Saturday, August 16, 2014

Rest in Peace, Jeremiah Healy

I am breaking my self-imposed blogging exile for the unhappiest of reasons.  I learned this morning that my law professor, writing mentor and dear friend Jeremiah Healy took his own life on Thursday evening.  He was only 66 years old.

I am devastated.  I wanted to say that words fail me.  But I write, and now is a time for writing about a gifted writer, one of the finest people I've ever known.

Jerry survived prostate cancer and fought a long and valiant war against depression.  It's a dark, insidious, sneaky bastard of a disease, and it attacks far too many people.  Jerry discussed depression candidly, with bravery, grace and wit.

I studied with Jerry at the New England School of Law.  His civil procedure class was the most rigorous course I ever took.  Unlike half my classmates in that pre-Google era, I had no idea that he wrote mystery novels.  I was terrified of him.  But he was brilliant and funny and forgiving, and he made me tougher, which was part of his job.  I respected him immediately, and grew to admire him.

Writing was clearly Jerry's calling.  I read his John Francis Cuddy series over the summer between my first and second years, and began talking writing with him shortly afterward.  I was writing short stories at the time, and I wanted to write novels.  Jerry had published both, so he spoke from deep experience on how to make that transition.

Years later, when I was finally attempting my first novel, I reached out to Jerry for guidance on the publishing process.  Jerry had left the law school by then, but he remained a natural teacher and became a dear and trusted friend.

Over drinks one evening, as I sought his advice, Jerry told me that after he had written his first novel, he got in touch with one of his heroes, the late, great Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser For Hire series.  Jerry recounted Bob's suggestions, on literary items large and small, for hours.  Our later conversations were equally golden.

Every time I started a new project, I e-mailed Jerry.  I shared every milestone with him.  Our semi-regular meetings over drinks stopped when Jerry moved to Florida, but our e-mail correspondence, though infrequent, was deep and rich, resonant with Jerry's wisdom and humor, which he tossed off as if it were nothing important.

I have lost count of the number of writers who have told me similar stories of Jerry's kindness.  In the coming days and weeks, we will hear many more.  I will cherish all of them.  But I will miss my friend.

I last exchanged e-mails with Jerry in May, around his birthday, and we "talked," as we always did, of writing.  He had read parts of my earlier novels and was eager to learn about my work in progress and my next project.  As usual, Jerry delivered some perfect suggestions.

I had no idea that those e-mails would be my last conversation with my friend.

Jerry mentored dozens, likely hundreds of writers in this way.  When we wondered why, he would give some version of, "Bob Parker helped me, and all he asked in return was that I help another writer.  So please do the same when it's your turn."

That was Jerry's version of paying it forward, and he paid it in full.

Jerry was my Bob Parker, and I remain eternally grateful for his wisdom, his counsel, his humor, and his friendship.

I am lucky to have had such a mentor.  I am luckier to have had such a friend.

For more information on depression and suicide prevention, start with the National Suicide Prevention LifelineFamilies for Depression Awareness is another excellent resource.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness would welcome donations in Jerry's memory.