On the passing of a former classmate.

Warning: This may seem harsh.

I got a phone call a few days ago from Mr. Shreve, a former co-worker at Paxon, who had also taught at Stanton while I was there. He asked, “What year did you graduate from Stanton?” Now, when he asks this, it’s because one of my schoolmates did something notable, whether good or bad. Sometimes it’s something impressive; sometimes it’s something sad; sometimes it’s simply to show what a small world it can be. So I told him the year, and then he gave me the name of this classmate.

Every so often, you’ll know how a story turns out after reading just the first line or hearing just the first words. This, sadly, was one of those moments. I knew as soon as I heard this name that this classmate, Richard, was dead and it wasn’t an accident.

On the twelfth, Richard hanged himself in his office. He was an editor of a university newspaper, and had been pretty good at it. Apparently he spent his last hours writing instructions to his staff so that they could continue to publish the same quality of newspaper he’d helped produce. Good luck to them without their captain.

The latest online edition of his newspaper is full of tributes to Richard. I read story after story about a man who was sharp, thoughtful, helpful, and totally committed to his work and his friends. He was admired and loved by the people writing these articles.

And evidently that wasn’t good enough for him.

I wasn’t a close friend of his back in high school, and I hadn’t seen him since graduation. I could guess at his reasons for committing suicide, but they’d just be a guess. I don’t know what he was thinking or feeling; I’m not psychic and I’ll never read the suicide note. But I can safely say this:

After reading about your friends’ wonderful memories of you, Richard, it is painfully apparent that you hurt them. You have deprived them of someone they loved, someone they relied on. As much as you loved them, you insulted them—either by not seeking their help and support, or by not heeding their help and support. And now, you can’t simply walk into your office one day and say you’re sorry. An apology on a suicide note won’t cut it. Leaving instructions for how to go on without you won’t cut it. You have hurt them in a way that you can never fix. What you did was sadly selfish, and I hope they forgive you. I expect they will.

I know, most people “aren’t thinking straight” when they kill themselves. And some people have painful terminal illnesses, which might mitigate their actions (though the remnants of Catholicism in me might disagree). But when such an intelligent, capable, young person as Richard commits suicide I think it’s as much due to a twisted form of pride as it is anything else. Did he really think his problems were so big that if he couldn’t solve them alone, then no one could? Or that even if he’d gone to others for help, they wouldn’t be competent enough to help? Or that his friends’ troubles were so slight that they could afford to deal with the lifeless body of a loved one in a place they thought of as “home”?

There are people who will do anything for a friend, but refuse to let a friend do anything for them. This is pride in its most insidious form—the pride of believing that no one is able enough to help you. And I suspect that this, ultimately, is what felled Richard.

I can imagine people admonishing me: “you weren’t in his position,” “you didn’t even know him,” “you weren’t even his friend,” “what you wrote was in poor taste,” “you’re an arrogant jerk.” All true. But I think of this kid back in high school—and how much he reminds me of a few people I met in college, and a few people I met in various jobs, and a few students at the high school I taught at—and think it’s more important to discuss the topic than to simply gloss it over by avoiding the possibility of offense or impropriety.

So, in short, Richard: whatever your troubles were, you were not the first person to have them and you will not be the last person to have had them. People loved you and would have helped if only you’d asked, and then let them help. May God rest you in peace

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 22nd, 2005 at 4:43 PM.

8 Responses to “On the passing of a former classmate.”

1. jassymane06 Says:
September 24th, 2005 at 8:31 AM

    Wow Mr. V., that was amazingly inspirational.

    2. Lassie-v 5.0 Says:
    September 25th, 2005 at 7:56 PM

      Yes, I agree that was very inspirational. I admire you for saying what most would not. I believe you were the best teacher at paxon. and on a lighter note you should vist my brother sometime, as he is up there in the navy. If you would, for some reason like to contact him [brother’s name moderated by moderator to “Fluffy”] his number is 777-FILM [number moderated also], he might not answer so just leave a message, and you should probably leave him a way to contact you also.

      3. Vincent Viscariello Says:
      September 25th, 2005 at 9:13 PM

        Well, inspiration is what I do. Remember kids, killing yourselves is bad.

        4. Vivienne Says:
        September 28th, 2005 at 6:59 PM

          The whole “pride” thing is off the mark. It has nothing to do with pride. It’s part fear that if he shares his problems with someone then maybe they’ll end up feeling like he does.
          But mostly, it’s being selfish, like you said. Self-centerdness in only thinking of himself and not how him all of a sudden not being there will affect those around them. The sudden absence of someone who was just laughing with you the day before is sorely felt, for quite a while (my friend didn’t succeed, however, and did come back). It’s selfish in even thinking that no one wil care if they slit their wrists or whatever method and even more so if they know they will be missed. It’s all aspects of the word selfish rolled into one and looking like a tourniquet.
          Just my opinion.

          P.S.- sorry I didn’t come up with a mind-boggling alias, it was all I had.

          5. domthebomb Says:
          October 3rd, 2005 at 8:13 PM

            well if it is a blog-here’s my use of the first amendment.

            …how you could actually pass judgment on a man who isn’t even alive to defend himself…I wouldn’t comment, but I probably know him nearly as well as you do.
            I can’t believe you would profess to know why he did something so uncomprehendible…unless you have personally experienced the pain he must have gone through. Although it seems you don’t think he suffered anything more than excessive pride and selfishness. Honestly, I doubt he was just having a bad day. It’s not a natural instinct to destroy oneself, so there must be something wrong, some extreme physical or psychological drama. Not everyone realizes this existentialist vomit about living because others will miss you…especially when they’re enduring intense pain.
            Personally, the last two paragraphs are my favorite. In the first you admit what an “arrogant jerk” you’re being, but in some great savior-like technique you accept this burden, sacrificing your image for the greater good of humanity, and possibly even some mixed up kids. Bravo. And the last paragraph…nice touch actually talking to the defenseless man you just beat up for the last two pages. Real classy. Still, you shake your finger at him, you can’t seem to forgive him…but you’re not a jerk, this is just a public service announcement “Remember kids, killing yourselves is bad”. Classier still. Well, you really talked me off a ledge. Pat yourself on the back, I’m sure you have.
            Oh, and I don’t disagree so much with what you were trying to do, just how you did it.

            6. Vincent Viscariello Says:
            October 3rd, 2005 at 9:19 PM

              You know what, I had so much to say about “domthebomb”’s comment here that I made it my next post. Congratulations, comment… you’re now a post.

              7. domthebomb Says:
              October 3rd, 2005 at 9:25 PM


                8. SUGARBUMPS Says:
                October 7th, 2005 at 3:10 AM

                  [Moderator changed name per rule #1]
                  Well, interior dialouge aside… I think that is true that we don’t want to admit those things about suicide, we just try not to concern ourselves with the dead and how we honor them in their death and ignore their previous choices, no matter how vile the person was. (Not talking about the young man who commited suicide, for he did not seem vile. )