Death of a friend


Here’s how I found out about Steve’s suicide.
It was Ruth who called with the news. She asked if my wife was home.
Yes, I told her and offered to get Toni to the phone. (Both women are leaders in our church.)
“No, I’m calling to talk to you.”
“Are you sitting down?”
Ruth sounded distressed. Then she told me.
“Steve killed himself.”
“Yesterday afternoon.”
That would have been Tuesday. That day I was in a committee meeting downtown at the Associated Churches offices. The group has been meeting to develop a plan to support family members and friends when a loved one had committed suicide. It’s a spin-off of the Allen County Suicide Prevention Council, which I helped launch when I was writing editorials for The Journal Gazette.
Just before the mid-afternoon meeting was about to start, somebody’s cell phone jingled. It belonged to Mike, our deputy coroner, sitting a chair away, to my right.
“Another suicide,” he said, as he shook his head.
I didn’t know about my friend’s death that day, although the person who was the subject of that call to the deputy coroner in fact probably was Steve.
On the phone the next day, I had little to say to Ruth, other than to offer
whatever support I could give to her for whom Steve was such a special person.
Not a tall man, in his 60s, he had been a minister, author of a couple dozen books, publisher and an expert on how to grow a church. He also advised people on how to manage personal finances.
Steve and I had been meeting nearly a decade over lunch to chat about writing, family and sometimes politics. He published my first book, after I retired in 2000. During that time, he acted as a coach, editor and champion for a memoir of my advocacy through the paper’s editorial pages. His publishing and consulting business found him traveling regularly around the country. He was an advocate of gay and lesbian young people and had been working on study materials on the subject for churches across the denominations. He simply was such a good, natural speaker, spoke without notes, so warm and personal.
But financial problems had fallen hard on him. He was accused of losing thousands of dollars of investors’ money, as well as a small fortune social agencies gave him to invest. Months ago, the story made the front page. That article also mentioned he had once spent prison time for embezzlement.
In the recent story, he accepted full responsibility. He offered no details of his defense. He did promise he would
get in touch with me to explain it all. He never did. I never got a chance to help him. Still, he thanked me for my support and friendship. I was sure the publicity devastated him. He had to be depressed. It crossed my mind that he might attempt suicide. When he actually did, that was quite another matter, shocking, sad beyond words. Newspaper articles on Steve’s death followed days later. They recapped the earlier account of Steve’s legal problems. None of it described the man I knew.
Steve’s legal problems no doubt represented a loss of esteem, although his church friends stood by him after his financial problems had become public. Was it some gambling-like addiction that got him into so much trouble? I guess I’ll never know. I know that he must have hurt deeply. With the investigations ongoing, he might well have faced another prison term after being a free man for so many years.
Even in that worst case scenario, I can imagine Steve finding a new calling, of suicide prevention. But that’s my wishful thinking. I guess Steve’s hurt must have been too great for him to find an alternative.
I won’t forget him. I won’t forget what a champion he was for good causes. I won’t forget how much he helped me as I stepped from daily journalism into the unknown world of book writing. I won’t forget how much he encouraged others to tell their story, helping them get their books published.
I picture him now, across the table at the Italian restaurant where we met for lunch every few months. He’s ordered the lunch special and a coke. I asked for a salad without dressing and a cup of decaf. I wanted his advice about taking on a new writing project. But he pauses and then offers some crystal clear idea, something I hadn’t thought of. Now I’m sure Steve would want me to continue to find ways to help the community reduce suicide and heal those still alive, who have lost so much. I can do no less.

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3 thoughts on “Death of a friend”

  1. So sad indeed. I also knew Steve. We sat on several committees together and you are right on the money when you say that Dan Stockman’s articles did not capture the Steve you and I knew. Being a suicide prevention expert and the facilitator for the postvention response group you mention, I had to stop by and offer support and materials for the family. They were not there, but I left a letter and materials anyway. I want so much to help them. There is a community presentation/discussion next week that I offered to take them to called “Surviving After a Suicide Death” that Visiting Nurse and Hospice Home is offering. I would likely be so helpful for his family.

  2. Sad. The act of suicide is such a tragic and personal act. I was 21 when my brother, age 27 took his life. My mother, with whom I was living and supporting at the time, couldn’t talk about it with me. She and I suffered for years, feeling guilty about Bill’s death. It was only years later that I learned the signals that may warn of an impending suicide. Would that I were aware of them at the time.

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