Hope Lost

Suicide is the loss of belief that any day, or hour to come will be better, or that current unrelenting pain will abate, or be ameliorated even slightly.

It is surrender to the belief that every moment will be as excruciating and intolerable as the current one, or maybe worse. It is at essence loss of hope.

I’ve read countless books and articles about suicide in my own search for understanding, peace, and reconciliation with what is so. Few have touched me as much as this article about Jeremy Richman, a man who made it his mission to nurture hope in others after the death of his young daughter in the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He apparently lost sight of his own hope, or had for a while and kept it hidden until he could deny it no more.

I share this article with you if you haven’t seen it, along with a couple of sentences that not only gave me pause but stopped me in my tracks.

“His mind was hurt… Tragically, his death speaks to how insidious and formidable a challenge brain health can be and how critical it is for all of us to seek help for ourselves, our loved ones and anyone who we suspect may be in need…”

It’s why we have a pact in our family to seek professional help whenever we’re overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, desperation, and disconnection. Even when we think they’re only temporary, we speak them aloud in order to a shine light on the bogeymen that linger in the shadows of our minds in our attempt to manage brain health after a suicide loss.

From Michael Daly of the Daily Beast, this morning.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 

1-800-273-8255

Anyone could be struggling with suicide.

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Don’t Give Up

Last year after the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain I published a post titled, “And Then There’s Suicide”, seeking to shine a light on the legacy suicide leaves for its survivors.

Super Bowl Sunday Kristoff St. John was added to the long list of premature deaths suffered by those who face the daily anguish of trying to move forward carrying the burden of suicide loss. It was Kristoff St. John’s son who died by suicide in 2014.

This morning USA Today published this article about survivors and the medical issues that often besiege them. I share it with you here to again make you aware.

If you’re a survivor, don’t give up hope. Instead, take care of yourself, see your health care professional regularly, make a pact among family members to be aggressive in sorting out emotional challenges with qualified professionals. Use the the suicide hotline to procure reference lists for survivor groups, to talk, to say out loud (and often) how much you hurt, to hang onto to hope, to remember how much you are worth and what you mean in this world. Don’t give up hope.

USA Today, February 5, 2019,

Kristoff St. John’s death calls attention to risks facing suicide loss survivors

 

Are you in crisis?

 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Posted in Death & Dying, Grief, Loss, Memoir, pamela hester king, Suicide, Support | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What We Don’t Know Until We Do

Doing the mall crawl, laughing with Bestie. Bam! I was crying. And I didn’t know why.

It wasn’t a drip, drip, seeping cry but a sneaker wave that washed over me. We sat down on a mall bench flanked by potted plants and an ash tray, shoppers walked by. My tears flowed.

I tried to hide that I had come undone.

“What happened?” surprised Bestie asked. A legit question. I asked myself the same. What happened?

I didn’t have an answer.

As we sat I backed up through our last few minutes. Walking. Walking past the tea store with too many smells, a shop girl in front, her hair parted down the center, and an apron on, offering her tray of Dixie cup samples. “Ladies, would you like a taste of our tea of the day?”

No. No, thank you.

Before that was the luggage store with beautiful, designer suitcases we could only dream of owning. And the kitchen store. Ahhh, the kitchen store. I’ll take one of everything…

Then a big open space, aisles to the anchor stores intersected. A mall village square where the local piano store had set up shop for a weekend demo. Gorgeous black lacquer grand pianos gleamed under a massive skylight, a white baby grand, and used uprights artfully arranged with sales people meandering trying to catch our eye. I remembered seeing the word YAMAHA.

Chopin. Étude 1 in A flat major, Opus 25. A little girl playing. Small, light fingers skimming the keys.

Tiny thing sitting on the piano bench. Black velvet dress with a white scalloped collar and crisp bow tied behind her at the waist. Ruffled cuffs on her socks and black Mary Janes. A girl for a magazine, for a movie. Perfect in every way as her hands skipped across the gleaming keys of the glossy black piano.

