A column by Michael Lopez.
Despite the lyrics to the famous song, what I know now and what I believe now is that nothing about suicide is painless. The act itself may be brief and painless, with death coming like a whisper to take you away into the unknown. However, the profound grief, despair and pain that lead one to such a desperate act of self loathing must be excruciating beyond belief. And yet, sometimes it can be so easily masked by a façade of peace and calm. As one of many who have experienced the loss of a dear friend from suicide, I can tell you I didn’t see or feel it coming. I had no intuition and no sixth sense. And it left a wake of grief, sadness and questions as you can imagine. In short, suicide is devastating and thousands of families have gone through this awful, soul-rending experience.
In the winter of 2013 my lifelong friend, Ryan, took his life with a gunshot to the head. Immediately questions arose from those on the outside: ‘Was it because of a woman? Financial problems? Work-related? etc…’ All questions of this nature were mostly dismissed by friends and family alike. As one of his closest friends, I was personally asked by his parents if I knew anything. I felt helpless to have to stand there and say no, that I didn’t see anything coming. The fact is, none of Ryan’s friends had one iota of a clue.
On Super Bowl Sunday two years ago, Ryan had his first get-together for friends at his newly purchased home in Beverly, the same neighborhood where we both grew up in on the far South Side of the City. I never imagined it would be the last time he would host.
There were about ten of us there admiring his new bachelor pad that day. We talked about his job as a policeman for the Chicago Police Department, since he had recently returned to duty from a pretty serious injury. We discussed what his plans for his house were as far as remodeling, painting and upgrading. Ahem…Pinball machine! We all hinted outright that he should host something for the South Side Irish parade in March. Of course the whole time we were swilling beer and laughing. After all, this was a Super Bowl party and I was so happy for my friend on this occasion. It seemed that he was genuinely excited for the future.
We all watched the game, won and lost money to and from each other, stayed late and laughed and joked, and laughed some more. Ryan had a laugh that made you laugh. I left that night feeling like…I really don’t know now. Did I miss something? I don’t think so. But I would never see my friend alive again. Four days later without warning he would be dead. And it would change everything about what I thought I knew.
“It bring on many changes, but I can take or leave it if I please”
I was once a young, naive idiot, uncompromising and blissfully unaware of reality and the complexities and pitfalls of real life. My worldview was that I was right and everyone else wasn’t. In my late teens and early twenties when I heard of people committing suicide, I considered it an act of weakness and dismissed it as pure selfishness. But I had never lost someone as close as Ryan. We were friends for 33 years. Friends since the first grade. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go! We have too many friends within reach to let one of our own sink to such a depth.
Somewhere along the way I grew up and as a result, I began to grasp that internal pain, despair and depression is truly a debilitating condition that kills good people. And the scariest aspect of it all is how insidious it is. How such a bright mind can revert to the darkest corners of the psyche and snuff out the light. The thoughts must’ve slowly invaded his mind like a virus until it gained complete control and claimed his soul…and took him away. We can forever lament why he didn’t trust us enough to come forward and seek help, but trying to figure that out will only frustrate us.
Ryan was definitely not lacking in friendship. He gained many friends throughout his 38 years on earth with his humor, his infectious laugh and his unwavering loyalty. He was one of Chicago’s finest in more ways than just his occupation. Two weeks ago, I along with other lifelong friends of Ryan assembled on the anniversary of his death like true morbid Irishmen. We gathered that Friday night, 20 strong, to toast and drink a Jameson in his honor. We gathered to remember the man. We gathered not to lament and engage in sorrowful conversation, but to tell only the funniest of stories about our departed comrade. We gathered to further the healing process. We gathered to laugh and live. We gathered for each other. We gathered for Ryan.
Michael Lopez is a lifelong Chicagoan who currently resides on the South Side.
Suicide is Painless lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.