And then, he was gone again.

Willie was shy. That is what we all assumed.

I don't remember him ever saying more than what was necessary to answer a question. It didn't matter if the questioner were a classmate or a teacher, Willie kept it brief. So why is it that I can still hear his voice echoing in my head so many years later?

Willie and I either met in kindergarten or first grade which is to say a very long time ago. He was shy. Or at least that was the conclusion I quickly came to.

I was not shy. If anything, I was even more of an extrovert growing up than I am today. Talkative and outgoing, but also sensitive and anxious too. I wanted people to like me. Through the years, I always tried to win Willie over, to gain his trust and become actual friends.

For a quiet person, Willie was popular. He was handsome and smart. Girls had crushes on him. He played football and had a circle of friends to whom he seemed close. But in retrospect, who really knows--maybe he was as much of an enigma to the guys as he was to me?

If you can find me, you can see Willie. He's just over my right shoulder.

If you can find me, you can see Willie. He's just over my right shoulder.

After high school, Willie and I went our separate ways--him to Penn State and me to Cornell. I didn't give him much thought until we had class reunions and he wasn't there.

Growing up, Willie lived right near my friend Kristin and she seemed to be able to pierce his bubble a bit better than me. After college, Kristin was my only source of info about how he was doing. I heard he was sick with a chronic illness and living at home with his parents. While I felt empathy for him, I didn't understand why that would cause him to become even more withdrawn.

This part is on me: I didn't reach out to Willie. I didn't call his house to ask how he was doing and to tell him he was missed. I assumed he would not care to hear from me because as time passed, I started to wonder if he and I were ever really friends. I feared rejection. I worried about being intrusive.

Years passed. Kristin would run into Willie in their neighborhood sometimes. I remember bugging her for details about him but there weren't really many. 

This summer, Willie joined Facebook. I was shocked and thrilled. Once we connected, he and I spoke more via Messenger than we probably had during four years of high school. He asked me about life in Brooklyn. I asked him what made him suddenly appear on Facebook and he told me about his desire to rejoin the workforce and reconnect with people.

I thought about telling him how welcome he would be at our next class reunion, but I didn't want to overwhelm him. I considered suggesting we meet up during my upcoming trip home for Labor Day Weekend but didn't want to pressure him.

And then he was gone again.

A few days after our last exchange of messages, Willie was found dead in an apparent suicide. When police went to his house to notify his father, with whom he lived, they found that he too was dead. 

I never could have imagined Willie's story would end in such a dark way and my heart aches for his surviving family members. 

Please know this: I am not saying that little ol' me could have prevented this tragic outcome. But I will always regret not asking Willie more questions in an attempt to connect with him and to let him know I cared. 

"Her suicide was one day in a life."

I recently had the opportunity to speak on a panel organized by Interpublic Group, which owns the company where I work, in honor of National Mentoring Month. I arrived assuming I would network a bit, do the panel and then head home. Ho-hum, right?

Silly me.

Sure, I was able to meet executives from the vast IPG network of agencies--people I've emailed and spoken with but had never met face to face. It felt great to build on these initial connections and to learn more about their work.

I also got to check out a sister agency's super cool office.

 

During the panel, I shared a story about how I met one mentee in a non-traditional way: Amanda and I chatted at the nail salon. At 19 years old, she working full time and finishing her degree at NYU. I was impressed with her focus and drive, and I said so. We've kept in touch, sometimes over pre-work breakfasts at Coffee Shop. It's amazing to see her grow.

But the event also gave me something I never could have predicted.

Before the panel, an IPG executive moderated a discussion with a special guest, Valerie Irick Rainford, an executive with JP Morgan Chase and author of a memoir called Until the Brighter Tomorrow--One Woman's Courageous Climb from the Projects to the Podium.

Valerie told her story of not just her impressive rise from a truly challenging childhood to a successful career and happy family life, but also the suicide of her beloved mother.

Her mother's suicide was a tragic event in Valerie's life, but over time, it shaped how she mentors and champions others. Once she began sharing this deeply personal element of her life story, she was able to connect interpersonally on a more meaningful level. Until she revealed this pain, no one she mentored could truly understand her motivation, drive and spirit.


 

In 2010, my cousin Ella Scheuer, a beautiful, smart 27 year old graduate student, committed suicide. I have never spoken about it for I didn't feel I had any right.

When my mother told me, my grief was dwarfed by guilt. My mother and Ella's father are cousins, but distant ones--our families are linked as much by friendship as blood. Ella was ten years younger than me. Beyond memories of playing with a wavy-haired little girl with serious but pretty eyes at family events, I didn't know Ella at all. After her death, I cursed myself for not seeking out a relationship with Ella and her siblings as an adult.

For four years, I have tried to tamp down the regret I feel, while also trying to know her on some level even though it's too late. Ella left a few wonderful internet footprints of travel and adventure and study and beauty.

Since Ella's death, I have thought of her so often. And I have wanted to tell her parents, brother and sister that this girl I barely knew is carried in my heart. Last fall, I saw them all at Ella's brother Brad's lovely wedding but I feared saying the words would have caused them more pain, and they've already had so much.


In her talk, Valerie gave me a gift in the form of words. She told of how she came to terms with her mother's suicide by acknowledging her death as one day in a life.

Just one day, one choice. No more. It was one day when her strength to keep fighting lapsed. The rest of the days still existed. They mattered.

Maybe this applies to Ella too. I can't possibly know and I'll forever be sorry for not knowing her.

But in her honor, I will strive to love more and worry less. To be a person who is caring and compassionate and patient. And to accept gifts of words like the ones Valerie shared with me.

 

Ella

Ella