Saying Goodbye to a Friend

A death in the Caucasus

SG Buckley
3 min readJun 12, 2022


Mount Kazbek in Georgia by Stephanie Gruner Buckley

You hit your fifties and people start dying. Parents, parents of friends, friends.

Just last week, a friend committed suicide. He’d been seen walking his dog a few hours earlier. I can’t stop thinking about him.

He was in his forties, had a wife and two kids, a good job. He had a lot to live for.

But he’d recently been diagnosed with cancer. His mother and wife and sister had been battling the disease for nearly a decade. Perhaps it was all too much, or his own prognosis was poor, or he faced demons we knew nothing about.

Some people say it wasn’t a suicide at all, and an investigation is underway. But whatever the outcome, one thing is sure. The world shines less brightly without him.

His name was Ilia and I still remember the first words he ever said to me. We were at a pool hall in the center of Tbilisi, Georgia.

My husband, Colin, had taken a consulting job in the country. I delayed my move to Georgia until the job became permanent. Not long after I arrived, my husband took me out to meet his friends.

Ilia introduced himself and said:

“Everyone is so happy you’ve finally arrived. Colin comes here every night with a book to learn pool shots. It’s kind of pathetic.”

He said it in a sweet, endearing way. He was kidding of course.

Ilia always made me laugh. He had a quick wit and a warm, infectious smile. He was a man at ease in his own skin. He immediately made other people feel at ease too. This was a huge gift for me as a foreigner in Georgia.

Ilia worked with my husband on a US State Department program. But he must have seen it as his job to be sure Colin was happy outside of work. This meant making me happy too.

Ilia took us up to the mountains of Kazbegi to meet his mother and father and sister and relatives. We hiked during the day and ate enormous meals at night.

In Georgia, guests are treated to feasts called supras. The meals go on for hours as massive plates of food are piled high on the table. The dishes keep coming, as do the wine and the toasts.



SG Buckley

Writer, editor, parent. Former staffer at Quartz, WSJ and Inc. magazine.