Four Years Later

15 January 2013 · 13 comments

Four years ago today, my best friend killed himself. Paul (aka “Sparky”) and I didn’t see each other much in the years leading up to his death, but every time we did, I learned something about myself and about life. I miss him. To commemorate Paul’s passing, today I want to share the eulogy I wrote for his memorial service.

Paul was one of my best friends for 25 years, but we never could remember when we’d met. It must have been in junior high school. In my eighth grade yearbook, he wrote: “Your a nice friend and a good bud”

Despite this, we had no real memory of each other until sophomore year of high school. We were seated together in Mr. Nichols’ second-period American Lit class. Paul was sat behind me on the left edge of the classroom where we quickly formed a coalition of wisecracks. Who knew John Steinbeck could be so hilarious?

Before long, Paul was my best friend. We shared a locker. We shared music. We shared clothes. And we began to share ideas. From the start, Paul and I had radically different world views, though that did not stop our friendship. Instead, we each saw it as a challenge: how could we persuade the other fellow that he was wrong.

1987-senior-class-willI remember one night I drove Paul to a football game in Newberg. I don’t know if we ever got out of the car. We sat in the parking lot and debated the existence of god and the nature of the universe. When the game was over, we drove home, more satisfied than if had actually sat in the bleachers and showed school spirit.

We shared soccer together, too. Paul was always the better player. He had more passion. He was more competitive. At one soccer practice at the start of our senior year, the coach had us play a game of “mob tag”. Paul took it upon himself to tag me, which he did by throwing me to the ground and falling on top of me. I was angry with him after that. He tore up my knee. For the rest of the season, he ran up and down the field while I hobbled on the sidelines, walking on crutches.

I forgave him for that, though. How could I help it? His laughter and enthusiasm and spontaneity were the perfect counterpoint to my own contemplative nature. He was yin and I was yang. He dragged me to see Frankie Goes to Hollywood in concert. I roped him into joining me for Bible study. He convinced me to go out dancing on a Friday night. I persuaded him to stay at home and watch foreign films with me the next.

We went to different colleges, but we still made time to see each other. During our freshman year, we managed to scrounge up enough cash to buy tickets to see U2 play in Vancouver, B.C. We boarded a bus in Portland at 9am, rode all day, watched the concert, and then rode back home all night. We were dead tired, but it was a transcendent experience.

As we grew older, I settled down. I got married and bought a house. Paul did not. Paul was a nomad. He worked odd jobs and traveled. But a few times every year, we’d get together to play racquetball or to go play videogames at the nickel arcade or to ride our bikes. Sometimes we’d argue about philosophy. Paul was always challenging me, and I tried to challenge him.

1998-fifty-mile-ride-(JD)
Summer 1998 — Paul and I rode our bikes 50 miles through the Oregon countryside

In 2002, I began to play soccer again for the first time in 15 years. I joined an adult league in Portland. My career was short-lived. In the second game of the season, my knee gave out, that old high-school injury coming back to haunt me. The doctor told me I’d torn my ACL and would need to have surgery. Soon after this — but before the surgery — Paul came up to see a movie with me. We were climbing a wet and grassy slope to reach the theater when my knee gave out. I fell to the muddy ground. “This is your fault, you know,” I said angrily over my popcorn. But I couldn’t stay angry for long. We laughed about it, and before the previews began we were reminiscing about the high school soccer team.

And that’s the thing about Paul. He always made me laugh. He pushed my comfort zone, and made life fun. He encouraged me to try new things, and to be better than I was. He believed in me more than I believed in myself. He made me a better person.

Paul is gone now — but he’s not. I’m reminded of him every day in countless little ways. First thing in the morning, when I get out of bed and walk downstairs, I have to shuffle sideways like a crab. My bum knee hurts. That’s Paul. When my knee hurts, I think of Paul, every single time. It’s as if a piece of him is in me. When I hear U2, I think of him. When I get on my bike, I think of him. And every time I meet and talk with one of you, I will think of him, too.

Four years later, I think about Paul all of the time. I think, especially, of the memorial service at the University of Oregon. An overflow crowd squeezed into a room in the library. We shared memories of our friend. A week later, after the church memorial service in Portland, a group of us went out for drinks. That brought a bunch of us together who hadn’t really reconnected in years. Four years later, we’re still in touch.

I’ve regained some old friendships because of Paul’s death. It reminds me of a Spanish proverb that means a lot to me: No hay mal que por bien no venga. In English, that would be “There is no bad from which good does not come.” Or, more colloquially, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” I’m grateful for the friendships that have been rekindled due to his departure, but I still miss Paul very much.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sandy E. 15 January 2013 at 12:48

He’ll live on in your heart until the day you die. Enjoy the memories — that was a very special relationship.

