Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Death of a Friend

 

I got some shocking news the other day: a childhood friend had died. I found out through a direct message on Facebook. His wife messaged me and sought out my physical address. She is putting together a memory book and soliciting entries from his friends.

I say the news was shocking, and it was. And yet it shouldn’t have been, I guess. I forget I am a septuagenarian now, locked in my head as a younger, more fit man. My friend was a year older, and he suffered from Multiple Sclerosis — a diagnosis he got as a young fairly newly married man. Although I am not intimately familiar with the disease, it clearly is not a diagnosis that is indicative of an extended life. So I am imagining that by sheer length, my friend had a pretty good run. But how is longevity to be regarded when suffering a debilitating disease — either for the sufferer or their caregiver?

I must now make a shameful confession: I can be careless with friends. I suppose for some people this form of carelessness calls into question the concept of friendship itself. I know of people who never let anyone go, who make persistent contact. That is not me. When I am in proximity I enjoy my friends immensely and engage with them frequently. But when life has taken me away from them or they from me, they enter the memory world. I do not like them less nor cease to cherish what they meant to me, but their reality and substance have changed. I am sure that is a defect in me, but not one I seem able to transcend.

And so it is, that hearing of my friend’s death I am forced to reach back and recover memories of him. It is a different kind of task. It is not so much hard to recall as it is a process to recall. Memories are packed neatly in boxes and on shelves in my mind like a closet with the light out. So I have to open the door, turn on the light and do a bit of rummaging.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend.

    I don’t think I’d call you “careless with friends,” @rodin. I think our lives take twists and turns that make it more difficult to keep connections. For me, I’ve realized I have different kinds of friends–closer and more distant (physically), intimate or remote. I also have found that connections can only be maintained if at least one person is wired that way; I have one friend who still has friends from childhood; and these folks require that others are willing to work with them to maintain connections. I think that for some, whether we are an introvert or extrovert is a factor. I have no friends from childhood, and most of my current friends are from the last 20 years.

    We have to make a conscious effort about our friendships. You and your friend, at some level, probably kept one another in your hearts. That matters.

    • #1
    • November 30, 2020, at 8:39 AM PST
    • 11 likes
  2. PHCheese Member

    I am much like you as regarding friends. However almost to a fault I retain memories of experiences and events with them. Someone said I have what is called an episodic memory. I can relive much of my life in flashbacks almost at will.

    • #2
    • November 30, 2020, at 9:02 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  3. Maguffin Inactive

    I had friends when I was young, but since college I have had friends at work, but no friends outside of work. Your description of having them move to memory fits me well – when I move on to another job, I lose contact. I’ve lost contact with all my childhood and college friends.

    Now approaching 49 in January, I’m finding the lack of friends to be bothering me more. I love my wife and can talk to her about anything, but there are times another voice would be good. 

    This has been completely my fault, as I’m a poor friend. I’m also an introvert which doesn’t help create new friends.

    Recently someone I went to high school reached out on LinkedIn, and he said we ought to get together when he’s in town next. How to catch up on 20+ years? I don’t know, but I look forward to finding out.

    • #3
    • November 30, 2020, at 10:27 AM PST
    • 12 likes
  4. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Rodin: But when life has taken me away from them or they from me, they enter the memory world. I do not like them less nor cease to cherish what they meant to me, but their reality and substance has changed. I am sure that is a defect in me, but not one I seem able to transcend.

    I’m only in my 40s. My high school class was small, and I cannot say I was close with many of them (several, I will confess, I would still cross a busy street to avoid meeting). My school was pretty well to do – out of the nearly 80 of us, only a single one did not immediately go off to college – so it wasn’t the sort of place where you would expect that a least a few in the class would do themselves in through bad habits, or lead the sorts of lifestyles where the reaper was close at hand.

    And yet last month I found that we have lost two so far, and moreover I hadn’t heard about them at the time, only being told when I was hit up to help fund a scholarship in their names (I demurred). One was a hotshot attorney who worked for the SEC. He had only just married a few months before, when he keeled over from a widowmaker heart attack. It was nearly instantaneous. I remember him on the school’s cross country team, and wonder at what happened in the meantime.

