I lost a close friend to suicide during my senior year of high school. It was a really dark time for me. I kept thinking that I must have missed something, and that I could have been more supportive. The day after his funeral was particularly hard, so I drove out to the cemetery after school. It was the beginning of March. It was freezing.
His grave didn’t even have a headstone yet, but I sat down on the ground and started to cry. After a few minutes I felt a hand on my shoulder. It freaked me out at first, because I’d thought I was alone. But I looked up and saw a man in his eighties. He told me his name was Jack, and asked me if I was OK. And I don’t know why—maybe because he was so much older, but I ended up telling him everything.
He listened quietly, then he told me not to blame myself. And that the best way to honor someone was to live your life to the fullest. It was nothing too profound. And it was nothing that I hadn’t heard before. But it was something I needed to hear in that moment. Afterwards Jack told me that his wife Anna was buried at the cemetery.
He told me that he visited her every day, and could still feel her presence, and he couldn’t wait to see her again. Then he asked if I’d like to visit her grave. From the way he’d spoken about her, I assumed that Anna had just passed away.
But when we arrived at her marker, I saw that she’d been gone for sixteen years. We said our goodbyes, and Jack told me that he’d visit my friend’s grave whenever he stopped by the cemetery. And I promised to do the same for his wife.
For years I kept that promise. I’d often find the same bouquet of flowers at both graves, so I knew that Jack was keeping his promise too. After I moved away for college, my trips to the cemetery grew further and further apart.
Then a couple of years ago I went for a visit, and I couldn’t find Anna’s grave anywhere. I started to panic. But there were a lot of fall leaves on the ground, and it wasn’t an upright stone.
So I thought maybe it was hidden. After a few minutes of searching, I finally found it. In the same place it had always been. Only this time there was a completely new gravestone– and Jack’s name was on it too.
[If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources. Here’s what you can do when a loved one is severely depressed.]
About the author:
This story first appeared on Humans of New York Facebook page and is published here with permission. Humans of New York began as a photography project in 2010. Somewhere along the way, the writer/photographer began to interview subjects in addition to photographing them. And alongside their portraits, he includes quotes and short stories from their lives. For more amazing stories and photography buy the book HUMANS by Brandon Stanton.
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