Ireland’s recent rugby victory in Chicago over the All Blacks prompted me to get back in touch with a good old Kiwi friend for some banter. However, a search of Facebook yielded only a memorial page for someone with the same name, who looked disturbingly like him.
A Google search revealed the tragic story of a young man, again with the same name, in his city, who had taken his own life. My heart sank deep in my chest as I began to fear the worst. With trepidation, I searched my email inbox and discovered that in the blur of life with small children, I had somehow completely missed crucial emails from the other side of the world a while ago.
An email from a mutual friend confirmed the devastating news that one of the most kind, generous, hilarious and inspiring people I had ever met had taken his own life. I was sitting with the children playing around me as the realisation set in. My wife, seeing something was amiss, ushered the kids out into the garden, and I told her the grim news.
Just weeks before he died, it transpired, he had been trying to contact me to catch up and to invite me to his wedding. I thought of his fiancée and that wedding which never took place. Memories came flooding back of happy times in Dublin, Cork, Auckland and London.
Even though forever smiling outwardly, he had told me about his battle with depression – that dangerously invisible disease.
Yet even when he was feeling low, he always brought light to other people – he was always ready with a smile, a joke, a slap on the back and a bit of banter. This shows the incredible strength of his character. Yet it also shows how even the most cheerful, confident and outgoing people we know can be suffering inwardly in ways beyond our comprehension.
I got in touch with his parents, to share photographs and memories. Despite having experienced such a blow, they are determined to celebrate his life. There is indeed much to celebrate in someone who, a thousand times a day, in a thousand small ways, made others feel happier and better about themselves.
Perhaps this is the greatest legacy any of us could leave – a legacy of kindness to others. No day was ordinary when his childlike sense of fun was about.
My mother told me, and it has sadly proved true, that we become parents, we become so busy that good friendships often fall by the wayside temporarily, only to be picked up after a few years, once the children are older and life is more manageable. Especially where both parents work, life with small children runs from dawn, or earlier, to midnight. There are no days off in these helter-skelter years. Although we will not meet again, in this lifetime, I will try to learn from the life he led.
If he could daily bring such joy to others even when battling severe depression, the rest of us can surely pull up out socks and bring a bit more joy to those around us, even when tired or cranky or busy. Most of all, when we are with our children – even when we are exhausted, and we need to send that important email, or pay that bill – perhaps the most important thing is to stop and connect with them in their world of fun and mischief.
I lit a candle in our village church this morning. The world is a poorer place for his passing.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.