    The other was more tragic for being self inflicted. I remember her as one of the sportier girls in my class – field hockey, lacrosse, basketball. Last I heard, through the annual alumni news, was that she was an elementary school teacher with a couple of boys in Chicago, but that was almost a decade ago. She died in hospice 5 years ago. Obituary didn’t mention it per se, but reading between the lines she had an alcohol problem, was divorced, lost custody, and had been going from job to job in Florida, near where her parents had retired.

    The last I had seen either of them was our high school graduation, and in that memory world is still where they exist. I never expected the one to go off to law school – his family were by and large doctors. I never expected the other to basically drink herself to death before her 40th birthday – in my memory world she was pretty, popular, affable, and with a bright future ahead.

    There’s a Paul Simon song that is never far from my mind, particularly the last verse – The Obvious Child. 

    https://youtu.be/9HKNAhAxMAk

     

    • #4
    • November 30, 2020, at 11:04 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  5. She Reagan
    SheJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    I’m only in my 40s. My high school class was small, and I cannot say I was close with many of them (several, I will confess, I would still cross a busy street to avoid meeting). My school was pretty well to do – out of the nearly 80 of us, only a single one did not immediately go off to college – so it wasn’t the sort of place where you would expect that a least a few in the class would do themselves in through bad habits, or lead the sorts of lifestyles where the reaper was close at hand.

    And yet last month I found that we have lost two so far . . .

    Only two . . .

    On the wrong side of mid-60s myself. Graduated high-school in 1972, academically 11th out of 671, suburban Pittsburgh public high-school which (although it was a very good one) had a bit of an inferiority complex relative to that attended by @jamesgawron who lived just down the road.

    Shortly after graduation, the first of us fell prey to an awful motorcycle accident on a dangerous stretch of local highway. Subsequently, suicides, deaths in Viet Nam, accidents, no-I-don’t-believe-everything-happens-for-a reason, and the death of a friend, not a classmate but a year ahead of me, a Raytheon engineer who was on UA Flight 11 on 9/11.

    Please don’t beat yourself up, @rodin. That your friend’s widow has reached out to you and solicited a memory for her book is a signal. You mattered.

    • #5
    • November 30, 2020, at 11:56 AM PST
    • 7 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  6. Arahant Member

    Condolences on the loss of your friend.

    Rodin: But how is longevity to be regarded when suffering a debilitating disease — either for the sufferer or their caregiver?

    There are always good days and bad days, but most of us would still like to keep living and keep fighting the good fight 90% of the time. One of my father’s favorite phrases about getting old was, “It’s better than the alternative.”

    Rodin: I can be careless with friends.

    You’re a fairly typical male introvert from your description. Back around 2006 or 2007, my step-father died. A few months later, the family got together for a celebration of life ceremony. Among the people there were a brother I had not seen in half-a-dozen years at the time, and a cousin I probably had not seen in thirty years. We had a great conversation. Both of them are civil engineers. It was as if there had been no intervening years.

    I have had the same sort of thing with friends. Keeping in close daily contact is not something I have ever done or been able to do. I accept it. Sometimes I get a call or contact like the one you did telling me a friend has passed, whom I haven’t seen for months or years. Or, one I tried calling a couple of days ago, his phone number of more than twenty years is no longer in service. I need to try his e-mail address, and see if it’s active. He is in his 70’s, so it becomes a health check issue.

    • #6
    • November 30, 2020, at 11:57 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  7. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    You’re a fairly typical male introvert from your description. Back around 2006 or 2007, my step-father died. A few months later, the family got together for a celebration of life ceremony. Among the people there were a brother I had not seen in half-a-dozen years at the time, and a cousin I probably had not seen in thirty years. We had a great conversation. Both of them are civil engineers. It was as if there had been no intervening years.

     

    I didn’t see one of my groomsmen for 18 years after my wedding. Was great to touch base. It’s been 3 years, and I should drop him a line again.

    • #7
    • November 30, 2020, at 12:05 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  8. Arahant Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    I didn’t see one of my groomsmen for 18 years after my wedding. Was great to touch base. It’s been 3 years, and I should drop him a line again.

