How To Lose A Best Friend Without Even Knowing It

Update 5/21/10: Bob’s Friends’ Memorial 5/23 Info

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Hiking with Bob, Mokelumne Wilderness, July 2003 (courtesy of Eric Arons)

I have developed a few life rules over the years & I have added one more over the past few days:

Rule #1: Avoid Death

New–> Rule #2: Make Yourself Known (Intimately)

Rule #3: Leave Things Better Than You Found Them

Rule #23: Avoid Tusks

A few days back one of my dearest friends committed suicide. Even writing that still brings tears to my eyes. It’s a very recent occurrence and we are all sitting here struggling – through pain and loss, confusion and anger, and mostly just struggling.

One of the saddest and most instructive things (yes, I MUST try to make some good come from the chaos) of this whole event is that I just lost one of my best friends and I didn’t even know he was one of my best friends.

Tuesday, I was sitting at work when I got a Facebook chat from a friend – he was looking for my friend Bob’s family contact info, with “horrible news”. Very quickly, I learned that my friend Bob had taken his own life.

Then, in trying to find Bob’s family’s info, I thought to myself “OK – who is Bob’s best friend? Who knew him best of all us?” Bob and I had been really good friends for 13-14 years and he was a constant in my life, but I never felt I knew him really intimately like I do with my closest friends.

So I went through the list of Bob’s closest friends in my head… and one by one I realized that none of them knew him more than I did (Please let me be wrong about this? Anyone?) – sure they knew parts of him more (more time on the playa at Burning Man, more time hiking, more time singing karaoke) – but I knew other parts more and probably spent the most time overall with him. We were probably all on the same level of intimacy. That hit hard. It was me. I was one of Bob’s best friends. Oh god.

I shifted into acting like “the best friend” and thus went into “responsible-in-a-crisis” mode because, well, it is something I’m good at, and it needed to be done, and it gave me plenty to do other than cry my eyes out sitting in my office.

Within short order, I had contacted the friend who found him, figured out how to find his family, contacted his sister (& broke the news to her), contacted the coroner, put the coroner in contact with his sister & emailed all our friends with the news, informed the world on Bob’s FB page* and set up a get-together at my house for all our mutual friends. Then I went home early, went and talked to the friend who found him, set up the event at my house, got more info from the coroner, and then hosted the get-together at my house, and greeted everyone and then pulled them aside to give them the latest that I knew. I even tossed in some baby-sitting for good measure, so another friend could be with the group :-) .

Since then it has been up and down. This has actually been a super fun week: Disposable Film Fest (Me & my Trike provide the sound for a bike-in movie night projected against the side of a building), Bike To Work Day (always one of my favorite days of the year), and now today Bay 2 Breakers**. I have had a blast, and I have cried and cried, and screamed and beat my fist on counters, and choked back sobs in inappropriate times and places. Mostly, I’ve just cried. And thought of Bob.

I’ve had two fascinatingly sad realizations in this time.

The first sad realization involved how we all knew Bob: People from all over Bob’s life have said the same thing: “I didn’t know him that well, but he was so good, and kind, and generous – I wish I had known him better.” It didn’t matter if they met Bob for 15 minutes on a bike ride with me, or had known him for 15 years, they all said they “didn’t know him that well” or “I wish I knew him better.”

Me too. I tried.

I have known Bob for 13 or 14 years (I wish I could figure out exactly when I met him) and from the get go, I liked him a lot. Everyone did and everyone who meets him does. Bob and I have spent lots and lots of time together – great times – most of the best times of my life have had Bob in them. But if you had asked me before Wednesday if Bob was one of my best friends, I would have said “No.”

I loved Bob, but I did not know him intimately. Unlike all the other people I consider best friends or super close friends, I had never gotten to that level where I felt like I really knew how Bob felt about things.

