A Father's Grief: When Love Isn't Enough
A poignant reflection on how saving his son wasn't an option
Editor's Note: Larry Carlat, Next Avenue's first Managing Editor, wrote a story for Esquire in 1998 called "You Are Me," about adopting his son Robbie. Unfortunately, there was a tragic end to it. Carlat's son took his own life ten months ago. He was 28. In Carlat's words, "I started to write about Rob again a few weeks later. It’s been a way for me to stay connected to him and to also ventilate, process and whatever the hell else you’re supposed to do when your kid dies. This is one of those stories."
The piece below was originally published on The Sand and the Water, Carlat's blog about grief, loss and the life of his son.
There’s this great line from the sublime Pedro Almodóvar film Pain and Glory that has stayed with me as a sort of mantra: Love isn’t enough to save the person you love.
I can’t get it out of my head because for the longest time, I thought it was. I always thought that love would be enough until Rob, the person I loved, made it very clear that it wasn’t.
Admittedly, I was often blinded by that love. It was so strong, so immense, so all-encompassing that I believed it could do anything.
I thought love would be enough when we first adopted him. I thought love would be enough when he cried incessantly and insisted that I pick him up. I thought love would be enough when we had to deal with every crappy thing that ever happened to Rob. Because, no matter what, we loved him with all of our hearts, even when he was at his most unlovable.
Admittedly, I was often blinded by that love. It was so strong, so immense, so all-encompassing that I believed it could do anything. Saving Rob was not only my job as his father, it was my superpower. I can’t tell you how many times I swooped in to save the day. He’d call and I was always there in a flash.
But as Rob got older, I became brutally aware of another truth that I had to contend with, which is summed up by another great line from the not-so- wonderful movie that is my life, a line I repeated to myself as a sort of mantra before I ever heard Pedro’s line:
You can’t save a person who doesn’t want to be saved.
And Rob, the person I loved, made that pretty goddamn clear, too.
Love isn’t enough to save the person you love because you can’t save a person who doesn’t want to be saved.
No Happy Ending
That all became crystal clear to me a few weeks before Rob died. We were walking to the Greek diner that we’d occasionally go to for lunch, and I had asked how he was doing. I was expecting the usual one-word answer, but he surprised me by saying that things were really bad, and proceeded to tell the story about borrowing $5,000 from a loan shark.
I wasn’t working at the time and had also recently talked myself into “detaching with love,” so I told him that I couldn’t give him the money.
“I’m not asking you for money,” he said in a quiet voice, a voice that, in retrospect, screamed that he had made up his mind this time and didn’t want to be saved. “And even if you had it, I wouldn’t take it from you.”
We then sat down at the diner and ate bacon and eggs while I listened to how he got himself into such deep shit.
“I don’t know what to say,” I said after he had told me the whole sad story.
“I know. Me neither.”
So we both just sat there not saying anything. Rob was looking at his phone while I fought with myself over the question of whether I should give him the money.
My head and heart were duking it out for what would be the last time. That afternoon, my head won, not knowing that it, along with my heart, would soon be crushed into a million tiny pieces.
There are no beautiful words, even from the great Almodóvar, and the not-so-great me, that can undo what Rob did. Love wasn’t enough to save him because he didn’t want to be saved. There would be no happy ending to the movie that was Rob’s life.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, contact the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.