Two years ago today, I walked out of a courtroom and made the saddest drive to Nashville that I have ever made. Many of you who read my blog know that on April 20, 2015, my friend Erik took his life. His funeral was the same day as my divorce hearing, and I had not slept nor eaten in at least 24 hours when I wearily started driving. I think, for the most part, I was still in such shock that the numbness was a welcomed friend—a friend that hung around until last September—a friend I didn’t want to see go when I realized I was just starting to unthaw from being numb all that time. I always hope that April will never come to pass. It’s the month of so many endings for me and I can only think of one new beginning that I’ve had during that fourth month of every year. April 27th is especially a day that I never look forward to because on that day, two significant things happened: my divorce was final and my friend Erik was memorialized at one of the most beautiful services I have ever been to.
Erik was married to my best friend Kyra and they had an almost-fairytale love story: high school sweethearts who parted ways at a tender age and started lives with other people, always wondering where the other was. Erik was the man that Kyra could never get over—she always thought about him, wondered if he was happy, wishing for days gone by. Funny thing is, he was wondering the same thing. When they reconnected several years later, they both knew that they could never let each other go again. And in 2012, I witnessed them say “I do” and not once in the 23 years that I’ve known Kyra, can I ever remember a time when she was so happy.
I don’t know how many of you have lost someone to suicide, but I can tell you that the grief has a whole different flavor when someone takes themselves out (even now, I can barely say it). It’s the news you never hope to get, and when you do get it, you are stunned—at least it was that way for me—and I will never forget that day for as long as I live, because it was the longest day of my life and the worst day of Kyra’s. I was working when I got a text from my friend Kara saying she had heard that Erik had committed suicide. I immediately brushed it off, because I knew that he would never, ever do that (hello, denial, thank you for visiting when you did). I continued to work on the things I was finishing up when she texted again and said she had been wrong—that it wasn’t Erik at all—it was Erik’s boss. That’s what got my attention because Erik didn’t have a boss: he owned his own contracting business and he was the boss. With a sinking feeling, I quietly closed myself up in my office and called Kyra. What do you say to your best friend when that kind of news arrives? It was completely lost on me and I could hardly find the words as I heard her phone start ringing on the other end of the line. I wondered if it was even true and I didn’t want to just blurt it out in case it wasn’t, so I left her a voicemail asking her to call me and inquired as to whether everything was okay or not. After no response, I texted her. We both have iPhones and I can always tell when she’s read a message, but she never read it, which was highly unusual. I texted Erik. Nothing. I called Erik’s number instead and it immediately went to voicemail, which wasn’t the norm either. I think it was in that moment that I knew Kara was right about what she had heard, so I left work early and sent one more text to his phone: This is Kristi in Johnson City and I need someone to call me and let me know if everything is okay or if it isn’t. Deep down, though, I already knew he was gone.
When your best friend lives 5 hours away, and you have very few details to go on when something tragic happens, your mind makes up all kinds of stories. I didn’t know if Kyra was okay, or if she had died with him, and there was still that little part of me that was in denial and hoped it wasn’t real at all. I sat vigil in my living room with my friend Kena sitting by my side, waiting for any news that might come and at midnight, I heard from Erik’s mom. As kindly and as bravely as she could, she said to me, “what you have heard is true, and I am so, so sorry”. I will never forget that: this woman, with a heart as big as her son’s, had just lost her first-born child in the most horrific way and she was comforting me. Had I been in her position, I don’t know that I could have been that selfless and a couple of weeks ago, I texted her to tell her how profound that was and how much it had meant to me that she was so gracious when her own heart was shattered even more than mine was.
I don’t claim to know why people exit the way they do. As I look back, I see all the signs and wish so much that I had paid more attention to that nagging feeling I had when I last saw him in December 2014. I had gone to Nashville with a broken heart and he and Kyra wanted to take care of me and give me a nice, stress-free weekend away. It was also a time to celebrate mine and Kyra’s birthdays, as we are both December babies. They did what they set out to do: they nurtured me, took me to dinner and made sure I ate, drove me to the Opryland Hotel to look at the Christmas lights, and lovingly tucked me in at the end of the night. The next morning, Erik’s dad, who is the best omelet maker in the entire universe, made all of us breakfast and I headed back to Johnson City with hopes of visiting again in a few months. Had I known that would be the last time that I saw Erik, I would have hugged him a little tighter and held on a little longer when I said what was to be my final in-person goodbye to him.
Losing him in that way is the hardest thing I have ever been through. Pain has deep roots and not a day passes where I don’t miss him, think about him, and ask myself why. People say that suicide is selfish, and the man I was involved with at the time, who was saddened along with me and was watching me suffer and worry about Kyra on a minute by minute basis, made that very comment to me in a moment when I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. When I hear that comment now, it angers me, because until a person has crawled through hopelessness themselves, they have no clue what they would do in those dark, dismal moments. I myself have experienced some very low times during my 46 years of life and even though I have gotten angry at Erik a time or two, I always end up feeling more sorrow for him than anything else because in that moment, I know that I know that I know that the man who made that decision—the one that changed everyone’s life in the blink of an eye—was not our Erik.
Erik, I love you so much and I miss you terribly. I’ve watched Kyra go on without you and I want you to know that she has been so incredibly brave. She doesn’t think she has been, but she continues to put one foot in front of the other and soldiers on. I dare say that had that been me, I would still be in the same pajamas and in a fetal position even two years later. It has been devastating to me to watch her grieve, but oh my goodness, she is so strong and each day, she gets a little better. Thank you for making my Chica so happy, for turning me into a furniture snob, for almost beating up the man who had my heart at a pig roast when you learned he had disrespected me (in retrospect, I wish Kyra had just let go of your arm so you could’ve stomped him LOL!), and for teaching me your stealth driving moves—I still use those to this day and every time I’m successful with one, I say out loud to no one “now that was an Erik Click move!” If I had it to do over, I would have paid more attention than I did and I would have done anything in the world to save you from yourself. I want you to know that none of us have forgotten you and that your family keeps your spirit alive in every way they can. Your kids are growing up fast and Jude is starting to look just like you. Marina gets prettier every day and I know that you are proud of her just as any Daddy would be. And I pray that one day, a man will love me just as much as you loved Ky.
You are loved. You are missed. And you will never be forgotten.
If you are contemplating suicide, or if you suspect that someone you know is considering harming themselves, please call the National Suicide Hotline immediately at the number below. Intervention saves lives.
You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to chat with someone online.
**Song credit: Why by Rascal Flatts. Used only for the intent of raising suicide awareness.**