Blog

Sep11
2014

Remembering Those We’ve Lost

By Matt Ouimette

On my very first day of work at TWLOHA, I woke up to a phone call bearing the news that my friend from home, Nate Ross, had died by suicide. 

We grew up in a Connecticut town that, at the heart of it all, had a furious passion for college basketball. Nate and his best friend, Matt Ouimette, were two of the biggest UConn Huskies fans.

In basketball, there is a term called the sixth man: a player who is not a starter but is the first to come off the bench. The sixth man is a game changer, the one who makes the difference. Matt wrote the following piece while he was searching for answers; he mourned his friend and followed the Huskies around the country as they competed for the NCAA National Championship. During the team’s historic comeback in the postseason, the media claimed that the crowd was UConn’s sixth man, the force that drove the team to victory, but Matt thinks that the sixth man never made it to a single game.

September 11th has become a day for our nation to reflect and to mourn, a day where we remember those we’ve lost. At TWLOHA, we also choose to mark this day in memory of those lost to suicide and mental illness. We hope that today’s remembrance allows you space to heal and the courage to continue to live and to love. We hope that today gives you the strength to remember that you matter and that no one else can play your part. 

Today I not only remember Nate, but I also celebrate what would have been his 24th birthday.  

Rest in peace, Nate. Happiest of birthdays to you.

– Bryan Funk

This is the watch my close friend gave me a week before he found the burden of life too difficult to carry at the age of 23.

Buddies-watch

A fellow lifelong Huskies fan, our best memories come from National Championship runs ‘99 to present. From childhood, we have idolized the same jersey with the same friends, only the names on the back have changed.

As graduates, with work schedules creating scattered availability, UConn games were the one constant. Almost every game I did not attend in person this season, I watched with Nate. The last time I went to his house, we watched UConn beat Rutgers in late January. The last time I saw Nate, we watched Louisville embarrass UConn in the final regular season game, and I received the shocking news of his death during halftime of the Memphis game. My 2014 UConn experience was intertwined with Nate, and now, the aftermath of his passing was to be intertwined with the remainder of the season.

I hadn’t yet worn the watch when UConn was announced as the No. 7 seed in the East Region. Overcome with sadness, I struggled with the idea of not being able to share this experience with Nate. Then it occurred to me – he could share this. I decided to travel to every game and bring him with me on my wrist.

March Madness pits the top 68 college basketball teams in a single elimination tournament for a chance at winning the NCAA National Championship. With first and second round games played at 12 different locations, there was just one possible combination in the entire tournament field that would draw two sites in driving distance from Connecticut. The probability of that happening was 3%. The first two sites – Buffalo and Manhattan – were both driving distance.

The stars were aligning.

I attended the St. Joe’s game with two of Nate’s closest friends. It worked. We won. The next day we drove 7 hours home to attend his service in Mansfield. That night, gathered with 40 friends – some reunited after 6 years – we watched UConn beat Villanova on a night dedicated to celebrating Nate’s memory.

Tickets to the East Regional games soared to record highs and out of my price range. Childhood friend and UConn forward Tyler Olander generously offered me his last two.

Stars aligning.

Everything that needed to go right was going right. Big 12 Champion? We won. Big 10 Champion? We won. Many say the crowd was the sixth man that weekend at Madison Square Garden. In my opinion, the real sixth man wasn’t even in the building.

Riding this wave of faith, I bought a round trip flight to Dallas with no game tickets. I couldn’t rationally justify my decision; I just knew it was the right one. Faith. I knew I had help from above. I knew I had the sixth man with me. On Saturday night I was in AT&T Stadium, the largest single-day crowd in college basketball history filing in from the bottom up. There was no way I could finagle myself into better seats. From my seat in section 400, I noticed an opening three rows behind the UConn bench next to family friends. I began my descent. Ten minutes later I had passed three levels of Final Four security into a seat that got me on the front page of the Dallas Morning News without so much as a single question. We won.

Stars aligning.

On Sunday, a good friend who flew in for the championship game happened to have an extra ticket. It was not discussed; it was not planned – it just happened. Hours later I found myself back at AT&T Stadium sitting behind NBA star Andre Drummond in a row that included former UConn greats Charlie Villanueva and Jerome Dyson. As Kentucky surged, I took peace in knowing we had the sixth man on our side. I knew we would win. And we did. National Champions.

Stars aligning.

After a month of searching for answers, UConn was the only definitive answer I had.

As I mentioned earlier, the last time I saw Nate was when we watched Louisville beat UConn. Following the loss, Coach Kevin Ollie was asked why his team was not playing together this late in the season:

We’ve been playing good basketball so we have faith in ourselves,” Ollie said to reporters. “We’re at the bottom right now. This is the worst we could ever play. But guess what? As bad as we played, we can turn it around. So I’m not giving up on the season. I’m just talking about right at this moment, we didn’t play together. This season is not over yet, but I told them if we play like this we have two games and then they can go to spring break.”

