Sunday, October 25, 2009

Anonymous Condolences
Sometimes the Internet is not really the right place to put personal wishes and in this case, I'm going to violate that personal bond but hold anonymity to those involved and hope that in making the personal public, I might not do actual violence to those bonds.
A very dear friend of mine called me recently to tell me, in a rather round-about way it turned out, that his younger brother was just found dead. Then, in a sort of grotesque echo of that, the brother's son killed himself. My heart breaks for my friend because I have no doubt that he will internalize both of these deaths with the feeling that someway, somehow he played a role in these sad events. In reality, the brother's death was a long time coming and there's nothing that would have stopped it. That snowball has been rolling down the hill for so long I knew the shattering on impact would be dramatic even if I couldn't have imagined that the real drama would be in the loss of another life.
Leaving the nephew aside for a moment, the loss of this brother was, sadly, not a real loss for humanity. He has been an alcoholic, drug-addicted wastrel essentially all his life, a fair amount of which has been spent in custody. Of course in our world this hasn't stopped him from being married a few times and producing a few children that he hasn't been able to support. I wouldn't bother to consider what left him this way apart from the fact that he grew up in a toxic stew of a broken family with a mother who was no mother at all. What matters about this is for my friend to recognize that he grew up in that same stew and he is doing all right - beautiful wife who loves him deeply, a good son and daughter-in-law who brought a beautiful granddaughter into the family not too long ago, a lovely home in the suburbs. His life is not the perfect image he carries in his mind's eye but it is good, better than he will admit, probably.
When we weep for the dead, we cry for what we lose, that our lives have been stripped of being with someone we will never again hold, talk to, laugh with, gain knowledge from, feel the warmth of. In this case, even though there was hurt in his voice, my friend has not lost anything that was not lost long, long ago. In the last several years his brother has done nothing but make demands. Money, a place to live, even (I am not kidding) organ donation. Again, not ask for, demand as in 'you have it and I want it and you're my brother so you should give it to me.' This was a life that had become a black hole for the physical and emotional resources of a family (my friend's mother and sister, not his family per se) that was dysfunctional at best.
Now as for the nephew, I am at a loss there. I believe the young man (23 years old if I remember correctly) was not long out of jail for attempting to murder his father. Why would one feel the need to take his life after the death of someone he earlier tried and failed to kill? Perhaps the hopelessness of existence opened up before him when he faced the actuality of his father's death. Instead of seeing a blight and a burden on his life lifted, he confronted his life and could only see himself as his father's son which made his going on an impossibility. It takes an almost unimaginable depth of hatred for one's father to lead to suicide when seeing nothing but "I am my father's son" in the mirror. But I imagine, I posit, I do not know. I only met the lad once and were I pressed, I would say he suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome.

Not every life illuminates the world. As sorrowful as the family is, and I don't mean to diminish their sadness, the world will not much miss either of these lives. But I desperately want my friend to understand that the lesson is there for him: You and your sister came out of the same dumpster childhood that broke your brother and then his son. You may not have the life your fondest dreams limn but you have a wonderful one nonetheless. Let him go, hold what you've made of yourself and for yourself dear. And may God bless you. May you and your family find undeserved grace
in every day.

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