A Tribute to my Friend: Sean Barnes

Most days what I write here is what you want to read. I don’t mean that in a bad way. After all, you are the reason I am here anyway. If I were interested in writing personal reflections and musing over them privately I would probably just keep a journal (I do that too, by the way). I am here because I am interested in you.
I mean that.

I pour over your comments and ponder each one. I may not always respond, but I am always charmed or amused or inspired as I ruminate over what you say. I check my Google Analytics at a rate that sometimes borders unhealthy, not because I am obsessed with myself but because I am interested in you. I crave collaboration, conversation, community.

Today, though, if you’ll let me, I need to write about something that matters to me. Is that okay? Feel free to listen in. You can pretend that I invited you to my home, that we are sitting in my living room laughing over a cup of coffee. If we were, and if you asked me what was on my mind, I would tell you…

I lost a friend this week, and from the time I found out on Wednesday to the moment I sit to write this today it’s been a slow unraveling of memories and feelings and old friends and regret and sudden wakening to open that chest filled with artifacts I thought I had forgotten, laying on the floor, relics scattered, an aftermath.

I feel like I’ve been hit by a Tsunami.

It isn’t just that Sean is gone, although that is horrible. It’s that Sean’s life didn’t end on account of Cancer or a motorcycle accident or a natural disaster – although all of those things would have been tragic in their own right. What really gets me was that Sean took his own life, a life that was so important to so many people, in so many ways.

I just keep sitting here wondering how Sean could have missed how amazing he was.

I could tell you lots of incredible things about Sean – that he was strong, compassionate, the most generous person I knew, the best listener, but those things are sort of vague and obscure – the kind of things that I could say about a lot of people and not be lying. But Sean was Sean, and I fear that if I described him like that he would just fade into the darkness and you might miss him.

So I want to tell you a couple other things instead.

Sean always had a blue pen – the rolling ball kind – and a pad of legal paper. I was digging through old memories this week and I found an essay Sean wrote right after the Tsunami hit Indonesia several years ago. It was written in that plain, blue ink on one of those sheets of legal paper…

The essay was about that feeling you get in the wake of tragedy and about how, regardless of the magnitude of the damage – whether you’re staring at wreckage on a TV screen, or staring at a person you love deeply and may never see again – the feeling is still the same. Sean wrote…

“It’s like watching your grandmother’s antique vase fall from its pedestal and break. Something beautiful has been shattered irreversibly, irrevocably… we cannot go back now.”

I wonder if Sean knows how many people feel like that today.

Sean could convince anybody of anything. He could convince you to wake up at 3:30 in the morning to drive to the beach just to watch the sunrise. He could convince you to sign a petition, sponsor a child, attend an event. He could convince you to be friends with a person (or, heck, even go on a date with a person) that you always thought you hated.

Sean had an uncanny ability to get a group of unlikely people all in the same room. We were all better for it.

In high school when everyone made it seem like you had to pick a “group” Sean was friends with the “jocks” and the “drama guys” and the “band geeks” (who would later become the coolest of all of us). Then, after high school, when those social constructs didn’t seem so important anymore, Sean focused his attention on peacemaking – mending the relationships among friends and friends of friends that we always did such a good job at breaking.

Sean was constant. We always knew that even if everything else fell apart he would hold it together.

Sean read all the time, more than I read even when I was paying thousands of dollars to read what I was reading. I would call him from Whitworth to complain that I was sick of Plato and he would casually mention that he had “finished” Plato and Aristotle weeks ago. He would read me his highlighted lines and the insights he had jotted in the margins. I would steal his good ideas and get A’s on all my essays.

Sean was the kind of person you could call any time of day – at four in the morning for example (or at midnight to talk until four in the morning) with lofty exclamations that you had discovered the meaning of life, or humble admissions that you had forgotten it. By the end of the conversation, Sean would always have you convinced that everything was going to be okay.

At his funeral, Sean’s mom said, “Sean always wanted to be someone’s hero” and I thought that was so interesting. See, another thing I found as I was digging through old files this week was an essay I wrote, it seems like a million years ago. It was my entrance essay to Whitworth University.

