November 18, 1973 – September 28, 2015
He was a victim of suicide… what I call untreated end-stage major depression. He kept the severity of his illness well hidden even from those of us who knew him best, revealed only in the letters he left behind. The pain of his loss will linger for as long as I can ever predict.
Excerpts from the eulogy for my brother, delivered at his memorial on October 2, 2015:
Words are cheap. The problem is that without them, communication is challenging. Certainly not impossible, but dare I say unorthodox. There are countless means of nonverbal communication, but regardless of the language used by the one delivering, in order for communication to be effective or complete, that same language needs to be familiar to the one receiving. Without that receptive piece, it’s really just noise, whether audible or figurative.
Abe actually had a tremendous way with words – anyone who could spark a conversation with him about a topic that twinged a passion of his would soon find out that on top of being highly intelligent, well-informed and exquisitely-researched, he was articulate and precise. He had a mind that could challenge any scientist, statistician or orator out there, and if you happened to brush the edges of his knowledge base, within milliseconds he would have his phone out of pocket for intensive review and in less than a minute he would be quoting to you from as reputable an internet resource as he could conjure up within the first million hits of whatever his mega search engine provided.
But what made talking with him special was not what he would say back to you, rather the intensity with which he would LISTEN to you – one of his many magical nonverbal communication gifts. Far more than wanting to inform you on almost anything, he did not ‘seem to be’ but genuinely was immensely, keenly interested in what you would have to say. Without saying a word, but simply with his silence, his eye contact, his pointed and always appropriate questions, he operated as more than a simple receiver of communication in that role – he was actively communicating back to you in a language of deeply ingrained love and caring.
It didn’t stop there with him, though. Usually within a week or at the most a few months, he would compute all the data he downloaded into his tremendous mind from his conversation with you into an assessment of what truly mattered to you, and he would find a way to materialize it into as unique and personal a gift as he could conceivably afford, using any resources at his disposal: not just money but time, energy, manual labor, you name it. And he was not trying to win favor for himself by doing any of this. It was just that important to him that the object of his affectionate offerings understood that somehow, somewhere by someone, they were individually appreciated.
Why would he seek to win favor for himself when he believed from the bottom of his soul that he didn’t deserve it? From far earlier than anyone should ever have to feel this way in life, he was somehow poisoned by a curse of self-loathing that we call —according to mental and behavioral textbook definitions— major depression. Call it what you will: depression, disease, sin, demons, Satan… in the end these are different words for one thing that brought the life of such a beautiful – I have already countlessly heard the apropos descriptor of ‘gentle’ – soul to an end. He was so well versed in the language of love but completely uneducated in the language that could communicate externally what was deep inside of him: the language of hatred, anger, pain. He did not know how to communicate in that language at all. So all he did was love, and everything on the inside remained there. He could not have shared it if he tried. He just didn’t know how. He only knew how to love.
And love he did, no matter what he received in return. To those of us closest to him, when he was at his worst and hatred threatened to seep out of its carefully guarded mausoleum deep inside, he would just disappear. That way anyone he cared about – which was pretty much anyone he ever met – could not be seared by that white hot anger. Only him. He would be the only victim.
Abe’s brilliance was so unmatched that he carefully anticipated each and every step so as to ensure that those he loved most would suffer as little guilt as possible. He knew we would have pain, didn’t ask us not to suffer. He just lavished us with gentle assurances that we were wonderful, that anything good about him came from us and there was nothing we could have done to prevent his death. Deep in the hearts of good people, that will not sit well. Over the last week I have heard almost each and every person I have spoken with who interacted with him over the last 12 months ask themselves “What more could I have done?” His love and intelligence was so great that he made every conceivable effort to ensure that we not suffer from that mystery. For my own comfort, I take the perspective that his mind and heart were simply too ginormous for his body to handle, so they needed to be reconstituted into a shareable form to be distributed among us all.
It’s so ironic. We do have similarities, my brother and I. People might say I’m intelligent and caring because I’m a primary care physician – clearly using knowledge and insight to take care of people is what I trained for and what I do for a living, and some might think that this is ‘the way’ to apply gifts or traits to accomplishing success in life. This is, after all, how we structure our goals beginning in childhood. From an early age we all ask children what they want to ‘be’ when they grow up. The expected answer is somewhere in this realm: “I want to be a doctor”, “a firefighter”, “an actress”, “a pro athlete”, “I want to be President”. Of course these are admirable, respectable goals. But we don’t naturally encourage them to say, “I want to BE kind”, “I want to BE well-informed”, “I want to BE generous and selfless”. Our society leads us to believe that is not enough. Of course Abe was all of those things and so much more. But because he did not cross a threshold into society’s interpretation of success, he saw himself as worthless. He could not have been more wrong.
So for all the venerable traits I am honored to share with my brother, I have never had any of them nearly to his level, though one might glance at my life and call me successful. I have never been as intelligent, never as generous, never as unabashedly loving, never as curious, never as invested in demonstrating love to loved ones. That is, never until now.
He was so hard on himself, but even in preparing to depart, despite all he had suffered, despite all that pain and anger inside, he managed to write me this:
“I still think I figured out the meaning to life. Here it is: be a happy person and create happy societies. I know this sounds trite and cliché, but happiness is truly elusive and complicated, especially for me. It’s something I could never hang on to. I wager that of all who get to live, few get to live a happy life. I suspect that you already do, but with all that you acquire and accomplish, please also live a happy life and teach my nephews how.”
Happiness is relative, dear Brother. But I have learned that, much like love, it is more than just a feeling. You may have figured out that the secret to life is happiness. But I must live out my days figuring out the secret to happiness. At least for starters, I have discovered that the first step is openness. Openness of sharing, and also receiving. Sharing and receiving of both material and intangible wealth. And I’ve also discovered that success is not measured in accomplishments, but relationships. It’s only a start, but it has been an earth-shattering lesson for me these last couple of weeks.
Thank you for being my teacher both in life and in death. I know my education is only beginning. But I promise that all I learn will be passed along to help others also seek and find this elusive prize in your honor. No matter how long or how far you are gone, I will always be your sister.