Archives for category: mental health

be the voice

 

And so it begins, my second Suicide Prevention Awareness Month as a survivor of suicide loss. Sometimes I try to think back to the days before losing my dad to suicide and I wonder if I had any awareness that such a month existed. And if I was aware of it, whether through social media, or something I read in a passing article, what did I think? How much attention did I pay to the statistics, the stories, the human cost behind the headlines? I wonder if there were any headlines at all?

The truth is, I don’t remember. I’ve long been someone who stood in support of greater mental health awareness. My own daughter struggled terribly with anxiety for years and years, and through therapy and medication found her way to a better place. There was never shame. I know others in my circle who’ve dealt with a variety of mental illnesses, and I’ve never seen it as something to be ashamed of. But suicide? I’m sure I looked at it with a heart full of sympathy, but I am also fairly certain that I never, ever thought that it would touch my world or someone I love. I was wrong. I was dead wrong.

I woke up this morning with a heavy heart. Something about the start of this month triggered me and I couldn’t quite explain why. I wave the flag of suicide prevention & awareness almost every day. Sometimes it’s through my own words, other times through lobbying, raising money or simply sharing insightful & important articles with my peers and on social media. I tell my story often and with great openness. I’m not ashamed of how my father died, but I am determined to bring meaning to his loss. And yet today felt heavier for some reason. I know those days come and sixteen months later, I know they will also pass.

Still, I had errands to run, so I put on my Be The Voice #StopSuicide T-shirt from The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and I went out to the stores. The shirt has at times led to some meaningful conversations. Recently I wore it into Pet Smart and the woman behind the counter read it, and asked me to tell her what it meant & what group it helped to support. I told her about my own loss and the work of AFSP & she told me that suicide had touched the lives of people she cared about as well. She thanked me for having the courage to share my story and for my efforts to raise awareness about this deeply personal tragedy. “You’re making a difference” she told me. I thanked her, paid for my items then got into my car, where the tears quickly followed. It’s not easy to be so vulnerable when standing face to face with a stranger. It’s far easier to open up from behind a computer screen.

Today brought me to Costco. It was pretty quiet there, I did my shop, paid and stood waiting to have the gentleman at the door check the receipt against the items in my cart. He looked at my shirt and read it out loud. “Be the voice. Stop Suicide.” And then he followed it with, “You know that it’s the voices that lead people to suicide.” Nobody was behind me, there was no rush out the door, and vulnerable as I felt today, I took a deep breath and answered him. “Actually sir, its mental illness that leads to suicide. The voices that tell people that there is no hope left, that their loved ones would be better off without them and that death is truly the only way to end their pain, those voices are lies that depression, anxiety and other illnesses of the mind trick them into believing.” He looked at me, looked behind me and saw that there was still nobody else waiting. “You’re right young lady. Do you mind my asking why you wear that shirt?” Another deep breath, another gulping back of tears and I answered, “Because 16 months ago my father died by suicide. I am his voice now. And I want his death to have meaning. I want to try to save lives in his memory. And sometimes that starts with a simple conversation that helps build awareness. Conversations like the one that you and I are having.”

By now there was a line. He looked me in the eye and expressed condolences for my loss. I thanked him, barely holding back the tears that seemed to determined to flow today. I started to head out when he said “I’m sure you make your daddy proud young lady.” Unable to speak any further, I nodded my appreciation, hid behind my sunglasses and walked as quickly as I could to my car. And then, when I was safely hidden away from that public space, I cried.

No, it’s not always easy to wave the flag of suicide prevention and awareness. Sometimes I need to turn away from it to tend to my own healing & spirit. And some days I take a more passive approach. I put on a shirt, I walk out the door and I open myself up to stares, to questions and sometimes to conversations like the one I had today. And one human being at a time, I hope that I am making a difference. I hope that I am honoring my father’s story and that his voice can be heard each time that I share it.

