Making Sense of an Unexpected Death: Losing a Friend

Sunset over a mountain top - clouds over the horizon. Death and grieving.
Written by David Davenport – Contributing author Healing Arts Institute of South Florida [Op-ed]

For anyone who has ever experienced an unexpected or sudden loss of a friend or loved one, I hope this story finds you well.

There are so many emotions and conflicting thoughts that are involved with experiencing the death of a close friend or relative. It becomes even more difficult to process when feelings of guilt and a sense of missed opportunity looms over their memory.

Recently I received a call from a long-time friend. We had known each other since college, and he was part of a group of inside friends who helped to define my college years. The five of us would hang out and have the kinds of conversations that would make even a veteran sailor feel uneasy.

My friends were a defining part of my younger years.

Admittedly I was a bit of a latecomer to the group, but I like to think of my inclusion as a much-needed upgrade.

The day came when we all graduated. Years passed, and we slowly drifted apart in the way that life tends to impose. We moved away. We spoke less and we lived our lives.

The Call

I answered the call with excitement, so happy to hear from my friend. We hadn’t spoken in almost three years. I wanted to know how he was doing and how his children must have grown! Business must be doing well, and I’m sure his wife must be overjoyed after having their fifth (yes, fifth) child.

When he spoke it was with the same enthusiasm and heartfelt joy that I’ve become accustomed to hearing, except… it wasn’t. I knew something was different this time in his tone, even though he tried as best he could to hide it.

He went silent for a moment. That moment felt like an eternity and I sat down not knowing what to expect. I only knew that whatever was coming next would not be good.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Something is wrong.”

He sat silent for a few moments trying to find the right words, hesitant that in doing so it would make what he was about to say all too real.

“Chris died last night.” He said without any further explanation.

I felt nothing. Of course he was mistaken, and I was going to get to the bottom of it. My medical training immediately took over and I began collecting a detailed history of events. With each answer I received, my heart sunk further as the reality of what had occurred formed a very clear picture in my mind.

His passing was not the result of a sudden tragedy or unexpected event. My friend was sick for a very long time. Years even. His cause of death was likely due to internalized struggles that he attempted to suppress with alcohol. A lot of alcohol.

He never told any of us.

It was my fault…

I had suspected on occasion that he may have been struggling with depression, but never to the extent that it would eventually take his life. I only ever received second-hand updates from others in the group.

He had everything he ever wanted, at least as far as any of us knew. At least as far as I knew.

It had been more than twelve years since I had seen my friend, and almost as long since we had spoken.

It had been so long that he almost didn’t seem real to me anymore. He had become another happy memory of my youth when life was far less complicated.

Three months before his passing, he called me out of the blue. I almost couldn’t believe it was him. He seemed happy. I asked how he was, and he said everything was going well. He was lying.

He invited me to come out and see him, meet his wife and spend some time with him. It didn’t seem practical considering how busy things were at the time, and I didn’t have the first clue that things were as bad as they were. I didn’t know that he was calling me from the hospital.

I know now that this was his way of reaching out and saying goodbye. He was a man of few words.

I slowly began to fill with a sense of dread. It was heavy and cold – almost palpable. That dread slowly turned to anger.

Why didn’t he tell us? We were his friends! He could have said something – I COULD HAVE DONE SOMETHING!

It was MY FAULT that I didn’t reach out, I was as guilty as the disease that took him…

The disquieting ebb and flow of guilt and anger were all I could think about.

Making sense of what happened

Slowly with time, more rational thoughts began to prevail. How could I possibly blame myself for his decisions? I will always feel partially responsible for not reaching out, but that is my burden to bear.

Ultimately, he felt that his demons were his and his alone to vanquish and I am learning to respect that decision. I do not have to like it, but I do have to accept it.

My friend left us on a Saturday night. He closed his eyes and found peace after falling asleep one last time. He now has more important things to do and has left the rest of us to continue the work of our daily lives.

Tomorrow, I will wake up grateful for having taken that first breath in the morning. I will be grateful for having had him in my life.

I will try to do more. To live more. To be more compassionate to others, and to listen more than I talk.

Chris was my friend.

I will miss him.

Written by David Davenport: Contributing author Healing Arts Institute

If you suspect that someone you know is struggling with depression, reach out to them. If you are struggling with depression, seek help. You will never find the answer at the bottom of a bottle or with substance abuse.

There is never any shame in asking someone for help.

Crisis textline: Text CONNECT to 741741 for help with depression (24 hours / 7 days a week)

Lines for Life: Alcohol help line 888-923-4357 (24 hours / 7 days a week)

Read our blog article on re-kindling your motivation when you are feeling depressed.

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