(UPDATE: Readers can help by sharing this post with others, as we’d like to cast as wide a net as possible, as well as leaving positive messages for Brent on this post. I’m not confident that, if alive, he would see Facebook comments. Thank you.)
My wife and I have been grieving privately since March. Brent Chamberlain, dear college friend who had become very close over the years, had been missing for a month. After initially thinking he was just blowing off some steam on a trip through Europe, a suicide note emerged. It was postmarked Feb. 28th, Florence, Italy, and is the last known evidence of life. It described his intention to kill himself and brief instructions to dispose of his belongings. We would later discover an intended suicide method.
Brent had been in a rough patch personally, professionally, and financially. Yet he had spent Christmas with us and seemed upbeat, excited about future projects such as going back to school. We were shocked.
But, despite being listed as a missing person in all relevant databases, a body has not been found. This is unusual, and, in combination with a few other weak indicators, suggests maybe Brent did not commit suicide, but feigned death to escape problems. Brent’s brother has diligently poured himself into investigating what happened, contacting embassies, local police, etc., with help from Brent’s ex-husband and myself. After months of searching and grief, we are now announcing that Brent is missing and possibly dead for three reasons.
First, we did not want to prematurely alarm the many people who care about Brent, but it is no longer premature. We thought maybe he would show up any day, but once-promising leads have now come to nothing. His job, apartment, and possessions are gone—two weeks ago we salvaged some things before eviction—and significant time has passed. So, while a funeral is premature, it’s time for everyone else who cares about Brent to know. I hope you understand why we did not announce sooner.
Second, we want to make a public plea:
If you have any knowledge of Brent’s whereabouts or way to contact him, write me immediately at jer(dot)clifton(at)gmail(dot)com.
I can pass along leads as appropriate. Also, please be on the lookout for him. One theory is that he may have changed his identity and started a bed and breakfast in a hilltop town in Italy, but he could be anywhere at this point.
Third, it’s time for a private plea as well that, dramatic as it is, has to be public. Brent has not checked his email in months. We have no way of contacting him except one. If he is alive, we suspect he would from time to time check this blog. So, what follows is a shameless personal plea addressed to Brent, the same one I emailed him the day we learned of his suicide note, which we now know he never opened. Forgive the sentimentality. I love this man very much.
March 28th, 2019
I just saw your suicide note. Alicia and I are in shock. We took off work and have been crying and processing all day. One of the things we did is re-read all the books you gave Tilly at Christmas and the kind notes you wrote in them, trying to discern deeper meaning (Runaway Bunny?). We talked about your visits with us over the last few months. We talked about how wonderful you are and how much we care about you. We talked about how we could have missed this, how you seemed so upbeat at Christmas, about your plans for researching inequality, how maybe we need to study it in your stead (because it’s such a damn good idea that the world needs), how supportive you’ve been to us over the years, how encouraging you were about my research, how you would be Uncle Brent to Tilly. We can’t eat. We just talk and cry and hold our baby. You won’t ever meet Tilly. We talked about what else we could have done. We wish we would have done more. You must have been so unhappy. I’m so sorry.
So here I am, writing to a dead man, on the off chance that something is amiss. We don’t have your body. We don’t actually know if your dead. Your brother is talking to the state department and Italian government. On the off chance that you didn’t do it, or you did it but it didn’t go right and you’re still alive, or you never intended to do it and were trying to escape your former life, or something else, I am writing to you to say that I love you. Alicia and I love you. We’ll tell Tilly about you, too, and we are confident that she will love you, too. There is basically nothing you could do to change that. You are forever a part of our lives Brent, whether you ever read this or not.
But, if you are reading this, you must come back to us. Everything else is nonsense. Divorce happens. Major career setbacks happen. Debt happens. What’s the worst that can happen? I have no doubt that you can find beauty wherever you go. And in those rare instances when you lose sight of it, Alicia and I will remind you. And in those rare instances when you feel overwhelmed, you will turn to us because you trust us, and we will tell you what to do.
Trust me now. The only thing you need to do now is to come back. Email me. Send a postcard. Tell me where you are. And no matter what, I will come get you. This is an iron-clad offer ‘til I die.
And when you do return, I will buy a big house, grow a garden, and you must live with us and teach at the local school. And when you tire of us, you will come spend every Christmas with us, and when you tire of that, which you never will, we will make you come anyway. Life will be beautiful, Brent. Please come live it with us. You make our lives richer. We miss you.
I have attached pictures to shamelessly guilt you into coming back to us. You belong with us, with me and my girls. We are family. We need you. We miss you. Please come home. You will always be welcome.
With all the love in our hearts,
Jer and Alicia and Tilly