My dear friend, RicHard Makepeace, passed away mid-July. Why, you wonder, is the H capitalized in the middle of his name? Because, as he explained it, it was HARD to be RicHard. This was especially true during the last two years of his life. He struggled with depression and PSTD on top of multiple health issues, including diabetes, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea and being on blood thinners.
Richie had an exceptionally difficult childhood. He was the eldest son born to a couple of abusive grifters. Both his mom and his dad used to beat him. When Richie was about nine years old he had been beaten so badly by his mother, that he had to be resuscitated.
During the Vietnam era, Richie ran away from home and enlisted in the Marines. One day, when he was coming off the shooting range, he was told he was going to be sent overseas. He became a conscientious objector on the spot. He argued that he wasn't going to go overseas and shoot at people who had never harmed him. Because he refused a direct order, he was sent to Leavenworth. His girlfriend contacted the American Friends Service Committee, and they helped him receive a general discharge.
Many years later, Richie changed his surname to Makepeace, because it occurred to him that his calling was exactly that: to make peace. Prior to making that commitment, he struggled with alcoholism. He used to steal from people, much like many people who struggle with various addictions. He regularly attended AA meetings which was essential to his recovery.
By the time our paths crossed, Richie had been sober for many years. He became my mentor as well as my friend. He started me on a path towards peace and away from rage. Although we only saw each other four times, we talked on the phone fairly often. And, although I continue to have anger issues, I am much more able to get my outbursts under control.
Back when I first knew him, he referred to himself as Riotous Richie. He had a great sense of humor. Richie used to poke gentle fun at his upbringing. Given that he was born and spent his early years in rural Ohio, he used to talk about what he called "hillbilly ebonics."
Richie had a way of putting people at ease. Making them laugh. He almost always had some interesting observations to share. Richie was probably the least judgmental person I ever knew. He always had a way of seeing another person's point of view. He helped me gain perspective on a number of occasions. He did more than tolerate someone else's viewpoint. Regardless of where a person was on their life's journey, he accepted all people for how they were.
As Richie aged, he started to feel as if he was more of a burden and believed himself to be useless. I couldn't convince him otherwise. During the last two years of his life, I ended up giving him a lot of emotional support. When Richie and his wife moved from New York State to Washington State, that cross country move took him away from friends, family and, more importantly, from his AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) community. Richie felt terribly isolated.
The work that Richie did for AVP gave his life purpose in a way that few other things did. Richie felt very energized in his role as an AVP facilitator at prisons. Because he spent his pre-teen and teen years living across from projects in New York City, he was able to cross cultural and racial divides in a way that most white people could not. Richie used to joke that he was really an old black woman trapped inside a white man's body.
When Richie finally connected with the Washington State AVP communities I thought he was going to pull out of his downward spiral, but it wasn't meant to be. Instead, Richie turned more inward. He started dwelling more and more on his abusive childhood. Although he stood by his decision to separate from most of his biological family, there was still part of him that wished things had been different. When he heard that one of his sisters had passed away and that both his mother and father had also died, Richie regretted that he never had a more concrete way to come to terms with them.
Because of the shame he felt from the verbal and emotional abuse heaped on him by his wife, Richie could not bring himself to ask people for the emotional support he so badly needed. He felt that, as a former Marine, he ought to have been stronger and much more self contained. I couldn't convince him otherwise. I am grateful that, as his friend and chosen sister, he at least felt comfortable enough to reach out to me.
It was hard to watch him struggle. I understood implicitly that Richie had to help himself, and I felt, for the most part, that he was either unable or unwilling to do so. Because I had no access to the AVP community, I was unable to do more for him. From fall 2015 until the end of his life, he was focusing more and more on just wanting to leave. Not just his home but the planet.
One thing that Richie always said to me was, "love them more." He always kept his side of the bridge open. He always kept a door open. Regardless of what people thought of him, he always loved them. Since then, I have tried to do the same thing. There is always a path towards both forgiveness and redemption.
I wish that Richie had applied "love them more" to himself the way he did to other people. He could not forgive himself for weaknesses he perceived himself to have. During a particularly tumultuous time he was having with his wife, he considered staying with us for a while. He abruptly changed his mind. Later on, Richie told me that he was sure I'd end up disappointed with him. It saddened me that he couldn't trust that our friendship was strong enough to overcome any disappointment or disagreement we may have had.
I repeatedly told Richie, he wasn't heavy. He was my brother. And, so, my brother, I hope that you have finally found the peace that eluded you during your lifetime.