It wasn’t for lack of trying – I can think of many conversations where I tried to pry into Bob’s world – only to back off due his lack of enthusiasm, or my sense of respect for his boundaries. Usually, when you ask close friends sensitive questions about their lives, at some point they begin to tell you more than you ask & you learn about them. Bob always told me only what I asked – or less.

Even the last year or so, where Bob lived with me for 9 months on and off (while his house was being remodeled), there were ample opportunities and attempts to talk – but none of them bore much fruit.

If I had known Bob was ever truly sad, I would have pushed harder, I would have made it happen – but Bob was almost always pretty happy, and was always even-keeled. I knew of a few times he was down, but they always seemed to be fleeting and momentary….

The second painful realization was for me. The morning after I found out, I suddenly realized the scope of my loss. Bob had always been a rock in my life, a point of solidity and orientation, but I hadn’t realized that by his sheer constance and enthusiasm had become one of my best friends. I counted on him to always be there and life was always better with him around. My girlfriend (who has only been in my life for a few months), said “I was surprised when I heard you say that Bob wasn’t one of your best friends – he was always the first person you called…”

All my birthday parties, all my FlashDances, all my Thanksgivings, and lectures, and Sunday Streets, and Trike rides, and movies at my place, all the burritos, and all the nights going out dancing at Bootie and Non-Stop Bhangra, and the PIXAR movies or blockbusters, all my ImpromtiQs, all the Critical Masses, all my attempts at cooking my Mom’s Indian food, all. of. it. Bob was there 95% of the time. And every time, he made things better. My life was so much better for always being able to count on you Bob. I’m sorry I’ve only just now realized you were one of my best friends. I wish I knew you better.

In thinking about all this, my new rule becomes clear, as my friend Amy put so well: “let people, one person at least, in – share yourself, all of yourself, warts and all… ; connect deeply; share your burden; bare your soul…” And my girlfriend, Kimberly, added the other essential part of this: “that friends can only meet you halfway — they can ask, but you have to answer.” That is seriously worth noting – the responsibility is ours to reach out, as much as it is our friends’ responsibility to ask.

Bob was great on #1, #3, and as far as I know, #23. And I guess he taught us all the value of #2.

‘deep

.ps

I wish I believed in an afterlife, and I certainly don’t believe in a god. I think he’s just gone. As we all will be someday. I think Buckminister Fuller once said something like we are all just patterns in the food we eat, much like a knot is just a pattern in a rope. I guess that means, in the truest sense, Bob’s only afterlife is then as patterns in our minds: the clich√© about living on in our memories is all we have. I’ll do my part, Bob.

.pps
Adrian Cotter has put up a tremendous set of photos of Bob here: “The Life And Times of Bob Seymour.” It’s fantastic. Check it out.

* People were already posting things on Bob’s FB page that made it clear that something horrible had happened & everyone else was getting worried – so I broke the news.

** All of these were the types of things I did with Bob.

33 thoughts on “How To Lose A Best Friend Without Even Knowing It

  1. Beautifully written post ‘Deep. Thank you for sharing what was going on, both for you, and some of the circumstances surrounding Bob’s death. Your voice is clear and resounding.

  2. What an amazing post, Deep. I am truly touched by your insight and your ability to put emotions into words. I’m sorry for all the loss felt by Bob’s death.

  3. Thanks for sharing your emotions, thoughts, struggles and advice. Brilliantly (and sadly) insightful…and you hit the nail on the head with my exact same feeling: I really liked Bob, didn’t know him well, but wish I had known him better…

  4. Hi Deep, I just saw this and wanted to wish you the best in dealing with this senseless tragedy. I’m very sorry about your loss and your note made me take note of my close friends.

  5. I saw Bob on Valencia a few weeks ago. He was walking on the sidewalk, and I was biking. He waved. I waved. We both smiled. I thought to myself “I never see Bob around anymore. I wonder what’s going on with him.” Now, of course, I wish I had stopped and asked him. It’s back to your point about connecting with people. I only knew Bob through other people…. Your post is very moving, ‘Deep. Thank you.

