For me, Christmas of 2006 was one of those magical events that people remember with such happiness, partly because they know it will never be replicated. My husband and I had just moved into our newly-built home six weeks before and we wanted to host Christmas for our families. They came from all over the country, some in motor homes, some packed tightly in a vehicle for a marathon drive, some flew, but come they did, filling every corner of our home and overflowing into R.V’s . and a nearby neighbor’s empty home.
A few weeks before, my granddaughter, Katie, called to ask if it was okay to bring her boyfriend, Arash. They had met in college and were now sharing an apartment. Of course, I said, eager to meet the young man who had captured the heart of our bright and beautiful Katie.
It must be said that there isn’t a recessive gene in the whole family. We are generally boisterous, sometimes competing for air time and at all times requiring everyone to keep their senses of humor while the one-liners and snappy patter fly around the room. Under all the laughter, however, we are generally a discerning and intuitive group, especially when observing “outsiders.” So when Katie and Arash arrived late on Christmas Eve, I wondered how he would handle this rowdy bunch of strangers. Too tired to do much but introductions, we went to bed.
Christmas morning was clear and mild. I was up early, making coffee and preparing for a big breakfast, when I became aware of a new sound coming from our front yard. I opened the front door just as people from other accommodations began emerging. There in our driveway stood Arash, playing bagpipes! The air at 5000 feet had a bright crispness that just emphasized the haunting tones of the pipes. We all gravitated to the driveway to surround this dark and handsome young man, many of us teary-eyed at the splendidness of the moment. He played more songs, some traditional, others not, all with the mystical sound of the ancients that felt like a blessing of our new home, new town, new challenges.
Clearly, Arash was not going to be a wall flower in this gathering of strangers. I loved him for that, and for giving us such a perfect Christmas gift. He was warm, witty and obviously very intelligent. He fit this family as though he had been born into it. Of course we all speculated and wondered if Katie and Arash were going to get married, but by the end of the Christmas holiday it was clear it would have our unanimous support.
It was a joyful event that we attended in La Jolla, California in July of 2008. As we sat outside overlooking the ocean that warm afternoon, we all felt glad for this young couple as they shared some of their cultural customs surrounded by friends and family.
We didn’t see much of Arash and Katie for the first years of their marriage. He was acquiring a law degree and she was working at one of her passions, animal rescue. When she told us she was pregnant, it was exciting and seemed like the natural next step. In an intimate home setting, a stunningly beautiful boy they named Fletcher, made his appearance. No child could have been more welcomed.
By all appearances, this story is headed for a happy ending. But life is not a fairy tale, and we eventually learned that Arash had been dealing with severe and debilitating clinical depression, more or less all his adult life. On Thanksgiving day, he took his own life, apparently without any hope of a future free of the horrendous pain in his tortured mind. No drugs, no therapy, not all the love that was directed toward him was able to offer him hope of relief.
I tell this story for several reasons. First is to honor him with happy memories that we will always have of Arash, his goofy sense of humor, his kindness and, perhaps most of all, the love he felt for Fletcher and for Katie, even though he felt his illness made it impossible to remain in their lives.
But the second reason is to emphasize the fact that you can’t tell by looking. We are made with the ability to hide pain, function normally, laugh, socialize as though we have a full and peaceful life when inside we may be dwelling on the belief that the world, our loved ones, would be better off without us. Our society does not provide many options to people who struggle with this invisible pain and so many do. Someone you know and love may be quietly suffering with depression and suicidal thoughts. And in spite of every effort on the part of doctors, friends and family, it may not be enough. What could have changed the ending of this sad story? Nobody really knows.
Rest in peace at last, Arash.
Note: Some dear friends of Katie and Arash have created a memorial site for sharing memories and also a fund to help with expenses and with Fletcher's needs until Katie is back on her feet financially. http://remembering-arash.squarespace.com/