    I just tried the phone number again. Still out of service, so I sent him an e-mail. Can’t find an obituary, so that’s good news. If I don’t hear back from him, I may have to try contacting his son. Don’t know how easy that will be, but if something did happen, I’d like to know.

    • #8
    • November 30, 2020, at 12:19 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  9. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil FawltyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Friends?

    • #9
    • November 30, 2020, at 2:15 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  10. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    Condolences on your friend. But your post is itself the opposite of thoughtless.

    I’ve recently been disengaging from Facebook, because I’ve realized it never causes me anything but angst. The one thing that had made me reluctant to do this was the vague sense that Facebook helped me to “keep in touch” with old friends I otherwise never have any contact with.

    But I have gradually come to the realization that this is meaningless and counterproductive. Some friendships endure, but others are specific to a time and a place, and there is nothing wrong with that. I might cherish the memory of a friendship with someone who meant a great deal to me at a particular time in my life, but that does not mean the relationship still exists. Pretending to “keep in touch” without any meaningful contact is the illusion of friendship without the substance. People change, and circumstances change, and none of us are under any obligation to maintain every friendship forever.

    Some years ago I had the chance to get together with a guy who was my best friend during part of high school, after not having any contact with him for at least 20 years. We had a lot of fun that day, reminiscing and reminding each other of stuff we’d done in the old days. We caught up on where our lives had taken us. And then? We had nothing to talk about. We have both changed, and there is no basis for a continuing friendship, even if we both have fond memories of our shared past. If we were to meet today, I’m not sure we would even like each other….

    • #10
    • November 30, 2020, at 2:23 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  11. Mark Camp Member

    I am a volunteer in the beta test of a new Ricochet function, “Triple-Like”. 

    There will be several Categories of Triple-Like, and every member will be permitted to use one per month in each category.

    One of the Categories of Triple-Like is “Triple-Like: This person is reading my mind and peering into my soul, and spilling it out in amazing detail in this Comment or Post”.

    It being the end of the month (Happy Birthday, Brown-Eyed Beauty!) I see no risk in using my one Triple-Like in this Category on this post.

    • #11
    • November 30, 2020, at 2:45 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. Randy Webster Member

    Just out of curiosity, are you a military brat?

    • #12
    • November 30, 2020, at 9:42 PM PST
    • 1 like
  13. MISTER BITCOIN Member

    @rodin – you are being too hard on yourself, a feature and a bug

    You are not a careless friend. If you were careless, you would not write a post about him and collect memories about him.

    If you are a careless friend, I too am a careless friend as is the rest of the world.

    People change, circumstances change.

    Life gets in the way of being the “most caring friend’.

    Perhaps by being a ‘careless’ friend, you have maintained more relationships?

     

    • #13
    • December 1, 2020, at 3:29 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  14. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):

    Condolences on your friend. But your post is itself the opposite of thoughtless.

    I’ve recently been disengaging from Facebook, because I’ve realized it never causes me anything but angst. The one thing that had made me reluctant to do this was the vague sense that Facebook helped me to “keep in touch” with old friends I otherwise never have any contact with.

    But I have gradually come to the realization that this is meaningless and counterproductive. Some friendships endure, but others are specific to a time and a place, and there is nothing wrong with that. I might cherish the memory of a friendship with someone who meant a great deal to me at a particular time in my life, but that does not mean the relationship still exists. Pretending to “keep in touch” without any meaningful contact is the illusion of friendship without the substance. People change, and circumstances change, and none of us are under any obligation to maintain every friendship forever.

    Some years ago I had the chance to get together with a guy who was my best friend during part of high school, after not having any contact with him for at least 20 years. We had a lot of fun that day, reminiscing and reminding each other of stuff we’d done in the old days. We caught up on where our lives had taken us. And then? We had nothing to talk about. We have both changed, and there is no basis for a continuing friendship, even if we both have fond memories of our shared past. If we were to meet today, I’m not sure we would even like each other….

    This happened to me about 25 years ago. My best friend from grade school moved to another town, and we lost touch. I bumped into him in my mid-late 20’s, and invited him to come hang out with me and my friends, out and about, introduced him to everyone, and….that was it. Met up a few times, but that was it.

