Today I am sad. The kind of sad that fills up every space in your body and mind, the kind of sadness you can’t let go of unless you cry it out. When I cry, it feels like I’m unplugging a full tub, and the water slowly starts to empty out until it begins to rush out.
Jake, our friend, our guest of honor for “30 Years, 1 Wish“, the man I knew since the 6th grade, passed away on Friday night from colorectal cancer. At 31 years old.
I keep going back and forth between emotions, between disbelief and just pure sadness, sadness for the life he won’t have now, sadness for the dad his son Aiden won’t get to know, the husbandly love he won’t get to show, the son and brother he won’t get to be. I’m sad for Timmy, who just lost another best friend. And I’m sad for myself.
This is now the 5th friend I grew up with that is gone. Saying things like, “Gone too soon” or “They were so young” just don’t quite capture the true tragedy that their losses have been in my life and in others. When Kyle, Lindsay, and Tommy passed away over the course of 8 months when we were 20 years old, I was of course sad. When they passed, it was devastating. I had never experienced death that close before, and their deaths were quick and totally unexpected.
Shortly after Lindsay, one of my best friends, passed away, I began experiencing debilitating panic attacks whenever I had to fly. I was convinced I was going to die, and any hint of turbulence would cause me to white knuckle the arm rests and cry until we landed. I was unprepared to deal with grief, and when it manifested as panic attacks or long spells of complete lack of concentration, I felt lost and confused. And I felt alone, at NYU, experiencing loss by myself.
I was sad because I missed them, especially Lindsay, who I will never ever meet another one like her in this lifetime. It wasn’t until 2 years after her death when it occurred to me that I hadn’t thought about her on a daily basis. It was knowing that they were done with life, already, and we hadn’t even graduated college. They weren’t going to explore their 20s and figure out who they are and how they want to affect the world. They weren’t going to fall in love again, then fall out of love again, get their first sucky entry-level job, and make mistakes, then make memories. They weren’t going to eventually figure out that their parents weren’t that bad and that they were more blessed than they had ever given thanks for in the past.
When Clay passed away a few years ago, it was clear a long time ago to many of us that it was the path in life that he had been destined to go down. Having battled addiction many times over the years, he unintentionally overdosed. I had known Clay since the 2nd grade and he was my boyfriend during that amazing memory of my life, also known as getting kicked out of school. When the rest of us turned our lives around, he was stuck and never quite got free. When I heard of his death, I was sad that he wasn’t able to fight his demons and come out victorious. I was sad for his family who had tried to help and had failed. I was sad because his life was also over, already, and we were all really just getting started.
But Jake passing, at 31, is a completely different story for me.
At 30 years old, I get life in a way that I didn’t get when I was 20. I’ve lived an extra 10 years than they did, and I experienced so much. I’ve experienced things I never thought I had in store for me and was able to accomplish nearly every single goal I had set out for myself after that year of hell at 20 years old. At 30, I understand my place in life, what I’ve been put here to do, and who I ultimately answer to at the end of the day. I have a sympathy for people that I didn’t necessarily have when I was a selfish 20 year old, and I see now that what I do has to affect others in the most positive way possible. My parents and I are close friends, which at 20, was a laughable notion, if not completely hopeless.
I understand the good qualities I have and the ones that I want to have. I see myself as a future mother and am proud of myself as a partner to an amazing person, committed until the end, having been tested more than I thought possible. I still have another lifetime to live, and I have lived what I got so far to the fullest ability.
I am sad because Jake won’t get to fulfill more goals. I am sad that he had to live in such pain, for so long, which no one deserves. He doesn’t have any more time to get shit done, and see how his amazing legacy affects his son. How his son will take the best parts of Jake and be an even better example of humility and strength than Jake was (even though I don’t know if that’s possible). How we will take what he taught us, how to be strong, how to shut the fuck up and stop complaining, how to be humorous when all humor is gone, how to work your ass off even in the midst of complete pain and agony, and pay it forward. How even though he stayed out of touch for so long, those 3.5 years we had with him meant more to us than he’ll ever know.
I am thankful that our party gave him another boost, another chance to reconnect with people and touch their lives the way he touched ours. I’m thankful that seeing him at our party is the last memory they may have of Jake, one that is strong, fighting, and respected. I’m thankful that we were able to give his family another network of people who supported them in this fight, who wanted to help them any way they could.
We may not be able to attend the memorial services this Saturday because my family and I have a trip to Spain coming up to celebrate my grandmother’s 100th birthday. That’s right, her centennial. It’s a hugely big deal, 1) because she’s the last grandparent standing for both Timmy and I; 2) I missed her 90th birthday because I missed my flight in college; and 3) that’s an effing long time to live. I’m trying my best to remind myself to be present on Sunday, mentally and emotionally, as we celebrate an amazing milestone in an amazing life.
Because of this though, I’m sad that I won’t be able to pay my respects to the family who included us in every major part of Jake’s journey these last few years. Even though I know they know we love them, that we loved Jake, and would’ve done anything we could, it still means the world to be there at the very end.
I’m sad that loss exists at all. I’m sad that I have to see my blessings through the prism of death, knowing that I am truly grateful for being alive because they are not. I’m sad for these lives that could have been, the lives that could have changed so many more, but won’t get to. And I’m sad because I don’t understand it, any of it, why it has to happen to the best people, and why the pain of loss never ever goes away.
I’m writing this down because I have to get it out, the words that are cluttering my head and my heart. I want others to know that tragedy happens to us all, and what we have to do is make the best of it. Turn those downfalls into uplifting futures. Tell their stories and share them far and wide. Never forgetting that our time here is limited and it’s what we do and how we treat others that matters. In fact, the only thing that matters in the end, the only thing that people remember, is whether you were nice or not.
I’ll never forget what these people taught me about becoming a better person, a better friend, a better human being. I hope they know that. I hope they knew that they were loved, and they are still missed.
Jake, I know that you knew that we loved you. We would have done anything, and we tried, to make your life better because you deserved it. You should have been here for a long time because you were just awesome. You fought as hard as you could to stay here, and Aiden will know that. We will make sure he knows that you were amazing and that if you had had a choice, you would’ve stayed. We will tell him that you cursed perhaps worse than us, that you were funny, dedicated, loyal as hell, and that you were the definition of a good friend. We will make sure he doesn’t go to UF, that he respects his mom, and that he wants to grow up to be just like you.