Updated: Jan 18, 2022
We are sadly coming up on the one-year anniversary of a family tragedy, the suicide of my cousin, Lawrence “Larry” Gellar. He was only 30.
His mother, my aunt Beth, sent out this collage, above, asking us to share it to remember him, and I thought, I can write a bit about him here.
Unfortunately I am the wrong person to eulogize Lawrence because, being 16 years older than him, we just didn’t see each other very often.
I saw him a number of times when he was a baby and a small child, and I was at his bar mitzvah in Florida in 2003 (the trip when my brother Tyler and I saw The Matrix Revolutions, and Ty turned to me halfway through and said, “Luke, this is terrible”).
I saw Lawrence once when we were both adults, when he was traveling to Australia and needed to overnight in Los Angeles. He stayed with me and I took him out to dinner and told him stories about our extended family (on our moms’ side; Beth is my mom’s baby sister), including our grandfather, Larry, after whom Lawrence was named.
Grandpa Larry was “the fun one,” who would come visit us on Martha’s Vineyard with presents, silly jokes and a suitcase full of proper Long Island bagels. He would lie on the couch with his big belly and play with us and we loved him dearly. (I can still smell the bagels and his aftershave which, to me, smells like love!)
My grandfather Larry died from esophageal cancer only in his sixties, in the early 1980s, the first of my grandparents to pass—for me, the beginning of the “loss of innocence” that any child goes through in the growth to adulthood.
I was surprised that Lawrence knew little of our grandfather and he seemed interested in learning more.
I thought Lawrence was a bright, warm, composed young man and I had a lovely time with him. I was like, hey, he really turned out great!
Some years ago, Lawrence tried to die by suicide while living in Chattanooga—he jumped from a height onto rocks, on a trail—which was when he was first diagnosed with mental illness. That began the several–year nightmare of having a loved one suffering from this terrible disease.
I can’t go into the blow-by-blow, it’s too painful and I heard it mostly from my mother as there were steps forward and steps back—until finally I got the panicked, wailing–tears call almost a year ago that the worst had happened. The pandemic was brutal as it deprived Lawrence of the social contact that could have helped keep his illness manageable.
A couple of weeks ago I talked about my best friend from college, Harris Wulfson, who died under similar circumstances. Harris’ diagnosis and progression I experienced more first-hand, albeit in glimpses: a psychotic break, depression, the side effects and failures of medication.
You see and experience the gradual vanishing of the person you knew and loved, but it’s very strange because they’re still there, in some muted form, and capable of covering up the illness to show you what you want to see: that they’re okay.
But they’re not, and never will be—and you can only imagine the pain and terror that they go through as they’re haunted and hunted by their own mind, to the point where death is the only way out.
It’s a scourge, and my heart breaks for their families and loved ones. He was my dear Aunt Beth’s only child.
I’ve also read about Tommy Raskin, the late son of Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin (who also coincidentally went to Amherst). I’ve never in my life written a letter to a member of Congress but I almost did to Rep. Raskin, who has been so brave and outspoken about his son’s loss.
Because apparently all Jews in Boca know each other, Harris’ parents and Lawrence’s parents connected and they have both benefited from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which I would ask everybody to consider supporting.
The best we can do is remember our loved ones and spread the word so that others can hopefully get help and avoid the worst fate.
I really feel like I’m doing Lawrence a disservice by writing this so off-the-cuff. I hope people understand that I’m just not the right person to do justice to all that he was, and the legacy he leaves in our hearts.
Stay safe, and hug your kids!