  6. I too am touched by your honesty, insight, and talent for putting this all into words. Thank you for your continued sharing and communication.

  7. Deep, you are in my thoughts and heart – am sending huge hugs.

    I learned (after living in NYC during 9/11 and healing from great personal loss) that I/you/we must let the people we love know (I come from pretty independent protestant stock) that we love them. I made up a personal rule… you might add it to your list.

    My #1 – SAY “I LOVE YOU” (every chance you get!)

  8. thank you deep, this is such a beautiful and thoughtful writing. and it really helps me understand things better. but it broke my heart a little more too.

  9. Thank you, Deep. This is definitely inspiration to go after someone I’ve been worried about.

    I did not know Bob even half as well as those writing about not knowing him well. I don’t know what his struggles were like. But I have to believe that you and this beautiful community helped him fight longer than he would have otherwise.

  10. Deep, I feel your loss. I had a friend who ended his life a few years back. I regarded him as a close friend. we saw each other a lot,shared music, drinks, food, gatherings. but in the end, it felt like i did not know him at all since he was hiding a lot emotions inside that he never shared. i’ve learned this much from my experience, he was serious, it took only one attempt and we all thought of any signs afterwards but it was hard to fathom if the signals were just the ups and downs that life gives you.
    with that said. this town feels like a shallow fuckin place. or maybe it’s cities in general, or the way technology substitutes or creates illusions of intimate knowledge and friendships shared these days. anyhow. i think i have not quite felt the anguish that a personal with suicide on their mind feels but i do think that superficiality reigns supreme. i can count a few friends on one hand and the other 99% sadly will run into on the street, or some fundraiser for a “how are you today?” that won’t even scratch the surface. take care of yourself.

  11. This is a deeply moving commentary. The loss of Bob has left a hole in so many of our hearts. I can honestly say Bob was always a mystery to me. I loved Bob but never knew him well enough. I often wondered who he was closest with. It’s so hard to know what goes on in people’s minds. To think that if he had just reached out so many would have been there for him. With such a large and vital community, why he couldn’t see that is baffling and so maddening at the same time. It just makes me want to scream and cry. I am so saddened by this. It helps to see that those he was closest to are just as confused as I am but I don’t know that anything will ever fill the hole.¬†
    Your love and thoughtfulness make it a little easier to bare. Thank you Deep!

  12. Amal (alma) – Wow – I’m sorry you feel that way or that that has been your experience. I certainly know and have experienced many superficial people, but I have spent so much more time with a rich, caring, and enriching group of great people that I have found by essentially just being myself.

    In fact, one of the real tragedies in this whole situation with my friend Bob, is that he had access to largely the same great collection of people, who loved him dearly, but he couldn’t bridge even that small gap somehow…

    Take care!

  13. All of y’all – thanks soo much for the support and all of the thoughtful comments – I really appreciate it!

  14. Deep, thank you for speaking so clearly from your heart. Your words are heavy in my mind and I do feel what you mean. Perhaps this week has been a lesson in the importance of opening one’s self up to the love that is around us, even if we can’t see it right at the moment.

  15. I have read and re-read this post several times now. I have gone through all of Bob’s pictures. I didn’t know Bob. At all. But as I saw his pictures, a vision of him began to appear in front of my eyes. I lost a friend in 2005, exactly like this, one fine day! I saw her in the morning, said I was in a hurry and moved on. Came back to the hostel to hear that she had killed herself. It broke our entire group apart. We didn’t talk to anyone for months. Even though the institute brought in the best help, etc. I think we were wrong. You guys are dealing with it the right way. Bob must be smiling to himself, wishing he could come back for 1 damned day to tell each one of you that he loves you! R.I.P Bob.

