A couple days ago, Joe died from depression. The cause of death will be listed as suicide, but I vehemently disagree. As my mother died, her liver shut down. Slowly her blood became toxic. She became loopy and then disoriented and finally settled into a painful, moaning stupor. And then she died. I never saw the death certificate. Maybe it said liver failure, but I’ve always told people she died from cancer. Joe died from depression.

I got a call this morning from my brother. Of course I didn’t answer, I never have my cellphone nearby when I’m at home. At noon I saw the missed call, the ten o’clock voice mail. “Hey Jeff, give me a call when you get a chance.” Bad news or he wouldn’t call. If he wanted something, he would have sent a text. My immediate thought was my father. He’s eighty-nine. I talked with him yesterday and he seemed great. But he’s eighty-nine.

I called my brother and got voice mail. I spent an hour waiting for the news I knew was coming. All things considered; it could have been worse.

I haven’t seen or talked with Joe in years. Like all of my other friendships, I let it slip. I checked in with Susan on when we might have last seen him. We decided on 2016. I’m sad, but I can’t say he’s left a hole in my life. After my mother died, whenever something good or bad happened, I reached for the phone. Then I remembered she wasn’t there to call. It took me years to get beyond that. I probably haven’t called Joe since 2003. For that, I feel guilt.

Susan talked with our friend Lee Anne today. Joe’s had a rough time of it lately. He entered and left two residential programs. He reached out to several friends. He may have been making plans to go live with one. In the late nineties, he invited himself over to our house. He wanted us to meet his new dog. As we walked his dog, Joe awkwardly confessed his depression. I don’t know if the diagnosis was new for him, but he clearly had signs. He laid low for weeks. He made plans to meet and then didn’t show up. He couldn’t keep a job.

Because I’m self-centered, I make everything about me. I’ve had depressive episodes intermittently for seven or eight years. I understand what Joe experienced. I should have reached out. This evening on a bike ride I replayed some scenes in my head. Joe on a date, an intelligent, charming woman. The next day, crowded in a booth, we razzed him about her weight. They broke up.

I often think about my alternate life. The one where I didn’t marry Susan. In my thoughts, I go through those depressive years without my family. Would I have made it through? Probably. I have a hard time envisioning ending my life. Even though in my thoughts, after this life ends, I’ll reunite with Susan in the next. Soulmates. We’re destined to spend eternity together. Joe didn’t have that. His friends married and started families and built independent lives.

I think about my other friendships, the ones I ignore so well. When will my next friend die? Will I beat myself up for not reaching out to them now? It’s such a small step to stay connected. Facebook, email, we don’t live in the same city, our relationship will be online. Is it really so hard? This has happened in the past, more than once. This is when I make a resolution to repair those old friendships. Come out of the shadows. Reconnect.

Is it better to try again to rebuild those friendships, maybe succeed, maybe not, or should I just ride the status quo like I have every other time in the past?

29 thoughts on “Guilt

  1. I love this “after this life ends, I’ll reunite with Susan in the next. Soulmates. We’re destined to spend eternity together.” I’m glad you found your soulmate💖 and shared how you sometimes think to call you mom, forgetting that she passed. It’s beautiful that we can love, it’s the best thing we have in this world.

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  2. That is how my partner’s mum died – liver failure from cancer. She bore it with incredible bravery but it was a traumatic way to go. I’m so sorry you all went through that too. I’m sorry about your friend as well, seems like a lot of us have some experience with depression. I wouldn’t beat yourself up about him. If you want to reach out to your other friends to rekindle the friendship then do, but you can’t be responsible to save them all even though it’s hard not to want to. Also am glad you have your wife. A loving, supportive partner makes all the difference. x

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    • Do I want to reach out to old friends? I think so. The thought swirls about my head pretty frequently, but I don’t do it. Lazy? Depression? something else? Meeting my wife was the most important thing that ever happened to me.

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    • This is a good question, and one I don’t have a ready answer for. I’ve been thinking this over for years. Because I haven’t done it, I often think I *don’t want to* do it, but I can’t be sure.

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  3. I sometimes think about reaching out to old friends too, Jeff, but I (almost) never do it. I don’t know if this is the same thing, but 25 years ago, we hosted an exchange student from Mexico. She was a senior in high school, bright, friendly, outgoing. We had a wonderful relationship but lost tough over the years. About 10 years ago, we connected on FB, realized we were registered for the same half marathon in San Diego (where she lives) and made plans to get together. We met her family and had a great time. Now we keep in touch. It could work!

