During the years that I've been working with high school music students, I have been fortunate to maintain long lasting relationships with some fabulous young people. I've been to weddings and baby showers for several, attended many concerts in which others were performing, and even done some accompanying for one who now has a choir of his own. I admit to becoming quite attached to them, and caring about them in ways that would probably surprise them if they knew. That's why it hurts so much to lose one. On January 31, 2006, one of the very brightest, compassionate, fascinating, and talented young men I have ever known, took his own life. Jeff was a writer, an actor, a musician, a mathematician - he was "off the wall" gifted in every area. But, unlike some extremely gifted people, Jeff was very socially oriented. He loved people, was fun to be with, had loads of friends, and was never afraid to make a fool of himself in the course of having a good time.
During Jeff's high school years, as well as those of his younger brother, his parents also became my friends. Gary and Vicki are lovely people, who have a strong marriage and have built a stable home. Watching the family together, it was evident that there was mutual respect, love, and lots of laughter in their relationships.
I had lunch with Vicki today. Whenever I am with her, I wonder how she can function at all. How can she get out of bed, take showers, put on makeup, prepare food, clean house, pay bills - all those ridiculous tasks that are just necessary in order to exist. I sit and stare at her, at the raw pain that is still etched in her face, the tears that well in her eyes at the mention of Jeff's name. And it's impossible not to talk about him, because his presence is there between us as real as if he were sitting in the empty chair at the table. We remember Jeff and the things he said and did. She talks about the plans she made to take him to see his favorite plays at the Shakespeare festival in Ontario this summer. Somehow, she does all the mundane things she needs to do and goes on living, even though her life is now defined by this huge "Why?"
I have not written about Jeff's death until now, although it has weighed heavily on my heart for the past four months. I wonder why the God I profess to believe in would allow a young man with so much promise to become so full of despair that he found life no longer worth living. I wonder why I, whose talents and potential are so miniscule in comparison, have always been able to overcome those dark demons that have haunted me from time to time, and continue to "soldier on." And why, oh why, couldn't anyone see this coming and do something to stop it?
The last time I saw Jeff was at the wedding of one of his classmates, just about a year ago in Florida. "Do you think Brian is happy?" he asked me, watching his friend dance with his bride.
"Yes, I do," I answered truthfully.
I remember he smiled at me before he replied, "Well, good, that's all that matters."
Jeff, I wish you could have been happy here with us.