What is one left with in the face of loss of a loved one? What if that loss was due to inexplicable circumstances: suicide, tragedy or an accident? Where do we go for resolution and how do we settle the grief?
Death not only ceases the existence of whoever passed, but it serves as an insidious attempt to kill our spirit. Those who are left behind are now without a companion that provided their life with so much meaning, and have nothing but a series of “Why?”s to take place in the void.
Mark Gregory, 32, raised and currently in southern Indiana, had a best friend in his cousin Chris Gregory. Since childhood the two found themselves to be inseparable and Mark would cite Chris as the first best friend he ever had. Growing up they would spend their summer vacations together, and had the ideal upbringing that two boys would ask for: kicking it, getting into trouble, and last but not least, putting each other on new music: “Getting into our teenage years and everything he was a real big influence on me as far as music came. He introduced me to Green Day, ICP, Marilyn Manson and a whole bunch of different stuff,” Mark remembers.
Over the next few years, Mark and Chris grew apart as growing up and responsibilities took over time that was once spent just being kids. When they would reconvene years later, music would be the thing that would drive much of the conversation and pick them up where they left off.
“We started spending more time together, seeing each other and hanging out a lot more. When we did, music was a big thing that we talked about. He was really big into Slumerican and the I4NI guys: David Ray, Jellyroll, Haystak and all that stuff. Me being a huge Strange Music fan, Rittz was a popular topic for us.”
Mark adds a bit of pointed reminiscence, as one of his last conversations with Chris was hilarious and off-kilter:
“One of our last conversations that we had with each other he was asking me if I had heard ‘Turn Down’ yet. He was just describing the intro to me where the girl was like ‘Turn up Rittz!’ and Rittz replied ‘Shut up, bitch!’ That’s actually something that stays with me really strongly because that was one of the last in-person conversations that we had.”
“I kind of used that to hear his voice. Anytime I hear that little intro to that Rittz song I hear Chris saying ‘Shut up bitch!'”
Mark would lose his cousin, his best friend and brother from another when Chris took his own life in November of 2014. As is the case with many suicides, no one saw it coming. In fact, from the outside looking in, Chris seemed to be enjoying his life to the fullest in the days leading up to his death.
“He was just as happy as anybody could be. Anytime I saw him he was just having a good time, either hanging out with his buddies or spending time with Jaedon, his son. He was just living how anybody could live it. He worked hard and he played hard.”
Mark recalls how he heard the news:
“I actually got pulled out of work. I was working and the manager of my department talked to another manager and I was told to leave and I was and I was told my mother was waiting for me. My initial reaction was that something happened to my father or my daughter or something and as soon as we got into the car my mom told me. She said ‘Chris killed himself.’
I was floored. I didn’t know what to think. Initially whenever somebody commits suicide, your initial reaction is ‘Why did you do this?’ and you spend some time mad at them for leaving the way they did with unresolved issues and ultimately ‘I never got to tell you goodbye and I love you. I never got to tell you all these things that I wanted to say.'”
Mark had a friend in the music from Strange Music and Tech N9ne during the hard time of dealing with the fresh pain in the wake of Chris’s suicide. Mark had been a fan of Strange Music since the days of wayback:
“I was introduced to Strange Music back in 2001. I worked with a guy at a fast food restaurant and he introduced me to him through ‘Devil Boy’ and ‘Einstein’. I’ve always had an eclectic taste in music but whenever I heard those songs, the strong rap flows with the heavy metal or the rock music, it really hit me in a good place. I was like ‘Oh my God, this stuff is amazing.’ I loved it. Ever since then I’ve listened to Tech and I’ve tried to get all my friends and convert them to be Technicians.”
During his initial healing process, music proved to be one of Mark’s best friends and a crucial help in his struggle to reconcile with Chris’s absence.
“I don’t have a lot of people that I can turn to when it comes to consolation so I’ve always turned to music for that kind of thing. A lot of it is the lyrics. It’s not necessarily the whole song, but it might be just a little bit of lyrics like in ‘Scars’ where Kali’s like ‘Nobody ever told us that there were going to be brighter days, there’s no one there to say that it’s going to be okay.’ To me whenever I’m looking for something like that I’m looking for something that’s going to be real and something partially philosophical and speak to me. A lot of it just felt like it was speaking directly to me because it felt so real in the situation that I was in.”
Through the ensuing week, Mark turned to music for his release, but it right after Chris’s funeral service that Strange gave him the shot he needed for a full-blown moment of catharsis.
“My fiance, we were driving from the funeral service to a little church lunch that Chris’s sister had set up. I have a flash drive in my car with all my music and it’s nothing but Strange Music and it’s one album after another so I just let it play. There’s not many moments where I skip over a song or anything like that so I just let it play and at that moment I was just letting it play and ‘The Noose’ came on.
I sing along with my music like a lot of poepole do and I was just kind of singing along with it and halfway through the first verse, Wrek’s verse, it just kind of hit me what song it was and what was going to be said in the chorus. I took it with the situation at hand and it just really floored me. It sent me to a different place.”
“I just started crying with tears profusely running from my eyes and kept singing it. Somehow with the combination of those tears and just letting it all out, listening to the words, I realized that it wasn’t up to me to understand the actions. His actions or what he was going through I understood that there was more there than anybody was aware of.
I had to take that and had to say ‘I can’t be mad at him for doing that to us,’ no matter how mad I am at him for doing it because it’s not fair to him. It helped me realize that I wasn’t the only one hurting here and that his sister and his mother were hurting a lot more, as well as his 18-year-old brother. They were all hurting a lot more than I ever could about the situation, no matter how close Chris and I were.
That moment let me let free of all that guilt, grief and denial and say “Hey, you gotta get up and move on. You gotta be strong for these people. You gotta be there for them to cry on and listen to. You have to be the person that gives them a big hug and tells them ‘I love you’ when they need it.”
For the music that got him through these tough times, Mark ascribes thanks to the artists at Strange for making music that goes beyond the “success, sex and drugs” music of the mainstream. “They understand that everybody has hard times and that they all need a little help. If I could say anything to them I’d shake their hand and give them a big ‘thank you’ hug of mine.”
Mark currently attends Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana for information technology, also raising his daughter Leia with his fiancé Kendra. When asked how he intends to honor Chris through his own life, Mark gave this poignant statement:
“The biggest thing that I’ve received from it really is just to make sure that your loved ones know that they are loved and cared for, no matter how much physical distance or time is in betwen the times that you see them or get to spend time with them or have real conversations with them. Just let them know that they are cared for, especially when they’re going through a loss. Let them know that people are going to be there for them no matter what troubles they have.
Ever since Chris’s death, me and Summer, his elder sister, we’ve talked almost everyday since then. I’m trying to reach out to my family members more and make sure that they’re all okay.”
When asked if he could say anything to his cousin and best friend, he said this about Chris:
“I’d probably just tell him that I love him and miss him. I hope he’s alright now. I hope he’s not struggling anymore.”
Word to that. Here’s to Chris, Mark, and their family.
Let us know in the comments section below.
(Suicidal feelings come when your pain is more than the resources you have to deal with it. If you’re feeling this way, please seek help, or, at the very least, someone you trust that you can talk to. You can also reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255)