The smell of fresh-baked gingerbread cookies fills the air and the colors of Christmas are reflecting off the wall as the lights blink on the tree, as though to the beat of the Christmas carols playing quietly in the background. Seeing the tree, breathing its scent, and hearing the music fills my heart, probably because of so many wonderful Christmas memories. 

Already, some wrapped boxes have appeared under the tree; no longer do the boxes have to suddenly appear in the morning after Santa leaves packages while we sleep. No more long nights of assembling bicycles, no more wrapping marathons. Now that the kids are college age, we can take our time and do things at our own speed rather than assisting the man in the red suit. Yet we still put out cookies and milk for Santa, and the nativity set remains lit all night, highlighting the Christmas star. 

An Unexpected Tragedy

Yet there is a dark cloud looming in my heart, since I heard that a good painter friend took his own life last week. I’m not sure exactly how to process it because this was a man as jolly and spirit-filled as Santa, always fun to be around, always thoughtful, and ever encouraging. He was as brilliant an artist as any. Apparently he had been suffering from severe depression.

Part of what bothers me is that I missed it. 

I had not been in touch for a while. We last spoke during a telethon where I co-hosted and he was a guest. Speaking beforehand, he seemed as normal and happy and engaging as ever. There were no outward clues. 

Looking Back

I’m kicking myself for several reasons … the first being that I never had a chance to say goodbye and let him know how much he had impacted my life and career, and how much I cared for him. Of course I could not have known, so I kick myself for not having taken the time to touch base recently. I suppose maybe there is something I could have said or done that might have made a difference.

I’m sure others who were even closer are asking themselves the same thing. Yet we cannot beat ourselves up. 

A Dark Place

The reality is that depression is a very dark place, which most of us, myself included, do not fully understand. Anyone can be affected by depression, and it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a medical condition to be overcome.

So what are we to do?

I think it starts by being an active listener, and not ignoring things people say that might be clues that they are reaching out for help but don’t know how to ask. We should not judge or overreact, but simply listen. Sometimes people just need to be heard. Be empathetic. And, of course, encourage anyone who seems to be troubled to seek professional help. 

My heart goes out to my friend’s wife, family, and close friends. He had more friends than most of us will ever have, and I guarantee there will be lines out the door at his memorial service.

The Emotional Trigger

As you and I enter the holiday period, it never hurts to remember that the holiday is an emotional trigger for many of the people we know and love. I can remember being alone one Christmas and wishing someone would invite me to something. I did not feel comfortable asking because, well, Christmas is family time.

Who can you include in your celebrations this Christmas?

How can you help others this Christmas?

Who needs to hear from you?

This event is also a stark reminder to me that I need to reach out and talk to my friends more often. The downtime at Christmas is a good time to start touching base. And it never hurts to ask, “How are you doing, really? Is there any way I can help you?”

When I was a kid, my dad invited Raymond McPeak to every Christmas dinner. I never knew any different; he was always there, Christmas and Thanksgiving, until the day he died. My dad met him in the Merchant Marine when serving in the Philippines, and though Raymond was 20 years older, they became great friends, probably because they were from the same town. He lived alone and came home from his job at the Post Office to an empty house every day of his life. He was never married, and was never in a relationship. He was simply a loner. And my guess is that he looked forward to every major holiday. My grandmother did the same thing; her widowed friends were always at her house every Christmas. 

Our job is to take care of each other, to care for those who don’t have what we have.

Now you have your marching orders for this Christmas. Give someone something to look forward to. And listen to them, carefully.

Eric Rhoads

Another great gift is the gift of art … giving someone lessons on how to become an artist. We have some wonderful holiday specials at