This is my eulogy. This is the story of how I died but was reborn a different man - a man capable of greatness and hell bent on resuming its quest. No, I did not die in fact, but the day I stepped onto Australian soil on June 24, 2008, I bid goodbye to the man I was. It was a necessary step, and now I can write about how I thought I had died inside, only to discover that my life was greater - no, grander - and whatever setbacks I experienced were just that.
My death occurred on a scorching hot day in July of 2007. My partner of several years broke the news that though he loved me, he was no longer in love with me. I took the news stoically, calmly. It shocked but didn’t surprise me. I knew that we had drifted apart somewhat, but I misjudged how far. Some time before, he had suggested to me that we seek some counselling, and I didn’t disagree. I simply took it in and then continued on as I had before. I didn’t listen, and then on that summer day six or eight weeks later, it was over.
Simultaneously, I was assigned to an impossible project at work which frustrated and annoyed me. Days after my break-up, I lost control. I rang my boss and told her I needed to be put in a supporting role on the project. I could no longer deal with the developers on the customer side and I risked saying something inappropriate to them. My voice cracked as I explained this to my boss, and she quickly picked up on my state.
“Are you OK, Jason?” she asked.
“No, I’m not. I’m sorry, but I am going through some personal difficulties, and I just need to take a background role on this project. Can I do that?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I’m sorry. I am trying my best not to compromise this project. I know how important it is.”
“Don’t worry, Jason, just take the day off and take care of yourself. We’ll get it sorted out.”
I hung up the phone and stood in silent misery in my home office. Randy had heard the exchange from the other room and came into my office and hugged me close. He didn’t utter platitudes or phoney words of consolation. He just held me while I cried until I pulled myself together. I told him to go to work and that I would be OK. I just needed time to think.
At the time we were living in a two-bedroom unit in Scottsdale, Arizona that we’d bought together. We were both unhappy in the place and decided to move back to his place on the other side of town until we could sort things out financially. We’d put the unit up for sale or rent and proceed from there.
In the months after we moved back to Chandler, similar episodes would recur. I’d begun to retreat from my friends somewhat and welcomed the increasing business travel that my boss doled out to me. On any given Friday or Saturday night, Randy would return home from working at a local bar to find me in a terrible state once again. He’d begun to worry about me. I’d constructed a cocoon of a bedroom, living room and home office all in one small bedroom. I spent a lot of time there. I still went out, but I avoided talking to anyone about anything of substance. Being a rational adult, I did not descend into heavy drinking or other self destructive behaviour. I was simply sad, deeply sad. I was confused and spent hours, days and weeks trying to understand what I’d done wrong. I beat myself up. I thought myself unlovable. I thought the curse of independence had rendered me incapable of connecting.
Then, light. During a training engagement at my company’s home office in Carlsbad, California, an older gentleman from New Zealand attending the course approached me about working in Australia. He had been a long-time consultant for a business partner of ours. After observing my depth of knowledge he thought I would be perfect for a role down under. He took me to lunch and laid out the possibilities. I felt energised for the first time since summer of 2007.
I returned home and told Randy I might have an opportunity in Australia. He was overjoyed. We had spent a month long holiday in the country and had fallen in love with it. We had even discussed moving there together at one point, but after the break-up, that plan dissolved.
I then began to investigate the possibilities. I contacted a work colleague in Sydney and asked him if they needed anyone to assist their small team. They did, as it turned out. As account manager, he was desperately in need of a pre-sales engineer - or demo boy, as I sometimes call it. They could only get a US-based person down to Australia on rare occasions and then it was a struggle to bring that person up to speed on the deal. They really needed a full-time local pre-sales guy. I told him I was interested, and even though I had no real sales experience, I’d been a trainer and a consultant, so I had vast knowledge working with customers. He said he’d talk it over with his guys and get back to me.
Some time later, I had a phone interview with the guys in Sydney. It went well. They hired me. Steve, my soon-to-be boss, explained the challenges of being isolated from the rest of the company, but I didn’t mind that. I was moving to Australia and nothing was going to stop me!
For the months to follow, I played the visa preparation game with our HR department in Sydney. I had to get medical exams, fill out reams of paperwork, supply proof of education and birth. I was a man with purpose again.
