February 5, 2024

Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?

Sophomore year of college, I became close with a group of boys. I had just gone through my first breakup, and was feeling desperately lonely, unloved, and seriously unhappy. This group adopted me and often made it their weekend mission: Operation Cheer Claire Up. In a sea of dehumanizing frat boy behavior, these boys loved me as friends, protected me fiercely, and were always there to wipe my tears. In a sea of teenage righteousness and Ivy League social pressure, these boys never made me feel judged for even a moment and made sure I knew I belonged. 

One of these boys was Ian. It was immediately obvious that he was reserved, tidy, and kind, but once he let you in a little, you’d gain access to his vast intellect and quick wit. 

Since he was more reserved, I lived to make him laugh or to surprise him out of his stoicism. Whenever I’d barge into his room, I’d start singing:
Why do birds suddenly appear
Every time you are near?
This, without fail, warranted a chuckle and a warm hug from Ian. 

After we graduated, Ian moved back to Florida and we weren’t as close, but stayed in touch with the same friend group. He had my loyalty and love for life, but we stopped talking regularly. 

This past Wednesday, Ben, my introduction to this group and one of my closest friends, called to let me know Ian passed away. I was in a state of shock for the night and well into Thursday.

While I was processing the news, I looked through our last texts. One of our last conversations consisted of Ian double and triple-checking that I’d make it out for drinks when he was coming to town several years ago. Of course I was coming, Ian! But he always made an effort to let me see how wanted, welcomed, and deserving of happiness I am. 

I wasn’t sure what to do with my grief, so my friend Mahima prompted me for photos of Ian, which I hadn’t thought of looking through. She also reminded me of some pictures from a party we threw in college. I clicked through the now-hidden Facebook album and found this:

What I love about this picture is that its focal point is Ian’s eyes—among the most kind, piercing, loving, gentle eyes I’ve ever known. I also love how, in the rest of the album, everyone is hamming it up, posing for camera; but of course Ian is locked in deep conversation with someone, blissfully unaware. Our friend Ben is also reflected somehow in the lens, in the shadow behind Ian’s head. Smiling broadly.


Though obvious, it needs stating: it is incredibly painful watching your friends cry. But joining in, clinging desperately to each other, helps with some measure of healing.

This group of friends has been scattered across the US: from Oakland to Chicago to LA to NYC and lastly, Ian in Miami. All the last times I had seen this group had been birthdays and weddings. Gathering for a memorial was an incredibly confusing experience of joy at seeing each other followed by intense despair at our shared loss.

Ben had a baby 2 months ago, a beautiful boy named Jules. Any time the pain of Ian’s loss was too heavy, we could look at the curious, smiling baby and feel some measure of uplift. Baby Jules was a gift during a despairing moment that reminded us how to celebrate life:


Tell someone you love them today, and squeeze a little harder on your next hug. And then keep doing those things. 


I can’t believe you’re gone, Ian. I miss and love you, and I hope you know how you lifted me up when I was going through one of my hardest times. You were a brilliant person, and the kindest soul. Your memorial was packed to the gills, spilling out the entrance of the funeral home. When we heard from your childhood friends, your lifelong best friend, your work colleagues, your sisters, it was remarkable how many people experienced you as an uncommonly thoughtful, funny, authentic, kind person. Which is exactly how I experienced you. I hope you are at peace, and are having a wonderful time in heaven with Jim Croce and Karen Carpenter ❤️