Monday, June 29, 2015

Remembering Chris Harvey

A brief interlude from con-madness today.  Full disclosure: discussion of death, grief, and suicide ahead.

So Saturday was the eighth anniversary of the death of my friend, Chris Harvey.  I was 24 when he died, and it came as a huge shock.  He was the first person I ever really 'lost'.

I'm struggling with this blog post, but it feels too important to not write something.  His mom said it better than I could:

8 years ago tonight my son Chris Harvey died at Parkland Hospital, 10 days after jumping off a 10-story building due to undiagnosed and untreated bipolar II. A part of his mother died that night too. But I'm still here today, thanks in large part to his amazing friends-who took me into their hearts and lives and gave me a safe place to remember him through tears and laughter. I will leave some out by accident I know but thank you all

I keep thinking about lots of little things - bits and pieces, mostly.

I remember how shocked we were to get the news that he'd attempted suicide.  I remember how hugely relieved we were to hear that he'd survived it with nothing but bruises and broken bones.  I remember how my sister and I went to visit him, how the three of us were joking around (in that kind-of-uncomfortable 'holy shit, dude' kind of way) and how it felt like this would be a turning point for him - how glad we were that he would get the help he needed and get his life back on track.

I remember getting a call from his mom while I was at work, and how I let it go to voicemail.

I remember not even wondering about it until hours later - how it didn't even occur to me that anything bad could have happened.

I remember playing the message that told me he had died.

It seems so, so unfair, even eight years later - that someone could survive a ten-story fall, but not a tiny little blood clot.  And I know some of my friends still feel guilty even now, because they hadn't gone to see him yet - because we all assumed that he was going to be fine.  We were young, most of us barely more than teenagers, and we'd never had anything but time.

It was a hard lesson, but we tried our best to learn.  We took turns speaking at his funeral, half of us incoherent through tears.  We went with his family to scatter his ashes at the lake.  We printed out his picture and took it with us to go see the first Transformers movie, because he had been so excited for it.  Even today, his name comes up at D&D sessions and in fond 'remember when' moments.  And here I am now, trying to communicate him to you and making a total hash of it, because his life is what matters, and all I've talked about is his death.

Maybe that's because death is so much more finite and expressible. A cause, a date, a narrative small enough that we literally put it on a certificate.  You can't do that with a life.  A person doesn't fit into a little 100-word column in the newspaper, no matter how eloquently we try to summarize them.  I can tell you all about how good he was at doing the Eric Cartman voice, how you could loan him any Nintendo RPG you wanted and know that you'd get the cartridge back with every character leveled to 99, how he drove his brother absolutely bananas watching Toy Story on repeat all summer long.  I think that's the secondary sadness - I can go on and on, but for everyone who didn't know Chris while he was here, he will only ever exist in summary.

You know, a wonderful new friend of mine gave me a phenomenal compliment a few weeks ago, which I didn't fully appreciate then.  "I think that's why people like you," she said. "When you talk to people, they feel seen."  It was nice to hear at the time, but the more I think about it, the more vital that seems. We need people to see us, to really pay attention and understand us, so that they can carry us forward when we're not here.

And to be honest, that's a big part of what keeps driving me on to do all these cons and events, to go to workshops and parties and adventures every chance I get. Part of it is egotistical book-pushing mercantilism, yes. But when Chris died, I went from being someone who had never experienced a tragedy to someone who had. It changed me. And I know that someday, something else will happen - an illness, an ordeal, a death - and I'll change again.  The person I am right now will be gone. I'm mostly okay with that, but I desperately want you to see her while she's here - to have proof that she was real.

And of course, I want to see you-all too - to know you and carry you with me.  I want you to take Chris with you, and so does Dana Beth (who has given her warmest blessing to my sharing all this.)  I want us all to carry our nearest and dearest with us, and to constantly reach for new people too, so that the people we are today can continue on, no matter what happens to us tomorrow.

And the more I think about it, the more ordinary and sensible that seems.  After all, we're human beings. We sustain each other.

To infinity, and beyond.


