A Eulogy to Jeffrey S. Lawson, 1980-2018: He’s not dead, he’s just gone.



I’ve been planning this post for 2 years and I still don’t know exactly what I want to say.

Most of my drafts have been full of itemized grudges for the isolation I felt during caregiving, naming off broken promises so that the handful of people who have/will ask “What did I do?” would no longer have to ask. In case you wonder, I still have some hard feelings about that time. They’re way better than they used to be, thanks to waiting. But if I hold on any longer, it’s just going to weigh me down.

Other drafts have been warnings that caregiving will affect most of us in our lives and we have to find more ways to support one another in these difficult times. Caregiving isn’t just about the elderly. In addition to the aging of parents and grandparents, most of my peers are raising a child with physical, mental, or emotional challenges and/or partners or siblings with disabilities, long-term illnesses, or a dependence upon meds to resist the same and/or troubles regulating our own bodies, from the food we eat to the steps we take to the skin we inhabit. We are the Spoonie Generation, and that also makes us the Caregiver Generation. (If you noped out during my situation, just wait: your time will come. If you read along but never — not once — reached out to check on me or offer even a moment of support, I hope your people do better when you’re on the other side.) Anyway, this isn’t really about caregiving, either.

What it really comes down to, is that I am philosophically opposed to ghosting, even if some/everyone else “started it”. So this is me trying to sign off transparently.

I guess you could say I get attached to people; I think of social connections (even through Facebook) as doorways along a long hall; if someone has walked out a door without an explicit, final goodbye, I tend to leave it ajar so they may return. When I say I felt isolated, it’s not that I had too many or too few friendships going into caregiving; it’s that too many doors were ajar, and the quiet forced me to do some hard thinking about who I am and who yall are to me. Before I go, I would like to share some of what I found…

  • I’m a pretty intense weirdo because I believe in and experience unconditional love. I don’t know how rare it is, but it’s not common. I miss every person I’ve ever loved, even those who were toxic, even those who don’t know they ever touched my life, even those who’ve naturally drifted apart. So a lot of those doors left ajar have been particularly bittersweet; I had hoped to be around to see your relationships flourish, your children grow, your careers thrive — I can’t make my personal heroes miss me, but I can continue to carry your inspirations with me for life.
  • I am not a person with simple, straightforward mental health (and never could have been). Mental illnesses run in my family, and of course we all move closer to pathological something-or-other when we experience trauma. I suspect my youth put me 80% of the way toward being a full-blown disaster, but the risk never receded because I didn’t deal with it; becoming a caregiver for five years and three months shot me well past the 100% threshold. Now I know that I am an addict (I’m less philosophically opposed to alcohol/chemicals than I am vulnerable to its abuse; that’s not teetotalism, that’s preemptive recovery). I know that I obsess (especially over communication). I know that I experience anxiety, depression, and fears of abandonment; they may be an ongoing concern for the rest of my life — but at least now I know it. Those who have claimed to love me but disappeared during or since caregiving have hurt me more than any toxic relationship — those, I (eventually) knew when to let go — but I’ve also been able to see some ways I hurt them, and accept that they probably think I deserve it. Everyone else is suffering, too, though. There is much in our habits, our hearts, and our hearths that is making us sick, tired, and alone. That doesn’t excuse the things we do when we are depressed, needy, or just trying to survive, but it does make fucking up and forgiveness mandatory considerations.
  • My quest to reconcile being male in this society with being a decent person has ended in 100% failure. I can’t speak for anyone else (especially my trans siblings), but for me, after decades of searching, it’s one or the other not both. Toxic masculinity is a redundancy and I’m done hugging the walls of what is tolerated for men, thinking I’m any better because I’m “not as bad as the rest”. I cannot reject male privilege unless it is a conscious, interactive, ongoing activity of subverting maleness itself. I don’t necessarily use the terms trans or non-binary, but you could call me an “ex-man” (with a clear before and after).
    When I was 18 or so, I drove into a picket fence with Ed and E in the car; I immediately drove home, where Ed calmed me down and made some calls, then some weeks later I noticed there was a new fence, and then I literally didn’t think about it for a decade. Although we never talked about it, I know Ed and E paid for the fence; they looked out for me, and fortunately it was an isolated incident. Nobody got hurt. But I can’t say that about the times when I was sloppy with promises, with sharing, with hearts, even with consent as I now understand it; because I was a “man”, and the “right kind” of man, society itself made excuses for my mistakes, happy to mend the fences on my behalf (or worse, to say those fences had always been damaged anyway). To be a man is this society is to not even realize how much you get away with.
  • Along with my rejection of maleness, I’ve had to confront a lot of other ways people saw me that were, ultimately, not healthy for me. I often found it weird when I was told how attractive I was by people who would never approach me. Or how wise I was by people who would never stand up for my values. Or how much I was appreciated by people who never asked me how I was doing. Or how much of a leader I was by people who never asked if I wanted to lead. At this point, I consider leadership roles of any capacity a consent activity, and when they are foist upon me without warning I go into trauma mindset. Being lionized, I have found, can be just as dehumanizing as being villainized, and I’m not interested in being a 2-dimensional character in anyone’s story.
    A lot of these thoughts have come from long, hard reflections on social power dynamics (hence the Sociology degree), and I feel more fierce about supporting marginalized peoples than ever before (hence the Women’s Studies degree). If you don’t understand why these are important to me, culminations of a lifetime of reflection, then you probably never knew me all that well in the first place (and you should review above comment about 2-D characters).
  • Ultimately, nobody owes anybody anything, not even answers. It’s important to keep promises if that’s the person you want to be, but time and perspective make it harmful to hold onto absolutes about what someone else should have done differently. It’s also very easy to misunderstand someone else or misjudge our own limits. Every exchange we share with another is a gift, and from our briefest encounters to our greatest loves to human society writ large, we owe it to each other (and ourselves) to negotiate our boundaries with focus and compassion and, from there, just hope for the best. You don’t have to be anyone you don’t want to be; the people who hate your choices will probably misunderstand your efforts to appease them anyway (believe me, I know).

