I have never felt such loss, such grief. My friend and my brother Joachim Frick died on Friday. I cannot express how deeply this has affected me. The day has a little less light. The wind has a sharper sting.
Joachim was one of my closest friends, if not the one who knew me best. I met him in 1985. Five minutes after we were introduced, it was as if we had known each other our whole lives.
The evening we met, he had just arrived at his parents’ house in a little village outside of Trier, Germany, where I was a young, wayward traveler looking for dream. I had come to know his parents through a friend of mine with whom I traveled with for the first week or so I was in Europe. The night I met Joachim, I had taken the evening train from Trier, where I had landed a job at a winery, to stay overnight at his parents’ house. His was mom happy to introduce us. She thought we would get along. None of us understood at the time just how well that would be.
Almost from the start we were in the thick of things. He had earned his an American masters at Clark University studying economics on scholarship from the German-American Exchange Service, a very big-deal student exchange even today. The woman he had been dating before he went to the states left him in those first few weeks after he returned. I’ll never forget sitting in his little attic room with him as he drank and cried and drank more. Poor kid. He was devastated. But out of that experience, the complete opening of the soul, as it were, we were never far from one another.
Over the years, he did everything right. He earned a German masters from the University of Trier and went on to complete his doctor at Bochum. He became part of the prestigious German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin. He came to the states frequently and we were often together as he taught summer seminars and semester break colloquia at Syracuse University. His CV is astounding.
Despite all this, he and I never lost touch with each other. When we were together it was always as if we had never been apart. Other people were amazed. We could finish each other’s sentences. We never meant to, of course. That’s just the way it was.
His sickness and death seems terribly unfair. While he was publishing papers in peer-reviewed and juried journals, I was lolling in the gutter. When he married, he became a nearly perfect family man. He worked too much, but that is the very worst of his transgressions as a husband and father. I have never been a good family man. Family and marriage have never been comfortable to me, if for no other reason than they dig too deeply into places that I don’t like people going or even knowing about. He was an independent-thinking career man. I am not any kind of man. He understands how to be a part of community, family, and professional and academic guild. I am nothing like that. I can’t even keep a real job. He’s so adult. I’m still an immature brute. He was a renowned economist in Europe and the United States. I am just a guy who will become anonymous.
But he’s the one who had to suffer.
I have never felt such the loss or heartache I now feel with Joachim’s death. Not for family members, friends, anyone. I have been dealing with his death for over a year now—it was in October 2010 that he was diagnosed with brain cancer. As soon as I found out, I bought a ticket and went to see him in January. That visit was important and something that was as necessary and inevitable as breathing. It would be the last time I would see him.
Since then, he was up and down, through several courses of radiation and chemo, and at physical rehab every weekday for the last year. He developed a second, inoperable tumor about three months ago. About a month ago, his began a quick slide. He went into the hospital and into hospice two weeks ago. He lost sight and ability to talk—this, for the second time. He had to be fed, but after a short time, he quit eating. That, of course, was the end.
I knew I was deeply affected with the knowledge that he was going to die—only 15 percent of anyone who gets his kind of cancer lives for more than a year. But I don’t think I ever understood how deeply his sickness got to me. I can look back and see this in the conditions that led me to the mental hospital in March.
Not a day has gone by when I didn’t think of him. When his wife told me he died, I have felt grief so heavy that even the light of day doesn’t look bright.
It will pass, I know. The grief will fade and Joachim will become a brilliant memory. But that doesn’t give me any comfort in the moment. I love him so much. I miss him already.