Wednesday, February 8, 2017

In Loving Memory

Joseph Kenneth Alles

1974 - 2016

February 8th, 2016, exactly one year ago today. One of my closest friends from high school passed away by his own hand. The worst day of my adult life. Joe called me early that morning. I wasn't up yet, and I didn't answer the call, figuring I'd call him back when I'd when my head cleared. I was really tired and would not have been very coherent on the phone. He left me a strange voice message. It sounded like he had been drinking, possibly through the night. I used to drink heavily too so I knew that was a strong possibility. I figured I'd let him dry out a little and then call him back. 

I was very concerned about Joe. We had recently got back in touch as one does after many years due to the miracle of Facebook. I could tell early on that my friend was in trouble. They say it takes one to know one. I've suffered for many years with depression, having had suicidal thoughts and even actions of my own in the distant past. I knew the chaos and I could sense his pain. As soon as I did, I made it my mission to reach out to him, to provide support, and make sure he knew he was not alone. 

I believe it was sometime in 2013 that his brother Aaron accepted my friend request. Joe accepted my friend request several months later. He was not as hip with Facebook, only having about a dozen friends an very little posts or pictures, preferring email over social networking. We exchanged phone numbers and shortly after we talked for the first time in over 20 years. We continued to talk almost every week after. It was good to have my old friend back.

But then I started to notice the depression. I could feel the pain he couldn't release. Each time I talked to him I could see a little more into that dark abyss. We tentatively tried to plan a reunion, but I was so busy with my job, I just didn't have the time to get away.

Fast forward...

In January of last year, Joe told me he was coming out for a visit, and planning on scouting out a place to live and for work. If I had a place bigger than my 400 square foot, one bedroom apartment, I would have gladly offered him the space. 

I finally met up with Joe on February 6th. We got together for a night out and I got to show him my apartment with all the techie stuff I'm so obsessed with. He was very impressed with what I had done with my tiny space.

I took him back to his sister's house later that night. I didn't know when he left town, but he called me a few days later to tell me he was going to start his journey west. I told him how excited I was that he was moving back, and asked him to call me periodically along the way, which he did. I just wanted to make sure everything was going well. 

I prayed that God would allow me to reach Joe on a spiritual and emotional level, asking him to ease his pain and to know that I would be his most loyal friend, there to help him whenever he needed it. I asked God to charge me with helping him put his life back together, having been through so much suffering myself. I had a plan. 

Often times when someone is trying to help another suffering from mental health illnesses, they take a firm direct approach. Many tried and failed at this approach with me in my own suffering. My plan was to attack the problem asymmetrically using Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as a model; starting with the most basic needs first, helping him to find a place to live and work. Once I was able to stabilize the basics I would begin to approach him about the depression and try to see if I could get him into a county funded mental health program like the one I'm in. All the while I would reinforce the spirtiual, sharing with him my relationship with Christ and how invaluable that was to my success in overcome the mental health issues.

However, unfortunately, I didn't get that far. At around 2:00 pm I got the call from the coroner's office in Wyoming. They found him earlier that day and were looking for next of kin. My number was the last Joe dialed and the first one they tried. That was difficult. Even more difficult was having to reach out to Aaron. 

If I could have one wish, it would be for just a little more time that morning to call Joe back. If he could have just waited for my call I think things could have turned out differently. 


I can't say for certain when exactly we met, but I know it was during our senior year. We mostly just said hi or had a quick conversation in the halls. We didn't really connect until the time of our graduation.

At that time in my life, I was going through a lot of changes and was dealing with some moderate to severe depression. I was withdrawing, preferring sleep over social activities. I don't think I would have ever made it through that summer without Joe. He was always around. He always had high energy, and was always positive. We were so close, I can remember hanging out with him four or five days a week. All I wanted was a chance to repay the kindness. 

God rest your soul my friend. You were, and still are, loved beyond your dreams.

The picture above was taken at our senior breakfast. It was the best picture I had of Joe and so I decided to use it as a sort of lacrimosa on my Facebook page. In Victorian times, when someone lost a loved one, they would save their tears in a tiny jeweled bottle. When all the tears had evaporated, the mourning period was over. Some sources say it lasted about one year.