A couple of weeks ago I got word that someone I knew from childhood ended his life in a pretty violent way. It was a barricade situation, and before killing himself he shot a police officer (who is recovering, thankfully).
I was not that close to Steve. We were Facebook friends, but he was one of those Facebookers who wasn't very engaged, and I hadn't seen him since maybe high school.
Truthfully, I had to dig out my old yearbooks to recognize who he actually was, and when I realized and remembered I felt even worse.
As I recall, Steve was a smart, funny kid. Kind of nerdy and brainy. So the way he went out just did not compute.
I learned from the news stories that the last year of his life was pretty tumultuous. Drugs, divorce, getting fired from his job. Apparently he was at the end of his rope and even warned a therapist just hours before that he was ready to do something drastic and violent.
Some people who knew him better and kept up with him are naturally pretty broken up about it, expressing guilt and remorse. It's hard to know what you can actually do for someone in that state -- how you could even recognize just how bad it is and find a way to intervene.
The whole episode is unsettling. I feel bad for him, his family (he had kids) and, of course, the wounded officer. It's also disrupted my view of these things. They're on the news practically every night -- man holed up in house, authorities trying to talk him down.
And you (I) always have a notion of the kind of person it is. Bad. Violent. Terrible upbringing. Loser. And then something like this happens. The Steve I knew, what little I knew, was nothing like that.
These are hard, hard times, and I think a lot of people are barely hanging on. I'll certainly look at these things with a different perspective and a little more empathy.
As one of my friends put it on Facebook the other day: "Thinking about the suicide of my closest childhood friend and how his life will probably be defined by his worst year."
I hope he found peace, and that the people he left behind manage over time to find their own.