“I think he took his own life.”
Billy was a close childhood friend from years past. I was surprised and saddend to hear of his death even though our paths had diverged years earlier. Our childhood friendship had been close in that playful childhood manner of roaming the neighborhood, fields, and woods near where we lived and occasional sleepovers and the like. I suppose I would say that for a good stretch he and I were best friends.
He was athletic but played no organized sports probably because he had an aversion to the concept of disciplined practice and play. One year, though, we cobbled together a decent college intramural basketball team and he was on the team. That was the last time I can recall spending any time around him.
Our team was long on speed and energy, had some talent, but was lacking height. Billy, at about six feet, was the tallest and played center because he could jump like not a white guy. He would snare rebounds with abandon but when it came to shooting and scoring he wasn’t much interested, partly because he had the oddest jump shot I’ve ever seen. When dribbling and shooting, he might as well have had only one arm. He would come off the dribble with one hand, go up over his head without touching the ball with his other hand, cradle the ball behind his head with the same hand, and then launch his shot. He never touched the ball with both hands at once in the process. Very odd.
His family was not unlike mine. I don’t have any memory of his father, not unusual for the time of stay-at-home moms and working dads.
I remembered his mother from the many times I was at his house. I located her current address and did that most unusual of things, wrote a longhand letter.
The funeral was past. I didn’t know if she would even remember who I was. Billy was a friendly, gregarious kid and I was one of many friends. I didn’t know whether a sympathy letter would be helpful or not. I wrote a short note that mentioned how Billy and I were friends and recalled some of the pleasant memories about him that I had from our childhood.
In a short time she replied and wrote that she was greatly appreciative that I took the time to write her. She remembered who I was. In the letter was this profoundly sad sentence, “You are the only one of Billy’s friends who acknowledged his death.”
Seems he died too late. Friends had moved on. Maybe people who knew him didn’t know what to say. Perhaps attending the funeral would have been too much a reminder of one’s own mortality. If Billy had died in high school in automobile accident the funeral would have been filled with weeping classmates and a mountain of flowers would be placed on the spot where the wreck occurred. As it was, no friends came to the funeral home. None attended the funeral. Only one wrote a note.
I never knew the details of his death and this is a story long in the past for me. I’d think that most of us who live long enough will have a story like this one.
Billy’s mother died a decade or so after being preceded in death by her only son. I’d guess that she thought about him on every one of her remaining days.
This isn’t a story with a glorious, miraculous, God-saturated ending but I’m glad for her sake alone that I wrote that short note. Sometimes doing simple things is important.
If you have a thought to express some sympathy or kindness. Do it while you can.