i was in Virginia Thursday to speak at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. i got in early and had the chance to spend a few hours with my friend Nicole. Well, she feels like a friend now but the truth is i’d never met her before Thursday. Some of you have heard me talk or write about my friend Zeke, who died by suicide in January 2006. Zeke and i worked together at Hurley. Well, Zeke lived in Virginia Beach and Nicole was his girlfriend of more than three years when he died. She was the one who found him.
i’d traded emails with Nicole in recent weeks but never met her in person. We met for lunch on Thursday. i told her i wanted to eat where the locals eat and so she suggested a place by the Inlet. i pulled up a few minutes before her and the first thing i noticed was the word “Zeke” spray-painted on a wall near the restaurant’s entrance. Zeke died over three and a half years ago and yet it was clear in that first moment that he has not been forgotten.
As we ate, i asked Nicole a lot of questions about Zeke. He was good at everything. We smiled at the stories. She spoke of his quiet pain, unknown to most. i asked about the days since he died, how has she recovered, how has she survived… She spoke with strength and grace. She said she’s different now, doesn’t buy “busy” as a way of life, says she’s learned to slow down, to pause for the things that matter, for people and moments and conversations. She talked about her incredible friends and about going to counseling.
After lunch, i asked if she might show me around town – show me the places that were Zeke’s, help me know his story. She said she would be happy to. We stood on the boardwalk at First Street, watching the cold waves break – Zeke was a great surfer and this was his. She pointed to the plaque on the end of the jetty, placed in the silence of the night, Zeke’s friends saying his memory would stay with them always.
She explained Virginia Beach, the surf shops and the bars and the characters that make it. She showed me the house that they shared. “We built a home together,” she told me.
That night, Nicole joined me on stage at Old Dominion, and for the first time ever, she spoke her story into a microphone. It was incredibly brave. Afterwards, people lined up to meet her, to thank her, to share what they found in her words.
As we stood in the parking lot at the end of the night, she told me she was blown away, by the confessions that she heard, so many young people sharing their stories. i thanked her, said her words had been a gift for all of us in the room, encouraged her to keep sharing them. She said she would like that.
i wish i could bring him back, this man she loved, this friend to so many… But the weight of suicide is it’s permanence. Each of us, we are thousands of moments and choices and days. Zeke walked away from all of it that night in January.
We are left with the questions, with the weight of all the memories. The only sense that i can make of it is that Nicole now has a story to tell, that her words will serve as a gift to other people, her scars suggesting that they are not alone in their wounds, not alone in their questions and their remembering…
Today is National Survivors of Suicide Day. If you’ve lost someone that you love, then we stand with you today. We say it matters, their story and yours, and we join you to remember. Please know that you are not alone.
To learn more about National Survivors of Suicide Day, please CLICK HERE.
Peace to you today.
PS: i wrote this a couple days after Zeke died, in January 2006…
Zeke Sanders: You Were Loved.
“I didn’t know him well but this is what i knew: Zeke Sanders was hilarious and kind, small and huge in the same moment. He was humility and rock star, fashion and fishing, alive and encouraging and broken and hopeful and a thousand other things i’ll never know. He was simple and complex. He was my friend. Something hopeful in me says he knows now how much he was loved. We will miss his smile, his laughter, his kindness, his tiny jeans and enormous shoes, made for wrestling. We will miss him tomorrow night when we set up, Sunday when we tear down, and Monday morning at Ian’s, when it’s too quiet. i don’t know what else to say. i just have to believe that we are all more loved than we’ll ever know. And we’re all in this together.”