I should stress at the outset - This is in no way a cry for help, I'm not particularly depressed*, and there's absolutely no reason for anyone to see this column as a cause for concern. No, you may not have my record collection. Just wanted to make that perfectly clear before we begin.
*Although I would not turn down a cookie.
Almost exactly a year ago a good friend of mine killed himself.
It still feels weird typing that, although the whole thing has reached that curious level of simultaneously feeling like it only happened a day or so ago and no longer being able to remember a time before it happened.
I don't think, generally speaking, that any of our mutual friends were aware that we were particularly close. Most of our conversation was done through texting since we were rarely in the same place at the same time. That said, we chatted via text most days. About a lot of serious stuff. At the time he died he probably knew more personal information about me than anyone else on the planet. I like to think that I'd had the same level of confidence from him, but I couldn't say for sure.
Something strange happened after he died. While he was alive I never gave a thought as to whether or not anyone else knew that we were as good of friends as we were. It just never crossed my mind. After he shot himself I realized I was developing a strange resentment of how no one knew. Our friendship had always been in Stealth Mode, and now that it was gone I became obsessed with the fact that no one had known about it. I had a recurring urge to try to force the fact into any conversation I could. (I think I managed to resist the urge most of the time, although probably not as well as I'd like to tell myself.)
Without sugar-coating it, I had a strong drive to try to make his death about me.*
*I'm making a concerted effort to not delete that sentence, as it's not a comfortable thing to admit to myself. I suspect that it's probably a pretty normal response to the situation, psychologically speaking. Normally I would ask my friend Carol, who's a trained psychologist. Or psychiatrist. Now I think about it I'm not actually sure which. I'd like to be able to ask her that as well. Unfortunately, that's not possible.
Carol died of her cancer a few days ago.
As I posted to my Facebook wall (how did we do public grief before the internet? Does anyone even remember?) I had a similar feeling. I posted something along the lines of 'My friend has passed away from cancer', and moments after posting it I thought to myself, 'What are you doing? You're Facebook friends with her husband. He'll see that. This is his loss, don't try to make it about you.'
I think at the end of the day that the problem is just that we as a culture (generally) and I as a person (specifically) just don't handle death particularly well. We lack the vocabulary to talk about it openly, and so it turns into a non stop game of 'Is it OK for me to be feeling this about that.' Meanwhile, Reality TV has spawned an entire sub-culture of people who do take every situation and make it entirely about themselves, and for god sake we don't want to be like them.
So what is that? What do we do about it? Why can't we just say, 'Dave was my friend. Carol was my friend. And it super sucks for me that they're gone.' Sure, It also sucks for other people. It sucks more for some other people. That doesn't make it suck less for me.
Maybe at the end of the day, all we really want is some sort of affirmation that even though our friend is gone, our friendship with them still mattered. Regardless of who did or didn't know about it at the time.
And here's a cute video of penguins who love each other having adventures, because Carol would have liked it and I could use such a thing right now.