f you saw the film or read the novel “The Help,” you’ll remember the line, “You is kind, you is smart, and you is important.” One of my best friends, Craig, whom you’ve read about in this column from time to time, died a few weeks ago. And I want to share a bit with you about this inspirational human being.
Craig was witty, mischievous, sometimes irreverent, and led a life devoted to helping others both personally (often anonymously, no thanks required … a living model of random acts of kindness) and professionally (he was a successful occupational therapist working with troubled veterans). This despite the challenges that come with being a heart-transplant patient, an amputee, and adapting to myriad other ailments that required his taking a daily truckload of medication. He was also a deeply spiritual man with a faith born of a difficult childhood, periods of monastic devotion, and an unyielding love for God. He was a Southern boy. He was all of this. And he was my friend.
He was the kind of friend with whom you could discuss anything, laugh about anything, and be inspired for betterment. He modeled what hope now means to me, and regularly delivered subtle lessons—just by being himself—about kindness, peace, the power of a positive attitude and unconditional love. He was the sort of friend that we’re terribly fortunate to have even once a lifetime. And while some say that his best qualities didn’t show up until later in his short life (who among us are so terrific in our misspent youths?), he left this world un-alone, surrounded by many who cared deeply for him, people who disrupted their own lives to see to his medical care, provide quiet company and share the love.
At his service outside of Memphis I gave a reading from Job (19:21-27), and delivered one of the eulogies. This was by his request and design; he figured I could handle it. But I’ll confess: That privileged moment ranks as one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my adulthood. I’m no stranger to death and grief, but this was Craig. The guy who, when he first told me that he was near the end of this life, made me realize that my own quality of life was about to take a nosedive. This is how all of us in his “adopted family” felt. But as usual, he somehow got me laughing about it, convincing me that I’d be OK.
At the Episcopal Church where Craig’s service was held, Father Allan’s homily included this passage: “Those who knew Craig understood that he held a deep spiritual center. Like many gay men, the Christian Church had told him he was an abomination to God; that his illnesses were proof of God’s judgment. But like Job and all people with an abiding faith, rather than lash out, seek revenge, or argue with his scoffers, Craig chose to put his trust in God and embrace with all his heart the promise that ‘in my flesh I shall see God on my side.’ We would do well to embrace his example.”
When a loved one dies, we have many reasons to grieve. One is that we lose our mirror—that face into which we could see, looking back at us, validation of all the goodness that a deep, perhaps hidden part of us always hoped we were capable of. We lose, in that face, the reflection of how we’d like the world to see us.
My hope for my relationship with Craig is that, while I grieve, we both experience the loosening of any bonds from our earthly friendship, so that he can embark on his new wonderful adventure without burden. If we who are left behind allow ourselves permission to laugh, cry and remember, then in our hearts Craig will live on unencumbered, whole and well, with the comfort that his acts of kindness will be with us forever. And if we’ve really learned his lessons, we’ll pay them forward.
Craig was kind. Craig was smart. And Craig was important. Deep in my soul that is how he’ll stay. Goodbye, dear friend.
Dr. Rick Pimental-Habib, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist in private practice in Chattanoog. Visit his website at drrhp.com.