Pranksters commit suicide too; eat/work-out/meditate before an emotional death anniversary; and why public Remembering should not be enforced: all in this week’s Tragicomedia with Jay Nog, a stand-up comedian from New York City. Catch him in October at Traffic East when he raises money and awareness for suicide prevention. All the proceeds go to the Jonathan Marc Goodstein Scholarship Fund at Hewlett High School. The scholarship goes to a graduating senior who is described as “one good friend, good student, good athlete.” Visit him at www.jaynog.com. For more information about suicide prevention and the Out of the Darkness Walk, visit the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.Suicide is the quiet next step after The-Extreme Cry-for-Help Pranksters commit suicide too Get paranoid about friends who stop communicating on a whim A brother can kick a brother in the ass. A friend’s got to be delicate Deal with death anniversaries by sticking to a healthy regimen That homeless guy in Penn Station: he has a message for you Bittersweet photos are best kept in your old room at your parents’ house Tattoo your BFF on a body part only you and intimates get to see Ugly drinking (post-loss) teaches you how to drink with your feelings Cut some slack to those who can’t deal with the Remembering Reassure your parents that suicide is not contagious Your To Do List
“I wasn’t really educated about suicide until my best friend Jon passed away. That’s when I learned that suicide and depression are related; that there can be chemical imbalances in the brain; and that head injuries can drive people to take their own lives. I didn’t really know how well people like Jon can keep it under the rug for so long. Everyone thought what an invincible person this guy is. Every girl wanted to be with Jon, and every guy wanted to be Jon. He had friends in every grade.
Who wants the shame of people thinking something is wrong with them, that they’re damaged goods?
I think Jon had a chemical imbalance. Or thinking that is what puts me at ease. I think he either didn’t know it or didn’t want to face it. It never worried me; you have your friends that are a little out there; you know so many guys like that. Is he really depressed? Is there something wrong with him? Who knows at 17-18 years of age.
You learn that suicide is the step after The Extreme Cry for Help – like the police talking you down from the ledge before you hurt yourself. The state of mind people are in right before they commit suicide– it’s like there’s no turning back. It’s the decision they’ve made, and they believe it’s the only way they can escape.
Jon’s friend from college committed suicide the year before. Yeah. I remember Jon said That’s such a pussy way to go out. We could have helped him. So when Jon did what he did, I don’t think he was Jon. He was this chemical imbalance. In the moment he was pulling the trigger, I like to believe that that was not the Jon I knew. The devil of depression made him do that.
After the fact, I tried to play back every moment I had with him in my head, to see if there were any signs. I used to pick apart different moments, but I was driving myself crazy.“
“When we were going to college across the country from each other – me at SUNY Albany and Jon at the University of Arizona – it was before Skype. Cellphones weren’t affordable yet. We would be just calling each other, or emailing back and forth. I heard from his roommate and his girlfriend that Jon locked himself in his room for a little over 24 hours and wouldn’t leave. He had just found out he would have to stay another semester at school because he chose to study abroad and couldn’t take the classes necessary to graduate abroad.
At some point Jon’s roommate heard music blasting from behind his door and he got concerned. “Jon! Jon! Are you alright?” Then he heard a loud bang and ended up kicking the door down. No waiting period for handguns in Arizona in 1999. Jon had bought one and taken it home.
Everyone’s brains work differently. For one person, disappointments mean crying for a couple weeks and then moving on, whereas for people like Jon he looked at it in a catastrophic way, kind of like he failed in some way. Everyone tried to reason with him – like, “Jon, it’s no big deal, you will walk with your class but finish school after the first summer semester.” I’m not a doctor but I thought Jon was a little obsessive compulsive. Some things had to be done a specific way or they couldn’t be done. I wonder, His mother was an educator, his father was a dentist. Did he feel he was letting them down? Was it enough just letting himself down?
What’s really weird was that Jon was a prankster. At Penn State he also had locked himself in his room, telling everyone he was getting kicked out of school. His friends were making cards for him and stuff to try and cheer him up. Then he comes bounding out of his room to tell everyone it was all just a joke.”
“Recently I had a friend I went to college with who had gotten into trouble a couple of times. Well, he stopped talking to everyone on a whim. I’d text him: “If u need time to yourself, I understand.” Or “Go seek help if u don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone.” First, I thought it had to do with drugs or being gay (none of our friends were gay). I reached out to him about 10 times. Nothing. I haven’t seen the kid in 6 months to a year. Now when things happen like that – a guy cutting himself off from friends – it’s a red flag for me that there are behavioral changes. And my instinct is to go for the worst.”
Anyone you come at in a way that something is wrong with them, they’re going to be defensive and won’t want to be helped. Instead, try sharing an experience. Like, “Sometimes when this happens to me I do such and such. I see a therapist.” Or ask, “Are you alright, dude? I’m here for you …” It’s not about me; it’s about them. Really, only a brother can kick a brother in the ass. If you’re the friend of a very private, introverted person, you have to deal with them more delicately.”
“When Jon committed suicide, I was a junior in college. I didn’t realize that this kind of thing doesn’t hit you until later – in my case almost 15 years later. Jon’s suicide still doesn’t feel real; it doesn’t feel definite.
At the funeral, I did a eulogy. And at the high school where we both went, Jon’s parents started a scholarship. Each year I do a comedy show to raise money and awareness. After presenting the award this year, I lost it. I was walking up the aisle to leave and three quarters of the way, three of our closest friends Ross, Jason, and Justin were sitting there. As was Ross’s father.
