“When a close friend unexpectedly leaves us, a piece of our heart is forever broken.” –Chis Lumpkin
It has been almost three years since I lost my life partner Steve to suicide. On February 2, 2018, my heart was broken once again when a very good friend of mine, Mike, took his own life.
Mike and I graduated Seaford High School in 1971 but lost touch over the years only to reconnect our friendship through Steve at a triathlon in the 1990s. Mike, like Steve, loved the challenge of this multi discipline sport and was one of the earlier triathlon participants on Long Island. Mike’s son, Michael Jr., was also an early participant in the sport, however, it was from his stroller, as he watched his Dad from the sidelines with his Mom, Ramona, while Mike competed. For many years, both Mike and Michael Jr. were members of Team Total Training; Steve’s triathlon team. Steve also coached Michael Jr. in both sport and life.
Mike was a great family man and it was so very apparent to me how much he loved his wife and two sons (Michael Jr. and Matthew). He shared with me on more than one occasion, all the wonderful times he had with his family when they would go out to Southold, Long Island when Mike participated in the Mighty North Fork Triathlon. As Michael Jr. got older, he joined his father and they would both do the race together while Ramona and Matthew cheered them on. Mike told me how much he and his family loved staying at the Drossos Motel near the race site, a place I drive by 3-4 times per week now since I am living on the North Fork. Every time I see that motel now, it will bring me back to simpler and happier times for both myself and Mike’s family.
Mike was one of my closest, supportive friends after Steve passed. He and his family lived around the block from me (less than a mile from our high school) and he was always there for me, whether it was shoveling snow from my driveway, doing some heavy lifting for me or helping me move to my new home on the North Fork. Mike helped me realize I was not alone and I will be forever thankful to him for all he had done for me in my time of need. Mike was the type of friend that would drop everything he was doing if one said they needed his help and I consider myself blessed to have been his friend.
Even though he no longer participated in triathlons, Mike was there for me as I walked across the finish line in memory of Steve at the Steve Tarpinian Memorial Mighty Hamptons triathlon in 2015. In October of 2017, Mike, Michael Jr. and Matthew participated in the MightyMan Montauk Triathlon and they all sported some of the original Team Total Training gear in memory of Steve.
Mike also took me to the Aquatic Center every December after Steve passed and he would complete Steve’s birthday tradition of swimming laps with Steve’s former triathlon team. Sadly, the last time I saw Mike was at Steve’s birthday laps celebration in December 2017.
All these random acts of kindness Mike did for me will always be remembered and cherished. To me, they personify Mike’s goodness and his kind and thoughtful nature.
Too many are being lost to suicide; it is so much more prevalent than people realize. Because of its stigma, no one wants to talk about it. Ignorance about suicide and mental health issues abound. Comments like “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” and “suicide is a selfish act” have no place in our society and only further contribute to the stigma. Anyone who says comments like these has no idea of the mental anguish one who takes their own life may be suffering; that it is so painful, they fear living more than they fear dying.
The Stewart family is so brave for being open about the cause of Mike’s death and they have inspired me to continue my journey of inspiring conversation about suicide and mental health issues. It took me months to overcome perpetuating the suicide stigma with my silence over the cause of Steve’s passing. I am sure this was not an easy decision for the Stewarts.
My heart aches so much for Mike’s family. No one should have to suffer the pain and mental anguish that our loved ones went through nor should the suicide loss survivors have to suffer such devastation. These are shoes I would never wish anyone to walk even five feet in, let alone a mile.
I have no answers or solutions, but I do believe the more freely we talk about these topics, perhaps someday, it will help remove the stigma and shame associated with them.
“If we share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive”. – Brene Brown