Last month I attended the funeral of a member of my wife’s extended family. I did not know this man well, but I always enjoyed the few times that I was around him and his family. He was the quintessential quiet, everyday hero type of person who was the embodiment of Americana. He taught math and science in his small town middle school for more than 35 years. He coached girls’ basketball, and one of his proudest moments was winning the county basketball championship with his own daughters on the team. Over the years he made a difference, a positive one, in the lives of hundreds of young people.
He and his wife raised three fine daughters. They all have families of their own now, and all are doing well. All are a testament to the values he instilled in them. Two of his daughters and one of his nieces spoke at his funeral. They all shared fond memories of a life well lived.
So you can imagine how shocked I was when I first heard that on September 6, at the age of 74, he had committed suicide.
It has been my honor for the past 15 years to work for and with some of the world’s best brain research scientists. Members of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and now other groups we serve through Parthenon Management Group, are methodically moving us forward in understanding the intricate workings of the most complex of human organs, and in understanding why sometimes those workings go awry, resulting in mental disorders that all too often disable or kill their victims. Some were attracted to this field of study by the intellectual challenge, some by an influential mentor, some for other reasons, and some because they, too have had a personal experience with mental illness and its effects on its victims, their friends and families. Whatever the reason for committing one’s career to this field, it is a noble pursuit.
I now have a new appreciation for what our members do and for its importance. When it all comes home; when depression surprises you by killing someone you know and respect; when it is no longer an abstraction, but an all too real and all too personal experience; it is a sobering reminder of just how noble and just how important is the work done by our members. Now, more than ever, I understand that.
I have learned valuable lessons from the tragic end to this good man’s life. I knew that, in his retirement, Joel had spent a good amount of time riding motorcycles. I had thought that I should go up to see him, take a ride with him, and invite him to ride with my buddies and me on one of our trips out West. I never did that, and I regret it. If I ever have a chance like that again, I will not let it pass.