The question I was asked to answer was, “Who is your hero and why?” and my answer wasn’t Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa, although both of those would have been appropriate choices. The hero I chose to write about was Sean Barnes. Sean was a hero to me. I’m racking my brain trying to remember if I gave Sean a copy of that essay.

I could write for paragraphs, or days, about Sean, but most of it would be inside jokes and I’m not sure it would make sense, or that it would help me anyway, so instead I want to say two things, if you are still reading.

First, at the risk of sounding cliche, let me say this: Pick up your phone. Call or text the people you care about. Tell them what they mean to you. Don’t assume they know.

And second, if you knew Sean, and you have a thought or a story, would you share it here? It’s the only way I can think of to pick up the pieces of that vase that has shattered and broken. I know it won’t be the same, but for some reason it feels right to try to glue them back together.

Thanks for listening.

 

32 comments on “A Tribute to my Friend: Sean Barnes

  1. Ally! Thank you for sharing this! I wasn’t close to Sean and I ran into him once or twice after High School but he was one of those people from high school you don’t forget and when you think about him it brings a smile to your face because he was that kind of person that would make you smile.

  2. so sorry to hear about this ally. I remember sean, and can remember laughing a lot with him. He seemed to always have a smile. It is so hard when someone takes their own life. We almost start to blame ourselves. call me if you need to talk.

  3. Two things:
    1) This is a beautiful tribute to, Sean. Absolutely beautiful. Thanks for sharing your heart.

    2) You asked us to share some memories of Sean. I have two that stick out in my mind from growing up. The first was when I was in seventh or eighth grade. Sean and a bunch of your friends were hanging out at our house and Sean gave me a little plastic ring that he had gotten out of a quarter machine at Fred Meyer. I may have been your little sister, but at that moment, he made me feel like I was the most important person in the world. The second memory is when David and Sean stood outside our bedroom window and serenaded you. I don’t remember what song they were singing, but I know that at that moment, you must have felt like you were the most important person in the world….seems like it must have been Sean’s gift.

    • He and David were singing “My Girl” by the Temptations as I recall. What impressed me was not their voices, but their courage (to live outside the box). Wished I’d had more of that at their age. I also remember sitting in our living room discussing the Gospel of John with him. He seemed like a truth seeker to me and I remember asking him if he had the courage to follow the truth wherever it led. I think we both had good intentions about continuing that conversation although it was never to be. One thing that occurred to me after his death was how frequently I had thought about him over the years as I passed the 7/11 on TV Hwy where he worked briefly during one of the more difficult points in his life. I knew he was no longer there (and hadn’t been for years) but I always thought of him when I drove by and remembered his spirit which left such an impression on me. Sean truly is unforgettable.

  4. Ally, what a beautiful tribute to your friend. I can only imagine how much you are hurting losing your friend in such a hurtful way. I do hope Sean’s Mother will read your tribute, I do know how much it helps to read how much your child meant to other people! Love you and your words!

  5. Amazing, you couldn’t have summed him up any better. It’s still a shock to me as well and too many people. I enjoyed reading this very much and i’m happy that it was brought to my attention! One thing that I will never forget was waking up one Christmas morning and finding on the front path written in side walk chalk was Merry Christmas Brown’s. Love Barnesy. Or his smile and sense of humor…those i’ll always cherish and remember.

  6. while i was never close with sean, i considered him an acquaintance for several years. the news that came tuesday afternoon felt like someone had punched me in the stomach, and hard. it was not because sean was my best friend, or that we were even all that close, it was because sean was the type of person that touched everyone, whether he realized it or not.he was always so open and accepting of everyone, and he was always ready with a smile, or a quick chat. he was someone who, even from a distance, could make you smile.
    i just remember in high school, and later working with him, if i saw him he would always be smiling. it was infectious. to know sean was to be touched by him. i will always remember what a kind and warm person he was.

    thank you for writing this ally.

