Brought To My Knees in Pain for the Loss of Someone I Barely Knew, Yet Knew Well Enough

No matter how religious or practicing you are, if you live in Houston as a Jew and live in the area where most of us live, there is the hub of the JCC and many area synagogues and events binding us all as a community who all know one another, and more importantly, care for one another. It’s like a little town or village with about 40,000 people, and you feel like you know at least 90 percent of them at least peripherally, if not well.

Being part of a close-knit community and the feeling of being in a village is one of the reasons I have chosen to spend my entire adult life here after growing up in an East Coast city that never quite had that feel for me. There have been many times in my adult life where I felt like I lived in a small town instead of the big city in terms of how many people I knew.  The word acquaintance took on a whole new meaning to me as I had the highest number of them imaginable, yet they were all pleasant, caring, and part of my world.

This is how my children grew up. It was a warm, loving, and safe place to raise children. It is one of the reasons I stayed here despite having no extended family around. Our friends and our community became our family.

I felt this most critically when I was going through a divorce with young children many years ago. The support of an entire community was something I will never forget and it helped heal me and my children rather quickly.

You see, we are all there for each other in good times and bad. When a peer and good friend of mine died several months ago, the outpouring of support for the family in sheer large numbers reminded me of how incredible this community is for all who are fortunate to live here.

My father, who moved here just a year ago, is amazed at how many people we know. We can’t go anywhere without being recognized and greeted by a friend or acquaintance.

If you don’t know exactly EVERYONE, you know someone in their family, or your children know their children. It’s just one degree of separation in most cases.

Which brings me to today’s very sad news which has unexpectedly brought me to my knees in pain and sorrow. We lost a member of my children’s peer group in a most tragic way.

When something tragic happens, the community stops in its tracks and grieves together. We have had some tragic deaths and other horrid circumstances to deal with because we all know so many people, and bad news is a part of life that few of us can escape.

First: Let me say something about most of the kids I know well or peripherally from my children’s peer group. Now that they are all grown up, we as a group of parents can look around and feel very proud at the type of successful, loving human beings that will carry their generation in an outstanding manner.

When someone in their peer group accomplishes something extraordinary, I feel as proud of them as if I was related to them. This happens all the time to me: I hear of someone doing something great, and I carry that pride for them for quite a long while. This is because all of our children were raised together here, attending synagogue, going to JCC camps, going to school, participating in scouting or BBYO. Everyone intersected at some point in time.

We’ve had a few extremely talented ones go off to Hollywood– update he is now on Silicon Valley and starred in the movie The Internship; or Broadway – update he is now a TV guest star on the hottest shows and has his own Ben Stiller produced sitcom coming out next month, and make a big splash.

It is the coolest feeling ever  to see a performance of someone who grew up under your nose  – and see their talent get recognized by a national audience. We must have had a larger than normal talent pool here because in our small community, I can count 4 huge Hollywood success stories just within one year either way of both of my children’s ages. Still another one is up and coming as she is working for the Apatows and I just know she is headed for big things.

Two are performing and a few others are making their mark in Hollywood more behind the scenes. A great kid named Andy, who lived on our block for a while, was thrillingly featured here.

Another made his mark in comedy and in writing. He was Andy’s best friend. His name was Harris and although I did not know him well even though he grew up in a neighborhood I once called my own, he was just a year older than my son, and I knew of him. His mother and I share many mutual friends and have been to parties and events together. I admired him.

And now Harris is gone.

Drugs are suspected, and in recent interviews, he spoke of his struggles with drugs. It appears he had some depression going on too as he was always worrying about his next project. Enormously successful in comedy and as a writer, success is very relative in Hollywood, where you can hit it big one day and be at the bottom of the barrel shortly afterward. Yet, I can’t help thinking when I read the tributes to him how he was so much more successful than he ever realized. (So many depressed individuals – a chemical brain imbalance – self-medicate with illicit drugs to feel better. It is a real mental health issue we have never quite addressed.)

Harris was so famous and so beloved and so respected, all the big names sent condolences via social media on what a profound loss this was to Hollywood. He may have been surprised not just by how successful he was considered, but also by how much his talent was admired – which is the thrust of the attention he is now getting.

It is a huge loss to the talent pool in Hollywood, and I agree with that assessment having seen and read his stuff – Parks and Recreation, and his Humblebrag blog and book. (Humblebrag is a term he coined in a very comical way for someone boasting while pretending to be modest in social networking and media. Harris never had to worry about that with me, I just brag and make no effort to be humble unfortunately – one of my major flaws in social networking.) So much raw talent, yet to be fully displayed, yet so enormously successful for his young age of 30.

Yet, it is the profound and tragic loss to his family who lives near me, that most upsets me. I am thinking about him, thinking about them, and writing to get this heaviness off my chest. I am thinking of the loss that our community will take personally as a loss of one of our own.

It’s so sad and so tragic that I had to write to get out all of the words spinning in my brain, trying to wrap my head around it. Now that the words are down, I am still so sad. Rest in peace Harris and my heartfelt love goes out to his family and friends.

6 comments

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  • I can so relate to this so much that it feels like yesturday that my father called me on 11/28/2013 Thanksgiving Day morning crying that he found my 25 yr old baby brother dead in the bathroom due to a heroin od.. Since that day that I barried my brother half of me went with him. . I’ve blamed my self for so many things that I wish I could have done and one of them I should of never kicked him out of my house..I am the oldest of three and I was both my brothers keepers since my parents separated they came to me for everything. .and now I’ve lost one and we’ll my other brother is lost since my brothers death on the same drug that killed my brother… so years have passed and now so stressed and scared to lose the only brother I have left. .:'(

    • Rosemarie, please do not blame yourself. The pull of drugs is much greater than Human will. You were a good sister. Thank you for writing.

  • It is tragic. Between depression and Heroin, things are not looking good for sensitive young people right now.

  • I didn’t know he was from Houston, but I recognized his name as soon as I read the sad headline. “Parks&Rec” is one of the smartest written comedies on TV, and I knew he penned many of the best episodes. This will be devastating for the cast as the series finale airs next week

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