He doesn’t usually call me.

So, when I got a call from him I thought it was unusual, but I was busy, and I didn’t have time to talk.

He doesn’t usually text me.

So, when he texted me after his call, and asked that I call him back right away, I took notice.

I began the silent conversation we have with ourselves when we sense something is wrong:

he’s probably kidding, he’s like that, a jokster--or maybe something’s wrong, who do we know together, so many people together, did something happen and they sent him to call me.

Years of memories crashed in a microsecond trying to piece together an explanation. 

I put on my best “nothing’s wrong” voice when I called him back:

Hey!   Sorry, I was in editorial and couldn’t answer.  How you doin?

I’m good man.  All good.


Hey, Ben.  You sittin down?

It was getting harder to keep the wall up.  We know people together.   Something happened to one of them.  Who.

Yea, let me just step outside.  Everything ok?

I wanted to call you before you read about it.  He’s gone, man.  He took his own life.  He’s gone.

I remember seeing a seagull fly over me.

I’m not good at these moments.  These moments feel bigger than me, and saying something never seems right, or genuine, or good.  

I’ve experienced significant loss in my life: step parents, close family, close friends, and every time, I find myself dodging the very real cycle of emotions we go through when the news hits.  Why get upset, it’s just the natural progression of life…

Denial is healthy, right?

But, I’ve also found myself unable to step up and be there for others in their suffering. I just don’t know what to do…so, I do nothing..

Avoidance is healing, right?

I’ve worked hard to get past this.  I’ve read lots of articles telling me what to say, what not to say, how to say it, and when.  But, somehow, all of the research and academic know how has left me too cautious, and too scared to stay strong in their weakness

…in our weakness.

My brother, Adam, among other things, is one of the most amazing men I’ve ever known.

A Marine, a chaplain, a father, a husband, an artist… he is the one who handled our mutual losses through the years with strength, gentleness, and calm. 

After his experience in Iraq as a Marine officer, and his time as a chaplain in the Navy, he once wrote to me about listening and being with people in their time of need: 

Suspend judgment, all judgment, and allow the person to present themselves how they will, when they will, and if they will.

Here’s what that means to me:

  1. Stop being strong, and start being there.  There’s nothing to do in these moments.  There’s no one you’re supposed to be.  There’s only somewhere you’re supposed to be: there.  This is hard sometimes, because we don’t like being “there” when “there” is a difficult place to be.  But, to meet someone in their pain, we have to come to their pain, and let them take the reigns from there.  All you need to do is show up.
  2. Once you show up, shut up.  Let them reveal what they need.  If you listen well enough, you’ll know exactly what to say, or not to say, and when to say it.  As long as showing up and listening precedes speaking, the speaking may be healing.

I sat down and was quiet.  I was breathing deeply.  In my confusion, I asked for a few facts.

When, how, why?

I got the answers.  And as I listened, I heard something else. So I asked one more question.

What about you?  Are you ok?

 There was a deep breath on the other end of the phone and it got quiet for a while.

I’ll be fine, Ben.  I’m not sure how…but, I’ll be fine.  Thanks for asking.

There’s peace in knowing there’s nothing you need to do, and no one you need to be

There’s peace in knowing its ok to be hurting and ok to be confused. 

And maybe, just maybe, that’s the peace they needed from you.


How do you handle these moments?   

If you, or someone you know, are struggling with thoughts of suicide and hopelessness, there are many people who can help.  Click here for a good place to start.