Monday, January 21, 2019



Survivors of suicide loss must step back and tell themselves this simple truth: We did the best we could. We must not give up. We did the best we could.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Rusty Hamer


Russell Craig "Rusty" Hamer was an American stage, film and television actor. He is best known for portraying Rusty Williams, the wise cracking son of entertainer Danny Williams (Danny Thomas), on the popular ABC/CBS situation comedy Make Room for Daddy (later retitled The Danny Thomas Show), from 1953 to 1964. He reprised the role in three reunion specials and the sequel series, Make Room for Granddaddy, that aired on ABC from 1970 to 1971.

Like many successful child actors, Hamer had difficult transitioning into adult roles, a fact over which he was deeply depressed. Injuries later in his life contributed to chronic back pain. On January 18, 1990, Rusty Hamer died by suicide. He was forty two years old when he died.


Rusty Hamer 
February 15, 1947 – January 18, 1990

 

Monday, January 14, 2019



Survivors of suicide attempts and survivors of suicide loss alike bear a responsibility that they did not necessarily bargain for. We, by default, have become suicide prevention advocates.

For some, volunteering for causes related to suicide prevention can be an instrumental part of the healing process. For others, speaking up about their experiences can make a difference in helping to support someone else who is also struggling.

It must also be acknowledged though, that suicide can be a very private matter. As with any death by any cause, an individual's needs around privacy are valid and should be respected. In addition, keeping the focus on yourself and/or your family is critical during times of heartbreak or during personal struggles with your mental health.

For all of us, the most important message we can give to those who are struggling with loss (or to to those who are struggling with thoughts of suicide) is that we do get through this.

Every day that we wake up and continue moving forward, we are showing the world that it is possible to do the thing that those who have lost their lives to suicide were not able to do: to go on. That alone can be inspirational and suicide prevention advocacy, enough.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

I Am the Change


Seven months ago, Chester Bennington's wife (Talinda Bennington) and sister (Tobi Bennington) made a video. A fellow member of one of my suicide loss support groups posted it on our online group page, today. It reminded me of the great work that can be done by those who have suffered such heartbreaking losses. Talinda and Tobi began the I Am the Change effort in response to the tragedy of Bennington's loss to suicide.


In particular, I appreciate Tobi Bennington's statement about stigma:

"There should be no stigma around the words 'mental health'. And without that stigma, I think that the shame and secrecy would go away. That secrecy is what is killing us."

The video has been viewed over 13,000,000 times. Bravo to Talinda and Tobi for sharing their message, especially when their grief was so fresh.

Telling our truth and speaking up is how we will change and save lives, and how we ourselves will heal.

Here is the video, in case you haven't seen it, or if you would like to watch again:

Sunday, January 6, 2019

John Flannagan


John Bernard Flannagan was an American sculptor. Along with Robert Laurent and William Zorach, he is known as one of the first practitioners of direct carving in the United States.

In his youth, Flannagan was recognized as possessing artistic talents, and in 1914 he attended the Minneapolis School of Art, now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where he studied painting. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Flannagan quit school and joined the Merchant Marines. He remained a merchant marine until 1922. After his time in the military, he was hired by painter Arthur B. Davies to work on Davies' farm in New York State. There Davis encouraged the young man to return to painting, which he did, also taking up wood carving. A year later, in 1922, Flannagan appeared in his first exhibition. In 1927 Flannagan gave up painting and wood carving to concentrate on stone carving. In 1928 he produced some of the first American direct carved stone sculptures of note, one of which is entitled "Pelican."

Fargo was long troubled by his personal life. Hs father died when he was only five years old, and his mother, unable to support her family, placed him in an orphanage. Desipite his artistic success, he lived in the significant poverty for the rest of his life. In his adult years, he was an alcoholic and suffered from severe depression. On January 6, 1942, John Flannagan died by suicide. He was forty six years old when he died.



John Bernard Flannagan 
April 7, 1895 – January 6, 1942

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Chapter Two



Don’t ever give up on your story, no matter what 'they' say. 
Don’t ever let anybody take away your voice. 
You have something to say, 
your soul has a story to tell. 
Write it. 

- Melodie Ramone, Author


Chapter two. That's what they call it. When you lose a spouse or partner to suicide, and then you move forward, allowing yourself to love again. That effort has a name.

Chapter two.



When John died, I was adamant that I would never love again. It was what I believed. It was impossible for me to consider feelings for someone else, when I was still so in love with John. When I told people I'd never love again, it was true. It was true for me then. Just as our youth is true when we are young, and the cloud filled sky is true on a rainy day.

When I joined survivors of suicide loss groups, I watched with trepidation and envy as those who were ahead of me in their journey began to let in a new love. This would never happen for me, I knew. I was certain that the sharp edges of my grief had forever severed the possibility of romantic love in my life. I was lost in my desolation, and I didn't want to be found.

I remember the day, not long after John died, when I realized that no one would ever hold me again. That in his death, John had taken with him the arms that held me whenever I was tired or sad. This thought was just as unbearable as all the rest of having lost him. And this too - in the months after he was gone I could still remember every detail of our kisses. The memories both comforted and haunted me. So many of my memories of John were like that. Laden with beauty and agony, both at the same time. It is beyond my ability to describe. Perhaps only others who have lost someone in the same way can understand. How a heart can be broken completely, and yet each new day, the sweetest of memories can break it again, and then again. 