For as long as I’ve been climbing out of survival mode, I’ve felt a cocoon around me, closing off the caterpillar and prototyping the butterfly to come. Last year, I marked my progress by legally changing my name. I decline to share that name in this space and at this time. It’s not hard to figure out if you’ve been paying attention (by now, it’s not even hard to find), but I can promise strong bitterness toward anyone willing to put more trouble into tracking down a butterfly they haven’t met than they ever put into checking on the caterpillar who suffered for years in silence.

Please don’t come looking for me, though, and if you know details about the butterfly, please don’t go telling others. If we are to meet again, let’s let it happen organically.

If you see me around, you may still call me “Jeffrey”. I’ve never liked “Jeff” and I’m absolutely putting “Free” behind me. Free was a 20-year social experiment to figure out how open I could get. Armed with good intentions (but also a lot of privilege), I wanted to know how many connections, how deep, how unique could I build a social life without (theoretically) hurting myself or others. Could I teach others what I found? Would I find others doing the same already? The research results are strewn across the timelines of my old accounts, so I’m leaving them up. Let them be an archive of someone who earnestly tried to do great things, and of the messes he created as he stretched himself way too thin and, inevitably — yes, caregiving burnout was the catalyst, but if not that there would have been some other — descended into survival mode.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about what’s going on now because that’s not really Jeffrey’s story to tell any longer. I’m still in school, but finishing some time in the next year. I’m broke, but safe. I’m broken, but loved. And I’m still loving without restraint — just far more cautiously and selectively.

On Caregiving:
If you ever become a caregiver, please get the resources and support you need for long-term stability lined up right away — no one can do it alone. Don’t just depend on social media to remind you that you exist (especially in an election year). If you know a caregiver, check on them. Right now, go! Ask them what you can do to support them, and if they don’t know (which is highly likely), ask if you can drop a text once a week and maybe bring them dinner once a month. Offer humor, hugs, and above all tell them about your life (no matter how bad, or how good, it’s going). We can tell you’re hiding something, and it reminds us we don’t fully exist to you. If you are ever helping someone else give care, volunteer as much as you can to help out in whatever ways you can.

For everyone else: check on your strong friends. Don’t leave too many doors ajar; don’t be afraid to shut one, just consider a meaningful goodbye before you do — some people will obsess over your absence for far too long.

If you’re looking for more answers from me, just go listen to this playlist I’ve been putting together for you. It’s somewhat random — no set track order — but highlights a lot of perspectives (not all my own) on the person I was from 2011-2017.

Thanks for reading. I loved you all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: