Part of my Friday routine is to read the LawNews. This is a weekly publication that goes out to lawyers in the Auckland region. But I usually only skim it. Most of the articles and pictures are of no interest to me: people I don't know receiving awards or going to functions and dinners I didn't go to.
LawNews has a Wills section, which lists the names of people who have recently died. Estate lawyers use this section to notify the profession about wills or other testamentary documents being sought in relation to the deceased. Many clients like their solicitors to hold their will, so most firms will get someone (usually a deeds or filing clerk) to check the names published against their own records.I usually flick through this list, in case I recognise the name of a former client.
Today I recognised a name, but the name was not that of a client. It was the name of someone I went to school with in the early 1980s, someone who for two or three years I regarded as my best friend. Seeing that name hit me hard, even though we'd not kept in contact and I hadn't seen him for over 15 years. We lost touch because my parents were always on the move, always shifting house for something bigger and better - or so they always hoped. More often than not those hopes were disappointed.
It was a chance occurrence that led to our last meeting 15 years ago. For some reason I was driving down the long main road where he and his family lived. I decided on a sudden whim to see if he still lived in the same place. It was an odd kind of meeting - two adults who knew each other as kids but who no longer had anything in common. We exchanged small-talk and promised to keep in touch, but I knew at the time we wouldn't. And so it turned out.
I wondered occasionally what had become of this friend, and I even googled him, but couldn't find out anything. Then this morning I found out he was no more. He'd been dead over a month, and the brief death notice I managed to find in the Herald Online told me nothing about what had befallen him, except that he died "suddenly".
So now I'm left wondering what that word means. Did he have an accident? Did his heart suddenly give out? Or, and this is the hardest thing to think about, did he decide one day he'd had enough of life? It's easier to reconcile yourself to the first two possibilities, because our lives are fragile and can be snuffed out at any time by events beyond our control. What's harder to think about is the possibility that his death was not a random thing, but was deliberate.
Suicide is a brutal thing. Those left behind are left to wonder whether they could have done more to help. Would counselling, drug therapy or some other intervention have saved the person? In the case of my friend I just don't know, because I know so little about what his life became. But I now can't help but wonder whether I should have got back in contact years ago, and whether it might have made a difference.
This is all speculation, because I still don't know what happened. And I don't know whether it would be right to contact the family to find out. I had not been part of my friend's life for years, so what right do I have to intrude on their grief? And how will it change what has happened? He'll still be dead.