  7. Hey Ally, it’s been years. You & I were never very close, but I wanted to let you know how great it is of you to start this post. I haven’t put a lot of effort into thinking about our high school days, I was glad to be done. As I look back, despite the worst of my days, I find that Sean was a big part of the reason I continued to go back.
    One of my fondest memories of Sean was from my sophomore year. We were all kind of in that ackward transitional phase. I was having a really self destructive type of day, I think we were having a Sadie Hawkins dance or something like that, I was always the “girl-friend”, the homie, nothing more. Sean brought me a flower, told me that I was beautiful. That was the 1st time I had heard that from someone other than my parents. He gave me a hug & told me that I should never feel like I have to change who I am just to fit in. That I was amazing & if people didn’t know that already, they weren’t worth the stress or heartache.

    That’s what I treasure. He was funny, charming, was always able to make me smile.

    He was one of the only boys I truely ever had a crush on. Lol…I think I told him that once a few years later, he blushed, kissed me on the cheek, told me he loved me. That was the last time I saw him.

  8. thanks Ally! I wish I had known you, and I wish I would have know Sean as well as some of you had. I was, I am, his father. I was always 1000-5000 miles away, on an Air Force Mission, or just working in another state or country. If you need a reason for a great person like Sean doing something like he did, blame it on his father, who obviously never convinced Sean how much he respected, loved, and admired him. Please keep the stories coming; it helps me know my son, better, from each of you. feel free to write at boydree74@yahoo.com. I’m still searching for closure, Steve, Sean’s Dad.

  9. Oh goodness Ally, as I sit here crying, I seriously remember my brother Cory and Sean always together for more than 10 yrs and the part that stands out the most was his smile and laugh. His laugh was impossibly irresistible and very frequently made it’s appearance. Seriously…was his laugh not one of the BEST you have ever heard?? Although, he was my younger brother’s friend…I loved the friendship he gave to my brother…and I really, really enjoyed having him around and am still heartbroken the smiley little redhead that grew up with my brother is gone. And even more that he didn’t let somebody help him. Thanks so much for this beautiful tribute. Do you mind if I share the link on my blog and FB?

    • Kelly, yes, please feel free to share this with anyone and everyone who wants to read it. Thanks for reading and commenting. And… yes… Sean did have the BEST laugh… thanks for adding that to the list 🙂

  10. Ally,There are few things, if any, more challenging than speaking on than that which is irreversible. It may be easy to say the types of things that make us momentarily feel good; or rather, to not engage in conversations of the things that wound us. What you have have just shared is nothing short of beautiful. I did not know Sean, but I’m thankful to you for giving this stunning tribute to him, for him, his family, his friends, his community, and to people who did not get to be those things.
    Death points us back to life and asks us the question of how it is that we are conducting ours. You have given Sean the greatest gift that you could have in calling us to do all things well in light of a cherished life well lived. What you shared jolted me, though that word may carry a negative connotation, I mean to use it in the best of ways. I often get swept up in the business of living and fail at letting the people that I love deeply remember that I feel that way toward them. So, I thank you, for calling us back to visual, consistent, faithful love.

    Loves to you friend!
    Rach

  11. Ally, I am sure there are many stories that we could tell about Sean, he was a part of our everyday lives. Some memories may not come to us for awhile but others we will readily remember. Like how Sean took me on my first real date. I was 16 and finally allowed to be picked up and taken out by a boy! Sean came and got me and we went out to dinner…and then on the way we got stuck in traffic- I was going to be late! I was freaking out because, well you know my mom! Sean made me laugh the whole way home. And then the most amazing thing happened, when we got to my house, Sean walked me in and talked to my Mom. Of course she already knew him and liked him, but he charmed her even more and explained why we were late. I remember my mom telling Sean that he was lucky that she liked him otherwise she’d snap him like a twig. I didn’t even get grounded!-I too remember the blue pen. He used write me sweet notes and tell me how beautiful I was when we were dating, always in blue pen. He also gave the best hugs! I remember feeling so lucky to have him as a friend and to be around someone so smart. You could always have the best long, heart-felt conversations with Sean. He was also quite the flirt, but always a gentleman!

    -When I saw him last year for the first time in 9 years, he treated me the same way. He made me laugh, gave me heart-felt hugs, and filled our conversations with meaningful thoughts and ideas.
    Such an unnecessary loss.

