Mental Heart Attack
I stared at my phone in utter disbelief, the words jumping off the screen and piercing my heart. “David: I’m sorry to have to write this. James killed himself today.”
This never gets any easier.
My own personal memorial, each the name of a person who fell as a casualty of the war with their own demons. I look at the semi colon inside my left wrist and wonder if I will ever fall in the same asymmetrical warfare that is depression.
Today was James’s memorial service. It’s also Andie’s birthday. I flew from Phoenix to Toronto to share the grief of my friends whom I have known for 15 years and to mourn the loss of a handsome and gifted young man who loved others so much more than he did himself. I came here to be with his parents and grandparents whom I have come to know and love; my brother-from-another mother who battles the demons with me and my brilliant German friend who doesn’t always get my British-influenced sense of humor, but who is as kind and supportive as any purely platonic friend I have ever had.
Before Rudy Giuliani lost his marbles and sold his soul to Donald Trump, he was a pretty good mayor of New York on 9-11. He wrote a book on leadership where he said “weddings are optional, funerals are mandatory”. That’s why I came. I was one of a couple hundred. But his family knew I was one of many who cared. Only one of many and I stood in the back of the room, but I was there, because I had to be. For me. To bear witness to a life that mattered for people that I love.
Amusing and touching anecdotes were shared by those who knew him best. I could have added my own. Like the time James went down the water slide into my 55 degree pool on New Year’s Day and swam its length to prove he could and to dare my daughter Livia, one month his senior, to do the same. She did. And then both quickly got into the hot tub.
People talked about how much James wanted to live and someone quoted another anonymous friend who said James had a “mental heart attack”. That’s the best definition of suicide I’ve ever heard. Heart attacks sometimes happen without warning, but not without risk factors; often ignored. But they also happen even in spite of treatment.
James’s mental heart attack happened suddenly, but not without a known history. Even so, I can personally attest to the fact that James kept it to himself. I know I do.
In the battle with my own demons I don’t generally tell others how I am doing. I have fondled the gun and held the pills. Each time, I decided I wasn’t going to let the bastards win. I decided that if I went through with it then I would be admitting they were right. That doesn’t make me more courageous than anyone else. My demons are pussies compared to some others.
Coming to James’s memorial was important to me and I admit I wondered how many would show up to mine. Doesn’t really matter. It’s not about crowd size. (Donald, if you’re listening….) What matters is not how I die or how many morn. What matters is how I live and if there’s one thing James and I have in common, it’s we care. We care maybe too much sometimes, but we care and we both try to make a difference. That makes my failures (and they are legion) all the more magnified.
I have no idea what precipitated James’s final decision. He was 22. I do know he leaves behind people who love him and are committed to loving one another the way he did. May we all have such a legacy.
On my way back to Toronto from Jackson’s Point, Ontario and the Memorial Service, I listened to Freebird.
If I leave here tomorrow
Will you still remember me?
I also listened to Switchfoot and was reminded that Love is our Native Tongue.
Katie, my crazy smart friend who didn’t mind “telling people where the bear shit in the buckwheat”.
Laura, the red head firebrand.
Andie, the Deadhead free spirit.
And, James, my young friend who was an amalgam of silly, goofy, boneheaded, and brilliant all bound by a heart for others.
I remember all of you. You left too soon. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m not going to join you for a bit. I have a new grandson I need to teach to fish and there’s much more fuckery to spread, yet.