Over the last few weeks, I have cringed every single time I have seen a movie trailer, interview, promotional material or review for the recently released movie: Suicide Squad.
I’ll be honest, I really have no idea what the movie is about other than it seems to have some comic book villains and Will Smith is one of the stars. I love Will Smith and I’m sure the movie will do really well at the box office.
Maybe if I was familiar with these characters and the plot the title wouldn’t bother me so much.
Probably not though.
It’ll probably be one of those words that just really bothers me the rest of my life.
It has affected too many of our family members.
I will probably always cringe when I hear the word: suicide.
But, I won’t stop saying the word.
I won’t stop fighting or fundraising or learning or sharing or walking in an attempt to prevent suicide.
And, our team, our squad, is back again this year…
We are the Anti-Suicide Squad and we are BADASS.
We are Choosing Grace.
For more information on how you can join us in Chicago on October 15th and/or donate (we have a long way to reach our goal!), please click on this link: http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=104761 or visit http://www.chicagowalk.org and enter “Choosing Grace” to find our team.
#206. Sent a thank you to a friend to thank her for a very thoughtful and generous gift.
#205. Asked manager to turn down volume when everyone in the theater was plugging the ears from deafening sound. She was so nice about it and checked in on us afterwards.
For my close friends and family who know me by my potty mouth…it’s NOT that “s” word. Although one day, I’d love to write about all of the benefits (at least in my case) of using four-letter-words. :o) This word has seven letters and, just like many four-letter-words, it’s part of my every day vocabulary.
The “s” word is SUICIDE.
I used to cringe every single time I heard that word. It was usually delivered in hushed tones, a whisper almost, like a deep, dark secret. That’s not to say that the word doesn’t bother me – it does. But it’s different now.
While we still have a long way to go with suicide awareness, prevention, education and advocacy, we are making significant progress by saying the word out loud. By taking away the shame often associated with the word itself, we are opening up a whole new dialogue that just didn’t exist when I first encountered it back ’93-94 when my brother died by suicide.
Some of the most powerful dialogue comes from people who have survived a suicide attempt. These individuals can describe in vivid and heartbreaking detail what they were feeling just before their attempts. These accounts provide critical information for physicians, psychologists, researchers, families, friends, etc., so that they (we) can not only assist the person in pain, but also analyze the details and make new recommendations and discoveries for mental health and suicide prevention.
I feel honored to have been put in touch with one such person. A survivor. Her name is Sara and she is this year’s Mrs. Montana International. Her platform is H.O.P.E. for Suicide Prevention and she is raising funds for the AFSP|American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. On May 21st, she is running a half marathon and calling it “Running for Angels” as she will be wearing the names of friends, family and complete strangers who have died by suicide. I have asked her to add Brian, John and Patrick’s names to her list.
I am so grateful for people like Sara.
You can click on the following link to see her page and all of her courageous efforts:
It was his 8th birthday. I had no idea what to get him. Every single year, I would spend months before his big day wracking my brain trying to figure out what to get him…the perfect gift. I’d think…What’s the latest and greatest toy right now? What will appeal to the boy who has the most sophisticated preferences? How can I outdo last year’s gift and not break the bank? And lastly…What do you get for the kid who has everything?
Not that he was spoiled. Well, okay, maybe he was a little spoiled. But who could blame us; Patrick was special. And I’m not just saying that because he’s my nephew or my sister’s first born or because he’s my parents first grandchild. I also don’t mean that he was special because of his big brown eyes, his charming, yet serious personality, his high level of intelligence, or how he was keenly aware of his surroundings and protective of others, particularly when it came to his younger sister, Katie. While he possessed all of those attributes and then some, it was also the remarkable timing of his birth that made him truly exceptional. Born exactly one month to the day after we buried my brother, Brian, Patrick came into the world and unknowingly started to mend our hearts with his unconditional and unwavering love. He was the ultimate gift to our family, so it was only natural that we always felt the need to return that gift (and many others!) to him.
Instead of second guessing myself, I decided to call Patrick, or “Noochie” (my nickname for him) at home, so that I could find out his wish list firsthand. My sister handed the phone to him, “Hey Noochie! I’m calling to see what you’d like for your birthday. Do you have any ideas for me?” I asked this question with an enthusiasm that I could only muster for this kid, especially after a long day at work.