  16. Thanks for sharing- very moving. I believe that you met Bob back in the spring of 1996 at frisbee- when I met him, too. Lixy brought me and Jim, who brought Bob, and you and Peat were already there. Such a sad tableau of one loved by so many, but truly close to no one we knew…

  17. I knew Bob “a little bit” too. But I feel like I know him better now. Thanks.

  18. Deep, your post is just beautiful. Your thoughts and words and insights are healing and cathartic, as are the commentaries. I’m just another fan who wished she knew Bob better and who’s clinging to some awesome memories and learning some huge lessons. It does warm my spirit to know that there’s such a loving community out there! My heart goes out to you and the wonderful folks I’ve met through LPU who loved Bob well. Kimya Dawson’s song Loose Lips is running through my head. I hope we all live life a little stronger and love each other a little tighter.

  19. Insightful, loving and healing words, Deep. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, and for taking up the mantle of best friend, unexpected as it was, at such a difficult time. I’m sure your efforts have helped Bob’s family.

    From my own experience with losing someone through suicide, I found that talking and listening about him, about who he was, why he might have done this terrible thing, what you loved about him, how it doesn’t make sense, how angry you are that he couldn’t tell someone he was in trouble and that he was, frankly, so selfish as to put his family and closest friends through such agony, how guilty you feel that you didn’t pick up on any ‘warning signs’ (after all, how could someone feel such terrible pain without it being apparent in some way?), how meaningless and wasteful a death it was, how unbalanced you feel because someone you think you knew maybe you didn’t at all and therefore maybe everything you think you know is in question.

    I found that in the physical presence of others who loved the person you can begin to rebalance and trust again. Ultimately there is no explanation. You have to let go of that search (which requires a mental discipline that doesn’t come naturally to me but I keep at it), and focus on and believe and trust in what you know, which is that Bob was a charming and fun companion, a joiner in the best sense, and a lovely man who enriched many lives.

  20. Hi. I am one of Bob’s cousins and really appreciate what you said. He was very much loved. I would really like to get a copy of the photo you posted. Please let me know. Thank you.

  21. Thanks for sharing Deep, and also for what you did when you heard the news, which was wonderful.

    I never met Bob but I this will make me work harder to dig under the shells of the other Bobs I know out there. (Alas, mainly men. Why are so many of us so crap at communicating?)

    And how about a rephrase on rule 1, since as you say, we can’t avoid it! Maybe just ‘Embrace Life’ – or perhaps even ‘Safety Third’?!

    :) ag

  22. Deep,

    Thank you for sharing your feelings about Bob. Your post was very touching. I am so sorry for your loss.

  23. Deep,
    I love what your wrote here. I’ve spent the past week trying to make heads or tails of what has taken place and I’m still at a complete loss. I’ve been silent on these posts, mainly because I just really am having a hard time getting my thoughts together and even worse putting them down for everyone to view them. (not only that, but I still have no idea how to post to the website) I chose to post here because it is the easiest for me. I would like to start by saying thank you for providing a forum for everyone to come together. I think it has been very theraputic for everyone. I’ve read everything everyone has said and honestly I’m deeply touched and even more saddened by what has taken place. Bob was such a special force and loved by us all.

    I can’t for the life of me understand this. Bob and I spent a lot of time together over the past year as I was the one in charge of the painful remodel on his condo. Problem after problem, delay after delay, I honestly felt it made is closer than ever. We spent a lot of days in the car driving around the bay area, trying to find the right pieces to make his condo “pop” as Bob would love to say. It was a term I used jokingly in teh very beginning when picking out certain accessories for his home.
    As we finally began to piece together everything, he grew very excited. And on the day when I called him and said, finally, we still have a few things to do, but Bob, you can now move back into your home, he simply said “awesome!”. He called me later that day and once again said..”awesome!” He only had a few pieces of furniture in at the time, but he didn’t care. Over the next couple of weeks, it was finally starting to look like a home. I’m not sure if everyone remembers what it looked like before, but man what a difference. He was quite thrilled, as was I. Bob always had a smile about him that was comforting and to say the least, rewarding. I loved him for that and I miss him every single day that I realize I will never be able to call him and ask him what he thought of the new sofa, or the new chairs, or the dining rooom table (his personal favorite, well next to the induction cooktop).

