In memory of my friend Greg

When I first met Greg, he was living on the streets a few blocks from my office. I hadn’t been in Portland long, maybe nine months, and he had posted to the Portland subreddit about losing his job, then apartment, and eventually becoming homeless. He seemed like a nice guy, and I get an hour for lunch, so I offered him a meal and conversation. I had just started my job–in fact I was able to afford lunch because I’d just received my first paycheck–so I was still in training and working a 7-4 shift.

It looked a lot like this (because this is it).

It looked a lot like this (because this is it).

Greg was waiting for me outside as Old Town Pizza opened their doors. We sat in a cozy elevator shaft that had been converted to a dining area. He brought his laptop and showed me some of the things he’d been reading. (At this point I don’t even recall what they were, I only remember being impressed that he had a number of interests spanning multiple disciplines.) We talked about technology, politics, and human nature while eating warm pizza as the late February wind rattled the windowpane. After lunch, I returned to the controlled comfort of my office building. Greg went to a coffee shop until it closed, then spent the night on the sidewalk.

Truth be told, Greg could have been one of my coworkers. That’s what I kept thinking after meeting him and talking with him for an hour: he could have been any number of people I’ve worked with over the years. It’s a bit overwhelming to realize that, save for a different set of circumstances and poor decisions, you or someone you consider a colleague could be living on the streets. One of the things Greg kept mentioning was how difficult it was to find social services to help, though he did say there was an abundance of food to be had for those who could not afford it. What a sad thing to be proud of in a first-world country.

We spoke often. I’ve known him for a year and a half, and looking back through my inbox there are over a thousand messages traded back and forth between us. Some of them are short, such as, “Sounds good! See ya soon.” Others are long, rambling paragraphs about teaching crows to collect change that would then be donated to charity, how best to hide your trail online in the new reality of constant electronic surveillance, or funny stories from our pasts. He met my girlfriend and she loved him. He was so charming it was almost impossible not to. Even the dog loved Greg, sometimes seemingly more than me.

<3

<3

He found a few different places to stay for short amounts of time, including with us for a few weeks. We live in a quiet cul-de-sac in the suburbs, and I think he missed being in the middle of the frenetic energy that flows through downtown Portland. A friend of Greg’s was kind enough to put him up in her basement while he worked to get back on his feet. During that time, he began to volunteer at Free Geek with more regularity, and would come to teach several classes. One of the things so impressing about Greg was how adamantly he desired to help others. In my belief, this desire is what led him to work with the Animal Beta Project and to teach classes at Free Geek. Looking at his reddit history, just a month ago he commented on a post to leave encouraging words to someone dealing with depression. Even while his own life was falling to–no, was in–pieces, he gave of himself.

There’s so much more I could say about him, and I’m sure I will eventually. Right now I simply hurt. I don’t hurt for myself, though there is a degree of pain because I’ll never see my friend again. I hurt for those who will never get to know Greg, for the people who would have walked right by him sleeping on the sidewalk without giving him a second thought, for the people who weren’t there when he needed them the most. I hurt because I am no better than this to others. I walk by people every day who sleep wrapped in newspapers and threadbare blankets. You become desensitized, maybe even to the point you don’t consciously recognize they’re there. But they are there. They are people. Most of them are probably very different from Greg, but they are still worthy of some basic aspect of human dignity.

I’m also angry. So damn angry. Over a month before his death Greg had an accident, followed by another a few weeks later that put him in the hospital. Both of these accidents occurred at least in part due to mental health incidents. I told them as much at the hospital. Since I’m not related to Greg, I had no legal or medical pull while he was in the hospital. He was admitted with a broken arm, broken ribs, and an ankle swollen to the size of my bicep. They wanted to send him home that same night. If you know anything about the American healthcare system you know why. Greg had no insurance. I firmly believe this was a factor in the quality (and quantity) of care he received.

The hospital kept him overnight, but only after I made a big stink about the fact that he lived alone, was in a physical condition that greatly reduced or eliminated his ability to care for himself, and would likely end up dead if he had another mental health incident that resulted in injury. Even talking caused Greg to gasp in pain. They discharged him the next day while I was at work. He wasn’t even able to walk or use his arms, and they tried to send him home with only crutches. He had to beg for a wheelchair. They said those costs are typically paid by insurance or out-of-pocket. Neither was an option for Greg.

I met up with him last Wednesday. We went to Safeway to get a prescription filled. He couldn’t afford the $13 cost. I don’t know if there are social programs out there that could have helped him, but I do know he was not in any shape to take advantage of them without some outside assistance. I am happy I was able to be there for my friend, even though I wish I had done more. How many others have no one? We talk about people falling through the cracks as if they were breadcrumbs in grout or coins dropped down a sewer drain. It’s so much messier, nothing but absolute apathy in the face of the meat-grinder gore of reality. Wednesday was the last day I saw Greg. I think I was the last one to see him alive. I’ll never see him again.