I pictured his sweet face, the receiver placed carefully at his ear and the mouthpiece tucked way under his chin, when I heard his muffled voice, “I dunno.”
“Oh, come on, Noochie. There has to be something that you want for your birthday?” At the same time, I’m thinking, C’mon kid, throw me a bone here!
He was silent for a moment, but I knew he was still on the other line because I could hear his breathing and the faint dinging of letters being turned on Wheel of Fortune in the background. I appreciated that he was giving this some serious thought and braced myself for the pricetag of this gift. He then quietly responded, “I dunno…money, maybe?”
Money. Now why didn’t think of that? From a very early age, my nephew had a bit of an obsession with money. I’m not quite sure where this came from, however, I could relate as I had the same weird preoccupation with money when I was growing up. While I could definitely respect my nephew’s determination to become independently wealthy before the age of ten, I still felt somewhat defeated – Now, how can I make a personal check exciting for a soon-to-be eight-year-old boy?
And just like that, I remembered it: The Money Tree.
When my sister, Julie, turned ten-years-old, she received the most creative and thoughtful birthday gift ever. An incredibly generous and artistic mother of one of her friends made a miniature money tree complete with pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and paper money affixed to all of the tiny branches and at the base of the tree. I think we counted about $15 dollars on the tree, which was a king’s ransom at the time. It was perfect.
When I realized that I finally had “the” gift for him, I started to giggle uncontrollably and had to get off the phone with him before I accidently spilled the beans. I also needed to get to work on my plan. Because I had noticed that Patrick was becoming increasingly serious for his young age, I decided to add another element to his gift…a whimsical, magical tale to accompany the money tree.
Over the next week, I collected parts of the gift and started to brainstorm the story behind the money tree. I went to Home Depot where I picked up two clay pots, one bag of soil and one packet of seeds. I also stopped at the bank for some coins and bills. Some branches I found in our backyard made the perfect “tree”. I decided to have two pots: one for the sowing of the “magic” seeds and the other for the finished product. The unveiling would have to be carefully coordinated with my family.
That whole week I went on and on about my brilliant idea to my colleagues. They were a little more realistic about this plan. “He’s how old?” “You’re going to tell him you found magic seeds”? “That’ll never work.” While they were skeptical of my idea, the more I talked about my story, the more I started to (sorta) believe it myself, which is half the battle when you’re telling a tall tale.
Finally, the special occasion arrived – it was March 16th, the day before St. Patrick’s Day and a week before his birthday. It was a crisp and sunny Saturday morning and I had arrived a little early, so that Patrick could open “Part One” of his birthday present before we went to his much-anticipated Pinewood Derby. He could hardly contain his excitement as he tore through all the layers of brightly colored tissue paper that had been carefully crafted into triangles and then tucked into the gift bag. He pulled out the last piece of tissue, crumbled it between his hands and stared down at the contents of the bag. Slowly, he looked up at me and said, “You’re giving me a pot for my birthday?” While he tried to hide the disappointment in his voice, it wasn’t easy. After all, Patrick wasn’t quite eight years old yet, so he didn’t have the years of experience behind him on how to gracefully accept the most disappointing gift ever. I looked him in the eyes, smiled and said, “This is not just any pot, Noochie, this one is special. Come over here and let me tell you a story.”
Before he could get too discouraged with the dirt-filled clay pot sitting in front of him, I led him and his little sister to the breakfast table and began the story of the “magic” seeds.
“Okay Noochie, here’s the story. You know how I was in New York for work a couple of weeks ago?” He looked up at the ceiling as he pondered my question. “Yeah, I think so.” “Well,” I continued, “One day, we were able to spend some time in the city and I decided to walk around by myself. I got lost on this tiny little side street in Chinatown….”. I continued by describing a scene that I had probably watched in an old movie at some point.
