I went to the service for my high school friend who passed away last week. We all received word via Facebook that he had passed away, but there were no details about how or why. Didn’t matter, John was dead.
I do remember thinking, “I wonder if he…?” But, no… Not John. He was always so spirited and friendly. Jovial and warm. Just a really good guy.
I remember the first time I met John vividly, as if it was yesterday. We were in high school (I went to St. Augustine – all boys Catholic High School) and I was involved in track. (stop laughing) We were on the upper field, all stretching out, and John and his then girlfriend were up there with us. I just remember all of us having a really funny conversation and laughing… a lot. The reason I remember John so vividly is his face. He had a completely shaved head when I met him, so you could really see his face clearly. He was beautiful. And not just in a physically attractive way, but his spirit as well. Who he was was good, and you could tell that by just looking at him.
I was grateful to see some familiar faces that I felt comfortable with when I arrived at the service. My good friend Mark and his wife were there, and I joined them in the pew. We didn’t talk much, just re-hashed who we knew from high school and who we didn’t. Tried to remember people’s names.
Then the service started. It was, basically, a mass in structure. I was amazed at just how much I remembered. Was even able to sing along with one of the songs, without looking at the words. Then, his wife went up to speak, and brought with her a child from John’s class that he taught (3rd grade). John had asked his class to write about their best day ever. The little girl who now joined John’s wife read from John’s example to the class of what he wanted them to do. It was a lovely story about a trip he took with his family in which he met the love of his life – his wife. His wife then spoke about John, and she blew me away. She was so strong and solid, and beautiful. She spoke of how John used to leave her little notes everywhere telling her he loved her, or how beautiful she was, or how much she meant to him. It was very touching, and I am grateful to her for sharing.
Then, his mother went up. A picture of solidity and strength, this woman blew me away. Her voice was a melody of nothing but warmth and love in the memories of her lost son. Today would have been John’s birthday. She shared with us how, in their family, cards were a big deal on people’s birthday. Everyone did their best to find the perfect card that expressed exactly the sentiment they wished to send. She read hers to all of us. It was from the perspective of a parent seeing their child scrape their knee, and how (as a parent) you want so badly to protect them from harm – but you know you cannot. It was also an acknowledgment that this little injury would be nothing compared to the heartbreak life brings, and how you (as a parent) want nothing more than to guard and protect your child from any harm. The card went on to acknowledge that through these pains, and with the love of family and friends, the child will grow into an amazing human being. Capable of compassion and love. Grow to be a kind, honorable, decent, loving, respectful, warm and light bringing individual.
Needless to say, she made me teary.
Then, the sermon. The Reverend went up and began his homily by letting us all know that John had, in fact, taken his own life. He had suffered for years from pain in his head, and heart, and finally reached a point where this seemed to be the only good answer.
There are no words I know of that can accurately describe how I felt in that moment. My heart stopped, ans did my breathing. It was like being punched in the body by a giant fist. I, immediately, began to cry.
I must add, the Reverend was awesome. He spoke of John’s decision to take his life with nothing but a genuine compassion and understanding. No talk of sin or hell or shame. Everything he said was for the sake of the loved ones left behind. Kind and encouraging words to assure them they would see John again in a perfect place. I was impressed.
This is the second suicide to take place in my world within the last six months. Two. I am 39 years old, and can only think of one person I knew who took their life – and that was years ago, and not someone I was close to. This, however, had a profound effect on me that I cannot and will not deny.
I mean no disrespect in sharing these stories with you, and I hope John’s family and friends will understand I am attempting to honor him. Even though I hadn’t seen him in many years, I have nothing but fond memories of John. Everything I can remember about him is good. I am glad for that. And, in the end, he left me with what can only be described as a profound lesson – teacher to student.
Love with your whole heart, all the time. People will never forget that about you. Never.