I had a little episode and it took a few minutes to compose myself. It was scary because I started wondering, have I dealt with this? If not, I’ll be dealing with it for the rest of my life. On the other hand, I try not to stare it in the eye that much. I haven’t visited Jon’s grave in about 7 years. The last time I did, I also lost it, and it messed me up for a week. I remember thinking, He was going to be the first friend turning 21, getting that first job, getting married, having a family. And he never got to see that. So this time of year – September is when he passed away and November is when his birthday is – I try to lead a healthy lifestyle. I eat right, go to the gym and meditate regularly.”
“I hope Jon goes to a better place. And he’s happy and looking out for me; watching me chase my dreams. Often I’ll want to call him and I can’t call. But I believe I’ll see Jon again somehow. Sometimes there are times I feel he’s with me. It’s just a feeling; I can’t really verbalize it. I’ve been in a room where a light flickers on and off, or the light’s on the next day. I like to think, Jon’s with me here. I once remember it was rush hour. I’m walking in Penn Station and I pass this homeless guy and we lock eyes. And I hear this buzz in my ear, “Jon says hi.”“
“I used to have a frame of Jon’s pictures with four photos in it. One was me and Jon in high school on a day we ditched class. Another was of him in the middle of the desert in Arizona, arms raised like we had taken over the world. The third picture was of us with our prom dates, 17 years old. The last photo, was of a buddy of ours, passed out on the couch, with us laughing over him. Was this bunch of pictures a security blanket, or something obsessive? I worried whether I’m going to be this 50 year old, with that hanging up in my office. Maybe it was a crutch? So now it’s in my old room in my parents’ house. Moving it there I think allowed me to move on in a certain way; to keep his memory alive but in a healthy way.”
“I have a tattoo with Jon’s initials inside a heart with an eternity symbol on my left upper thigh, only where I get to see it, or, yeah, my girlfriend. She knows it’s a delicate subject but she’d ask questions here and there like: “What’s that?” I’d answer, “My friend passed away.” If they want more information, I talk about it.”
“In the beginning it was tough talking about it. I went to a counselor at college and had good friends to talk to. But alone my mind would race, and thinking a lot just made me crazy. I ended up skipping classes and it triggered a lot of anger in me. I wanted to fight someone. I’d try to get someone to punch me just so I’d go off. I had some good girlfriends at the time and they’d say to those bewildered people, “Don’t worry about him; he’s just had one drink too many.” Then one of my friends would watch me cry for an hour. After that I stopped drinking for a month. I had to learn all over again how to drink again with my feelings.”
“As the years pass, people I thought were Jon’s best friends stopped coming to the event I do in his name – with excuses like “I got married and had a kid.” It’s especially sad having a peer of yours consciously take themselves out of the picture because it means they’d have to share memories of the Jon we knew. It used to piss me off. People who live in NY can’t even get together to celebrate Jon’s life, see old friends and have a drink or two? But some old friends tell me they just can’t do it; that they’re not very good at dealing with their feelings. Is forgetting that easy? Yes. It’s that easy. Being mean and forgetting are the two easiest things to do in the world. The hardest thing is keeping the memory going and dealing with it.
I haven’t spoken to Jon’s parents in a while. It’s hard to see your son’s friends getting married, living their lives. They used to come watch me give away their son’s scholarship award. Then they just stopped. I wonder sometimes how Jon’s suicide is still affecting their lives. It’s hard to bury your child under any circumstances. At my age now I realize it must be fucking tough. It’s not a road I want to go down: hating them for not supporting the event. Instead I say to myself, Alright, they tried seeing us and found out it hurt them. I don’t want them to be sad. Let Jon’s parents be as happy as they can be. If what we’re doing pulls them back into sadness, I don’t want that for everyone.”
“In my parents’ eyes, it was the first time as parents they were helpless. They couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t help me study more, get me tutors, help me shoot baskets. It was such a heavy thing for a 20 year old thing to deal with and they’d never dealt with anything like that at such an early age. They were worried about me doing something stupid. They said, “We were worried that you would hurt yourself.”
My parents know I’m a very aggressive, passionate, driven person. They knew I’d react. They were worried I would act out and do something stupid. That didn’t bother me; they were looking out for me. They love me.
Eventually I’d like to do a one-man show about it.”
1. Re-think the shrine-thing you’ve got going on. One day you’re going to discover that the space you created on the wall with all those framed photographs of your [dead] best friend is actually a shrine — something they’d find positively icky because death is figuratively written all over it.
2. Bring your (deceased) friend “into the picture.” Bring your best friend into your current life, like what the Fitzgeralds did in their storytelling photomontage. Hire a digital artist who can integrate pictures of your friend into a new fantasy of what they’d love to be doing with you, right now.
3. Visualize something fun your (deceased) friend is doing where they are now. If they were water sport people, collect photographs of your best friend doing their favorite thing, whether it’s fishing or diving or in Laz’s case, boating. Laz’s sister describes why seeing her brother and her nephew together in her storytelling photomontage -“flying through the water” – gives her such a “peaceful feeling”:
“It’s good to picture them happy. It’s like sending your child to summer camp. When they go away, you miss them. At the same time you know they’re having fun. We’ll go to camp too one day.”