He was five days short of his 21st birthday.
According to his Facebook page, he liked camping, and his favorite sports teams were the Chiefs and the Chicago Bulls. He read everything Stephen King wrote.
He had graduated from Blue Valley Northwest in 2012 and was finishing his junior year at Northwestern University, where he was studying electrical engineering.
And, blurring that otherwise normal and perfect picture, he suffered from clinical depression.
That was Jason Aaron Arkin, of Overland Park, who died Tuesday at a hospital in Evanston, Illinois.
I didn’t know Jason. Never heard of him until I read his obit in Saturday’s Kansas City Star.
It was one of the most painful and touching obits I’ve ever read. I’m sure many of you saw it and pored over it, as I did.
The way his parents, Steve and Karen Arkin, handled the obituary (I presume they wrote it) was courageous and eloquent, and it had to have pierced the hearts of thousands of Kansas City area residents.
When most of us look at the obit of a young person — particularly when it is accompanied by a photo of the subject smiling and looking happy — the first thing we want to know is: How did he (she) die?
Sometimes the obit gives no indication; sometimes it says, “after a brief illness…”; sometimes the tipoff is the name of the organization to which donations should be directed.
But I have never read anything like this…
Jason struggled with clinical depression and ultimately passed due to his illness. Jason was one of many young adults suffering with mental illnesses in a time when mental illness remains stigmatized and misunderstood.
“…ultimately passed due to his illness.”
What a gentle, loving way to let the world know how Jason was robbed of his future and wrenched away from his parents, his sister, his three living grandparents, his aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
The way they told Jason’s story, his parents probably got many readers thinking differently about depression and the toll it can take.
In the online Guest Book accompanying Jason’s obituary, one of the writers was Krystal Schmelig of Olathe. She wrote:
“I was privileged to have such an amazing student in my very first 3rd grade class. Even more special were the silly, fun summers I spent with him and his sister. I admired Karen and Steve as parents and hoped that someday my own children would have hearts as big as Jason and Jennifer. They were such a special part of my life, I was honored to have them in my wedding. Jason was the sweetest ring bearer. I will hold those memories dear. Thank you, sincerely, for being advocates for the seriousness of mental health.”
The family suggested contributions to the National Alliance of Mental Illness at NAMI.org.
The obit ended with these words from the late Steve Jobs:
“Almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
What is important to Jason’s relatives are the memories of his good, short life.
For me, it’s impossible to read this obit and not project what might have been for him…He was a few years from launching into a career, probably as an electrical engineer. Maybe he would have stayed in Chicago. Maybe he would have come back to Kansas City.
But depression came along and got so bad that he not only couldn’t see a year or two ahead, he couldn’t even see tomorrow. And everything but his pain and anguish fell away.
…Dear God, be with Jason’s family and help ease their pain in these, their darkest days.