I lost my good friend, Craig McAuliff, on Friday. He was an incredibly joyful person, who enriched the lives of all those who knew him. Family and friends came first in Craig’s life and he made sure we knew how much he cared about each of us. As full of life as Craig was, he also suffered from depression. His battle against the disease was a battle that I share with him and have written about here before. That shared struggle only amplified my already deep appreciation of our friendship. While I hope that he knew how much I, and so many others, cared about him, I regret never looking him in the eye and thanking him for not only being the best friend I could ask for, but also being so open and honest with me about that facet of his life.
Over the past few days, I’ve reflected on my friendship with Craig, one that began in the final years of undergrad but feels more like a lifelong bond. Craig’s affability, quick wit and contagious enthusiasm made winning friends come easy to him. Those lucky enough to call him a friend found unmatched loyalty and a willingness to lend a hand wherever one was needed. Late last year when I found myself with a couch that wouldn’t fit onto my apartment’s service elevator, professional movers told me there was no way it could be taken up the stairs. I told them to leave the couch in the lobby and I picked up my phone to call Craig. “I could probably help out for a twelve pack.” We spent two hours maneuvering the excessively heavy and awkwardly shaped couch up seven flights of stairs before having to cut it out of the box to fit through my doorway. Craig never complained once and seemed happier than I was that we successfully navigated a task that seemed unmanageable. He loved work that allowed him to see the results of his labor at the end of the day, whether it was getting a couch successfully up seven flights of stairs, working with his brother to renovate houses or trying his hand at a DIY project at his house. In a story I heard just this weekend from one his best friends, Craig decided he was going to replace his back fence. He spent most of the day working with his roommates on the project; digging holes for the posts, making quick and fast measurements and preparing the fence for the final privacy boards. The fence was eventually completed and it looked great. Craig could not have been happier with what he and his roommates had accomplished. As he looked out on his fence with pride, the sprinklers came on in the backyard, some of which were now on his neighbor’s side of the fence. Realizing that he had ceded three feet of his property line to his neighbors as well as a few new sprinkler heads, Craig burst into laughter and managed a, “Well, shit.”
Craig had an almost childlike innocence when it came to his curiosity about the world and his approach to others. He was a self-taught musician, an award-winning artist and a self-proclaimed deep thinker (he once filled much of a 14-hour road trip we took to Athens, GA discussing Quantum Theory). He innately trusted others and gave everything to those around him. He loved fully and, as a result, often hurt deeply when his love wasn’t as easily returned. Craig, my brother and I had a tee time scheduled early one Saturday morning that happened to come the day after a particularly difficult heartbreak for Craig. As it was a busy day on the golf course, a young man no older than 14 was assigned to our group as a fourth member. He had the good fortune of riding in Craig’s cart that day. Every time their cart would pull close to ours, we could hear Craig treating him like a trusted therapist he had known for years. He always wore his heart on his sleeve, regardless of whether you were a lifelong friend or a randomly selected confidant for the morning. Near the end of the round when the kid bought a Gatorade from the cart girl, Craig told him not to waste his time. “Girls like that will just break your heart.”
We often found it shocking the degree to which Craig was open about his life to others. Our jaws would drop when he told us some of the things he would talk about with his mom. As open as he was about his own life, he was equally accepting of others, regardless of background or circumstance. It was, to me, the most endearing part about Craig and one of the traits that made him such an important friend. Long before I was open about my own fight against depression and anxiety, Craig would talk to me about his struggle and efforts to get better. For someone who didn’t want to openly admit my own weakness, it was comforting to know someone close to me understood what I was going through. Years later when I found myself in a low place, I thought of Craig and his willingness to seek help. He was one of the few examples I had of someone brave enough to confront the stigma of mental illness and share his pain with others.
I had dinner with Craig not too long ago. It was shortly after I had moved back to Oklahoma and we spent the time reminiscing and catching up on what we had missed over the past four years. I was approaching two years of sobriety, something that Craig expressed great admiration for. It was an incredible feeling to receive that acceptance from one of my best drinking buddies in years past. After congratulating me, he talked about his frustration in finding his place in life. The right job, the right girl, whatever it meant to be happy, it all seemed so fleeting to him. It was a frustration I knew well and one I would guess many, whether they accept it or not, are also familiar with. He reminded me of myself two, maybe three years earlier, and while I was sad for him that he was in a difficult situation I had hope that he would go through a transformation as I had, coming out stronger because of what he had been through; that he would be able to find happiness in the pursuit and understand that he was not alone, or without a place in life. He was a devoted son, brother, uncle, cousin and friend and he served those roles better than anyone. That was enough for all of us; he had nothing left to prove to anyone other than himself.
In all of the joy Craig brought to those around him, he was not too proud to discuss his pain. In doing so, he helped me in my battle against mental illness and I’m positive that he helped countless others through his openness. I wish I had been more open with him over the past few months; that while he may have been envious of my now two-and-a-half-year sobriety, I still struggle with what that entails; that I, too, question my place in life and what it is and if I’m even close to finding it.
I am sorry that I didn’t help you as much as you helped me, but I am grateful for the opportunity to have called you a friend. I owe you a million thanks and I regret that this one is overdue. Thank you, Craig, for being an incredible friend to me.
Craig’s family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma:
400 N. Walker Ave. #190, Oklahoma City OK 73102