    -EZE

  12. Ally, it was SO very good to see you on Saturday. Thank you for putting into words what a good friend Sean was to you…..and to so many others as well. He definitely brought some laughter into our lives as well. He was a great friend to Cory and I know this hit Cory pretty hard even though in the last years since he was in California they did not see each other. It is a hard thing when someone takes their own life. We all feel in some way guilty that we should have done more or could have done more….it just truly hurts right down to the heart. I am thankful Sean had you for a friend. Please stay in touch.

  13. Oh Ally, I am so sorry to hear about Sean. Your pain is all to familiar even though I lost Anthony in a much different way. Grief is weird, and hard, and unfamiliar, and uncomfortable, and unpredictable, but it needs to happen. People don’t know how to grieve but it’s the most important thing you can do. Be gracious to yourself Ally. Let you body do what it needs to do, whether cry, run, sit and stare at nothing, scream, wail, even laugh. Let’s get together soon, yes? Love you Ally.

  14. Sean had a way of being everyones friend, he just had that way about him. I was not a close friend to him, and it still impacted me to hear the sad news. There are a lot of people I used to know that now I’ve had to look through the old year book to put a picture to a face. Sean wasnt one of them. You could never forget him he was a pillar in our class. His positive, and sometimes comedic conversations cheered me up more times than I can count. Im sorry you lost a close friend Ally, Sean made the world a better place for every one he met.

  15. I don’t know you, and I didn’t know Sean – but I appreciate you sharing this. I lost a friend when I was in 11th grade, Ben also took his own life. It’s something that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand, and I know that the pain is more than words can ever describe. I can speak from personal…experience…though; it’s a good thing you’re doing this now. Writing all the memories out. Remembering all the unique characteristics and quirks about him, years later you will be glad to have them somewhere. I know that it doesn’t seem like it, and it won’t be today, tomorrow or probably even in a few months – but eventually, you will get past the tsunami feeling. Ever since that day, I try to remind myself to never neglect telling people how I feel and that I appreciate and love them.

  16. Thank you so much for writing the beautiful tribute to Sean; as well as the comments that share special Sean stories and memories of my very unforgettable son.
    Where I stand in the world and universe has been tilted, permanently altered- as I am certain you feel also. I view the world with fresh eyes, I am awake in each step, I hear more acutely, the colors I see are vibrant and human touch is more healing. Sean always looked out for me, in an unexplainable way, his death as tragic as it is- saved me. I had so much more to learn from him and miss him beyond words, but the distance between my brain and heart is less than before.

    Reading your tribute and comments made me realize how many beings have been forever changed because of Sean. Each perspective, memory, and encounter is specific to the soul touched by him. Some are frozen in time, and yet speak so loudly of similarity.

    I have too many stories to tell; but I want to share a couple things with you…Sean still carried a pen and legal pad, but his pen color changed to black ink several years ago, Uni-Ball Vision Elite- medium point- he was never without one.

    Sean started to walk at 8 months; he dribbled a soccer ball all over the back yard by 10 months and was speaking sentences by 13 months- no baby talk for him- his ability to communicate started the day he spoke. When Sean was about 14 months old, we were visiting my parents, my sister Katie was working as a teller at US Bank and she stopped in on her lunch hour- she was dressed in lavender gingham ‘Gunny Sacks’ dress. When she came in the door, Sean met her at the top of the stairs and said “Hi Aunt Katie, what a beautiful dress, are you getting married?” What a little flirt!

    When Sean was little at the most 4; his dad was in Germany- he called us often and Sean would always have a private chat with his dad. After one of these talks, I put the boys to bed. In the middle of the night, I woke up- not panicked or anything, but I checked the house anyway. I went into the living room and Sean was on the love seat, he had a flash light, a plastic tee-ball bat and a book. When I asked him what he was doing he shared that he was taking care of me, his dad said to him in the call “take care of your momma” and he thought that he should stand guard.

    Sean noticed everything.

    I could write on and on, I fear there is not enough space…thank you Ally for your words, thoughts and love for Sean.

