November 29, 1999. Alan and I had been seeing each other for a year. We were in love. We were planning a life together. But this night, just before we went to sleep, he said he felt a kind of terror inside.
He had just graduated from law school and had been hired by one of the top law firms in Los Angeles. But he hated the job. His passion was for helping people in need – especially children, and the law firm wasn’t giving him any satisfaction. I told him that he should start looking for general counsel positions in some of the non-profit organizations working on the causes he cared about.
That Tuesday night, I got home early and waited for Alan to get home to have dinner. But he didn’t call, and he didn’t come over. My repeated phone calls to his office and cell phone went unanswered.
Just after 9:00 PM, the phone rang. It was his roommate: “Danny, Alan has hurt himself very, very badly. The paramedics are here. I’ll call you as soon as I know what hospital we are going to.”
Five minutes later, the phone rang again. It was Alan’s roommate once more. “Danny, I have some bad news. We’re not going to the hospital. Alan’s passed away.”
A friend drove me over to Alan’s apartment. There were EMTs and police there. I was in a state of total shock. I didn’t go into Alan’s room. They explained to me that he had suffocated himself. As I saw them roll the gurney in to take Alan’s body away, I started yelling, “I don’t want to see him in a bag. I don’t want to see him in a bag.” I went into another room and closed the door. I could hear the banging of the folding legs of the gurney. I heard the wheel squeaking as they rolled Alan past the door of the room I was in. It made me sick.
I didn’t go to the wake. I didn’t want to see Alan embalmed. I didn’t want to see that beautiful face with make-up caked all over it.
The first week was hell. Hours seemed to take months to pass. All I had any motivation to do was calculate the math for the time I had left on earth to endure the pain. I’m 39 years old. I just made it through a week. If I live to be 80, I need to do this 2,132 more times. I guess I can do that.
I once heard a minister say that when we are most broken, we are closest to God. One of the things that got me through the days was a paranormal sense of perception. I could see synchronicities that either never existed before or that I never noticed. It seemed like Alan was present – speaking to me. I was walking one day with a friend who was also grieving the loss of his partner. He stopped as we were walking and reached down into the gutter. He picked up a medal that had an angel on one side and an inscription on the other that said, “Angels shall guard thee.” He said I should have it. I wore it around my neck for the next seven years. Not more than a few weeks after he gave it to me, I was driving to the marina to meet Alan’s mother who had flown in for a visit. Driving down the 405, a rainbow appeared–the first I had ever seen in twenty years of living in Los Angeles. Alan loved rainbows. I told his mother the story of the medallion and showed it to her. Her jaw dropped. She opened her purse and pulled out a medallion identical to it–not close, but identical–that a friend had just given her.
I began to heal slowly. I let myself heal according to my own schedule – and no one else’s. I didn’t pay attention to people who would say, “Aren’t you ready to move beyond that?” I knew I’d be ready when I was ready and not a moment sooner. I was kind to myself and I gave myself all the patience in the world.
Two years after Alan died, I decided to launch a huge fundraising event to take suicide out of the closet and put it on the map. I had already invented the AIDSRides and the Breast Cancer 3-Days–events which had raised hundreds of millions of dollars for those causes. The new event was called, “Out of the Darkness,” and it would be a 26-mile walk through the night to raise money for suicide prevention. 1200 people walked.
One year after Alan died, I met the kindest, sweetest, most gentle man I have ever known. Jimmy and I have been together now for eight and a half years, and six months ago, through the miracle of surrogacy, we had triplets – three beautiful babies, two girls and a boy–Annalisa, Sage, and Rider. I think fondly of Alan, but my heart has healed. The days – of thinking my life was over have given way to the knowledge that my life has just begun.
I am filled with a sense of one powerful, singular truth, which is, if you just stay in the world, have patience and have faith, anything is possible – absolutely anything. God’s imagination is infinitely more powerful than our own, and if we just stay here, we will get to watch her play with it, and the most unthinkably beautiful things will unfold in our lives.
Just before our children were born, my friend who gave me the medallion that I’d worn around my neck for seven years gave me three beautiful little silver crosses, one for each of our kids. Now I wear them around my neck. Angels still guard me, but Jimmy and I have three little angels to guard on our own.
Originally published on the Alliance of Hope blog in 2008.
Dan Pallotta is an entrepreneur, author, and humanitarian activist. He is best known for his involvement in multi-day charitable events with the long-distance Breast Cancer 3-Day walks, AIDS Rides bicycle journeys, and Out of the Darkness suicide prevention night walks.