Confession:
I threw myself into cooking today. It was partly because we have a guest coming to share Shabbat with us. But that wasn’t the whole reason.
Yesterday and today I’ve found myself really missing my dad a lot. I miss his voice, I miss knowing that I can call and talk to him, I miss the way he called me “D.” I just miss him, his presence in my life and here on this earth. And the missing is always compounded by the painful notion that the way he died, the way his life of 72 years ended, was so tragic, so violent and just so wrong on every level.
It’s not just that I want to call him so I can say “I love you” or hear him say it in return, it’s that I want a chance to dispel every notion he carried to the grave with him: 
That he was worthless
That we were be better off without him
That his depression & anxiety were something to be ashamed of
That he was weak
That there was no hope that things would/could get better
I’m going to services tonight. And in truth, I’m reluctant. Faith is still a struggle for me, even though I have forgiven God. The language of prayer still trips me up at times and when I am feeling vulnerable, it can open up the floodgates. And tonight, I feel vulnerable.
Yes, I spent the day in the kitchen today preparing a Sabbath meal. I did it for our guest and I did it for me. Because cooking is meditative for me. And I found myself feeling very weepy  throughout.
I know that sixteen months in I have longer stretches of days where I don’t cry, and where the joy is far more front and center than the pain. Still, the pain of his death at his own hands is ever present, like a dull quiet ache. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of how my dad died.
Yesterday and today, that quiet ache got a little stronger and louder. The missing so palpable and the inclination to call him was at times overwhelming. I don’t know what the triggers were, we’ve passed the 20th, it’s not a holiday or a special day of remembrance. It’s just me, a daughter missing her daddy. It’s just me trying to remember him in life and be able to smile, even through tears. It’s just me wishing that his end, if he had to go, could have been peaceful, surrounded by those who loved him most, free of pain & suffering. He deserved at least that. So did we.
I miss my dad, so much that it hurts.

Greene tumbled to the ground in tears, heartbroken and seemingly inconsolable. But what happened next was just what Greene needed in that moment. A group of women dropped what they were doing to comfort Greene as she took in the worst news of her entire life. They also helped her find her friend Pam, who worked at Whole Foods.

Greene was taken aback by the kindness of these women who didn’t even know her, and ultimately wrote an open letter on her blog thanking them for supporting a stranger during the saddest experience of her life. Greene’s emotional open letter was then republished on The Mighty, a site that focuses on mental health issues and disabilities, and more than a dozen other news outlets caught wind of her story and decided to cover it as well. Greene’s experience touched so many hearts, she thinks, because it shows that even in the most crushing moments of life, you can have faith in the goodness of other people.

ATTN: had a chance to interview Greene about her incredible experience in Whole Foods, grief, losing a parent to suicide, and how to talk about loss with others. Here is what Greene had to say…

To read the interview in it’s entirety go to ATTN: We Asked This Woman About What It’s Like To Lose A Parent To Suicide

 

dad memory tree

Last year, only months after my father’s suicide, I participated in the Denver Metro Out of the Darkness Walk. I remember most vividly the pain of creating a leaf for my father on the Memory Tree and seeing his beautiful smiling face, hanging there, surrounded by hundreds of other smiling faces, all lost to suicide. It took my breath away. How did we end up in this place? How is this my family’s reality? How did we miss the signs? My daughters and I wept openly as we stood there, far from alone in our tears.

Regret is my constant companion since April 20, 2015.  It started as guilt, but I soon found that guilt could consume me if I let it. Regret, I can live with, even if it isn’t always easy. The regret of missed signs, of not knowing then, what I know now. What if, if only & why, still reverberate, quieter now almost 16 months out, but still present.

But regret serves as my fuel. Daily I wake up with the mission to try and make some meaning come from my father’s loss and my family’s pain. Regret drives me forward, with a fierce determination to take what I have learned, what I have lived, what I have lost and use it to spare another family the anguish of a suicide loss. Regret busts down the walls of shame or stigma and imbues me with a voice far more powerful than they could ever be. I tell the truth, I tell my father’s story, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes in a roar, sometimes through tears, and sometimes clear eyed and determined.

This blog has brought so many other survivors into my world. Survivors of suicide loss, those with lived experience and those struggling just to get through each day. That has been a blessing. Strangers have continued to touch my world, long after those women who surrounded me in Whole Foods when I learned about my father’s death. Every voice, every story, every heartfelt exchange fuels me to continue in my mission, to bring meaning to my father’s death and to be a voice for the voiceless.

