He entered my life like a cyclone – a spinning top uncoiling the lack of comfort in his sixteen-year-old skin.
There were road trips to see the bands that made us feel most alive, late nights and dawn-choruses on empty streets. I remember the boy who wanted to know what steam smelt like, the one who inhaled over a boiling kettle and removed his nose hair in the process.
There was the student who interpreted an architectural lecture about how a particular statue was designed to make it impossible to climb as an invitation to try (Yes, that involved the folly of youth and a night in a jail cell).
There was the sense of homecoming I experienced when we headed to the hills for a day of snowboarding after I’d spent six months feeling lost and unsure of whom I was as I landed my first job in an unfamiliar city far from all that I knew to be true.
There was a palpable communion as we traded tales with tight skin on our rosy cheeks in the warmth of a pizzeria after that day on the slopes.
I remember the longhaired apparition that sprung on me from a dark alley chasing me with a bucket of flour and cold baked beans on my stag night. I remember the phone call the next morning when he checked in to make sure that the concoction hadn’t ruined my favorite jacket or Vans.
I also distinctly remember pacing a hospital parking lot making phone calls to friends and relatives heralding in the safe arrival of my son.
I remember the moment of clarity when I realized that most people in the vicinity were not receiving good news. Within minutes my life was forever changed with the devastating syntax of a single text message. On the morning when our son burst into the world amongst gasps for air, cries, and blood, another mother crumpled in shock as she discovered the body of her own first-born son.
The news spread quickly. Long-lost friendships were rekindled through grief and social media. A family-only funeral left us wrestling with the tension of closure and a sense of guilt – guilt born from wanting to know the details in order to try and make sense of the chaos. There were months of questioning whether our own motives were selfish.
The truth is that I had previously battled my own demons. There had been dark nights of the soul, times of recurring dreams, and a longing for deep eternal rest when I was more than tired of life – times where I never once thought of the impact of those who loved me. But on that fateful day I became one of the latter, someone who was left behind.
All of these years later, there’s rarely a day that passes that I don’t think of him in some manner. Every birthday I celebrate with my son is bittersweet. There is still the weight of an empty chair at the table. Even now, I feel it so profoundly every time I pass that pizzeria at the foot of the mountains.
People talk about how life takes on a whole new dimension or an amplified color after a near-death experience. For me the loss of a dear friend to suicide became that near-death experience. I am still here: alive and awake and regularly overcome by the beauty and fragility of it all.
If you are battling your own dark nights, if you feel that longing, please think about the weight of that empty chair. Please know that there is always a space at the table. Please remember that there are always tales to be traded and food to be shared. Even when it feels like crumbs, those meals can become feasts without the crushing weight of an empty place setting.