Jim took his life on Friday evening. The last time I saw him, I was at his newest restaurant with my son Luke for a late lunch. He was there and spent time talking to us, about old times on the soccer team where Luke and his son, Henry played together for many years. We talked about their respective plans for college and he shared more about how he plans menus for his new restaurants. His restaurants had been favorite eating places since we moved here over a decade earlier. I had spent many hours by the side of a soccer pitch, getting to know his three younger daughters and throwing around the occasional conversation about growing a business in our small community. Jim was one of the few people with whom I looked forward to sharing my stories of my growing business. That late fall afternoon, he seemed calmer and more available than ever before.
Jim liked Luke and Luke admired him- his successes, his beautiful home and great kids. Henry had become a good friend to Luke over the years and he spent some time at his house. The few times I did run into Jim, he always asked after Luke and said really nice things about him. We were always cordial, but there was little warmth between us. For most of the years I knew Jim, I wouldn’t say I liked him, but I did respect his business acumen and the way he always seemed so confident about his direction and choices.
It is surreal when people die, even more so when it is so sudden. It is hard to wrap your brain around someone just being gone. This is true for people even after a prolonged illness. It has some quality of relief then- a freedom from a body that won’t heal. But suicide is more jarring and some would say punishing, especially for the people who loved the departed. Even I was left wrestling with the dangling question of what I could have said or asked that afternoon that might have made a difference. His children and wife will probably never go a day without wondering what wasn’t said, what need was never addressed, what pain was never shared.
The saddest part of suicide is that it is often a desperate conclusion to a lengthy battle with some form of mental illness, which is the most rampant form of illness on the planet that often goes untreated. Rarely does one just wake up and kill themselves; instead there is rumination that goes on silently. Mental illness closes you off from everyone, but most painfully from those who love you the most. I have heard that Jim was acting erratic in his last weeks and some of those closest to him weren’t surprised about his final act. I wish I had bumped into him as I often did and could have reminded him again of my husband, the psychiatrist, and offered something, anything, to get him to wake up to the gifts of his life, the promise of what could be new and different. I know I am not alone in that wish. Everyone wants to turn back the hands of time to interrupt this final tragic decision.
His eldest daughter is in our Positive Change Club, where we have been building a a Positive Change Courtyard to act as both a memorial for many of the people who have died from South Eugene High School. However, even more, the memorial is a reminder to the kids about how much positivity is around them. Jim’s family supported our fundraising drive last year. I bumped into him on open school night by the courtyard last fall and he commented on how much work had been accomplished. I said how happy I was to have his daughter with us. I hope we can honor all the many ways that his life nourished us all with good taste. Jim, you will be missed.