Still More About My Friend


I learned this weekend that my friend had suffered more than I knew. I knew he had suffered: he’d told me about it, but in such a way that it sounded as if the suffering was in the past. From others of his friends I found out it HADN’T been past.
Once the bipolar diagnosis was made, he was put on medications, and from what he told me, I assumed they worked. That turns out to have been stupid and naive of me. The medications sometimes stopped working. From what his friends told me, he couldn’t immediately go on a different medication. He had to let the old medication pass out of his body first, so that he wasn’t on ANY medication until that happened. Maybe a month or so? I don’t know. He always smoked a lot of marijuana and cigarettes. He tried several times to quit smoking cigarettes at least, but when the medications repeatedly failed, he smoked again because he had to have SOMETHING. That directly implicates the bipolar disorder in the COPD that caused his death.
To be fair, he always had smoked a lot, so maybe he would have gotten COPD anyway, but the bipolar disorder caused him to smoke a lot more than he otherwise might have.
Both in drama and in life we frequently see people consciously on some level or other, to some degree or other, destroy themselves. The disorder he had wasn’t like that. He had almost NO control over it. It came every winter (I’d like to believe there might have been a few winters it didn’t come, but don’t know) and it was so severe that he apparently couldn’t tell himself it would end.
I just heard a story on NPR that some women get a similar depression with their periods. One of my friends when I was in my twenties told me that it had taken her until age 25 to realize that when she had her period she didn’t HAVE to continue to be depressed. Apparently he had no such reassurance that his depression would end in a reasonable time.
One friend told me she had gone to see him because local friends had to be away and were worried about him. They’d been leaving food outside his door for him, and he hadn’t been eating it. They gave her a key, with which she let herself in, and found him lying on the couch. She said she realized he was trying to starve himself to death. She said inspiration brought her the correct thing to say: “You don’t deserve this.”
Many of our problems come from incorrect choices. This is one of the exceptions. He really DIDN’T deserve it, as far as our human perspective can tell. And it’s amazing too that he didn’t allow his suffering to turn him evil, as many might have. When he came back from his depressions he was a loving person who generally enjoyed people. In previous posts I’ve said that I think his greatest strength was his ability to make friends. On the one hand, his depressions could (and at least part of the time did) isolate him from people; on the other, knowing suffering enabled him to see it in others, and to treat them kindly. Many people loved him, and and I believe his acquaintence with suffering was not an insignificant reason why.
He had a lot of qualities. He was intelligent and industrious, could build and fix a wide variety of things, and was an artist. One of the speakers at his memorial recalled many things he’d made for her that she still had.
It made me think of his first marriage (at which I was an usher) which was held outside in lovely weather, and at which point the future looked clean and promising. His enemy sabotaged him, though. The marriage didn’t last, though thank goodness the friendship did. He did marry once more, but that didn’t last long at all, and I think in that respect he was usually alone most of the rest of his life. Perhaps he compensated for it in friendship.
During the service one of my poems was read, which I had written earlier that day. Most of the service I kept telling myself that I had quite enough recognition, that I didn’t need to speak in the service too, but I changed my mind.
I had earlier thought of a quote that reminded me of him, and during the service it came to me that it might contain an important point. Someone, when asked about one of his long absent friends, had said “What makes your friend special? He’s special because he’s special…” I think we loved the man not because of his good qualities, which were abundant, but because he was a real friend. A friend to a lot of people, and a friend to each person. That’s the man we cared about. His other talents (if we can call friendship a talent) were beside the point.
I don’t think that’s a bad epitaph.


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