Editor column: Death knocks again
“Sorry to be txting you about it. It really was good to see you dude.”
“Sam is really great.”
Our plane landed in Denver from Cincinnati around 7:10 p.m. Saturday. Those were the first two messages I saw after turning off airplane mode on my phone. They were from a good friend and I had no clue what he was sorry about.
Less than 24 hours prior to landing, he was among the group of friends who hung around my parents’ house entirely too late, sharing stories while slugging back beers.
Although puzzled, I didn’t want to waste time pouring over the messages.
“Later,” I thought.
Later came Sunday morning when I saw the message that preceded. Another high school classmate, a roommate one year in college, had died. The rumor was he overdosed.
His death came less than a month after another high school classmate died. The family kept the circumstances of his death quiet. The rumor shared with a high-level of certainty during the last-night-in-town party was that he killed himself.
If memory serves me right, that brings the number of deaths in the 2009 class at Archbishop McNicholas High School to four. It may seem trivial — death is a part of life — but it rings loud in a class of less than 200 people.
Last November, I wrote about one close friend who died. He overdosed, which I did not mention in that column titled “A lesson in grief and gratitude.” That loss cut deep and it still weighs heavily on some of my friends back in Cincinnati, and even greater for his family.
Oddly enough, Facebook notified me it was his birthday last week. More and more it seems I’m being alerted to send birthday wishes to dead people.
Another death in the high school class involved a person I barely knew. The other more recent death involved somebody who, frankly, I never cared for.
And although I lived with the classmate who died most recently, I never thought of us as good friends. Apparently he didn’t either.
“I really just want to be able to past the behind us and be able to call you friend because it is an honor to have you as a friend,” he wrote to me in a message in 2014, years after we had last seen each other.
I, for whatever reason, did not respond. I’m not sure what past he was looking to put to bed. Back in those days, I was the one with a tendency to rub people the wrong way, to put it mildly.
He messaged me again in January with a link to a piece in the New Yorker. He thought I would appreciate it.
The message ended with: “I hope everything is going great for you. It looks like your enjoying Colorado and doing something you love as a job which is something i wish i could say. Cheers.”
“Thanks for sending my way,” I wrote back. “I’ll give it a read. Life is busy but good in Colorado. Hope all is well on your end.”
That was it.
Now that he is dead, I’m left concluding things were not well on his end.
It makes me question how things were for each of the four classmates before they died.
One death was caused by drug overdose.
Although I’m in the dark on the first classmate who died and I have not confirmed the cause of the death with the other two, it seems unusual for people to keep the cause of death hush hush were it the end of a prolonged illness or a car crash.
People in their mid-20s do not die of natural causes.
They die from accidents. They die from deep-seeded issues that manifest in drug addiction or less-sedated means of suicide.
Of course, death has a way of making us gloss over certain negative aspects of life. If the majority of people were actually like the ones portrayed in obituaries, we’d have a helluva lot of candidates for sainthood.
(Caveat: I must commend my one friend’s family for being open and candid about the role drug addiction played in his death.)
In these circumstances, it stands to reason that if more of us were open about death we could have a free discussion on its causes. Then maybe my classmates and similar groups elsewhere across the country could go a little while longer before learning of another funeral for another person who didn’t even make it to 30.
Ryan Hoffman is editor of The Citizen Telegram. You can reach him at 970-685-2103 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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