I’m ashamed of my country–the richest one in the entire fucking world–for not having it together enough to catch people before they are broken, sometimes irreparably, by hitting bottom. I’m ashamed of the society that demonizes those with mental illness. While I admit a bias against organized religion, I believe that it is an actual demonization, a holdover of the archaic belief that ill minds are caused by evil spirits rather than chemical imbalances that helps to propagate this attitude. Those with mental illnesses don’t need to be ostracized. That’s the opposite of what’s necessary. They need help without judgment. They need us to give a damn. We are failing this group of people in innumerable ways, and the consequences of it are immeasurable, the losses staggering. I’m ashamed of my fellow humans. I am ashamed of myself.

My friend also struggled with addiction. Some who deal with mental illness self-medicate. This tendency can be exacerbated when suffering from other medical conditions that bring chronic pain. As a non-believer, Greg expressed to me a number of times how uncomfortable he felt in most recovery programs, almost all of which demand an acknowledgement of a higher power and are steeped in other religious language. Overcoming addiction requires peace and support. He did not feel he had either.

I didn't know Greg back when this picture was taken, but I bet we still would have been friends.

I didn’t know Greg back when this picture was taken, but I bet we still would have been friends.

It’s so hard to see what drugs can do to people. I love Greg dearly and do not wish to tarnish his memory, but I also think it’s important that people know what it does to not only the drug user but to the people who care about him or her. It got to the point where I wouldn’t give Greg money, but would instead go with him to buy things. Courtney and I would take him to the grocery store for food. He and I took the MAX to Pioneer Square to buy him a Trimet pass. My friend Greg would have never lied to me; the junkie in him would have said whatever was necessary.

I remember telling Courtney at one point that I didn’t feel qualified to help Greg, that I am just a geek, not a doctor or a psychiatrist or a social worker. He likely needed all those things, but he also needed a friend. I’m glad I could provide that to him for a time.

Illegitimi non carborundum. Don’t let the bastards wear you down. I love you, Greg, and I’m really going to miss you.

So it goes.

If you or someone you know is battling addiction or mental health issues, please seek assistance. (If you’re a non-believer, contact the Secular Organization for Sobriety.) If you’re feeling depressed or having thoughts of taking your own life, please call 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE. If you believe someone you care about is contemplating ending their life, please talk to them. Show them you are there. Their lives may depend on it.

23 thoughts on “In memory of my friend Greg

  1. blueridgegirl

    I’m a girl who knew Greg in high school- dated him briefly, in fact. And everything you say about his character is true. He was a kind, loving person who had a sad, sad soul. Even then, more than 20 years ago, before he had begun really living his life.

    Those of us who knew him then will miss him too- in the same ways you will- and am glad he had friends like you in other parts of his life. He has left a little hole of unhappiness that he had would have shrugged off if I had said it to him.

    Blessings to you from the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, one of the places Greg loved so…

    Reply
  2. William Hertling

    Wow, I am so sorry for your loss and pain. It sounds like you were a good friend to Greg. I’m sorry that society totally failed him.

    Reply
    1. Dan Post author

      Thanks, Will. It is a reminder that we have a long way to go, even in places such as Portland where there seems to be more of a sense of community.

      Reply
  3. Robin

    I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet him. I’ve been feeling sad about it all, and sorry for your loss of your friend since yesterday. It really is a tragic shame.

    Reply
    1. Dan Post author

      Thank you, Robin. It is helpful to have friends like you and Robert. We are happy to know you, and have you in our lives.

      Reply
  4. Katarina Parker

    Thank you for that, Dan.

    I am between yearning for answers to what was going on in his head and heart those final minutes, and desperately not wanting to know how it all physically ended. Greg was probably the most beautiful spirit I have ever known. His intellect was without bounds, as was his creative genius and his gentle, generous nature. He could be sardonic and apathetic – and that just made me love him more. It meant he was awake.

    I could write a book, but I’m numb. I was hysterically sobbing last night upon finding out. I woke up this morning with tears spilling out of my eyes. I think I went to work. My brain doesn’t work; I can’t remember anything. I’m angry, too, because everything in this goddamned world is set up to distract us from ourselves. We’re too stupid to handle the level of technology we’ve developed. It’s driving us all further apart and making us all more neurotic every single day. It’s turning us into liars, cowards, and bullies. I refuse to be desensitized. I refuse to lose Hope. It’s personal, now. It has been for quite some time. I will love myself and announce it no matter who thinks I’m conceited or deluded. I am intimate with the alternative.