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  4. I lost a friend to suicide many years ago, and beat myself up, wondering if I’d just done something different would the outcome be different. Too many “if’s” to contemplate. It’s awful, that guilt, and for any that you’re struggling with, I’m sorry. Let it go.

    I think my ultimate take-away was that I didn’t have the ability to control her: her depression (which she never shared/admitted), her choices, decisions, or the roles others played in her life. I didn’t like her choice, but it was hers to make, not mine to control, and with sadness I’ve come to accept that.

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  5. I can understand why his death has caused you pain. I think it’s normal to have regrets when someone you know passes on. Start small. Pick a few friendships you’d like to resurrect and see where it goes.

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  6. Hello! I started to @ you on Twitter, and I can’t find you there now!? I struggled mightily to tromp over here and all the way down to this comment box because I really want to let you know how excited I am to read your book! I find some of your writing to be so relatable as to be actually painful. I mean that in the best way. (I’m sure you understand.) I’ve had “Fragments” on my to-read list for…4 years now? And now the time has come! (Also, I say ‘some of’ your writing because I can’t relate at all to all the talk of running. I’ve probably said that before, but I wanted to be clear. I don’t like misunderstandings.) It would probably be wiser to wait until after I read to let you know, but I just…couldn’t wait! Thanks, I’m so glad it is out there in the world!


    • Hi! I closed up my twitter account a few months back. It was a very one-sided relationship and not very satisfying. I’m excited and nervous that you’re reading Fragments. Four years is a big build-up. It’s been a while since I flipped through the book, but I don’t think there are any running stories at all. After you read it, if you check in, I can give you my thoughts on the book. Thanks for your effort to find me. You’re probably the only interesting person I lost when I left twitter.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m honored! I’ll let you know; I’m about halfway through it right now. Loved the stories of the dates resulting from your personal ad! I’m always happy to see your blog posts in my e-mail, and I read them, but I don’t comment (speaking of guilt….). Commenting is hard. I think my new plan will be to come and ‘like’ them. That seems manageable.


      • I just went back to reading your book, and here I am again. The thing about your writing is that it’s always striking perfectly-timed chords with other things in my world, and it’s just so WEIRD and coincidental that I feel there must be a larger meaning. I just saw an article about how Dean Koontz has just bought a house in Shady Canyon, an area near by where I work,and where a good friend used to work and talk about all the time. Shady Canyon, Shady Canyon–I heard about that phrase over and over for years. Just an hour ago I saw this article about how Dean Koontz bought this house there. And I open up your book, and what are you writing about? The phases of the moon as mentioned in a Dean Koontz book. WHAT does it all MEAN?!


  7. There have been people in the past that I have wanted to call or visit. I didn’t. They died. I felt guilty for not having talked to them more. My last living uncle called me last fall. He said, ” I have bad news. I’m dying and only have a few weeks.” I was glad he called and we got to talk and say goodbye. I’m not sure what my point is here or what I’m trying to say but …. Sorry about your friend.


  8. This is profound. I never knew Joe suffered from severe depression until I learned of his death. I had several dark years where I suffered from severe depression before Tom was born. I was able to find help, not with medication (that never worked for me), but through Dr. Courtina (my therapist) who I finally found after several failed visits with female therapists who wanted to hug me and cheer me through this terrible darkness. The first thing Dr. Courtina said to me our very first meeting is “I am not here to judge you”. I had never heard those words before and I can’t tell you how comforting they were to me at that time. I also found ways to cope and manage my depression, through exercise, through confiding in people (close family & friends). My tendency is to put on a happy face and pretend things aren’t so bad. Who wants to talk about depression, it’s so well, d e p r e s s i n g.

    I wish Joe had been able to get the help he was seeking. I wish I was able to help him by confessing my own struggles. I am grateful for my family, especially my husband Andrew who stood by me as he always does, helped my find doctors, stayed with me even when I was at my worst, cheered me on when times were brighter. I wish Joe had an Andrew in his life. I wish Joe had found someone, anyone who could have shared with him that “this too shall pass”. Depression is horrible but it doesn’t last forever. I will miss my friend Joe.

    Your family is a blessing to me. I cherish our friendship. We have a long history. The time I get to spend with Susan is always wonderful; because you found Susan and let me in to your life with her, I found a true friend!


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