    Anytime you want or need to chat give me call; I will never get tired of listening or talking about him 🙂

  17. Dear Sean’s-mom,I am crying as I read your words about your son. Somehow I know I missed out by not knowing Sean. Like maybe the kingdom of God is poorer because he’s not here to pour his wisdom and delight into each of us.
    My heart aches for all you will miss in the years that should have been, yet at the same time I see that the reach of his life will not end any time soon. What he meant to say is still being heard- and somehow a whole lot of people are listening now.
    I can just imagine your dear boy sitting close to the Father right now, watching over you as he did when he was a four year old soldier for his dad.
    May the Comforter gather you close, Diane

  18. Thank you – everyone – for all of your supportive and encouraging words. And thank you for sharing your stories and memories of Sean. It helps. I mean, it doesn’t help, but it helps… if that makes any sense. Much love to you all.

  19. Thanks for writing this. I did not know your friend, but, like too many people, know people who have taken their own life. It is such a difficult thing to sort through. Thanks for making that attempt.

  20. I can’t believe that it has already been over a month. Around the 8th I could not stop thinking about him… took a while to figure out why. Sean. You are missed.

  21. I remember Sean’s courage. In high school I had a block class with him (Language Arts and Geography). I remember that he gave a speech which he talked about how we have a tendency to make fun of other people to make us feel better about ourselves. He had the courage to call us out, the whole class. And there were about 60 students in it. And we were in high school. It must have taken a tremendous amount of courage for him to speak what was on his heart, and speak it boldly. I remember hearing him talk about being nervous to give the speech, but he gave it anyway. I admire him for for that, and I always have. His courage to do what he knew was right was a gift from God to all of us. I count myself privileged for our paths crossing so many years ago.

  22. Ally,
    Love reading the tribute! Glad you made it too! After I read it I knew I wanted to write something great about Sean. It seemed like our Junior and Senior years at Century Sean and I were kicking it all the time. Both not belonging to any group but out to have a good time with whoever wanted to have it. Which back in the day was driving to the beach, driving around, going to football,baskeball games or just hanging out. In those high school years we had countless memories and conversations about life. I can say without a doubt that Sean’s good heart and relentless drive to do good in the world was a success. Sean had the unique gift to share his positive attitude and charm with everyone he met, even if it was for a few seconds. He would always make an effort to push those few seconds and create a friendship. It always amazed me and drove me to be half as kind hearted.
    I remember the day that he got his license and his marron honda civic. We drove around for days! Never did he ever ask for gas money or refuse anyone that needed a ride. Countless times we would be driving around and see someone we knew walking somewhere and Sean without breaking our conversations would pull over and offer a ride rarely accept a No for answer.
    As I left for the Marines in July 2001-2005 I lost contact with Sean, but forever did he influence me to ALWAYS look inside myself and others for the good they have. I mention the Marines because of Sean’s great character and his ability to see what affected people and to seek out solutions to their problems, it influenced how I lead my Marines. I learned from Sean how too look outside the box. (i.e. A Marine messing up on drills or seemingly out of it for some reason) My first reaction would to yell and to correct this Marine, but then I would later pull aside the Marine to see why he was affected during the drills or whatever situation arose. It was Sean’s influence on me to always make that extra effort to see if there was some other problem or cause.

    I will never forget Sean Barnes with his brown shoes, blue jeans, and green sweater with his red faced grin and that great laugh.

    Thank you Sean Barnes for influencing me to always look inside everyone for the good they have to offer and to always extend an arm of friendship to everyone I met.
    You will be missed but never forgotten

    Your friend

    Ryan Flitcroft

  23. Hello,
    My name is Ariel and I used to know a Sean Barnes, but we lost contact in 2010. I’ve been looking fro him for about two years, with no luck. I found your beautiful post and I am wondering if it could be the same Sean. The Sean I know lived in Florida for some time. We used to talk for hours and you could call him at any time of the day. He helped me through some hard times with relationships, and we would talk on a regular basis. Until, one day the calls stopped and I thought maybe he lost his phone. I moved away and tried calling him, but his phone was not working. I would like to know if the Sean you knew lived in Florida around 2010 or so?
    I’m sorry for your loss and I hope you can help me find my Sean Barnes.

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