For the love of a family friend

You’ve heard of the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, right? Well it seems fitting that on the heels of my last posts – about weddings – that now I find myself pondering the loss of an old family friend. I’m not using names out of respect for the family, who are quite private, so what follows are my reflections alone.

Today, I joined my parents for a day-trip to the mainland. An old family friend recently passed away at the age of 76. I could go on about how that’s just way too young, because really it is. But rather, my mind turns to his legacy.

He immigrated from Romania with his wife and young daughter in tow. As another Romanian immigrant family, it didn’t take long for our families to become close. We spent many holidays together; Passover, Easter, graduations, weddings. He had a great love of the arts; paintings, sculptures, literature, music. I remember many dinners where someone spilled something on their shirt, or a chunk of spinach firmly lodged in teeth – but being the cultured gentleman he was, it was ignored. And yes more than once it was me with the soup stain down my blouse.

Those cultured dinners weren’t always fun for me as a young child. So he would set me up with a movie to watch on their top-of-the-line entertainment system (back when a VHS machine was a novelty). Or he’d let me flip through his vast collection of LP records so I could pick the music. Or when I got really annoying, he’d relent and let me jump on the couch. And when I got suspiciously quiet, he knew to chase me out of his daughter’s bedroom – she was a few years older than me, so I wanted to be just like her and I couldn’t keep out of her room.

In time, he came to battle depressive episodes that were downright debilitating. But like most doctors, he was the worst patient, refusing treatment until it was serious. It took a toll on his family life and his friendships. He was able to access the mental health care system, in repeated cycles of treatment and health. But no matter what his hopes, he never found lasting health. When he was taking his medication and in care, he could see how his prior behaviour was based on a flawed perception. When he wasn’t taking his medication, he refused to believe he required it. He longed to be free of mental illness and the stigma that came along with it. So he was quick to stop taking his medication when out of care. Though this is the most recent experience of his life, though he truly struggled, this is not how I think of him.

I will always remember him with a sly smile on his face when he’d pretend not to see me slipping expensive caviar to his dog at the dinner table. He left a legacy that included his lovely daughter and grandchildren. He left a legacy of helping friends and newcomers alike. I think fondly of every visit I had with him. And I am sad that he suffered so greatly with his illness for the final years of his life. I too have come to know depression.

With all the demons he battled in his later life, I wish I could just give him one last hug…

May peace, finally, be upon him.

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