Sunday, June 3, 2012


Originally written August, 2006.

I learned last Sunday that we’d lost Nick. Donna, Kathryn, others of his family, Ina and other co-workers, we’d all lost him. I wrote to Donna that day of my sorrow, and my hope that she and Kathryn would be able to forgive Nick, as he apparently took his own life. The news made me re-evaluate my feelings on suicide.

Like most experiences, I have probably suppressed bad events with Nick, for I certainly don’t recall any, except of course the one that defined the last two years of his life: the death of his son, Eric, on Valentine’s Day, 2004. I was sitting downstairs checking my email when I read Nick’s message that he had terrible news to share: that Eric had died. It was Saturday. The next day, I flew to San Francisco for the Intel Developers’ Conference. While I tried to call Nick, and failed, I did talk to my boss. He was thinking of going out for Eric’s service, which would be on Thursday. From the IDC, I flew to Seattle Tuesday night for a meeting — Boeing, I think — and then back to Ontario Wednesday night. I stayed overnight before the morning ceremony at Bobbitt Memorial Chapel, the same place where Nick’s service was today.

Eric’s service was filled with his peers, several of whom spoke with conviction of their loss at his death. Along with other co-workers, I had a few minutes with Nick and Donna as they tried to meet with all the visitors to the chapel. I drove from the chapel to Nick’s home in Yucaipa; perhaps fifty or sixty others did likewise. It is a pleasant home, set on the side of a hill in a residential neghborhood. Pines in front, stone walls in the front and back and a flagstone patio beyond the kitchen to the backyard.  I stayed a bit, spoke again to Nick (But really, what do you say?) and left to drive to Las Vegas to catch my flight back home. My life continued.

Other times were much more pleasant—how could they fail to be? Nick joined Numerix Corporation as an application engineer in the mid 1980’s. During her college selection phase, I took my daughter to Chicago to visit Northwestern and DePaul. While we were there, Numerix was setting up for a trade show; Nick was involved in arranging the equipment and the booth. I recall her smiling as he worked, first kidding with me, then showing her—terrified of math ever since inaccurate Advanced Placement recommendations—a book on prime number theory and telling her his hobby was computing ever larger new primes. It is safe to say she was taken aback rather than impressed, but she enjoyed his company more than less, both then and when she briefly worked at Mercury.

My history of customer involvement started at Numerix, as I did not only design and development work, but also pre-sales and post-sales visits. By the nature of the beast, this led to knowing the Sales Group (including AE’s) and attending Sales Meetings with them. Those were held in a variety of places, and I remember Nick's invitations to come out and spend every evening shooting pool, drinking cold beer and talking. The pool and talking parts of that held true for almost every Sales Meeting we both attended. One place where our plans were overcome by events was the last Numerix Sales Meeting in Orlando, when the plan to accept an offer by Mercury was revealed, and their CEO talked about the opportunity. I had rented a Mustang convertible, and after the formal meeting, we cruised Orlando, talking about what would happen once we became one with our heretofore competitor.

I continued to attend Sales meetings, as the position I accepted with Mercury involved even more customer input than I’d had with Numerix. However, the Mercury sales guys are just jealous of their customers, so I kept in contact with them, and of course the AE’s, all of whom were friendly, Nick most of all.

Remembering little things.

One of the perks of attending Sales Meetings was the unique tee shirt given to those present. Since Nick had attended all the meetings, he had the largest collection, and he brought to subsequent meetings a selection to choose from. The president was always interested to see which ones Nick wore.

Nick, as moderator at the back of the room, holding up the signs: 15; 10; 5; Quiet! to let speakers know when their time was up.

Trying to convince him to get a ‘real’ sports car to replace his Corvette.

Phone calls to check an innovation he wanted to try on a customer; unlike some sales associates, Nick was willing to check feasibility before advertising it. And he was willing to listen to problems with his ideas. If there were issues, they usually evolved from information he didn’t have, rather than an error or misunderstanding. He was always excited to be helping a customer solve his problem in the best way for this customer. Nick was easy to work with if you kept that in mind.

The past five or so years, he traveled less to be at home more. For him, even customer visits in Southern California took extravagantly long times due to traffic. With less on my plate while traveling, I was willing to drive halfway to meet him out in San Bernadino (near the I10 and I15 junction) at a Japanese restaurant where we could get sushi. When I got out for VITA meetings in Long Beach, or a customer visit in LA (defined for this purpose as between Simi Valley and San Diego), I’d arrange to drive out there to meet, have sushi and just talk. I enjoyed it; I hope he did as well.

I have always been of two minds about suicide. My aversion to the act varies inversely with the age of the person involved: at young ages, under the early 20’s perhaps and certainly for 12 to 16 year olds, suicide seems much too drastic a step taken far too early, before the wonders of life can possibly be manifest. To me, this argument holds less and less water as the person ages.

But, if the guess is correct—I’ll never know for sure—Nick had other demons. Eric’s death brought him depression; he never said so but used terms which one smarter than I might have recognized. Perhaps it was something else entirely, but not in my knowledge. Was it that, in death, Eric became more important to him, perhaps, than Donna or Kathryn, or others who now miss him so?  Was he right to focus there, decline to participate in our lives any more—as Chief Joseph said: “I will forget no more forever!”

My thoughts remain conflicted. I fear that because I wasn’t available, or as feeling as I should have been, perhaps I contributed to his depression. I feel a sense of loss in my mind and head. While my parents have both passed on, I thank God I’ve not had the pain of the death of a child. Even friends of mine have been exceptionally healthy, I guess, and lucky. The exception: before Nick’s death, Paige, an eight year old daughter and granddaughter of friends, with Down Syndrome and a host of other problems, died… She spent months in hospital suffering from leukemia first. Her passing seemed to me a pointless exercise in something—failed medical technology, faith, I don’t know. From the faith point of view, it just didn’t seem at all fair to put her through all that and then withhold the benefits. I think a little the same with Nick. I’d like to have some assurance that he’d tried everything he could to resolve the pain and loss he felt before taking that final step.

My loss is selfish: I like Nick; I don’t want to not have him. I hope that he did exhaust the possible alternatives before taking the final step on this plane. If he did, I can come to grips with his decision. But without having talked to him, I’ll never know. That’s the root of the problem. I want to be convinced that his disease was, in fact, incurable, and I’m not. But that doesn’t change the world.

I believe my feelings about suicide remain unchanged. While I would not choose it myself, it grows more acceptable—to me—as age increases; that it is a decision to be honored if made after other viable alternatives have been exhausted.

Goodbye, Nick. I already miss you. 8/25/06

Those of you who have looked at my book, Mercenaries: A Love Story may have noticed the dedication; this is some of the backstory to that dedication. I also thought it appropriate because Nick was the first person to read Black Sky, Dry Rain, the first part of that saga. Like any good reviewer, he was willing to say what he thought didn't work. I wish he'd had the chance to see it now.

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