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Stephen Hackett's weblog about Apple, Apple history, technology, journalism and design.

One Hell of a Learning Curve

This past week marked a very unusual anniversary in my life.

It was just three years ago, which is hard to believe. I was sitting at home with my wife and son, when my iPhone starts going crazy. I walk over to the desk to pick it up, assuming that some client was having an emergency, as help tickets usually would spawn several emails in just a few moments.

At that time, I was working as the Service Manager for an Apple-Authorized Service Provider here in Memphis. I helped start the Apple business, and we ran in parallel to the company’s other departments, which handled everything from VOIP services to banking network security.

As the manager for the service shop, I got copied on just about every single email concerning customers with Apple products.

But this email wasn’t about a customer.

In fact, I had to read it several times over before I could begin to digest it.

* * *

A couple of weeks before, I was sitting at the company Christmas dinner. My wife and I were sitting across from the owner of the company, Dennis.

I didn’t work directly for him, but instead, another partner. I hadn’t meant to sit across from him, actually, as I didn’t know him very well.

The dinner ended up being very enjoyable, however. He asked us about our son’s treatment. We talked about his adult children, college basketball and more. He asked what my predictions were for Apple in 2010, and we shot the breeze about iPad rumors.

The night ended with him thanking us all for our hard work, and him handing out sizable bonus checks to every last employee.

* * *

The email was from the company’s Human Resources manager. It was short:

Team, I am sure that many of you have possibly heard already that Dennis passed away earlier today. Until more information is available, the family requests your prayers but also their own privacy during this challenging time. As details are revealed regarding the arrangements, I will send a note.

In the days between Dennis’ death and funeral, news started to trickle out about the circumstances surrounding the events at hand. While I initially assumed that Dennis had died of natural causes, it turned out that he had taken his own life.

* * *

Dennis was very kind after our son was diagnosed with brain cancer just six months before the suicide. “We don’t want to see you,” he told me on the phone. “Take care of your family. We’ll take care of things, and you’re still going to get your paycheck.”

He was good on his word to me. They forwarded my phone calls, emails and support tickets to other members of the Apple team, and for a month, all I heard from work was a quick “we’re thinking of you” or “let us know what we can do to help.”

I’ll always be grateful for Dennis and his family’s kindnesses to us in our greatest hour of need.

* * *

I’ve learned a lot in the three years since Dennis’ death. I now know what it feels like to be hopeless, crushed under the weight of things that are far beyond anyone’s control.

I’ve learned that anyone — no matter how normal they seem at a dinner party — can be hiding dark things in their hearts and minds.

I know because I’ve hidden them.

I’ve learned that no one can truly know all of the reasons that go in to a decision like suicide, but I’ve also learned that none of them are worth it.

And for that lesson, Dennis, I am truly thankful.