I don’t use this blog to self-promote, but here it goes anyway. Since you’ve shared in my journey, I will share with you that I will, once again, be walking in the Denver Metro Out of the Darkness Walk with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention this September. If you are so inclined, to help me in my efforts to raise money for the research, advocacy, education and prevention efforts of this amazing organization that is devoted to stopping suicide, I’d be most grateful. Any donation, big or small, would be a gift. And if you can’t, I continue to be grateful that you have opened yourself up to my story and allowed me to share out loud in a way that feels safe and full of support.

In Jewish tradition, 18 signifies “chai” or life. Last year, I raised over $5,000 but this year, I took a derivative of 18 and used that to set a goal of $7200. Our team is Team Tikvah. Tikvah, in Hebrew means hope. My dad loved lighthouses, and so that is our team symbol. As we strive to be a beacon of hope to those who are lost in despair.

Regret fuels me forward. I use my voice, my words, and my feet to honor the father I loved so much and lost far too soon. I know I’ll cry again as I walk. As I stare at that tree that will once again bear his image, my heart will break all over again. Because I still can’t believe that we lost him the way that we did. I’m walking for him. And I’m walking for everyone who has shared their pain with me, and to honor all of the precious lives lost to suicide.

I have a shirt that says, “Be The Voice: Stop Suicide.” I am my father’s voice. And I hope that I am making him proud, as I try to build a legacy of life, out of the ashes of his death.

My Fundraising Page for the Out of the Darkness Walk

 

dad memory tree 2

image3

To live a life of meaning is to know that nothing is ever set in stone. Possibilities dwell on each new horizon and even the setting sun is touched by the promise of tomorrow.

And yet today, 14 months after your suicide we dedicate a stone that stands in stark contrast to that notion of hope and promise. This stone feels so very final, noted with a beginning and an end. The words speak of who you were to us in life; a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother and friend. But there is no space or place to honor who or what you might have become. The finality is undeniable and in truth, still unfathomable.

And then there are those fourteen words, meant to share what mattered most to you, and how you will be remembered. What did you value in your time on this earth?

To bask in the loving warmth of family and friends was his greatest blessing.

Stones…

They can be used to build bridges or be a source of destruction

They can trip us up, placing obstacles in our path, or be the foundation of a new beginning

They can be collected as remembrances of new places we visit and memories we make

They can be polished, smooth, turned into ornaments

They can be rough and jagged, worn down by the elements

They can weigh us down if we try to carry too many of them on our own, a truth we know all too well

And …

They can mark a final resting place

An eloquent monument for a loved one we’ve lost, whose death didn’t have to be.

 

Dad, today I lay on your footstone a piece of my home

Stones, shaped like hearts from the flatirons of Colorado

Lovingly gathered for me by friends that you will never get to meet

From the mountains so beautiful, that you will never get to see.

 

Mother Theresa said:

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

We who loved you are the ripples

The continuing legacy to that stone your life cast

And it is in those ripples that we must find you and carry you forward

This stone we dedicate today will stand for eternity

It is heavy like grief

Yet strong like the human spirit

It will not wither

Neither is it left untouched by passing storms

It is not where we find you, but where we instead honor you

It is where we come to remember, to cry, to talk and to feel as if we are with you.

 

And as we strive to move forward in a world without you

One where so many others know the same pain that you felt

Suffering in silence and feeling alone

I offer you one last promise

It won’t be for nothing nor be without meaning.

No stone will be left unturned

No matter how deeply rooted they are in shame or stigma

If even one life can be saved from telling our story

Then the ripples of your legacy, your life

And even your loss

Will be without end.

July 5, 2016

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Honored to have my voice be apart of this first podcast from The Mighty. I hope that you will listen to my story and the others featured. Sharing our truths helps us to humanize the issues of mental illness and suicide, and allows us to break down the barriers of shame & stigma.

I pray that my story of that morning in Whole Foods, those beautiful strangers and the loss of my father to suicide will bring meaning to his death. I will not be silent when lives can be saved. My truth carries no shame, but it does carry purpose.

