This afternoon I stood in a cemetery and watched my high school classmate bury her child.
Shane was in his early 20s. He had a twin sister and a younger brother. Just a few weeks ago his parents were thrilled to watch him graduate from medical school, and the Facebook photos show his Mom and Dad beaming with pride, arms draped around their handsome boy.
But today their arms were draped around each other, their faces blank, their eyes puffy. The cemetery was awash in black as friends, relatives and dozens of Shane’s fellow graduates looking on helplessly. Shane’s close-knit family clung to each other tightly, bringing back painful memories of my own brother Phillip’s funeral 28 years ago, when my parents and I huddled together with much the same mixture of shock and anguish.
I didn’t know Shane. I hadn’t seen him since he was a toddler. But at the funeral, I got to know him. He was quiet, humble and caring, said his father and siblings. He loved animals and sports. He was a devoted grandson. He wanted to be a doctor so he could help people, and he had chosen a residency in family medicine. Indeed, Shane was well on his way to a bright future.
But he was suffering. Inside. Alone. Nobody knew, so there was no chance to say goodbye. “We thought you were happy,” said his brother, reading from a poignant poem he’d penned for the service. If only you’d called. If only we’d known. If only we’d helped. If only.
We hear it so often: people young and old who are so sad, so depressed, so lost that they suffer in silence but put on a brave front. No matter how good things appear on the outside, they are in agony on the inside and can’t manage to reach out for help. When the demons become deafening, they break. And for many, like Shane, there’s only one way out.
As the pallbearers tenderly carried Shane to his final resting place, as friends and relatives stepped forward to fill the grave with earth, and as my eyes brimmed with tears, one thought reverberated in my head: how well do we really know the people we care about? Be it our parent, our partner, our child or our best friend, how well are we seeing them, hearing them, understanding what they’re all about? If it all looks good on the outside, how can we know there’s pain inside? Often we can’t. And that’s the most devastating part.
I cried most of the long drive home. And then, in Shane’s honour, I made a vow to excel in three things: to love hard, to listen intently, and to hug the ones I’m with.
My heart goes out to my classmate and her family at this difficult time. May they know no more sorrow, and may Shane’s memory be for a blessing.