"Resolve to be thyself; and know that he who finds himself,
loses his misery." ~Matthew Arnold
|Kendrick at my wedding in 2004|
My cousin Kendrick died Tuesday morning.
I feel this intensely strong need to write about Kendrick now while this is still very, very fresh and raw. While all I have in my mind are my own personal thoughts and feelings. I want to remember how I felt and what I remembered of him all on my own without the filter of family grieving.
I want to make it clear that the following is my personal experience and impressions about his life and death all from my admittedly peripheral point of view. His Mom, Dad, brother, sister and everyone else who knew and loved him might see things very differently.
I was unwinding with my husband after a particularly challenging day of young motherhood when I found out. We were about ready to head up to bed. My husband unplugged my phone from the charger to plug his in and saw the text before I did.
I heard, "Oh my God" and a long pause. I could tell he was hesitating to say anything to me. "What? What? Babe, what is it? What!" I started asking frantically.
I knew it was bad. I knew someone had died. I could just tell. This is the third time in just over a month that this exact thing has happened. Three deaths (My great Aunt Leah just died last week, and then Eric last month. My family has suffered some tremendous loss these last few weeks.) and my husband keeps getting the news first just by circumstance and ends up being the one to tell me.
Although I was expecting him to tell me someone died I was not expecting this.
"Your cousin Kendrick killed himself this morning."
I immediately felt that deep ache. It was all the pain I have been feeling for him these last few years and then some all at once. “Oh my God. Oh my God! Oh my God!!! Kendrick? Kendrick!”. I started sobbing and then shaking uncontrollably.
Suicide. He chose this.
I cried because he is gone, but I mostly cried because he had been living in that much pain. He was suffering that badly. He felt so completely lost in this world that he saw no other way. God, I love him so much. To know he was suffering that deeply hurts me intensely.
Dear Kendrick. Dear, sweet Kendrick. Dear, sweet, brilliant Kendrick. Dear, sweet, brilliant, utterly lost Kendrick.
He was my kid cousin. He was sweet and bright and happy. He had a sweet, respectful and positive attitude. He brought something special to our family gatherings. He always had something interesting and thoughtful to say. When he played he would be fairly absorbed with his Legos and toys of that sort. He was sweet but also focused and methodical even in his play.
From there he never quite made the transition into a healthy balanced adulthood.
He went to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on a scholarship for his first year. Or maybe it was two, I’m not exactly sure. He was unsure what direction he wanted to take his education in. His scholarship ran out or he lost it. He transferred to a state school, or he was going to, I'm not exactly sure on the details.
That is when he started to really struggle. I am sure he felt some level of internal struggle long before that but that is when it became apparent to me. That is when it became self-destructive. He dropped out, took a job as a server, moved in with some buddies and slowly became lost to me. To all of us.
He was so damn smart.
It is probably the most prominent trait I can assign to him. I feel a little guilty saying that because I am pretty sure that somehow that brought him pain.
I’m not sure if it was because it was too much pressure. Or because he didn’t think he was truly as brilliant as we all thought he was. Or because when he got out there he found he was not as brilliant as he had always believed. Or something else entirely.
I just have the impression that he didn’t feel that label fit him. That he resented it in some way. I’m sure there was more to his internal torment than that, but I just kind of have the feeling that that was a big part of it. At least in the beginning. When he first started using.
The last time I remember seeing him was at a family reunion camping trip. It was after he dropped out of school. He was waiting tables at California Pizza Kitchen at the time I am pretty sure.
He, my sister and I stayed up late to hang out and drink by the camp fire. One or two of our other cousins were up with us too but I couldn’t tell you who. This particular special memory of mine is of hanging out with Kendrick. It is not only special to me now because he is gone, but it was special to me at the time.
It was just us ‘kids’. Our parents had all gone to bed in their tents but we stayed up watching the fire burn down and adding more logs and watching it burn down again a few times. We must have stayed up past midnight and into the early morning.
He asked for advise about some girl that was into him at work but he wasn’t interested in. He seemed to really appreciate the input my sister and I gave him. We talked about a tattoo I was thinking about getting. He gave me some ideas of what he thought might look cool.
We just hung out, drinking and watching the fire and enjoying each others company. I went home from that trip so glad that I had the opportunity to hang out with him like that, all grown up, relaxed, in what felt like a completely genuine way.
I’m sure I saw him at a family event or two after that but it was never the same. He never met my children. For all I know he was so lost he didn’t even know I had children. I’m not sure.
I was so hopeful that eventually, one day, he would find himself. He would become centered. He would make a happy life for himself.
That we would have another chance to hang out by a campfire and get to know each other better as the adults we had become in the lives we had created for ourselves.
If feels so wrong that that will never be the case.
I don’t want to romanticize our relationship. It’s not as if we were best friends or ever would have been more than likely. But we were family. And I loved him.
I don’t know if he knew how much I love him. How much I have been hurting for him these last few years. How much I have truly missed him. Not who he thought he should have been or could have been.
Just beer by the campfire him. I just wanted to have him around. I wanted him to be at least a small part of my adult life.
I didn’t know how to reach him. I didn’t know how to tell him.
I said it before but I will say it again here. I believe that this life is it. This is the main event. God created us in his likeness for this world and for this life. I believe that the loss of every single human life, no matter how old or diseased or troubled that life might be, is a little less of God's presence here on earth and a very real loss for humanity at large.
I know with everything there is in me that there was a place, designated by our creator, for Kendrick here in this world. I don’t know exactly what that place was but there was a place for him.
The life he was living or thought he was supposed to live or thought he wanted to live, that wasn’t it.
He never found it. Or maybe he was resisting it and never felt at ease in it. His place in this world was never fully occupied and now it never will be. That is honestly what hurts most of all.
I mourn his death, but so much more than that I mourn the lost opportunity to really know him and who he was in his core. To know who he was meant to be.