We recently received reach-outs from two of Jimmy’s close friends, both named Evan. Coincidence? I think not. Evan C. was one of Jimmy’s best friends growing up in Solana Beach. They were joined at the hip through elementary, junior high and high school. T-Ball, Little League, Pop Warner Football, soccer—they did everything together. As wee-lads, collecting baseball and football cards was their passion, and they spent hours and hours unloading their allowance at the card-shop at Flower Hill mall in Del Mar. We’ve had very little contact with Evan since Jimmy died. He still lives in the area; married, kids, house of his own.
Right before Christmas he sent me a FB message and a video. “Hey, Casey. We just put up a tire swing in our front yard in memory of Jimbo. It makes me really happy. Much love, Evan.”
We were deeply touched, and I shared my memory of pushing Jimmy and him when they were kids on the tire swing that hung from the huge Torrey Pine tree in our yard. He replied,
“Your response made me very emotional. Jimmy has been leading and motivating me all these years. He still gives me the best advice, and always will.”
Well, that made ME very emotional.
Evan Nicholas reached out a couple of weeks later. Evan grew up in Dallas, and he and Jimmy met at USC as SAE pledges in 2002. Early on, as they attempted to enter a bar with their fake ID’s, they discovered they were born on the same day: November 8, 1983. Jimmy and Evan became fast friends and lived together during and after college as they pursued their passions of writing and filmmaking. In 2004, Evan produced and directed Jimmy’s first play, Leather Clad Chaperone. The female lead they cast for the play would become Evan’s wife in 2013.
Evan Nicholas is one of the handful of Jimmy’s friends we’ve remained close with over the past 12 years. This is from his recent email.
I am just going through old file cabinets throwing away a bunch of stuff before starting my new job in a couple weeks and found this gem. I honestly don’t have any recollection of writing it, but it looks like it was for a class assignment in a film journalism class circa 2004. This would have been about 3 months before we put on the play LEATHER CLAD CHAPERONE. Brought big smiles and a few little tears.
Jimmy and I had such a nice balance of trying to do serious things with a sense of humor. I am going to try to bring some more of that to my life in 2021. Miss you guys tons!
Evan enclosed a photo of the essay with his professor’s notations. His subject, Jimmy Gauntt, and Evan’s first-hand observations of Jimmy’s dramatic transformation into becoming a budding and potentially very successful writer over the first 2 years of their friendship.
The essay took our breath away. He captured Jimmy, his voice, so well and not only reaffirmed our own memories of Jimmy’s metamorphosis, but offered fresh, new perspectives.
What struck us so profoundly is how both Evans, twelve years after they lost their pal too soon, both now married, fathers, blazing trails on their own careers, continue to remember and think deeply about Jimmy. Enough to reach out to us.
We sometimes forget. They lost him, too. They, like us, continue to grieve, mourn and process the death of their friend.
And we, the parents, are in the unique position where we can help them with their healing.
We get deeper into this in the chapter, “FRIENDS-THE FORGOTTEN ONES,” in the soon-to-be released WHEN THE VEIL COMES DOWN.
That chapter immediately follows “HEALING ALL AROUND.” We shared that story on WMSB a few years ago. Here’s the link. HEALING ALL AROUND. [There’s a most interesting parallel between Hilary stumbling upon the essay Jimmy wrote for his friend John’s admission to Brown in 2001 and that became the core of my Best Man toast at John’s wedding, and Evan’s discovery of the essay he wrote about his pal in 2004.]
So, here’s a sneak-peek at
We learned some valuable lessons at John Schuyler’s wedding. Only a handful of Jimmy’s friends stayed close to us in the months and years after Jimmy’s accident. Most—including some of his closest friends— did not. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to. It wasn’t because they had moved on, put him in their minds’ dark closets. They didn’t know how to approach us, and we didn’t give them permission.
We learned they, too, were suffering mightily and yet were reluctant to reach out to us to share a memory, a photo, their pain, for fear that would only add to our suffering. They felt guilty as their lives went on—new jobs, getting married, having kids—but their pal was stuck at 24. They weren’t neglecting us. They were protecting us.
We as the parents didn’t do a very good job of lessening this guilt. We were invited but didn’t—couldn’t—go to weddings of Jimmy’s friends those first years. We’d been to family weddings; we felt safe at those. And we sort of had to go to John’s because he asked me to be best man.
Because it was so hard for us to be with Jimmy’s friends and celebrate them moving forward—like watching the mother-son dance that Hilary will never have—we unintentionally sent them a message: Your lives have gone on. Jimmy’s hasn’t. Stay away. Leave us alone. We pushed his friends away. We didn’t mean to, but we did.
That is why so many of Jimmy’s friends mobbed us at John’s wedding. By showing up, standing in place of Jimmy as John’s best man and sharing so much of Jimmy in my toast, we unlocked the door. We declared loud and clear, “Jimmy is in the house!” We gave them permission to talk with us about Jimmy. And, boy, did they jump through that open door. Henry was first, followed by a steady stream.
They told us how much they missed Jimmy and how having us there brought Jimmy closer to them. They shared stories of him, messages from him, laughs, tears, misgivings, guilt from that last night, remorse, and just plain grief. Jimmy’s presence was palpable.
We were a critical conduit for them to unburden themselves with the pain and pent-up feelings they’d been lugging around the past nine years. We helped them with their healing.
We parents of those whose lives have been cut way too short have an important role to play—dare I say an obligation—to help our children’s friends with their healing. We had forgotten they lost him, too.
Don’t wait for them to reach out. They won’t. They are scared to death of picking at that scab of grief (they may think that’s what will happen, but it doesn’t—quite the opposite), so they just leave us alone. They suffer in silence with nowhere to go to express their grief, and we parents assume they’ve moved on.
We hold the keys to grief’s doors that only we can open and let others pass through. The friends so want and need to talk to us and feel connected to the one they lost, too.
Invite them in. Open the door. Give them permission to grieve with you. Send them a note. Hi, Nik, I’ve been thinking about you…
If you see them at a store, say something like “I just ran into one of Jimmy’s friends from elementary school…” It can be as simple as saying Jimmy’s name. That’s a door opener.
Helping Jimmy’s friends heal has helped us heal. By unlocking the door and giving them permission to enter, we’ve removed that awkwardness of the unsaid as the elephant hovers nearby.
And here’s a peek at the book cover. Admittedly, a bit of a parallel to the cornfields in Kevin Costner’s film, Field of Dreams, but that is a core message of the book: We can always come through the veil and “have a catch” with our loved ones and old pals.