It was a dark and foggy night in the city, complete with steam billowing up from the sewer grates. All of the shops lining either side of the street were small and dilapidated. I hesitated in front of one the shops, but then decided to go inside. When I walked into the dimly lit storefront, I was hit in the face with the smell of old newspapers and books, incense and day-old fish. In the far corner, an elderly Chinese man with long white beard was sitting all by himself, smoking a pipe and carefully watching my every move. After I browsed around for a bit, I decided to leave, but before I reached the exit sign, he quietly spoke to me, “Miss, may I ask what you are looking for?” I told him that it was a special occasion. It was going to be my nephew’s 8th birthday and I had to find a gift, but not just any gift, the perfect gift. The old man paused for a moment, looked around and whispered, “I think I can help you.” He slowly got up, walked gingerly to the back of the store and came back holding a tiny envelope. The mysterious man explained that in this envelope were special seeds, magic seeds, and that if my nephew was indeed special, truly exceptional, an incredible gift would grow from these seeds. He gave me a short list of instructions and then abruptly ushered me out the door as he needed to close his shop. The next morning when I realized that I forgot pay the man for the seeds, I walked back to the little shop and stopped dead in my tracks. The shop was gone, in its place stood a much larger, brightly lit grocery store…
Patrick and Katie’s eyes were huge. They were captivated by the story, hanging onto every single word. I even added the part about the grocery store at the end because I was gaining so much momentum as they listened intently and asked questions at all the right times. My sister gently reminded us that Patrick needed to get going soon or he’d be late for his big car race; we had to get to work. The three of us quickly and carefully read the brief instructions I had typed up in some obscure font. Patrick gently placed the tiny seeds in the soil and then covered them up with a little dirt he had set aside. After he watered the soil, he needed to leave the pot in a cool, dark area as instructed. He chose the downstairs bathroom and carefully placed it on the floor. We then had to hustle out of the house with two cars; he was in one and I was going to follow in another car.
When the car he was in pulled out of the driveway and the coast was clear, I quickly popped the trunk of my car and pulled out the second pot – The Money Tree. After I successfully made the exchange of the two pots, I jumped into the car and drove to his school’s gym, where we spent the rest of the afternoon watching little wooden cars go down a ramp. Patrick (and I!) could not wait to get home.
Finally, it was time to return to his house for his birthday celebration complete with presents, cake and ice cream. We pulled up to the house and the garage door wasn’t even all the way up before Patrick tried to jump out of the car. Once the car stopped, he bolted for the side door and I was right behind him, he threw open the door to the bathroom, flipped on the light switch and then stood there in disbelief. There, right next to the shower, where he had left the pot of dirt, was the most magnificent two-foot-tall tree. It was covered in rolled up green bills of different denominations and silver coins were hanging from the branches and scattered and on top of the soil. Patrick’s very own money tree. While it wasn’t as perfect as the original, he didn’t know the difference. To him and to me, it was perfect for the perfect occasion.
I love my weekly writers’ workshop…I really do. Only this week…this week, I’m filled with doubts. I’m doubting my writing ability, I’m doubting my voice, I’m doubting my direction, I’m doubting my lack of experience in the small room filled with extremely talented, accomplished and lifelong writers.
Doubt. It can really mess with your head.
I mean, the other writers couldn’t have been any more kind, considerate and helpful with their responses to my writing or more accepting of the feedback I gave to them on their pieces.
Why, then, am I filled with such uncertainty?
After the workshop and while I made the 20-minute drive home, my mind ran through the laundry list of changes I need to make to my most recent assignment, what I need to focus on for next week’s homework, and my writing in general. The task is daunting and, as I thought about “the list”, I felt butterflies in the pit of my stomach and my pulse quickened. As if someone knew exactly what I needed, one of my favorite songs, “Just Breathe” by Pearl Jam started playing. I turned up the volume and decided to try to take Eddie Vedder’s advice:
Stay with me… Let’s just breathe…
I need to take a deep breath and calm down my mind. I think part of my apprehension may be that while I am willing to start the grueling process of writing about my experiences of coping with the suicides of my brother, step-father and nephew, I am still keeping up a wall around myself (and I thought all the walls were down!).
In addition, I keep questioning why I feel so compelled to write about all of this in the first place. When I think about it…reeeaaally think about it, I think I know why…
I have noticed lately that while there is an increasing amount of information out there about suicide – warning signs and risk factors, statistics and treatment options – there is very little information about the ones who are left behind. While doing a preliminary search last night, I found this:
Each suicide intimately affects at least six other people.” (excerpted from dosomething.org)
According to the AFSP’s website, 42,773 Americans die by suicide each year. If we take that number and multiply it by those who are “intimately” impacted by a loved one’s suicide, that means that there are 256,638 people walking around suffering the pain of this type of loss each year. And remember, that’s “intimately” affected, which doesn’t even cover all the other people who may have felt some connection to the person who died.
