I found out that a friend of mine died today. I’ll call him Doug.
Doug wasn’t a friend in the “someone I keep in touch with every day” sense. And not even someone I’d spoken to in years. He was actually a *former* friend, someone I had to take a step back from because he was, for lack of a better word, toxic. One of those people who violated a trust, one of those people who actually had to hear the words, “I’m sorry. But we can’t be friends anymore.”
Doug had his flaws. He was selfish, duplicitous, manipulative, had an explosive temper, and could be even downright cruel.
But Doug was funny. He enjoyed making others laugh. And he was charismatic as hell. He knew how to draw in and entertain an audience. He attracted a collection of other people — me included — who became especially tight-knit.
Doug lorded over a group of us that would meet weekly, get ineffably drunk, and try to out-offend each other with the raunchiest jokes and quips we could muster.
Most of us were in that weird twilight zone of mid- to late-20’s: too old to still be in school but too young to have figured out what it meant to be an adult. I truly have fond memories of that time, of that place, of those people. And Doug was the unofficial leader of the group.
Although he didn’t know how to keep it, Doug treasured friendship. The group eventually disbanded as our thirties crept on and the mutable nature of adulthood became unavoidable. Our lives branched off from each other like so many rivers and streams, meandering on to different cities and states, different adult lives that *did* include spouses and children and careers.
But Doug managed to push many of those friends even further away. His flaws were exacerbated by drinking, which I found out today had only gotten worse and worse in the years since we last had any contact. As soon as I heard the news, I messaged a mutual friend who said about Doug, “He had lost a lot in life. His [family], friends, jobs, girlfriends. Pretty much anything good in his life, he drove off.”
You typically don’t find these sentiments after someone dies. And I don’t know if that’s a good thing. This idea that we can only say good things about the dead, it just feels…selfish. Because it seems to me that we don’t want to speak ill of the dead out of a fear that someone will speak ill of us when we are gone.
I don’t believe that dying absolves us of our faults. I hope that others dying gives us a more accurate lens of the departed — flaws included — as well as our own.
In this memorial to Doug, I know these words are mostly unflattering. But that is what is written upon the slate of Who He Was To Me.
These feelings are complex but clear: I feel grateful for the laughter and the good times I had with him. I am sad for his abrupt end to his life. And based on what others have told me, I’m also glad that I walked away from his toxicity when I did.
Most memorials end with something about wishing someone to rest in peace — but I don’t believe that, either. I believe that our time here is limited. We get what we get, and that’s it. And what matters most is what we do with this time, as well as to be fearlessly honest about the final summation of what we’ve done in this life and the people around us.
At the end of my life, I hope that I have earned the right to have more people to speak well of me than those who don’t. But please don’t laud praise onto me just because I’m dead.
Say good things about me because that’s how I treated you while I’ve been around. If I’ve been an asshole to you, or you remember me as arrogant or insecure or selfish, then please remember me those ways as well. Those are my flaws (and only a few of very, very many), and I own those things about myself. If that’s your perception and reality of me, then I’ve also earned that. And if it’s a mix of all of that, even better.
Life is a complex mess.
Maybe memorializing it should be, too.