Mad and sad are feelings not necessarily related, yet I am feeling both simultaneously. My friend Tony was a brilliant man who had a deep passion for all aspects of life. He was spiritual and felt connected with the ancient Gods of Hawaii. He was an advocate for safe and healthy foods, and a supporter of a healthy living lifestyle. Tony was active in many charitable foundations, donated more than his share of time and money to good causes, and was always concerned about the well being of his friends.
Raised in a strictly religious household, Tony’s childhood was a battleground which left him scarred. At a young age he left to be on his own, and made his way to Newport Beach and San Francisco where he lived an open, full, and successful life with several loving partners along the way.
In business, Tony was a successful marketing executive and helped more than one company make millions, only to be left behind with the paltry scraps of an employee rather than as a partner. After his final big success, he earned enough to buy a beautiful ranch on Hawaii; only to be forced off of it a few years later by the un-breathable Vog and discovery the land he had purchased was ancient burial ground. It was a disappointment from which he never seemed to recover.
Tony returned to southern California, but somehow couldn’t get traction again. He bounced from one missed opportunity to the next and in spite of the happy face he wore on the outside, he struggled financially—more than we knew—until the end.
Everybody was surprised and why shouldn’t we be? He exercised, ate well, drank in moderation, and didn’t have any diseases or life-threatening conditions. Like this author, he wrestled with ‘those last 10 pounds’ and the third martini, but never allowed anything except his clear mind and spirit to guide him. To the rest of the world, it was Tony who always seemed to be the centered one; it was Tony we went to with questions.
Love abounded in Tony’s life. He had friends all over the world who loved him deeply, and would surely do anything to help. Yet he struggled to find that one partner whom he could call “forever” and thus was soured on the prospects of living “happily ever after.” I believe Tony wasn’t able to let the love of many into his heart. It was all there for him, but he didn’t know how to open up and embrace it.
Did he feel isolated? None of his friends would say so. I spoke with him at least three times a week, and I know others who spoke with him every day. Wouldn’t his isolation and pain show up, somehow? Can anyone be so good at hiding what is really going on inside his or her head?
The way I see it, Tony was in pain, and unfortunately he couldn’t find his way clear. Why didn’t he reach out to his friends? Perhaps, because in doing so, meant admitting he was in a bad place. But if he needed money or was in deep debt, he could have declared bankruptcy. He was a smart guy and would have known his options but he either chose not to pursue, or didn’t see them. That was Tony; once he made up his mind, it was tough to change his thinking. He was living in pain: spiritual, amorous, and financial but who among us has not suffered these agonies? The latest political situation made him very angry and for the first time, I saw the pessimist in Tony as he watched environmental protections and civil rights erode. He didn’t want to live in a world with those agonies and saw the only way to ease his pains was to exit this life. I find this difficult to understand. If I have a hang nail, I call all of my friends and ask for help. I have no interest in putting on a face that isn’t real. If I want to laugh, I laugh. If I want to cry, I cry; my mother taught me both were okay.
Yet that’s not the way Tony saw things. It was more than pain that steered him to suicide. Evidently he was done with life sooner than most of us would expect. We had talked about suicide many times, and I know he spoke of it with other friends as well. He believed in the freedom to choose when and where to die. We often joked when we were old—very old—and were about to be put into a nursing home, and were pooping in our pants, then we would throw a big party, drink the ‘magic tea,’ say goodbye, and go to sleep forever. But dammit, that was for when we were very old! It wasn’t supposed to be now, not when he was just 56 years young. He broke our agreement and for that I’m mad at him.
By hanging himself, Tony ensured he would succeed. There’s no going back when you choose that route. You don’t have the potential second chance when the pills don’t work, or the tea isn’t strong enough. He clearly wanted to exit now so what’s the difference how he died? He’s gone and if this is how he wanted to go, then who am I to question him? I might answer that I simply didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. He didn’t wrap up all of the details of exiting, which included paying a few leftover debts and distributing his favorite belongings. But am I not his loving and loyal friend who would support him in his choice? How deep is my love if I question this, his last decision? I have no alternative but to say, “Go in peace and know you were loved. I’ll see you down the road.”
As a life planning coach, I am an optimist and believe what my mother Julia taught me, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” Tony could have crawled out of his financial and depression holes. It would have taken work, time, effort, and would be frustrating at times, but Tony was tired of the battle, which had started in his childhood and never quite seemed to end as he met one frustration after another in this world.
In a Facebook posting Tony wrote, “Suicide is a Choice. It’s called My Determinant. I’ve accomplished and experienced EVERYTHING and Aspect of life that I chose to experience. And I’m not living life not on my terms. In the original 7 Tribes, there were herbs and a choice. I’ve had my fill, thank you, outta here. We MUST CHANGE THE DIALOG around Suicide. It is a FINE and ACCEPTABLE CHOICE. There is NO dishonor, no shame, no wrong. It is when a Soul says, “Thank you, and Goodbye.” I’m so Thankful to the Great Spirits of Robin Williams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Prince, Whitney Houston et al. Such courage and grace and ease of exit. Let’s REFRAME this SHAME into an HONORING OF SELF AND SPIRIT upon Exit from this Time-Bounded, Planet of Chaos, EARTH.”
I believe Tony’s suicide was a selfish choice not fully thought through. In making his pain disappear, the hurt shifted to his surviving friends who loved him. For in his death, which is the ultimate freedom from his burden, we the living are left hurting. We are left with unanswered questions. We don’t have the option to offer our love or money. We will forever wonder if we could have talked him into staying.
When the television series The Sopranos ended, it created an uproar with its fan base. Tony Soprano was eating dinner in a restaurant chatting with friends when abruptly the screen went black. “What happened?” wondered the viewers. They called friends, they called the cable TV company, and even called the studio. “How could you do this to us? How could you just leave us without an explanation?” We felt unsatisfied with only the ability to speculate. We were left with too many unanswered questions.
And so it is in real life with my dear friend Tony. How could you do this to me? How could you just leave without an explanation? Why didn’t you give me or your other friends a chance to help you? While Tony claimed he had achieved everything he wanted in this life, if he were still here, I would argue this point with him. I would coach him that he was not done, had more to create, more to learn, and more to share with those who loved him. You were destined to do more great things, my friend. Sure, you had achieved everything you wanted, but maybe you needed a new desire. Maybe he needed more time to discover his next passion. Maybe he had not set out to do enough. I could have helped him. Why didn’t he at least let me try?
I have lost a great friend, a funny man, an intellect, and my almost-daily source of entertainment and inspiration. I feel cheated out of more time with him. I feel angry he did it this way as he broke our agreement to wait until we were old. I will never see him again, laugh with him again, whine to him or listen to his whining. I have a hole in my heart no one will ever be able to fix. And I am very sad.
As I watch the screen go black, I can only say, “Go in peace and know you were loved. I’ll see you down the road.”
The Growing Problem of Social Isolation
Suicide is growing at an alarming rate, especially among elders. Would my friend still be here if he hadn’t felt isolated? Why did he feel this way if he was loved so much by so many? Isolation can take on many faces and I urge you to try to recognize if you or your friends feel alone. And if so, do something about it. Get up, get out, call someone, and cry out for help. Give a damn about it. Give a hug to someone, for the best way to be loved is to give love. And then open your heart and let the love in.