  1. Replies
    1. Hugs to you too, ma'am, and thanks for the share - it is GOOD to be seen!

  2. The facial incontinence is out of control!

    There are so many things to say and I cannot adequately get a single one on the page.

    Whoever you are, there is someone who will be devastated by your loss. Probably many more "someones" that you could imagine. 1-800-273-8255 is the number to find someone to guide you out of the murky depths of suicidal ideation.

    If you notice odd behavioral changes in a friend, please say something. They may get angry, but they may also get help.

    Virtual hugs to everyone who has lost someone to mental illness. Blessings to Chris's family and friends - thanks for sharing him.

    1. Oh, that is such a good idea - I'm so glad you mentioned that. Let me add that to the OP - it's hard to think of everything when your emotions are all over the place, but that one could really help someone!

  3. Tex, that was so meaningful. Thank you for sharing your memories of Chris. I can't imagine losing someone like that, especially when it looked like he was finally going to get some help for his illness. You are so right about people needing to be seen (and heard) and your extraordinary ability to do that makes you a true friend. I'm sure Chris treasures you as much as you treasure him. Love never dies!

    1. Amen to that! And thank you, ma'am - we are so much in awe of Dana Beth and her resilience, and having the support of other people (new and old) is a huge, huge part of that. A true friend is you!

  4. Dana Beth HarveyJuly 1, 2015 at 3:35 PM

    Since this posted I've been trying to find the words to express how much this means to me.

    The depth of feelings your post evokes just won't translate in any way that does it justice so I can only say how grateful I am that Chris had such an amazing friend as you.

    I don't think I'll ever be able to convey what your friendship and support has done for me, especially on those dark nights when I miss my son the most.

    I'll be honest & telI you that I have been so devoured by grief that I didnt really grasp the effect it had on his friends until I read your words.

    I hope Chris realized what great fiends he had and how much they loved him.

    His undiagnosed mental illness may not have allowed him to appreciate you and all the others in his life who cared about him enough NOT to make that 10-story jump, but he told me in the hospital (after getting on medication for bipolar & depression) that as soon as he did it he wished he could take it back not because of the fear but b/c he realized he had so much to live for. I like to think that the love of his friends & family were a large part of his sense of regret.

    I know you and many others showed him you cared when you visited him in the hospital. And to all those who wanted to and couldn't visit I want you to be at peace over that - he knew you wanted to be there and WOULD have been if there had been more time.

    I think the hardest part of the entire experience was that he was so close to being discharged to a rehab facility. Everyone kept saying what a miracle it was he survived at all, that God must have great plans for him for the future and then suddenly that future was cut short. My actions & the events that resulted in my son's death haunt me to this day. As you so aptly put it, it changed me from who I was to who I am.

    You are one of the few people who give me hope that I can reconnect with the positive aspects of the person I was before his death and integrate those lost qualities into the person I will be in the future.

    I don't always feel confident about the future but interacting with you and all the others who remember and share about Chris gives me hope and that sustains me in those dark hours when I most need it.

    Thank you for being Christopher's friend, and thank you for being mine.

    1. DB, that is tremendously kind, and hugely touching.

      To me the hardest part of this whole human-condition thing is how we CAN be inspired to do these amazing acts of kindness and support each other through things that would sink any one of us alone... but so often when we're drowning, other people drift away - like they're afraid we'll swamp their boat. I know I've done that before, and as much as I hate it, it's still hard to resist that impulse sometimes - the one that urges you to keep your distance, not say the wrong thing, not butt in to someone else's business, etc.

      I guess what I'm saying is, you haven't done that to any of us, but I know we've done it to you, and I'm so sorry for all those times you were left feeling like nobody cared. Maybe it's time we stop worrying so much about whether and how we can make things better, and learn to be all right with sharing company when things just feel hopelessly awful.

      Regardless, as much as we miss Chris, we are so, so glad to still have you here with us. Thank you so much for keeping him close to us, and for all your incredible perseverance: we can't avoid changing, but we CAN change for the better - and a friend is someone who sees that potential in us, while loving us for exactly the person we are today. Even when we can't do anything else, we can still do that - and that alone is reason for hope!