How does a person I’ve never met have such an effect on me due to his passing away?
Last October it was Tom Petty. Yesterday it was Anthony Bourdain.
I loved the work of both of these men. Some of Petty’s songs are indelibly etched into my subconscious brain, I probably mutter them in my sleep. For Bourdain, it was more than that.
At age 40, I began to explore the world of food as I contemplated making a drastic career change into becoming a chef and opening a restaurant. Author Michael Ruhlman became my culinary instructor and through his books learned the importance of foundations like stock and knowing the difference in a side towel and an apron, and with which do you wipe your hands. I consumed cookbooks like novels and devoured any writing I could find to help me paint a picture of the world I was about to create for myself.
However, there was something intangible about the writings of Bourdain. He understood his beginnings and had a clear sense that cooking saved his life, as it gave him something to immediately evaluate if he did a good job or not. He described the magic of dishwashing, how he could put something dirty in a rack, push it into a machine, close the door and 90 seconds later it would come out the other side clean. That was a sense of control he could understand and needed. To this day, when I need some clarity, I begin washing dishes. When the kitchen is out of control, I join in Bourdain’s ritual. What goes in dirty comes out clean. And I get to be a part of that process.
Two years ago, when my world started to spin out of control and my businesses were on a rapid decline, I felt the weight of depression beginning to crush me. No attempts at dishwashing could serve to salve the wound that was increasing in my inner being. My health started to decline. The stress was shutting down my body. I found myself in a dark place, darker than I have ever experienced, and I began to wonder if I would ever see the light again.
What saddens me about Bourdain’s death is the sense of helplessness that countless people felt upon hearing the news. Not just the food world and chef’s that posted farewell’s on social media. Even President Obama noted the impact that Anthony had. It is this sense of loss that people evaluate a suicide. “Why?” we ask. “Didn’t he know how much he was loved? Couldn’t he see how much he meant to people?”
That’s not the question I was pondering in my darkest season.
Depression is a malady. It causes pain, and like any wound, it demands relief. Pain clouds judgment and leads to drastic measures to ensure it goes away. I remember feeling like such a failure, I just assumed the whole world agreed with that thought and that I deserved to be punished for it. Thankfully, I discovered the error of this way of thinking, and have come to a different conclusion about my life.
When I saw the notification on my phone yesterday morning that Anthony Bourdain was dead at age 61, my first thought was heart attack. I didn’t imagine him taking his life because he had so much going for him. But the visible qualifications of success don’t assuage the personal pain of depression. It’s real and it is dangerous. And I hope to God I can help in some small way by telling my story.
Suicide leaves a sense of powerlessness in its wake. Survivors wish they could have intervened. Some get angry because its the only emotion that makes sense of the injustice of the loss. Regardless of response, everyone must grieve the loss, because the loss says the life mattered.
As I was prompted to write this post this morning, I knew I had to say something. When Karen was diagnosed with cancer 8 years ago, my first compulsion was to write about it. Writing is a little like dishwashing for me. It gives me a semblance of control, however small it might be. I begin with a blank page and after a little while I have some words that help me make sense of the feelings.
If you are reading this and are in a similar place of darkness, I will leave the advice that my sister gave me:
Don’t apply a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Love is available, and in it, relief from the pain can be found.