Losing Andy

8084550131_22af3aeb7b_z“Andy Boy killed himself yesterday.”  My husband’s words felt like a punch to my chest.  Whooosh.  All the air is gone and instantly the world feels a little lonelier.

Andy and his wife, Andy Girl, were my husband’s landlords in Denver when we were dating and then engaged, 26 years ago.  In reality, they were his family, along with Ed, another wayward young lawyer living in their third floor.  Whenever I came to town to visit, they welcomed me into their family as well.  We were all young and establishing ourselves in the chaos of professional careers.  Andy was a small but mighty Jewish complement to Andy Girl’s beautiful Italian-ness.

Life happened.  They had children, we had our son.  We all worked really hard at living. We moved.  They moved.  Time went.  We kept track over the years.  Andy brought his kids to our condo in Copper years ago after a day on the ski hill, and we remarked at how wonderfully our children were growing up.  In my mind, he is still the man in his mid-20’s with the sideways, quiet smile – always up for a meat-centered boys’ night out that often included my husband.  My memories are of youth and hope and a deep love for the people in his life.

At the memorial service, hundreds filled the synagogue.  We heard his family share heartbreaking stories of Andy and his passions that verged on obsessions.  We heard of his love for his children and Andy Girl.  We learned that he had been tortured for years by dark depression and he had lost the strength to fend off the insidious, suffocating thoughts.  We felt the shattered hearts all around us, only just beginning to grasp that he was gone from this life.

The next evening we were invited to join Andy’s family and friends at his brother’s home.  The night was all about ribs, beer and stories of Andy told around a camp fire.  His family spoke of their love openly, tears streaming even as we laughed about his uniquely Andy Boy ways.  Friends came to remember him, from his high school days, his fraternity, his law school and the neighborhood bike shop.  We learned that he was the same man we knew in our youth.  His heart loved deeply, he would talk to anyone, he would take any poor soul mountain biking.  We also learned that he had an enduring love of IPA, worshiped the band Wide Spread Panic and felt an almost manic need to pull people into his life. Hearing this was both reassuring and troubling.  This cross-section of his life was consistent throughout, yet he lived with deep darkness.  This man who was loved and cherished by so many, who brought laughter and fun to such a broad group of people couldn’t see a place for himself in this world any longer.

We are heart-sick.  We liked knowing the world had Andy in it, even if we hadn’t seen him for a while.  We would have moved the earth to keep Andy in it. We spoke with our friends from that era, who have also been living these parallel lives, about honoring Andy by refreshing our friendships.  Ed’s son, sitting on the cusp of adulthood, heard his dad explain that the bonds he will make in the coming few years are unique and to be cherished.  They are pure, without the tarnish of grown-up weightiness and responsibility.

Losing Andy this week makes us aware of what we were too limited to realize when we were younger:  a true connection with another is precious.  We are privileged to have had such a connection with Andy.  Cheers, dear friend.

 

What to Make of Brittany Maynard and Robin Williams?

I know, I know.  This article is so three days ago.  As a nation, we’ve elected  a bunch of Republicans and voted on controversial laws involving women’s rights and recreational pot since Brittany Maynard died on Saturday. But I just can’t stop thinking about her, and the public’s reactions to her death compared with the reactions to Robin Williams’ suicide this summer.

Brittany Maynard’s very public decision and ultimate action to end her life before the cancer did was ground breaking because she was so public about it.  She’s not the first and she won’t be the last.  A lot of people have ended their lives before an illness does, they just don’t tell the world first.  Robin Williams’ shocking end was sadly not new to us.  We have said untimely good-byes to a number of beloved celebrities.  Both of these people decided to end their lives.  One, apparently, because he was clinically depressed and couldn’t find his way back.  The other, because she knew the torture that was coming and chose not to endure it.

Brittany has been characterized as both brave and cowardly, depending on the viewpoint.  A Vatican representative recently condemned her suicide calling it “absurd.” He is quoted as saying, “Suicide is not a good thing. It is a bad thing because it is saying no to life and to everything it means with respect to our mission in the world and toward those around us.”

Conversely, Robin was even further iconicized for his work following his death.  Reactions were filled with grief and remorse.  There was outrage at the news of the various medicines he was on and the likelihood that they contributed to his death.  We grieved for the greatness that was lost.  The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published a brief article following the death of Robin Williams honoring him and calling him an “unforgettable clown with a heart of gold.”

So, both of them were ill.  Both of them chose to die.  One faced certain and painful death in her near future.  One, had he been able to escape from the dark world of depression, faced many more years with friends, family and opportunities to pursue his “mission in the world.”  Why are the reactions to their choices so different?

Incidentally, I use the public statements from the Catholic Church because they illustrate the bifurcated sentiments of many, not to criticize.  This is not an easy one to figure out.  At least not for me.