Sculptor Hanno Ahrens was a big man with a huge personality. He created big works of art. He bought a big piece of property in the northeastern corner of California called Surprise Valley. He built a huge barn with a Quonset hut on top.
And in that barn he took his own life with a rifle.
Friends say there was no warning. No depression. He was married and had a daughter. He had plans for the coming months.
Arhens left a suicide note to his wife, daughter, brother and his dear friend, musician and carpenter John Sherman.
The note said, "I love you. I love everybody but myself."
In mourning, in grief, in wondering if there were warning signs that were missed, Sherman shared his sadness and search for understanding about his friend’s death on the public radio program On Point.
"It took everyone by surprise," said Sherman. Friends and family saw "…nothing that drove him to kill himself."
Sherman said his friend drank quite a bit and "had issues." Then again, they seemed to be rather common issues, and none that indicated suicide.
Grieving takes time. In the mourning and soul searching Sherman has done since the suicide of his friend in April, he found some things that began to help him confront the emotional pain. Discussing his friend’s vibrant life and sense of being 100 percent present in everything he did brought a sense of gratitude for the close friendship during their adult years.
Sherman has found some comfort in recalling some of his friend’s favorite writings, like the words of William Kittredge from his book, The Nature of Generosity:
"Turn your life into a gift and then pour it out to others,
And thus to yourself as you prepare to vanish."
Some other personal experiences that Sherman said helped ease the grief a bit may be helpful for anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one:
A Ritual to Read to Each Other
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.
Sherman, John, "Grief and Gratitude after a Friend’s Death," On Point, WBUR, Aug. 4, 2016.