Bestie and I sat on the bench spinning the dial backwards and instantly knew when we met the miniature pianist what the trigger for tears had been. Chopin filled my head.

My little girl would not play the piano. Would not wear such a dress. Would not smile for passersby, would not grace a mall demonstration, a classroom or any other place.

As had happened when the Half Moon Bay Review announced in its weekly news that “All Children Born in 1979 Register for School Tomorrow”, I wept because there would be no tomorrow. No yellow rain slicker, galoshes or lunchbox. No kindergarten.

There was only October 9, 1979.

I have learned a few times over, and am prepared for more, there is no mourning for that we haven’t yet realized has slipped through our grasp until a revelatory moment. Until a scene unfolds that comes with an instant knowing, “Oh, yes, and this, too…”  

In the stream of daily data that cascades by there will be times the flow will dam, then drench me with a memory-might-have-been.

As I revisited the little musician in my mind I surrendered to another little death amid the old, larger wound I carried.

It has been several years since the day of the mall crawl with Bestie. I wonder if she remembers it, too.

I couldn’t have known in the beginning that I would recall with such clarity the exact second I was told my daughter was gone or that it would hurt this much 39 years years later. Perhaps it’s for the best to find out over time, after the days of searing sorrow and stifling desperation have passed.  When longing has been distilled to a sad companion that sometimes asserts itself and other times recedes to a resting place away from view. It would be too much to absorb at the start.

I don’t know who my baby girl might have been by her 39th birthday. An artist? A teacher? A physician? A gardener? A scientist? A mom? Stern or funny, conventional or outrageous? Living a town away from me, or across a nation.

Would she play the piano?

I know she was and remains my daughter. She is her brother’s sister. All the rest resides in imagination.

Happy birthday, Stefani Anna King. Happy all that was and all that may have been. You have not been forgotten. Play Chopin in the heavens today. I will hear you.

©Bradley Baxter

 

Posted in Acknowlegement, Back to Life, Grief, Loss, Memoir, pamela hester king | 1 Comment

Rituals

I found this article fascinating because it articulated something I believe to be true yet had not previously consciously considered. I had, and have, rituals. They’ve helped me.

Though I don’t go to the cemetery often, I always go close to Thanksgiving and leave Christmas wreaths for my lost loved ones.

I make a point of  taking the day off on my daughter’s birthday and I do something healing for myself.

And as a friend of mine said to me long ago, “Place something beautiful where you see it first thing in the morning.” Vicki was right. I’ve done so ever since, over 25 years now. A lovely Nambé heart-shaped bowl is on my nightstand and it’s filled with other glass hearts I’ve collected through the years.

I hope you find something in this 2014 article written by Emily Esfahani Smith, and published in The Atlantic, that resonates for you. And if you haven’t established a healing ritual, maybe now is the time to try. Link to the article below.

A Free Syrian Army fighter prays after eating his iftar (breaking fast) meal during the holy month of Ramadan in the rebel-held town of Dael

ALAA FAQIR / REUTERS

In Grief, Try Rituals

 

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Truth

Recently I was a guest on The Kiss My Age Show podcast. The episode’s topic was  the “invisibility” of women of a certain age. (Check the App Store or Google Play on your device for a podcast subscription. If you’re a mid-century modern or vintage woman, you’ll love these three co-hosts, their brisk banter, and the program. End of the serious plug.)

Julie

Julie Harris Walker

During the course of conversation, Julie Harris Walker, a co-host, asked me a question about helpful/appropriate things one might say to the recently bereaved. You know, that first or second encounter, either at the memorial service or later at the dry cleaners, Starbucks, the grocery store…

shoppingIf you were to send a note (and NOT a Hallmark card that’s supposed to do the job for you because you don’t trust yourself to ad lib your way through your own genuine and personal thoughts), what might you say?