    I’ve known Greg since he was fourteen years old. He was my brother’s best friend, and ever since we reconnected – in 2008 after my brother’s death – he was my best friend, too. He was so much like my brother. The indoctrination of worthlessness bestowed upon him by his family haunted him. He was never free of it – and he cared. Instead of saying, “No. Fuck YOU.”, he cared. He just wanted to be loved. He wore his mistakes like a heavy and painful shroud he refused to remove. He was steeped in guilt.

    If he could have glimpsed what we saw in him.

    My last words to him were, “Get some peaceful, restful sleep.”

    His last words to me were, “I love you with all my heart.”

    I love you, too, Greg. With all my heart.

    Reply
    1. Stephanie Beaumont

      Katarina we felt the same way, that he was awake. One of the last things I said to him was, “You are a smart, unique, special person and the world needs people like you to help all the ones who are asleep.” He told me he would call the numbers I gave him, but he didn’t and I am so upset with myself for not checking back with him to make sure he did it. I really appreciate you and Dan talking about it like this, I’ve been crying all day and the only thing that helps is to know that there are lots of other people in the world who feel the loss and who understand that he was a special person.

      Reply
      1. Katarina Parker

        Hugs to you, Stephanie, honey. I’m certain Greg had no idea how many people cared about him – and how much. There has to be a revolution in this world that puts mental health, self-esteem, and self-forgiveness at the forefront of EVERYTHING. Far, FAR ahead of all those bullshit dates and details we learn in school which were penned by enslavers, dictators, and winners of horrific wars. (You know I can’t count the number of times in my life that knowing the dates of Gettysburg has lifted me out of a deep funk and inspired me to improve myself. What??)

        ; )

        Reply
      2. Dan Post author

        “You are a smart, unique, special person”

        And it’s clearly true because so many people thought so. Even the most minor interaction with Greg would leave you with the knowledge that he was a kind and gentle person.

        Reply
    2. Boudicca Rising

      This is so hard. We tried, we really did try and keep Greg with us. Having gone through hell over the past few days, I have come to the conclusion that he just couldn’t go on. Greg and I often spoke about the pain of fibromyalgia and how it would be such a blessing to have one day, just one day without pain. I can’t imagine having his injuries on top of that and trying to keep going, never mind the mental pain he was in. The system failed him, failed him badly and I hate that we have a system that is meant to take care of people and yet does not. I gave Greg some contacts and numbers too, I think many of us did. He was unable for whatever reason to make those calls.

      Katarina and Dan, you were absolutely awesome in the face of this. I truly do not believe there is anything more you could have done. I wish with all my heart that Greg had held on for just a little longer. I wish I had lived closer. I wish the love we all felt for him could have sustained him and I wish he could have been around for when his luck changed for the better.

      He was so hard on himself and yet so gentle and forgiving with others. I can’t actually get into my head that he is gone, truly gone. I want to annihilate every single person who caused him pain. I am so angry but I can’t feel any anger towards him. I hope that karma gets them, every single one.

      Much love to you, now and always xx

      Reply
      1. Katarina Parker

        Greg left us each and all a multitude of gifts, and perhaps his last one was that he brought all of us together. I am extremely grateful to him for that.

        I’m not one who likes to do my mourning in public, but thanks to Dan and his blog I have had an opportunity to get out some of what I’ve been feeling without getting a dozen random “I’m sorry”‘s from Facebook people who didn’t know him. (I do appreciate those, too, of course, but you know what I mean.)

        Boudie, Stephanie, Dan, I keep cycling through the anger thing, too. It’s just all so freaking multi-layered. He could just barely handle being ignored by his family. He could just barely handle the insensitivity and oftentimes seeming senselessness of what passes for daily life on Planet Earth. Add to that bi-polar disorder (on and off meds), an ever-shifting succession of drug addictions, and this latest, disturbingly severe, and clearly purposeful “dry run” (as Boudie aptly called it) of going through a window and off a building, and there may be few among us who could weather all of that at once.

        The thing that kills me is that he was alone and utterly without hope when he was so very much loved and cherished by so many. I knew things were bad for him, but I really thought he loved writing and music and movies and girls and humor enough to stay. I know we all have our different beliefs. In my belief, I have to keep reminding myself that he’s everywhere at once now and has all of those things and far more. I don’t worry about him, but I’m so hurt and angry that he took himself away from us – and without saying goodbye. Although, maybe that last whole week was a goodbye. I don’t know.

        I love you all. Please let’s stay in touch and share our gifts with each other. <3

        Reply
        1. Boudicca Rising

          Katarina you know I share your anger but I am not angry with him. I should be and I can’t be for some reason. I am angry at the people you mention too. So freaking angry. Isn’t weird though that in the last few weeks that we have all got in contact through our shared love of and worry for Greg? As you say, it was a gift he left us.