    If you’re not lighting a stick of dynamite and throwing it at them, sometimes these things just fade away on their own. I think it would be different if they reached out to you and you ignored them. Absent that, this is probably as normal as breathing.

    • #14
    • December 1, 2020, at 3:56 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  15. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge

    @susanquinn

    I thought Susan Quinn’s statement was beyond lovely, and I hope it helps to erase any guilt you may feel.

    We lead quite pressurized lives, and you and your wife are also taking care of older relatives.

    In a perfect world we would keep up with people who meant a great deal before before we changed jobs or before we left one region of the world for another. Only that usually seems to be easier said than done.

    In any case, it is a nice thing that your friend’s wife reached out to you. I am sure that she would enjoy any stories you can share of things her husband had done, or said, in his younger days. As quite often the guy marries a woman without talking much about stuff that went on in earlier days.

    • #15
    • December 1, 2020, at 1:24 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor

    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker (View Comment):

    @susanquinn

    I thought Susan Quinn’s statement was beyond lovely, and I hope it helps to erase any guilt you may feel.

    We lead quite pressurized lives, and you and your wife are also taking care of older relatives.

    In a perfect world we would keep up with people who meant a great deal before before we changed jobs or before we left one region of the world for another. Only that usually seems to be easier said than done.

    In any case, it is a nice thing that your friend’s wife reached out to you. I am sure that she would enjoy any stories you can share of things her husband had done, or said, in his younger days. As quite often the guy marries a woman without talking much about stuff that went on in earlier days.

    Those are lovely observations, @caroljoy.

    • #16
    • December 1, 2020, at 2:42 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  17. Jules PA Member

    Rodin: When I am in proximity I enjoy my friends immensely and engage with them frequently. But when life has taken me away from them or they from me, they enter the memory world. I do not like them less nor cease to cherish what they meant to me, but their reality and substance have changed. I am sure that is a defect in me, but not one I seem able to transcend.

    It’s like you’re my twin. I’m the same way.

    My bestest distant friends are the ones who KNOW I still love them, and don’t waste friendship time to push a guilt trip, but rather pick up where we left off, like we’d never been apart.

    We end up sharing and celebrating the big most important events, both happy and sad.

    • #17
    • December 1, 2020, at 7:09 PM PST
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  18. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    I have also found that sometimes, the faint feeling of regret I might feel over losing touch with a friend might not actually be caused by the end of the friendship, but rather because the friendship just kind of petered out without either of us realizing it. For lack of a better word, without closure.

    There have been a couple of occasions when I have had the opportunity to reach out to an old (former?) friend, just to tell them how important their friendship was to me at that time of my life. In every case the response was gratifying, generally echoing the sentiment. You never know what kind of effect you really have on other people, so it’s quite powerful to find out.

    On the occasions when I’ve done that, the experience has always left me feeling very much at peace with the fact that the friendship ended. It no longer feels like a loose thread, and I no longer feel any lingering guilt about things left unsaid. And yes, at least one of the friends I had that experience with has since died, so in that case I’m even more grateful to have said what I said when I had the chance.

    • #18
    • December 2, 2020, at 7:19 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  19. Rodin Member
    Rodin

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Just out of curiosity, are you a military brat?

    No @randywebster, I am not. I did serve in the military as an adult (or something close that, at least. 

    • #19
    • December 3, 2020, at 9:26 AM PST
    • 1 like
  20. Jules PA Member

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    Rodin: When I am in proximity I enjoy my friends immensely and engage with them frequently. But when life has taken me away from them or they from me, they enter the memory world. I do not like them less nor cease to cherish what they meant to me, but their reality and substance have changed. I am sure that is a defect in me, but not one I seem able to transcend.

    It’s like you’re my twin. I’m the same way.

    My bestest distant friends are the ones who KNOW I still love them, and don’t waste friendship time to push a guilt trip, but rather pick up where we left off, like we’d never been apart.

    We end up sharing and celebrating the big most important events, both happy and sad.

    Funny, one of these bestests texted me today. We talked for 30 minutes at lunch. Like it hadn’t been almost 10 years since we talked. These are the kinds of friends. We are separated by circumstance, not our hearts. 

    • #20
    • December 3, 2020, at 6:45 PM PST
    • 2 likes