After thinking about those numbers, I felt a little less doubtful of some of my efforts, however, I am still trying to figure out my purpose, my direction.
Again, as if the universe knew exactly what I needed, I received a message shortly after I returned home last night. A dear friend is struggling with a family member’s depression and suicidal ideation. She wrote,
…Thank you for bringing suicide awareness to the forefront of your life. It is quite comforting to not feel alone.”
How could she know that her words during her time of need, would make such an impact on me?
How can I still have doubts?
For more information on suicide awareness and prevention efforts, please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention|AFSP’s website: http://www.afsp.org
Last night I attended my first-ever writers’ workshop. I initially signed up for the group because I was looking for guidance with telling my story – whether I should continue writing my blog or possibly look into writing a longer version of the story that I’ve been trying to tell for the past couple of years.
This was the first “class” I’ve taken since grad school and I was nervous, but excited to get started. I arrived a few minutes early with my backpack, a notebook and pen and a few short writing samples. If there was a front row, I would have been sitting there too. I was ready to take in as much as possible.
We dove right in by going around the table to introduce ourselves and talk a little about our writing experience and topics. I have to admit, that at that moment, I literally felt like bolting for the door. I realized I was sitting among some seriously accomplished writers; there were published authors in mystery and food writing and a former New York Daily News celebrity news columnist and parenting blogger. While completely intimidated at first, these women immediately put me at ease. In just two hours, they embraced me and my story with so much warmth, compassion and support – I definitely felt like I was in the right place at the right time.
Because I am still trying to figure out where I want to go with my work and writings about suicide awareness, research and prevention and my kindness campaign, they helped me generate ideas about how, when and where I should start. The instructor gave each of us an assignment for the week ahead, which should help keep me motivated and focused.
In addition to some research and putting together a timeline, one of the other writers suggested that I set a weekly goal for my blog. I am taking her excellent suggestion and will provide a weekly recap of the acts of kindness I accomplished over the week for my #365ActsofKindness project.
I know it’ll take a while for my story to take shape. I think I am closing in on some ideas, but telling my story involves uncovering some very painful memories and it will take time. I know that there’s a reason my life crossed with and was profoundly affected by the lives and suicides of my brother, Brian, my step-father, John, and my nephew, Patrick. I want to know why I felt so connected to each of these three sensitive, gentle and highly intelligent people when they were living and why I still feel such a connection to them now. It is because of them that I feel such an urgency to embrace life, even on my worst days, and help others.
So, just like my first writing class, I am nervous, but excited about starting this process. As one of the other writers said, “There aren’t any grades or tests, so you don’t have to worry!”. I am constantly reminding myself how lucky I am to be surrounded by such supportive people.
It all started back in January 2012 with a tragedy and an impending nervous breakdown…
Fueled by loss, a ton of emotion, lifelong and newly-formed friendships, mourning family members and many shared experiences, Team Choosing Grace was formed in an effort understand and raise awareness about mental illness and suicide, as well as honor three people we lost to suicide.
As word of our first Walk spread, three people became four people and then five people and then six people and then seven and then…well…you get the point. This last year, our third Walk, we walked in honor of 26 people.
26 people who lived incredible lives, and while not defined by the way they left this world, it is definitely an important part of their stories.
Before this year’s Walk, I was hoping to gather and share their stories. Because this is the first time I am doing this, I am open to any and all suggestions. Perhaps it would be a story from when they were a child, what they were like in school, at their job, or even what their favorite color, food or movie was? Maybe it won’t be a story about them per se, perhaps it would be the story about how their loved ones lived on…live differently…since they left. These stories may be serious or funny or thought-provoking or just plain sad. It may not be a story at all, it could even be a poem, or a quote, or a picture?
As I receive these stories, I will post them on the Team Choosing Grace blog leading up to the Walk on September 26th. If I don’t receive a story, I will ask permission to post the person’s first name so that our team can pause to remember him or her. I am very aware of the sensitive nature of this type of loss, so I promise to be very careful with this information. I will start posting these writings in the next couple of weeks.
Here’s to Choosing Grace and to remembering those with whom we walk daily…