We’ve all felt dread at these situations. The ‘what if a thought moves from my mind and rolls out through my mouth like a gumball exiting a machine, makes no sense, or – perish the thought – leaves someone already feeling horrible, feeling worse. What if they dissolve into tears right in front of me?’

It’s a somewhat legit thought. Though generally speaking they probably already feel so destroyed it’s doubtful you could make them feel worse unless you dissed their loved one or somehow de-legitimized their grief.

Feel better now?

My policy and what I loved most when folks visited me was truth. The moment a friend owned their feelings of helplessness and awkwardness and said, “I have no idea what to say because this is so awful,” it lightened my burden. It took from me the feeling that I was supposed to make my guests comfortable with MY loss when I was reeling in unreality.

attractive-1867127_1280

Thanks, Pexels

Let’s tell the truth. My life had blown up. To me it seemed bits of flesh were everywhere after the explosion. Kinda like a hard boiled egg left on the stove too long. I checked to be sure I wasn’t leaving a blood trail as I was sure I’d been disemboweled. I had no idea, literal or figurative, what my next move might be. I existed minute to minute because every breath was excruciating and I didn’t know if I had the strength to take another.

The truth? No one had any idea what to say, least of all me, and the willingness to own that out loud and hang with me anyway meant everything.

Those who didn’t allow their nervousness, unease, and awkwardness with my grief rule their willingness to be with me had my deepest gratitude. My husband’s suicide was 25 years ago. I’ve not forgotten the truthful exchanges. The courageous, life changing and healing, truthful exchanges.

mother-1327186_1280

Thanks, Pexels

Truth set the ground rules. We moved forward from those interactions feeling our way to the future together. Tentatively. Tenderly. Truthfully.

Please don’t for a minute think the discomfort you’re feeling at not knowing what to say registers on the cosmic pain scale. The weights are so inequivalent that the scale needle won’t even budge. Sorry. Your discomfort doesn’t count.

Get over yourself.

Take a chance on you. On your grieving loved one.

Tell the truth.

Everyone will be okay.

Are you in crisis?

 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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And Then There’s Suicide

There is no “worst” thing about suicide because it’s all the worst. Every aspect, every horror, every guilt, every wish for a do-over; the keening of every parent whose child has chosen it, the longing for a lifetime of every child whose parent followed that path. The permanent solution to a temporary awfulness that was being experienced. It’s just that in the moment, the suicide victim no longer holds hope that their predicament is temporary, will ever be even minutely better.

Maybe knowing that of a beloved is the “worst” for those left behind.

Among the long list of “worsts” is that suicide begets suicide.

Yup. You read it right. Suicide begets suicide.

Suicide introduced into a family, high school, community, society, culture begets another. Think the Hemingway family. Or Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and then and then, and then the thoughts by we mere mortals that if the sparkly people can’t make it in life, how will we?

A suicide enters a name on a Rolodex. Adds an app to your phone. It’s one more take-out menu in your kitchen junk drawer. Because it happened it’s in the index of potential solutions in crisis and rolls up as a possibility for resolution.

Beware of this. Talk about it. Reach out. Look into the eyes of your distressed loved ones and neighbors. Look into the face in the mirror.

Suicide begets suicide. You can’t un-introduce it in the master plan of options during a terrible time, but you can be on the lookout. You can listen for and hear your own self-talk and if you allow the suicide choice to flit through your mind and land on your brain for more than an instant, it’s time to talk to a professional. Let them help you make distinctions between the normally neurotic, needing a little help through a down time and needing a lot of help out of a black hole.

Do it.

Are you in crisis?

 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

 

 

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Men Who Fix Things

I relied on men to fix things. I didn’t know appliances weren’t meant to last forever. My
dad fixed them. He kept everything working like new, and sometimes even better. Toys
fixing toasterand water heaters, washing machines and hair dryers. That’s just the way it was.

My dad taught my brother to do the same and I had no doubt if Dad was unavailable, my brother could do the job.

