Before I talk specifically about Luke and the great memories I have of him I feel the need to address the mental health crisis.
I think it’s pretty clear to most people that we have an issue with how mental health is handled. When someone takes their own life it becomes very easy to beat yourself up over the things that could have been done to save him when the signs were shown. The systems for getting someone help are incredibly frustrating mostly because they rely on the person who is having the trouble to take the initiative to seek help. The problem is that a lot of the time the person is too far gone already. Crisis centers and suicide prevention lines are incredibly important last lines of defense but ultimately they should be exactly that.. a last resort option and not a solution to the problem.
I am not a mental health expert but I understand what it is like to struggle with mental health issues. I have been able to get the necessary help and find solutions to deal with panic attacks and anxiety. I was fortunate to have a really strong support system in place and most importantly I had a very clear “why”. “Why” as in “Why should I figure out what it is I need to do to get better?” When you don’t have this it becomes very easy to get lost in the thoughts swirling in your brain and to go down a path you never imagine you’d take. It becomes difficult to figure out how to break yourself out of negative cycles of thought and to organize your thoughts in clear ways. The thoughts can take on a mind of their own and control who you are and how you view the world.
The question becomes how do we stop this from happening? I believe the answer, at least partially, lies in attention and awareness. That is what has truly helped me the most. Unfortunately, the nature of our current world is growing further towards distracting the mind rather than engaging it. This is even more true for the younger generation, who are now conditioned to find things to distract themselves from having to deal with thoughts and are often left isolated while drowning in mindless entertainment.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the solution is. The first step is certainly breaking the walls down of the stigma of depression/anxiety/mental health and I’m confident that there is progress being made there. I’m confident that the more we talk about this openly, the more likely people are to share their experiences and reach out for help. I have made it a priority to be available to anyone who feels like they have no one to talk to. Luke doing this hurts a lot because I know that he knew that I was always there for him to talk to but sometimes that still isn’t enough. You can’t help but feel like there was more that you could have done.
I believe the second step to figuring out solutions lies in awareness. I always go back to “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace (who sadly also committed suicide). The entire thing is worth listening to but this paragraph always sticks out to me:
” And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”
I met Luke in 2008 when he was just a 19 year old college kid. We both posted on the same poker forum and met in Vegas that summer for the first time. We developed a very close friendship and towards the end of the year I started coaching him to play Heads up (1 on 1) poker since that was my area of expertise at the time. The first go around with it didn’t go well and he just seemed to lack confidence in himself. After a few months he decided to give it another shot and this time he started to pick up on a lot of things and have some great results. I was 5 years older than him and I viewed myself as a mentor to him not just in poker but in life. I wanted to show him what was possible through poker if he applied himself. I knew that he was capable of achieving great things. We talked a lot about life and I did my best to help him handle tough situations he was dealing with whether it was girl issues or family related. He was always so hard on himself.
Jody and I spent so much time with Luke. There was “Nanny Luke and Daddy Dan” to little Ava. He was so good with our kids. Our group of friends spent so much time together in so many different places.
A month after Ava was born in 2008, the Phillies made it to the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays. The day before game 2, Luke (who lived in Tampa) called me up and said he had an extra ticket for game 2 in Tampa if I wanted to go. This felt like a once in a lifetime type of opportunity so I booked my flight and flew down there with Jody’s blessing. We played basketball for a few hours, went to Steak N’ Shake, spent a few hours talking about life and what it was like for me to be a new father and then headed to the game. After the game we went to the casino to play “a few hours of poker” which turned into playing until 8 am when we grabbed breakfast and he drove me to the airport to complete one of the most fun 24 hour benders of my life.
Luke probably had the best time of anyone at our wedding. His smile and spirit filled the room that day.
When our buddy Andy passed away in 2012, we mourned together and celebrated his life. We would get together for Cystic Fibrosis walks and spend time with Andy’s mom, Pam.
Poker never ended up working out for Luke. He had the ability to do it but it seemed like whenever I wasn’t right on top of him to guide him through the tough stretches, he lost his way. I think he had difficulty finding his purpose after that. I would often check up on him through text but we didn’t get to spend a ton of time together in person over the last few years and that makes me sad. Life happens and you become so focused on other things and it is obviously even more difficult when you live far away from someone. I know it will sound like I’m beating myself up but I’m just stating the facts. I wish that I could have been there for him more before he was mentally gone.
In poker, we attempt to train our brains not to be results oriented. It’s probably the most difficult thing for anyone to learn and apply. You have to make your best decision and then let go of the result.
This result sucks. Losing Luke sucks. We have to focus on the process and figure out some solutions so that the results are different.
Love you and will miss you, Luke.