Our friend Ira
Over the last few months, I've been trying to spend less time on Facebook. Mix what is happening in the world around us with the effect it has on people, PLUS habitually being in a state of being needed by other folks and yeah it was time to set some boundaries with regards to how much I needed to live in the present vs how much I should be letting myself become a slave to others and their impacts on my mood. In the course of doing this, I definitely feel like I've become disconnected from a lot of important people. But I'm also only one person and have other priorities, and the struggle is real and ongoing too. You never win when you're trying to juggle so many balls and give them the right amount of attention. But all you can do is try.
Yesterday, I discovered some really sad news on a rare random scroll of the Facebook news feed. I learned my friend Ira had died of an opioid overdose. Addiction sucks. It is brutal, it is devastating on people and on those who care for them. It is prevalent and persistent and so fucking difficult to shed.
Ira was one of a kind. Despite being a meathead, Ira was also one of the smartest people I had ever met.
We met probably 11 or 12 years ago. When I was in undergrad, I helped start a group called "Western Gym Team", an informal social club of powerlifters and body builders at Western. We supported each other through our journeys to pursue our workout related goals. Many of us ended up working together as we developed an employment connection to the CPR Tavern and Barney's Patio, where some of the older members who were employed there helped create the opportunity for newer members to get fun part time student jobs too.
Ira was one of the people who became a part of that pipeline. But he was so different from the others.
At the time, he was in the HBA program at Ivey. That program was no joke in terms of the intellectual fortitude required to get into and succeed in it. He then followed that up by getting into the actuarial science and economics Master's program at Waterloo. He commuted back and forth from London, as all his friends and family were here. He kept in contact despite him being in the still in school part of his life journey and me being the married-with-kids part of mine.
I was working for Parkinson Society and organizing a lot of events in short time windows and needing a lot of volunteers to both run and organize the events. Ira had never met anyone with Parkinson's prior to finding out my father in law had it, but jumped all over the chance to help us out, both joining the London Superwalk organizing committee and the day-of event crew. There was no greater ask of a Trailer Park Boys fan than to prepare 300 cheeseburgers for hungry walkers. He was in HEAVEN.
A few months later, we were nearing the end of our home renovation and I needed chairs for my island. My wife found some, but they were only in stock at the Pier One in Waterloo. I had three options - hiring a courier service to pick them up, at a cost of $445. Or paying the contractors their $40 or so an hour rate to go get them, or thirdly asking Ira to grab them as part of his daily commute to and from class and offering him some cash for his time. He refused the cash, and grabbed them and dropped them off at my house. We chatted, we caught up, had some laughs. He told me school was going great. He refused payment for his time from me.
This was the first time that I learned something was amiss. My cousin is a professor in the economics program at Waterloo, and I asked him over social media if he had met Ira yet. He told me he did in fact meet him in the first week of classes, and found him to be very funny and outgoing and gregarious. He let me know Ira disappeared shortly into the fall semester and was not seen again.
Ira very likely drove to Waterloo and back on his own time and expense just to grab me some chairs and put our minds at ease during a stressful Reno with a 2 year old and a new born at home. That was Ira.
Everything seemed fine on Ira's end via our in person interactions and his online posts, so I didn't really inquire as it didn't seem like my business to ask. Maybe school just wasn't doing it for him anymore. A year or two later, I found out from some fellow concerned friends that Ira was in a bad place. Without getting into fine details, I reached out to him. He assured me that he was fine, that he was in Windsor, and that he was both working and getting outpatient treatment. He told me he was clean. I offered my help and support and he told me he had it under control. I lost track of Ira at this point, assuming all was well. I was glad to hear that he was striving for sobriety and wellness, and I did not hear any follow up from our fellow concerned friends who were also ready and willing to do what it took to make sure he got through his challenges and saw the other side and got the things from life he so richly deserved and had the talent to achieve.
Finding out from our friend Rob that Ira had passed away earlier this week was a huge kick in the stomach. And I'm only someone that was at one point a good friend but had lost closeness as our life paths went from the same to divergence in opposite directions. I can't even imagine how his mom or his brothers are feeling today. The last time I talked to his mom, she was scared for him and I promised to do what I could to help. I believed Ira when he told me he was okay and had things under control because he was so smart and so strong and so honest. it turns out he didn't, and that makes me sad.
The takeaway from this is to keep tabs on your friends as much as you can. To never stop caring and to check in with those who you think might be struggling and to let them know you're there and that you support them and care about them.
I realized today that I hadn't chatted with Ira privately in over a year, and simply assumed he was fine given his usual social media wisecracks.
I know that I am no one's keeper and only one person, and that I didn't let him or his family down. But the nagging voice in the back of my mind will feel differently in the short term.
Opiods are in fact an epidemic. The struggle is real. Addiction isn't reserved for the most poor or criminal or mentally ill. Addiction also impacts young, strong, brilliant individuals that are deeply cared about by many. Ira died of an overdose despite having 1,381 Facebook friends, most of whom I'd assume would've done what it took to ensure this wasn't his final outcome.
Be kind to yourselves and each other. Leave nothing up to chance. Life is real and it is beautiful, but sometimes it can be tragic too.