Recently, I revisited the quote in search of significance of our last encounter. Reading through the lines from a basketball perspective, it made sense, but from a life perspective it gave me chills. My friends and I were at rock bottom. Shock barely numbed the sadness of failing one of our closest friends when he needed us most. Distractions lasted momentarily as the mind fixated on what you could have done differently, things you could have said, or ways you could have shown you were there. The longest periods of relief came from reminiscing with close friends and sharing common experiences, such as this championship run. Put simply, relief came from being together with those who mattered most.

It is through these experiences you start to realize that you have not failed. It hurts every night to have missed this chance, but there will be many more chances I will not miss. Failure is a refusal to learn from this tragedy and miss an opportunity to make a difference in the future. Failure is becoming so engrossed in mourning that you forget to carry on the legacy of a great young man. Failure is neglecting to spend as much time as possible with those who matter most. Failure is not paying it forward.

The aftermath of Nate’s passing only heightened the sense of camaraderie within our community. When you see how quickly a life can be lost, it gives you a greater appreciation for not only what you have, but also what you had. Through this experience I have been able to reconnect with friends I had lost touch with for years. We celebrated Nate’s life with a former high school classmate in Buffalo. We did the same before the Villanova game with a collection of old high school friends so odd I couldn’t have put it together better myself. A former classmate in Dallas graciously opened up his apartment to anyone making the trip. Tyler Olander gave his last ticket to our friend in Austin, allowing him to partake in the experience. Middle school friends flew in from Florida. Others journeyed from Boston, Houston, and Minneapolis.

It’s awful it takes tragedies such as these to bring to light what is most important in life, but the real tragedy is not taking advantage of future opportunities to make a difference. At least you know we made it count and will continue to do so. This year has been a dream season defined by faith and togetherness. I had the faith; we just needed to do it together. Well, Nate, we won the National Championship, and we won it together.

I have just finished writing this in the midst of a lunar eclipse.

The stars have officially aligned.

– Matt Ouimette, April 15, 2014

We’re so grateful for everyone who has created a page or donated in honor of those who have struggled. From now until the end of NSPW, every dollar raised through our NSPW 2014 StayClassy page will go directly to funding treatment and recovery. There is still time left if you would like to join us.

If you would like to support Matt in continuing Nate’s legacy, please consider making a donation to his NSPW fundraising page.

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Comments (5)

  1. Bethan

    Thank you for this I lost my best friend to when i was 16 ahe was 15 to suicide as well her birthday is march 12 th three days after mine and every year I think about her and I wear her fave thing which is peace signs and butterflies she was a very put going person and Nobady knew the real her except for me.

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  2. Jennifer Troutman

    I posted this message to my FB the other day along with a picture because there should be no one like me. Left behind because someone else feels they are out of options. Sometimes a story is harder to live with than to share. Here is the story of my Gray Angel. 13 years, three months and five days ago the world lost a wonderful man and I lost a piece of my heart forever. From the moment we met their was something different about our relationship. We were at a middle school birthday party, I was 15 he was 13. He called me pretty and I slapped him in the face. ( The first of many women to do that to him I am sure) This is not to say that he was not a charmer, in fact he carried himself with exceptional charisma. He was the nicest guy you would ever meet. Quite literally, would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. But don’t ever cross him because his memory was excellent and he never let the same one burn him twice. He was always the life of the party, The one everyone wanted to be with. Women fawned at him and men wanted to be him. Underneath that larger than life personality though, was a pain, a hurt, a darkness that he only showed to those he truly cared for, namely me. It was a pain he could never overcome. Because of it, I lost a part of my world forever. I was denied the chance to continue swapping parenting stories with him, have him (finally) meet the man of my dreams, share in my wedding day, see my daughter graduate (he loved he as much as his own) and share all of life’s crazy adventures. He was only 22 and had everything to live for but couldn’t see it. He was buried on my birthday and it forever changed that day. This is National Suicide Prevention Week. Please join in the fight to shatter the stigma of mental illness. Anyone is welcome to go to share my story so that others may find help. They say time heals everything, but I’m still waiting.

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  3. Rocki Smith

    I lost my weight trainer in 1987 when he found out that he had got HIS from a blood transfusion after a car wreck where he lost one of his legs … He had just won mr. Alabama in body building he was the. Nicest people I’ve ever known ! Love you Danny ! Miss you too!!!!!

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  4. Jessica

    My friend died last year. She was only 17 when this happened. I remember I got to class that day and I asked where she was, no one knew so I continued to work. During class there was an announcement for all the teachers to check their emails. There were counselors walking into the room, I thought it was strange. When class was over my friend came over to tell me that there was people outside saying my friend had passed away that morning. I didn’t believe them, when one of the counselors walked over to us my other friend asked if it was true. His answer, “Yes, your friend has passed away, were not sure how.” I walked away crying, I felt terrible everyone tried to calm me down but I couldn’t she was like a sister to me. A few days later I was called to counseling and I was informed that she had committed suicide. Now as I remember this I still cry, but I look around to see how she left all of us and decide that, that isn’t the answer. On her tombstone it now says “She concealed her tears but shared her smiles” I’ll never forget all the times we had. Rest in peace my beautiful angel!!

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  5. Diana

    Everyday I take a moment of silence not just for those we have lost to Suicide but for those who live in quiet desperation. Too depressed to fully live, but too scared to also die.

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