This past week has been difficult and sad for my family and I. The father of friend from Junior High School passed away after battling cancer. He was just under 70 years of age. Although I’ll end up dating myself, Junior High was nearly 20 years ago. Despite this length of time, I’ve had occasional contact with my old friend and my parents continued to be very social with his parents. We also live in a small community where almost everyone knows each other, so when tragic events like this occur, everyone pauses and reflects on a life cut far too short.
My friend’s father was a highly respected psychiatrist who touched many lives. He was a very kind, caring, and generous person who went out of his way to help people. Although as a teenager I didn’t quite understand what psychiatry encompassed, I eventually learned in the ensuing years through my own therapy the level of dedication, compassion, and empathy these special people bring to their patients each day. Further, I heard nothing but good words about my friend’s father when people mentioned his work in passing. In the words of my therapist who knew him, he was “an exceptional man”.
During my own interactions with him as a youth, I found him to be respectful, generous, and full of good humor. I attended my first major league baseball game with his family, was invited to their beach house, and spent many hours at their home enjoying myself. My friend is an only child, so it was fun to be around him and his parents because we interacted on a more sophisticated level than in my own family in which I had to contend with three younger siblings. I always remember how patient, understanding, and respectful my friend’s parents were with their son. I suppose that comes part and parcel in an only child situation, but it was evident they took their jobs as parents seriously and raised their son successfully with love and dedication.
My personal relationship with my friend and his parents distanced once we entered high school. He attended a nearby private school while I went to the public high school. To their credit, my friend and his parents made a strong effort to maintain the relationship, but I increasingly felt a bit abandoned and envious of the way he was being raised. At the time, my own father, in particular, was not even remotely as empathetic, respectful, or patient as my friend’s father. Obviously if you’re a psychiatrist you have valuable insight into how to raise a child. This type of knowledge pays dividends as your offspring progresses through adolescence into adulthood. Unfortunately for me, my parents were ill-equipped and at times abusive. Whereas my friend’s parents lovingly supported him and raised him to be a self confident, accomplished young man, my parents did little to make me feel good about myself or treat me with decency.
Looking back it seems petty but at the time these things really upset me. Envy comes with BPD and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt so ashamed of myself and upset that I couldn’t even manage to be around other people. In reality, if I was to be around anyone, it should have been them because they – more than any other people in my life – knew how to be helpful and supportive. I deeply regret my selfish decisions to be aloof when I could have allowed myself to be a little more vulnerable and probably would have felt better connected.
My guess is, my friend’s father knew what was going on with me the whole time, but obviously couldn’t reach out as a doctor without mangling already established social relationships with my parents.
Needless to say, I was emotional in the wake of hearing about the death of my friend’s father. I sent my friend and his family a basket of flowers. It was really least I could do to show my sorrow, respect, and condolences for their loss. Observing the funeral home website, people known to my friend’s family – both old and new – all stopped to acknowledge the passing of a great father, a thoughtful psychiatrist, and a devoted husband.
Ever since I learned this troubling news, I’ve reexamined my life. The result has been a crisis of conscience. As a reminder, I run my own business promoting websites that make money from online gambling. I’m not married and have no children. I’m not well connected socially but do have a few good long distance friendships.
What if I perished in a car accident tomorrow? Would people say I was a good person or simply recount my schooling and family history? In the grand scheme of things, our time on this earth is unpredictably short. If anyone should have lived to 100, it was my friend’s father, so that he could see his son get married, start a family, and progress into his adult life.
I don’t want to be remembered as a self-absorbed jerk who profited off the losses and addiction of others, but so far, that’s all I have to my name. Now, in addition to the pressures of trying to move back to the USA, I’m questioning all my motives, desires, and goals and wondering if they are truly worth pursuing. Is it worth trading human decency and kindness to make a few bucks and live comfortably? Is this truly how I want to live my life, and more importantly, the way in which I want to be remembered?
If I drop what I’m doing now, where do I go? I still need money to pay the rent, buy groceries, afford health insurance, and all the other financial demands of life. Should I go back to school and emerge in an entirely different profession? Should I consider becoming a teacher or counselor and make a POSITIVE difference in the lives of other people instead of feeding off them like a parasite?
There is a permanence to death that is damning. Once you’re dead, there’s no turning back. What lives on? Your spirit; your good deeds; your kindness; your sacrifices for others. Lately, I feel like I’d rather die poor as a good person than rich as a bad one, but is it too late to make such a dramatic change in my life?