          I think you are right – the whole week was a goodbye. He made sure to tell each of us how much he cared for us. This, this still kills me though and you summed up my thoughts completely when you wrote this: “The thing that kills me is that he was alone and utterly without hope when he was so very much loved and cherished by so many.”. He was and is and I hope now wherever he is, he can see this.

          Much, much love to you xx

          Reply
  5. Maria Wilson

    I am completely saddened and devasted by this news. I worked with Greg at my former job a little over 4 months ago. He was always so kind and loving when he would come to my desk. We would chat for awhile and then go on with our day. He never really talked a lot about his personal life so I can’t say I knew much about him. He always tried to help me when he heard I was looking for a new doctor or anything else I happened to mention. It breaks my heart that I didn’t “have the time” at work to know him better and try to help him as he helped me. He was in my life personally for a very short period but my heart aches due to his loss. I am not religous, but I know he has a permanent home now where he can find peace and love. I’m sending positve thoughts and energy to every soul that knew him.

    Reply
    1. Dan Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Maria. Was this at the hotel? He really loved that job and the people he worked with. He was devastated when they let him go.

      Reply
  6. Andrea

    I stumbled upon this blog by doing a random search (which I am prone to do) and somthing caught my attention. I’m glad it did. I am very moved by what you have shared and have often felt the same way about our mentally ill government and many of the points you have made. I too am desensitized by the things I see everyday (I live in PHX) and the people that seem to have become just part of the scenery…. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and friendship that you had with Greg. If anything, I know meaningful relationships are forged everywhere with anyone.

    Reply
    1. Dan

      Thanks for the kind words, Andrea. I’m glad you took something away from it. And I agree, we never know where we’ll meet people that end up being very influential in our lives.

      I’ve only been to Phoenix once, on my way from Tucson to LA. I stopped and had lunch with a friend. I wish I had been able to spend more time there, I very much enjoyed the time I spent in Arizona!

      Reply
  7. Tracy (Martin) Gunderson

    I can not believe he has pasesd away. Another high school friend sent me a link with his obituary and to Dans story. So I just found out last night! I knew Greg when he was in highschool. We had some great times! He really did save me from a bad time in my life!!! I wish i could have done the same for him. I knew even at that young of an age he was miserable inside but no one that could help even saw it! We parted ways and I married and moved to Seattle for awhile. I found him on Facebook about a year and a half ago and we chatted back and forth for awhile. I always wondered if he “made it”(lived)!
    So when I discovered he was alive and well I was very relieved. I have thought of him many many times over the years because unfortunately I also have been with depression most of my life. This breaks my heart! I wish I would have know before! We could have really chatted about that subject for hours. Only people who can relate to mental imbalance can understand how im sure Greg is now in peace and his struggle for sooooo many years has finally come to an end. Of course we all wish it wouldn’t have!!! After finding out I have a hole in my heart! Ill never forget how much him and I loved our cats! :) I so wish I would have known this sooner after his death!

    Reply
    1. Dan Post author

      Hey Tracy,

      Thanks for commenting. I have heard a similar story repeated by so many when talking about Greg: “He helped me through so much, and I didn’t even know he needed my help.” He was so caring and giving, so much so that I think he neglected to acknowledge even to himself how much he needed help from others. I don’t know if it was pride, his desire to be there for others, or both, but I wish he had been more vocal about the things he was going through. I feel like I was one of the people who saw him the most before the end, and I was oblivious to how serious things were for him… Such is the benefit of hindsight, I suppose.

      I’m glad that Greg was an important person to you and had such an impact on your life. We were all lucky to have known him.

      Reply
      1. Katarina

        Hi, Tracy. I’m so sorry you had to find out about Greg this way. Dan is exactly right though, Greg purposefully hid how poorly he was doing the last couple years of his life. Even as he was on Facebook posting every day for a couple of months at a time before disappearing again, he gave no hint of his situation. I felt abandoned a lot during the these last years as birthdays came and went with no acknowledgement, and having him answer e-mails was a rare treat. I honestly thought he was busy with girls and other friends he considered more important. He would probably be shocked to know that.

        But don’t lament your absence the end. It was deeply traumatizing for those of us “around” him in that last month. None of us will ever be the same and it has bonded us for life – the only good thing to surface from the painful undertow. He went slowly, excruciatingly, grasping at us – all the while with his mind made up, his precious dog Oliver long given away to friends, his family ties severed, relationships past the breaking point.

        I like to imagine him now as pure electromagnetism,plugged into the eternal Network, able to go and see and do and be anything anywhere anyone. Unburdened, but apologetic; free, but tied to his tribe here. He will always be with us.

        Reply

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