Thoughts on a young friend’s death

July 13, 2016 by Joshua
in Nature

Last year a friend told me a doctor found a congenital issue with his heart that it could stop at any time and there was nothing he could do about it. I don’t remember the medical details.

Last month I found out he died. I don’t know how since we only have one mutual friend, who didn’t know him as well. I presume it was the heart condition because he was 29 and otherwise physically healthy. The mutual friend emailed me to tell me he saw people posting condolences on his Facebook page and he knew I didn’t have an account. It’s odd not knowing how a friend died—mildly unsettling, but when your connections are tenuous, what can you do? Sometimes a year or two would pass without us seeing each other.

I learned a lot from my friend since meeting him almost ten years ago, as much as from almost anyone, despite his being so much younger. He and his pet lizard stayed at my apartment for about a month a few years ago when he was between apartments so we got to talk a lot. He could be incredibly annoying but incredibly insightful too.

His greatest passion was to sing opera and told me he needed to wait for his voice to mature. In the meantime, he was a fashion stylist who worked with Vogue and was helping develop a video fashion magazine that somehow led him to sky dive with fashion models. He named his lizard Cristobal after Balenciaga. Almost all I know of fashion, which isn’t much, I learned from him. I wish I could express myself about it as poetically and paradoxically as he could. He also sang opera on the 4/5/6 subway line.

Incredible guy, except for how annoying he was—nonstop interruptions, self-righteousness, always asking for things, never sharing.

I don’t have a good picture of my friend, but this picture of one of his heroes, Cristobal Balenciaga, captures a likeness he shared.

cristobal balenciaga

I think of everyone I’ve met, he had the most trouble fitting into life, or society. I was going to write “struggle” instead of “trouble” in the last sentence, but I don’t think he struggled, which would have meant trying. I don’t think he tried, which, I think, led him to suffer—needlessly, in my opinion, but I couldn’t see the world from his perspective, no matter how hard I tried. As best I could tell, he saw himself as an artist and bought into an extreme, fundamentalist bohemian view that blinded him to ways of living besides his (in my opinion) overly-romanticized view of an artist. He wanted the world to conform to him. You can do that if your views are compatible, but many of his weren’t. I wondered if he would become one of the few who emerged from that struggle victorious. I saw a lot of misery in him and can’t help but think that of all the people I’ve met, his final rest brought him the most peace from suffering. We’ll never know his potential.

I’ve written before about how I view death, in “A mental model on disease and dying” and “Thoughts on mourning.” I still find them the most helpful.

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