyes stopped me from allowing him in again.

I regret it. I so regret not Friending him.

I had no idea he suffered from depression, that he was unwell, struggling. Dangling precariously from a single thread. I had no idea. I mistook his need to reach out and Friend me, for charm. A stupid mistake.

I didn’t realize any of this until a friend called to tell me that he had killed himself.

It’s two years later and I am still looking for reasons, for Whys. I know that sometimes, Why is not a spiritual question. I understand now that he was ill, I wrote about him here, and here. I just can’t understand Why such a wonderful light like him, would be so utterly compelled to end himself. So certain.

Sometimes, a person’s death just hits you. Not around the time of their death – but after the fact. Years after. It taps you on the shoulder when you least expect it, when you’re at the pool with your children getting a popsicle, soaking up another summer, taking it all for granted, maybe. You turn around and it just guts you.

Am I sad for him? Or for my own mortality? – I asked myself this.

I am crying for him. For the sheer loss of him. It is such a big loss. To so many people, to his son Lucca. To this very day, people are still writing messages and notes to him on his Facebook page – from San Francisco to Paris to East Africa to Burning Man. People all over the world miss him terribly.

A small voice tells me that it might be appropriate to feel angry at him for “failing” his son, for casting the unfair shadow of suicide over his son’s life, for robbing him of the father he loved. But I understand that depression is a biological illness, that he was getting care and doing all the things he was supposed to do. He was even being chaperoned when this happened, by his sister. His large, close-knit family was watching him, guarding him, aware enough to not leave him on his own. He left his sister suddenly as they were checking out of a hotel in San Francisco. He was going to fly back to Chicago with her to spend some time with family, get his bearings. He left her in the lobby, telling her that he had forgotten something upstairs. He ran up to the roof and jumped off before she or anybody else could stop him.

That beautiful person.

I saw a photo of his body – I couldn’t not look – crumpled under a fireman’s blanket on the sidewalk. It seemed so slight, for such a large life. He had gotten so small and vulnerable. Life had somehow pounded him down.

I wish I had Friended him. I know it probably would not have changed anything, but I really just wish I had Friended him.

There is really nowhere to go with the sad feeling about him, so I went to Facebook. I Friended him post-humously. I spent hours on his page, trolling through his life, investigating. Trying to see through the curious window that is Facebook to understand – through his status updates, photographs, his witty posts…Why.

I have found almost nothing that would indicate that he was anything other than happy, witty, groovy, in love with the world, in love with his son, talented, a globe-trotter. I can read between the lines of one or two of his updates – for example, the photo of the sky scraper with the words, Up up and away, which really made me wonder. Was it a message?

tom4 hotel

I don’t like that “upward-looking” photo at all – it scares me, knowing what I do now about him. Why did he take it?

Or the photo of the decrepit Greyhound Bus Depot in San Francisco, stunning in its abandonment – a place that used to be the place, back in the day, but now it’s come to this:

tom2 greyhound

Was this some kind of message? Or was it just his artist’s eye reporting what he saw?

When you string together his status updates, you come away with who he really was, underneath or over or beside the specter of his depression. You come away with an alive person who loved life – possibly even more than the rest of us are able to.

You get this sense that he didn’t take any of his moments for granted – that he loved his family members, all of them, deeply. Especially his grandfather, Harold.

So here are his status updates, along with some of the photos that make up his life. I’m hoping that posting them will help me to honor him, the beautiful life he led, and to let him go a little bit.

But I warn you: his beautiful life is a tear-jerker.

A Life – In Status Updates

Happy 50th anniversary and 70th birthdays to my wonderful Mom and Dad! So darn happy too, thatza nice!

Making asparagus risotto and drinking champagne. Two of my favorite things.

It’s kinda tough to get my head around Spring when there is fresh snow in Tahoe and a Squaw Season Pass in my pocket that is still good for a few more days.

tom3 lucca

Lucca could suck his thumb until college for all I care.

Can be found on the Ferris Wheel this morning.

Is spending some quality time in Chicago with my 97 year old Grandpa Harold.

Is watching the snow in Paris with Lucca.

Is taking Lucca to breakfast.

Is looking for the mudtruck in Tribeca.

Glide feeds the homeless 2,800 meals per day, about 1 million per year. A real gem of SF.

The dashing Harold.

tom two photos
My Dad raised me at the horse races. Lots of life lessons there. Also some swell words like Quinela, Exacta, Trifecta and Perfecta!
My sweet and amazing grandpa Harold who has begun his 99th year in “Chicagoland” as he calls it. He saw a young man named Cab Calloway sing and dance in 1937 on his honeymoon in downtown Chicago.

tom2 beach

Stormin’ the beaches of Normandie on Bastille Day with Lucca and Martin.

Thinks that John Lennon was right.

Wants a new painting.

Is counting euros.

Is eating more than his share of dark chocolate.
Took my boyo Lucca to his first pro hockey game last night. He was giddy to see all the skatin, slashin and crashin.

Is wondering why he is eating so much honey lately.

Skiing with your son for the first time is memorable.

tom2 couple

I like this couple for a whole bunch of reasons.

My mechanic used to call the AMC Pacer “the best sandwich holder in the whole world.” Don’t follow this one too closely!

tom pacer

tom love life

Christmas Eve at my house.

Lucca the little Pisces fish. So proud of his backstroke which got him the coveted purple ribbon.

tom4 couch

Sheesh Lucca, back when I was a boy in 1914 we didn’t have no Scooby or Scrappy Doo.

Lucca and Ivan love carrots.

Lucca’s 1st baseball game. Forgot the cup!

Thanks to everyone for all of the wonderful birthday wishes, so amazing!

tom big wheels

The founder of the Potrero Hill Big Wheel Race – The Sweet Boy

tom2 swede

He never minded getting old as he veered toward 100. That said, he did not like the “shrinking” part cause he was once a tall Swede.

tom4 suit

Harold’s funeral called for more than the all-black attire.

Is unfortunately not “into the Wild” today.

Focus on the important things, not the urgent things. H. Kissinger

tom4 hotel

Up up and away.

tom son chair

Morning hairdos.

I was just watching Lucca and his class through the window of their 1st grade classroom after the parent-teacher conference. Joy. I think I am going to remember that image when I’m 90. Proud Papa.

His very last status update was about his mom:

Just called my sweet Mama to wish her a happy 71st birthday. She and my Dad are on a month long road trip. Said she was in the pool splashing around with some of her grandkids. Happiness!

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4 Responses | TrackBack URL | Comments Feed

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss. For Lucca’s loss. Truly.
    Twitter: AlisonSWLee



  2. I’m so sorry for your loss. I understand why you were wary of reconnecting with him. My heart goes out to Lucca.
    Twitter: novels2boardbks



  3. I am so sorry for your loss. For the loss to his family and other friends. There is no explaining, and very little understanding, a life cut short.
    Twitter: fromtracie



  4. The most important thing you can know about mental illness and suicidal tendencies:

    You didn’t cause it.
    You can’t control it.
    You sure as heck can’t cure it.



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