In March of 2008, Randy announced to me that he was seeing someone new who lived in Los Angeles. I asked how they’d met and he replied with: “Do you remember that night with your sister and her friend Ron at that bar in LA last Thanksgiving?” I did remember and that’s where he’d met the new guy. I was thunderstruck. I hadn't attempted dating yet and couldn’t conceive that Randy might have already moved on. Once again, my immediate reaction was stoic and calm. And once again, my delayed reaction was devastation. I had only a few months left before leaving the United States and here I was a blubbering a mess. Why couldn’t I just get on with it?
Finally, my visa paperwork was submitted to Australian immigration. The HR department in Sydney informed me the approval was certain to occur, but could take up to eight weeks for it to go through. I sighed in relief. It was really happening. I was moving to Australia.
Three days later I received the e-mail from HR that my visa had been approved. Good God! I had four weeks to pack my life up, sell my car and leave my American life behind me permanently. My intention was not to move temporarily. Australia was to become my new home country.
Late June arrived quickly. I had decided to rent a car in Phoenix and drive to LA with all my belongings I hadn’t already shipped to Sydney. I needed the thinking time and I needed a last weekend of fun in southern California. I booked a room at an inexpensive motel on Santa Monica Boulevard and invited my friend David in San Diego to come up and my oldest and best friend Daniel from Montréal to fly down. Randy would come out Sunday morning - my departure date - and have one last day with me, my friends and my sister.
At dinner on Friday at a nice French bistro in West Hollywood, I felt a sudden sadness hit me again. I felt alone again. I excused myself from the dinner table and found my way to the men’s room in the back of the restaurant. I braced myself against the wall and collapsed onto the toilet seat, trembling with grief, but anger too. Almost a year had passed. I was about to embark on the grandest adventure of my life and here I was back in my home office in Scottsdale wracked with helplessness. I felt like a pathetic mess.
Minutes later I returned to the table. My friends were concerned. They could tell from my complexion I’d been crying, but I told them not to worry. I would be OK. I didn’t know if I would, but I didn’t want them spending the night consoling me instead of enjoying the occasion.
Sunday came. Randy arrived and met us all at a cafe in Pasadena. It felt odd seeing him, knowing I was leaving, but he would carry on with his life undisturbed. I didn’t resent him. Even though he had initiated the break-up, he had been there for me ever since. He never spoke ill of me to anyone. Who could be angry with someone of such kindness of character? I was more angry with myself for failing to live up to the relationship.
Mid-afternoon came and I had to go. My flight to Sydney wasn’t until after 10 pm, but I needed to return the rental car, check through my oversized luggage and get through customs. I didn’t want to be rushed. My friends left Randy and me alone to say goodbye to each other in the car park of a museum. He hugged me close, told me how much he loved me and that I would do great things in Australia. I turned around and walked toward the car without looking back.
It is now 2011 and Randy was right. In the three years since my death and rebirth, I have reinvented myself. I still work for the same firm and I have established a network of friends and business associates. Within a few years’ time I’ll be an Australian citizen. I have fulfilled the promise I made to myself years ago. I pushed through my grief slowly. I have moved on. I have even met someone whom I think is an even better match for me than Randy was.
In the end, I realise that I did nothing wrong. My relationship with Randy ran its course and that’s that. We’re as close as friends today as we were as partners in the past. Whilst the nature of the relationship changed, we still possess the comfortable ease with each other that we had almost from the time we met eight years ago. I’ve heard over the years that a first love stays with you forever and I think that’s true for me. I will never forget the wondrous four years together and I now cherish the memories we’ve had since then as friends.
My life in Australia is completely different from my life back in the US, and in some ways I am a different man. My passion for living is intact, however. So is my fierce independence and my single minded drive to achieve excellence. Those who care about me proudly boast of my exciting life in Sydney and all the exotic locales I get to visit as a matter of course. When I think back on the choices I’ve made since childhood, the Greek concept of eudaimonia returns to me. It is a concept that the word happiness cannot convey properly, for it means the deep, fulfilling life of achievement and the serenity that comes with it. This is the meaning of my life and, despite a crucial setback, it continues to be what drives me every day. As it turns out, my death was an exaggeration. It is my life that is most important.