    …….Being the one to discover Bob is something that will be burned in my memory for the rest of my life. I’m not sure if I handled it properly but I did my best. I really have no words.

    I would like his family to know that he spoke of them often and always in a positive fashion. Deep, he also spoke of you often and how grateful he was of you opening your home to him for as long as you did. Bob was always just Bob with me, an awesome guy, who was always willing to do whatever and sing whatever to put a smile on our faces.

    I miss Bob, as I know we all do. Not sure where to go from here, but I know wherever I go he will always have a place in my heart.

    Thanks again Deep! Everything you have done thus far has been more than helpful and I’m not sure we’d be dealing with it the same if it weren’t for you.

    Jamie

  24. Deep,

    Thank you for such a thoughtful writeup. This whole past week has been so difficult and I have been thinking about Bob constantly and wishing that somehow the clock can be turned back and we can bring him back. Your words and openness in expressing your emotions have been really vital in helping with sorting through my emotions.

    Jamie, I know your pain is deep and it is unbearable to lose someone so dear and wonderful as Bob. Grieving for Bob’s loss is natural and it is a process that you can’t get over with right away. Hang in there my friend and with time your hurt will start to heal.

    I wish I had more comforting words for everyone who’s life was touched by Bob and who are all now feeling shattered. I haven’t fully processed my feelings yet either. There is so much turmoil and questioning constantly going through my mind.

    The one lesson I take away from this is that I want to more openly express my love and appreciation for all my friends and family so that they have no doubt that they are valuable to me and I want them to reach out to me no matter what the situation.

  25. Dear Deep, Jamie, and everyone else,

    I don’t know any of you, but I want to send my love and appreciation to all of you. You can always tell a lot about a person by their friends, and it seems like a very loving and caring group.

    Bob and I grew up together in Mill Valley. He was one of my best friends for a long time. I haven’t talked with him for quite a few years now, something I regret now more than ever. I tried to reach out a time or two, but never heard back, so I just let it be, not really knowing what was up, but not really wanting to push too hard.

    Just writing this is making me cry now for the first time, and I’m not really sure what to write, but I wanted to reach out to all of you and say hello and I look forward to meeting you all soon. I know the family will be arranging services, and if there are any other less formal gatherings, I would apreciate it if perhaps I could join in to be with Bob’s friends as we all get try and get through this.

    Thanks

  26. Deep and all Bob’s Friends.

    Thank you all for sharing.

    I worked with Bob at CfMC for 6 of his 23 years at the company. This blog has been of great comfort to his co-workers. Thank you for sharing.

    One thing I personally never thanked Bob for was his turning me on to commuting by bike. At the time I started at CfMC, I was living in Cole Valley.

    The short story is, Bob helped me believe that, yes, even if you live on a hill, you can still commute to work by bike in and around SF.

    My life hasn’t been the same sense.

  27. Deep: sending you a lot of love. I have lost two separate friends to suicide, and it is mindblowing, to say the least. On many many levels.

    I can’t wait to see you this weekend so I can wrap you up in a giant enormous hug.

    Love you,
    Sunny

  28. I just wanted to post somewhere that the last Friday in May I participated in my very first Critical Mass [in my new hometown of New Orleans] and I thought of Bob the entire 15miles. And thankfully, my local karaoke bar had a dance remix version of “Beautiful” for me to sing the night I was called. Being so far away from home has been more than weird and thanks ‘Deep for putting this all together, giving a slight bit of order to this chaos.

    xox

  29. Bob Seymour was my roommate for several years. And I always loved his humor and friendship.

    I miss him dearly.

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