Monday, March 16, 2020

Moving Onward after the death of a loved one

Minor spoilers for Onward below.

About two-thirds of the way through Pixar’s new masterpiece, Onward (see our review here), Barley is sitting on a Cheeto boat and reveals to his brother that he has a memory of his late father that he’s not proud of. Barley takes off his beanie and gets vulnerable for a minute. He tells his brother how his father was really sick, and Barley was instructed to go say goodbye to his father before he died. But Barley saw a man who was hooked up to tubes and wires, he got scared, and he didn’t say goodbye. He couldn't. Barley explains that since that moment on, he has chosen to be brave for the rest of his life, to never be scared again.

This summer I lost one of my best friends, Mark Mazzarella, who was nicknamed “Cheese”. On July 8, Cheese received some bad news, I walked him to his car, and we had an emotional moment. But it was too difficult for me to say goodbye, so instead I just kind of put my hand on his shoulder and didn’t say anything. I couldn't get the words out. That night I called him to check on him. We talked for about a half hour. And then he took his own life while I was on the phone with him. 

What happened to Cheese was tragic and traumatizing. I’m in a better place than I was this summer, but I’m still not over the suicide or the fact that I didn’t really say goodbye to my best buddy. I don’t think I ever really will be. But I have been working on allowing that catastrophic experience to shape the rest of my life. Like Barley, I have vowed to be as fearless as I can. I have started to live my life boldly. I haven’t taken up D&D or magic or protesting the preservation of historical sites, but I have started reaching out to friends like I’ve never done before. I’ve started examining my testimony and listening to the ways that God speaks to me. I’ve vowed to be more authentic in my life. And this is all a direct result of the death of one of the closest friends I’ve ever had. 

Suicide is a terrible thing. If you’re feeling even the least bit suicidal, reach out to somebody -- anybody. Like they say in Dear Evan Hansen, “You can reach out your hand and someone will come running. You will be found.” But for those left behind after suicide, or the death of a loved one, or any kind of loss, it can seem like an impossible task to pick up and continue our quest for happiness. However, I have learned that there’s magic in the way a tragedy can bring about some positive change. Just like a manticore’s fire can make way for new growth, or the loss of a beloved Guinevere can create a new path for a seemingly impossible journey, so too the death of a dear friend can be the catalyst for personal growth. Death has the power to spur another person to be brave, to live outside their comfort zone, to become a better version of himself. Though we never forget the person that we loved and lost, we can let them become part of the fabric of our future as we work on self-improvement and we move Onward.

If you are having suicidal ideations or you don’t know where to turn, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. 

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