There is a theorem in Economics known as “Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem” that, as proposed by the Nobel Prize winning economist Kenneth Arrow, discusses the impossibility of coming to a conclusion that completely satisfies the preferences of a multiple of voters. I thought of this theorem recently when I attended the memorial service for a former colleague who had done what I thought was impossible. As plans for this service came together, I learned that he did not just die suddenly, as the announcement of his death informed us. In fact, he had actually taken his own life. I found myself at a complete loss in explaining what happened to him to my daughter, who, until now, has been relatively sheltered from this dark reality.
This colleague was a fixture on campus, someone that years of students named as someone that made it possible for them to graduate with a degree from Ursuline College. He was part cheerleader to students struggling with difficult classes and part coach. Indeed, the sports images are appropriate since he was also an avid sports fan, always present at sporting events on campus and also quite an amateur athlete himself. I remember how excited he was when the gym was renovated years ago. He had managed to secure for himself a piece of the old hardwood that was being replaced. “Now I will always have a piece of that gym” he told me. Being only a tangential sports fan, I did not really understand his enthusiasm, but then, he was the kind of person to get excited about just about anything to do with Ursuline College.
I was shocked to hear that he had died, and even more shocked to hear that he had taken his own life. I wondered if there was anything that anyone could have done to reach out to him in those final weeks, and I realized that I could have done more. I remember the last time I saw him, many months ago, as he told me that he was choosing to leave Ursuline and did not have any definite plans for the future. I wanted to let him know that we appreciated all that he had done for us over the years, and that the students and the faculty really appreciated his contribution to the Ursuline community. But such words seemed awkward at the time, so I just wished him well and told him to please stop back to campus so he could keep in touch. Although I regret that I decided not to hug him goodbye in that awkward moment, I take comfort in knowing that my husband and I once took him out to dinner to thank him for all that he did for me and my students. But, as I now know, that was not enough.
There was a recent column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where the award winning columnist Regina Brett wrote about another suicide. This one that she writes about was, ironically, the story of the death of someone who himself worked with those contemplating suicide, saving many lives through his work with them. In the column she lists local and national contact information for those in crisis. I only wish that the man who saved so many of my student’s academic careers could have found that information when he needed it. Perhaps through it he would have had a chance of being saved himself.
We will all miss him, and I will always regret not hugging him goodbye.