I believed all men were built like my dad. They barbecued, fixed things, and had the power to mend broken hearts.

Prime ribI’d known my dad for 40 years when Tom died. Dad was a good and decent man. He was stubbornly loyal with a generous spirit. Devoted to family, even-tempered, a sharp intellect and quick wit. His scruples were well-honed and consistent to the point of being boring. If he valued something yesterday, count on it today, and don’t bet on anything else tomorrow. He was a prime rib and Caesar salad guy mostly, unless it was once-in-awhile, then he was a rack of lamb and Caesar salad guy. Shifts were subtle.

I left home and married Tom and I noticed from the start that he fixed broken things, too. Different than Dad, he thought jury-rigging akin to innovation, and saved his refinish-furniture-heropatience and talents for renovation. Furniture, cars, homes. He could breathe life back into that which others had declared unsalvageable. Cars were not only restored but resurrected; finishes were applied to wood with bare palms to imbue warmth and renew spirit. He saw life and a story in most everything, thus making his suicide an even more tragic contradiction.

Years later I met two more men who fixed broken things. Cardiac surgeons, and I went to work for them. In my first weeks in their employ I watched bewildered as cards and gifts showed up at the office nearly every day. A deliveryman arrived at reception one morning pushing a hand truck stacked with crates of pineapples. The attached card described 20 years of frustration with chest pain and breathlessness that forced a patient to abandon what he loved most–walking, golfing and playing with his grandchildren. On his recent trip to Hawaii he did all three as a result of his surgery. The docs didn’t just fix his heart, they healed his life.operating room

My life, personal and professional, overflowed with men who fixed things.

When I found Tom’s body adrenaline and instinct kicked in. I called 9-1-1.

I called my dad.

Then I called my bosses. One was still in the operating room and the other at home having dinner with his family.

Three men quickly arrived to help with what couldn’t be fixed, couldn’t be unbroken.

Strangers combed our home looking for clues that might explain the lifeless body lying on the garage floor. Police. Fire. The coroner, who carefully lifted Tom onto a gurney. It was January dark at 5PM and the flashing lights bathed everything in red as a crowd of neighbors grew and gawked on the sidewalk in front of our home .

Tom’s body was held by the coroner pending a completed police investigation. So out of the ordinary was the method of suicide, homicide had to be ruled out. Suicide notes were confiscated. My garage was a crime scene.police-2167968_1280

An army of fixing men couldn’t fix this. What Tom had done with a knife could not be stitched back together. Not by surgeons, or my devoted dad. Life had blown up and even the pull of gravity wasn’t enough to drag the pieces down to Earth.

I would do the fixing. Make things right, and make things work. The men who fixed things watched Christopher and me. There would be no fix that made things as they had been, no forward motion without more pain and scars. But there could be healing. One day at a time, one bite at a time.

I went from my father’s house to my husband’s, and suddenly my own. One might say I was at a disadvantage. 40 years old and I had barely heard my own voice. I hadn’t made an important decision without a chorus of baritones nearby to approve, or not. But I did have the most remarkable role models, and access to their experiences, skills and decision-making criteria. For years I’d watched the men who fixed things as they considered complex issues, sorted boulders from pebbles, plotted courses, and tackled what mattered. I’d had the benefit of their care and protection.

I was a quick study and they a loud cheering section. My voice grew stronger until I became my own fixer. male-cheerleaders

My dad is gone now. He died in December of 2013. My son is now a fixer, too. Just ask his little boy… We remember his dad, and mine and all the men who have contributed to our growth and strength.

To the men who fix things, including the one who came much later with the special salve of his love – who married a woman, a boy, a ghost and a story, blessed Father’s Day to all. And deepest gratitude. Enjoy your special day and know you make a difference.

Dad 4th of July

For my dad, Donald Hester, the first man who fixed things for me.

Are you or someone you know in crisis?

 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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