That Guy Was My Friend, Part 2

Jake, Dennis, Lisa, Evan, and Krista, circa 2001

After Jake’s death, his family and friends were left in shock. (Although… that last sentence could probably be filed under the category of “excruciatingly obvious.”) In the months that followed, I found myself grasping for lessons I could learn from all that had happened. It was my way of finding therapy.

That was when I had to face the truth. That was when I realized I hadn’t been completely honest with myself. Because, when I said “that guy was my friend”… well, that wasn’t quite the case anymore.

Yes, Jake had been my friend… years ago. But the truth was, we had drifted apart. In the year leading up to his death, I spoke to him maybe five or six times. When we talked, it felt just like the old days, and I never stopped referring to him as a friend. But, we were nowhere near as close as we had been.

It was only months before he died that I started seeing Jake out swing dancing again (that’s how we knew each other). I remember thinking how cool it was to catch up with him. But I never made much of an effort to renew the friendship that we used to have. That was the extent of our reconnect: we saw each other at the random swing dancing venue, and we hung out and we chatted.

I remember thinking: “Hey, I’m a guy. That’s how guys are. We lose touch with a friend for years at a time, but when we see each other again, we can pick up right where we left off, and everything is totally cool. That’s how guys are.”

So, I figured my friendship with Jake would pick back up on its own. I figured there wasn’t anything I needed to do. I’m sure he figured the same thing. “We’ll see each other more now. We’ll be friends again.”

Of course, that’s not how it turned out.

Yes, I had the chance to renew our friendship. But no, I didn’t feel the need. Well, I lost that chance. And this was the most painful lesson I learned through his death.

You may not have known Jake, but maybe you can still take something from his death: if there’s someone in your life you still care about, don’t just let them drift away. If you really do still care about them, make that effort and keep them a part of your life. Because you never know when you might lose them. And ironically enough, it may be difficult to realize just how much you care about someone until you lose them.

So, call up an old friend—or family member—whom you haven’t talked to in a long time. You might think they’ll always be there. But clearly, they won’t.

I feel like I still owe you a call, Jake. Wish I could make it up to you.

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  • Dennis, this is such a moving story and a good reminder to connect with the important people in our lives before it’s too late. I appreciate you sharing this on my Swan post, it’s incredibly fitting.

    • Thanks, Catherine. Yeah, the hardest part of it all was having to hear about the “incident” all over the news. Imagine losing someone close to you. Imagine all the regrets and second-thoughts you might have.

      Now, imagine constantly being reminded of this person’s death….

  • WOW! A very similar thing happened to me a few years ago.
    I live in a military town. He was in the Army, did a tour in Iraq, and came back messed up. He was diagnosed with severe PTSD. About nine months later, he jumped off a bridge when he found out he was going to be courtmarshalled (forgive my spelling) for something I found out later he didn’t do. His case was all over the news here and I stopped all contact with him, at the time, I didn’t really know the facts of the case. He came to me 2 days before the suicide, just wanting someone to talk to and I slammed the door in his face. Told him to go to Hell. I went into work the next day, after the suicide, and all anyone could talk about was “that guy” who jumped off a bridge. No one had anything nice to say because of the charges against him. I kept my mouth shut for a few days afterwards, until I found out that I was with him and other friends the night that the supposed incident happened. Then I blew up.. That just isn’t some guy.. HE WAS MY FRIEND! AND, I let him down when he needed to talk.
    He helped me out of an abusive relationship a year before and was there for me in every way possible (on a purely platonic level), and when he needed me, I slammed the door shut.. I live with that guilt every day. It will be 4 years in March.

    • Wow, I can’t imagine having to live with something like that. I know this probably doesn’t mean much coming from someone who doesn’t even know you, and I’m sure this is easier said than done, but I don’t think you can blame yourself. There was simply no way for you to know what was going on with him.

      Not that that will make it any easier to deal with the loss of a friend. But, at the very least, I hope that the guilt will subside over time….

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