Mental Health Podcast on The Mighty

truth

 

 

 

The other day, while in Target I overheard two young women in the bathing suit department. One held up a bathing suit and jokingly showed it to the other, asking “How about this one?” The other girl responded “I’d kill myself if I had to wear that.”

The following day I was in Kohl’s camp shopping for my daughters. A frazzled mother was talking aloud to herself as she passed me, her toddler in tow. “Did I get a gift receipt? I can’t remember if I did. Damn it!! I’d like to just shoot myself today.”

Both moments felt like a sucker punch and momentarily took my breath away. We are so flippant in our language. I am certain I was once guilty of it too. It’s so easy to make light of suicide-until it touches your life or the life of someone you love. And then, you quickly discover, there’s not a single funny thing about suicide.

Survivors of suicide loss spend much of our days dodging triggers. We sit down to watch a television show only to have a joke made about suicide. We deal with the drug commercials that lump suicidal thoughts & actions right next to hives and rashes, when discussing possible side effects; as if they are even close to being on par with one another. We try to tune into election coverage only to hear words like “political suicide” tossed about. 

Yeah, here’s the thing–if you can wake up in the morning, kiss your loved ones, walk outdoors and breathe in the fresh air, then there is no “suicide” in the demise of your political career.

We survivors are everywhere. And there is nothing funny about the loss we are learning to live with. 

So how about we stop treating it like a punch line or a reasonable response to a moment of frustration. How about we treat it like the serious and painful issue that it is; an issue that claims another life every 12.8 minutes in this country and shatters the world of those left behind.

The triggers are abundant, we dodge them all day long. But that places the burden on us. And quite frankly, our shoulders can only take so much before our knees buckle.  So please, take ownership of your words. Because I’m fairly certain a missing receipt or an ill fitting bathing suit is not something you would seriously end your life over. And if they were, I promise you, it would be no laughing matter.

This piece also appeared in The Mighty & Upworthy

 

 

 

When I was little my father had a magic trick. He would light a cotton ball on fire and put it in his mouth to extinguish the flame.  It never failed to impress.

Then one day, an actor who was famous at the time for his role in Grizzly Adams had an accident. A flaming drink set fire to his beard and he was hospitalized with severe burns.  News of that accident caused my father, who also had a beard & mustache, to stop performing his magic trick. It turns out that trying to swallow fire could be far more dangerous than he believed.

I think of that trick often these days as I reflect on my father’s suicide. Depression is the flame not extinguished when swallowed. Rather, it grows and festers in the darkness. And in time, it was the depression that consumed my father.  Like a sweeping brushfire its power was overwhelming, it progressed too fast to be put out; anxiety an added accelerant, fanning the flames, further & higher. A wildfire bent on destruction of spirit and soul. Still, he kept the full truth of it contained.

No, depression is not meant to be swallowed. It needs to be exposed to the light. Because left to smolder on the inside, its flame will smother the embers of hope and ignite despair.

Once upon a time my father knew that swallowing fire could be dangerous. Until one day, it was the fire that devoured him. And we who loved him most are left standing in the ashes.

swallowing fire

 

I will admit that it was hard to revisit that morning, when I learned of my father’s suicide while standing in the middle of Whole Foods. But I am moved and incredibly honored to have the chance to tell my story out loud as part of this radio interview with Erika Lantz of NPR Boston’s Kind World series. It is my fervent prayer that my words have reached those strangers in one form or another. And I hope that through my voice, the voice of my friend Pam and the retelling of that dark morning, I can help to further humanize the truth of suicide loss and the pain that we, the survivors, must endure.

Here is the link to the radio interview:

WBUR Boston’s NPR News Station Kind World #24: Imprint

Today I am sharing some reflections on one of the final and most heartfelt conversations that I had with my father, just before his suicide.  Words that bring me some understanding, even if they can’t ease the pain.

“My father’s suicide was not a selfish act. It was not the act of a coward. It was the act of a man who was in agony and didn’t want to hurt anymore….”

To read more visit Our Side of Suicide