(This is the second installment in an irregular series I call Things to be Learned from Dead People. Here’s a link the first installment – John Terry: a hard lesson learned too late)
As you probably already know, actor Matthew Perry, died on October 28. I watched Friends in reruns. (Don’t judge me. Life is busy and not everything can be watched when it’s fresh and new.) I watched Matthew Perry in other things, too. Talented man. But a troubled man, too.
I’d heard of his substance abuse struggles, but I’ve learned more about it since his passing.
I didn’t know how many times he went to rehab or how much money he spent on rehab. And I didn’t know about his desire and efforts to help other addicts since he himself got clean.
Perry said of himself, “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life. I’m still working through it personally, but the best thing about me is that if an alcoholic or drug addict comes up to me and says, ‘Will you help me?’ I will always say, ‘Yes, I know how to do that. I will do that for you, even if I can’t always do it for myself! So I do that, whenever I can. In groups, or one on one …
When I die, I know people will talk about Friends, Friends, Friends. And I’m glad of that, happy l’ve done some solid work as an actor, as well as given people multiple chances to make fun of my struggles on the world wide web…but when I die, as far as my so-called accomplishments go, it would be nice if Friends were listed far behind the things I did to try to help other people.
I know it won’t happen, but it would be nice.”
~Matthew Langford Perry (August 19, 1969 – October 28, 2023)
Perry’s support of others with substance abuse problems was the most important thing to him because he’d been there, and he knew. He had walked their walk, and he knew their pain and fears and struggles.
Sometimes only a person who has been where you are can touch you and make a difference.
Sometimes you need a Matthew Perry.
I’ve had a few Matthew Perry’s in my life. Not people who helped me with a substance abuse problem, but people who helped me when life was at its worst places or bordering on the edge.
One of them was Syd Mozena. Syd stayed on the phone with me for over an hour the first time we talked. My 11-year old daughter had recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the less common form of diabetes that requires insulin and strict control of the blood sugar. Syd had a grown son who was diagnosed with type 1 as a child, so she knew the nightmare I was living.
Blood sugar checks several times a day, insulin injections each day, scary low blood sugars, scary ketones when sick, and an angry pre-teen who wanted nothing to do with any of this. I felt inadequate and lost.
Syd assured me that I would learn to take care of my daughter, and I would teach my daughter to take care of it herself. She would become independent, and we would both be okay.
Syd was a Matthew Perry for me that day and other days, too. She came up beside me and helped me as only another mom of a type 1 kid could do. Note: My daughter did learn to take care of her diabetes, and she’s doing fine. 😊
Another Matthew Perry in my life was M., a widowed friend of my in-laws. She was at the memorial service of my late husband 6 years ago, the only other widow or widower in the room. M. was there to support my in-laws who’d lost their son and to support me, too. But I was in a fog and didn’t work the room very well during the luncheon afterwards.
I made small talk even though I wanted to ball up in a corner and cry my eyes out. I put on my game face and held back the tears so not to make a scene, and I fake smiled when my picture was taken with some friends I hadn’t seen in years.
M. caught my eye from across a nearby table. Our eyes locked. My resolve broke, tears came to my eyes, and my smile drooped. I said to her, “You know.”
She replied, “Yes.” She nodded. She felt my pain, and I wasn’t alone. We shared an experience that had no adequate description.
Before I could get around the table and say more, a friend pulled me away. When I looked back, M. was saying goodbye to my in-laws and heading out the door.
For that moment, M. was a Matthew Perry. But it was more than a moment for me. It was profound, and I still remember how she came alongside me that day and let me know I wasn’t alone.
Likewise, sometimes you need to be a Matthew Perry.
We’ve all had struggles, hard times, or whatever you want to call them. We’ve all faced obstacles that were overcome, and we’ve all succeeded at something that seemed impossible at first.
You don’t need to have the resources that Matthew Perry had. Or the name recognition.
You just need to realize you’ve lived long enough to have wisdom and compassion and empathy about a thing or two, and you can use that to be an encourager like Matthew Perry, maybe even a lifeline to someone who feels hopeless or lost.
A phone call, a card, a text message, a comment on a social media post, a kind word in person, a hug if you know the person well enough to do that, a smile or nod across a room, an assurance for someone that they are not alone in whatever they are dealing with.
You get the idea.
Take a quick inventory of what obstacles you’ve overcome, grief you’ve survived, or struggles you’re dealing with now. And offer encouragement to those you encounter that are in those places you’ve already been or places you are right now.
Here’s a portion of my quick inventory:
I was bullied in school as a child.
I’m a widow.
I have a child with type 1 diabetes.
I moved to a city and state I’d never lived in before and successfully made it my home.
I had a parent with dementia.
So, what’s on your quick inventory?
For things in your past, go back in time and remember the struggle. That will help you know what to say to others who are there now.
For things in your present, say to people what you wish people would say to you. Doing that for others can be oddly therapeutic for ourselves.
Finally, thank the Matthew Perrys in your own life.
No, you don’t need to send a thank you note or compose an email, unless you want to. Just a simple verbal ‘thank you’, or a written one in reply to a social media comment or text message, will suffice.
This is a crazy and chaotic world. Everyone is dealing with something. Encourage others in their struggles when you can. Be a Matthew Perry and appreciate the Matthew Perrys in your life.
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