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2 Martin 15 January 2013 at 14:11

Sorry about your loss again. This often makes me think about my legacy. What impression will I leave behind? Do you guys ever think about this?

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3 Jeff Tse 15 January 2013 at 16:09

Hey JD I’m so sorry you lost your best friend.

I’ve heard you mention this in GRS and must be hard as hell to write.

The fact that Paul had such an effect on you and such a large number of people only means that he made the world a better place. At the end of the day that’s the best anyone can hope to achieve.

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4 Tyler Karaszewski 15 January 2013 at 18:57

My wife’s prognosis worsened yesterday. Her cancer hasn’t responded to the chemo. Her doctor says she’s probably got 2-3 months left. So yes, I think about things like my legacy a lot lately. And how much influence it is reasonable to expect to exert in those you leave behind. My daughter will always be her mother’s daughter, but soon, it will be me alone who makes the call on how to raise her. How will my decisions be different than if they’d been our decisions? How much contact will my daughter have with her grandparents and aunts and uncles on her mother’s side, since her mother won’t be here to facilitate those gatherings? What should my daughter know about her mother? What will she even care to know? What if I remarry? Does her mother get relegated to a historical footnote in favor of a step-mom who’s actually there?

Dying is not so profound and glamorous as the movies make it seem. There isn’t nessecarily any takeaway, and you can’t spend your last months fulfilling all your life’s dreams when you’re too sick to leave a hospital bed.

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5 Jennifer 16 January 2013 at 04:07

Tyler,

My thoughts are with you, your wife and daughter as you navigate these next few months and the difficulty they will bring. Please take time to care for yourself, it’s the only way you’ll be able to take care of them.

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6 Kristin S 16 January 2013 at 08:51

Tyler – my thoughts are with you and your family during this extremely difficult and terrible time.

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7 Andi B. 16 January 2013 at 09:05

Tyler, I am so very sorry for what you’re dealing with. I don’t know if this helps, but, here goes…I am my father’s daughter, still, even though he passed away 13 years ago due to cancer. My mother made good decisions and bad decisions after he passed away. We worked through it and still try to remember that we all do the best we can with our capabilities of the time. As we learn “better” we do “better.” You will find your footing as you go. Don’t worry about the things in the future that you cannot control. You won’t have to be father and mother, just a loving father that honors the memory of your wife. Please remember there is a difference between dying and being dead. You are right that dying is not pretty; it’s messy and painful. But while this is a painful time, it still holds some precious memories that you will hold dear. And when you need, friends, family, and strangers will be there for you and your daughter.

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8 Becky 16 January 2013 at 11:23

I don’t know you Tyler, but I’ve noticed you in the comments on GRS over the years and I wanted to send you good vibes. The news about your wife stinks and I can’t imagine how sad your entire family must be feeling. No platitudes. Just, I feel your sadness.

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9 DreamChaser57 24 January 2013 at 10:24

I’ve noticed your candid and profound comments at GRS over the years over the years. I clearly do not know you, but I would say one of the most precious gifts you gave your wife is the gift of time. If my memory serves me correctly, she did not work outside the home and got the opportunity to relish her family and lavish them with loads of attention and care. Savor the everyday moments that work can subtly steal, like sunsets, and impromptu walks. Cherish what you have left, you will have a lifetime to think of her legacy.

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10 Lisa H 16 January 2013 at 12:25

This is something I think about since we had to write our own tombstone statements in college. I hope I have lived up to what I wrote, and that even after I’m gone, I share a good influence with my children, family and friends.

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11 Sandi_k 9 February 2013 at 17:57

Tyler, I am so sad to hear this. My biggest fear is losing my DH.

I am so sorry.

JD, anniversaries are powerful things. It sounds like Paul continues to challenge you, and continues to be part of your life. That’s not a bad legacy, but it’s a bad way to get there. My aunt killed herself in 1989, and I still miss her All. The. Time. In the end, I think that that’s what family is – those who are, and will remain, part of your life forever.

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12 Chelsea 13 February 2013 at 22:06

Such a beautiful and heartfelt post! I am sure that if he’s still out there in some kind of afterlife that he smiles down on you for being such a true friend.

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13 teinegurl 6 August 2013 at 17:30

Beautiful post! I’m wondering if his death came out of shock or was there something else that sparky struggled with? It could be helpful to others possibly if we see signs to help and don’t realize it.

Sparky is teaching something in life and in death. Wonderful way to remember him by. <3

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