Sunday, January 09, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

"Patrick...was found dead on the morning of January 6, 2010, at the apartment of a young man in downtown Little Rock. He was the victim of a likely heroin overdose."

Thus began a lengthy obituary concerning the brief life of a 2o year old kid in yesterday's Democrat-Gazette. Patrick's life was a contradiction. He was a wrestling champion in high school. He was an Eagle Scout. He was an accomplished artist. He was a National Merit Scholar but did not graduate from high school. Still, he was offered a scholarship to UALR on the basis of his ACT scores. Alas, he dropped out. And the young man couldn't stay clean.

" It is hard to imagine how a person finds drugs despite all the time we invest to protect them from drugs and push them in the right direction."

Obituaries are hard to write. I know. I've written 4 or 5 in my day. They are hard to write even when you have a degree of emotional detachment about the subject. You have to accurately depict the life of the departed while at the same time give the reader some idea of what made that person who he or she was. That is why when I wrote my mother's obituary, I circulated the first among my brothers and a couple of trusted friends. It was my brothers' job to look for factual errors. It fell to Phil and Don to tell me if I had laid it on too thick.

Grief makes us do crazy things. You need a second set of eyes at such times. You need someone you trust to take you aside and tell you to maybe rethink decisions that you thought were made with a clear head. Because you do not have a clear head when you are grieving. You just don't. And some things are said at such times that cannot be taken back. Similarly speaking, once the obit runs, it can't be taken back.

I did not know the young man in yesterday's obituary. I don't think that I know the family although Little Rock being the one horse kind of place it essentially still is it is entirely possible that I've met some of them. I cannot imagine the pain and frustration attendant to watching a life so full of promise snuff itself out through the abuse of drugs. And from what I can see, good parents constantly second guess themselves. It comes with the territory. I would have to imagine that Patrick's family is doing plenty of that right now. And my heart goes out to them.

Grief can make you angry too. I have seen that as well. And I think I detected it in Patrick's obituary. I'm not saying that the author is not entitled. Or that the graphic depiction of his untimely passing might not prove to be a cautionary tale to those that may be tempted to fool around with drugs. Such an obituary can teach as well as inform. And perhaps that was the author's goal.

I'm not being critical. 20 year olds typically don't die unless absent a tragic circumstance. But perhaps I would have let it go by saying that he was a troubled kid whose life was tragically cut short. That's all the public needed to know.

I'm glad I passed Mom's obituary around before sending it. One of my brother's pointed out that I had omitted a deceased cousin. Guys whose opinion I trust assured me that the obituary was fine. They would have told me in no uncertain terms if I had gone overboard. You need a second set of eyes at a time like this.

Because grief makes you crazy. It is merely difficult to take back things you might say. But it is impossible to take things back when you write them down.