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?