But, the heart is also the strongest muscle in the body. Physically, this is true. It's unending beat gives us hope, even when we don't want it to. It has a goal. By default, our hearts work tirelessly to ensure that we give life another chance. 




I remained devoutly in love with John, well over a year beyond his death. It was purposeful. It allowed me to feel his presence whenever that was what I needed. And, I needed that, often. I suppose some who were close to me could see the continued suffering that was inherent in being so desperately in love with a literal ghost. With the best intentions, they would tell me that I would one day love someone new. I always bristled. At first offended, and later convinced that there was no way they could understand. How could I explain that my loyalty to the ghost of John brought me comfort?

When he died, I was tormented by the thought that John had been unaware of how deeply I loved him. I all but made a promise to his memory that I would never be in love with another person. Perhaps a part of me believed that being alone would, at least in part, be some kind of atonement for what I perceived to be my wrongs. 

Still, I must say this too. While I didn't think John understood the depth of my love, I always knew that he was aware that he was loved by me, too. Those two convictions sat side by side in my heart. It was a dichotomy that, again, is hard to describe.

And with equal certainty, I knew that he loved me, up until his dying breath. He had so much as told me. He put it in writing: I will always love you. Those were the last words he ever wrote. Because of that, I felt that I had a responsibility to tell the world about his loving nature. I believed that from the day he died, and I believe it still.





A part of me knew, deep inside, that my guilt belonged to me and was of my own making. It was not something John, who loved me, would have wanted me to contend with. Some part of me knew that John would not want me to shut myself off from love and being loved. But remaining in love with him was a vestige of my unwillingness to let go. Maybe it was partially born of resentment, too. He'd never asked me if I was ready to let go. Among all the injustices surrounding his loss, the expectation that I stop being in love with him was unfair.

I'd never been given this script before, losing a partner to death. Suicide as the culprit or not, I didn't know how to do it. I understood from day one that I'd never fully move on. This remains true. In fact, for every partner or spouse (of someone who died by suicide) that I've talked to, there is agreement that the impact of this lack of total closure is simply a permanent part of our loss.


But moving forward does become possible. It becomes possible because moving forward (as opposed to moving on) requires no finality around the other feelings of grief and loss. As survivors of suicide loss, during fresh loss everything stops for a moment. Grief can paralyze our connection to the world. As time goes by, we first see that just like the death of our loved one, life too goes forward without our permission. With a lot of work and intention, we ourselves can begin to move forward too.


But in those first days and months after John died, I knew none of this. How could I understand that it is possible to soften the pain around someone being gone from this earth, by wrapping it in the blanket of permission that we give ourselves to remain in the world? How could I know that a new love could appear, and even flourish, even if it has to share a heart permanently?


I am a reader, and a writer. I learned early on that the best writing occurs when you write what you know. And as I said above, I had no script for this. I had no narrative. Nothing to read. Nothing to write. When it came to falling in love, how could there ever be a chapter two?






And then one day, a year and a half after John died, it seemed like a chapter two might be possible. I am not sure what changed. Like all symptoms of grief, so many of which come and go - there was no rhyme or reason. I can tell you this though, by then I'd come around to accepting that I'd be ok, even if I were forever alone.

You see, the truth is I was never really alone. Every one of my needs was met, in terms of love and support, beginning within minutes of when I found out that John was gone. And that truth was always greater than my loneliness. It was the constant love and support that held me, and healed me, and kept me afloat.


Let me repeat that. The love and support of others never faltered.


So, if a survivor of suicide loss were to ask me for advice as to how to open themselves to the possibility of new love - I'd offer this:


Lean into the arms of those who love you today. Reach out to others. Ask for what you need, and allow people to help you. 


There was nothing that made it more possible for me to consider dating again, than the act of allowing myself to see and feel the love that already existed in the other areas of my life.



Dating under these circumstances has been tricky. I am a changed person now. When it comes to romance, I don't have the same capacity for blind faith in the future. Nor do I have patience for confusion and mystery. If I have a question or concern related to my relationship, I want the issue resolved now. 


But I do know that blind faith and mystery can both be lovely things in a romance. It is a lot that I am asking of someone, to forgo those things. I know that. I know that even though it isn't my 'fault', the expectations and needs I carry into a new relationship, as a survivor of suicide loss, have been a lot to ask of someone. 


When I first considered dating again, I knew two things to be true.


"He's going to have to be very patient, and very strong."


I said those words to myself and I said them out loud to others.






The beginning of a new relationship has been harder than I expected it to be. It began with an innocuous crush. That part was sweet and fun, as it should be. But soon, I realized that the emotional trauma around John's death encompassed more than just grief itself. In order to move forward in a new relationship, I have had to to combat unexpected bouts of panic over things that had never bothered me before.

More than once, I have been consumed with fear that the person I am dating has disappeared into thin air. Some days I am fine. Others, if I call him and he doesn't get back to me within half an hour, I am completely beside myself. At times the fear feels like someone has grabbed my throat and I am choking. I can barely breathe, until I can confirm that he is alright, and most importantly - still alive. It is as if I am suddenly reliving the morning John died, the experience of trying to reach him to no avail. And that is not something I want to remember, much less feel again.

I have also become overly distraught over unintentional conflict. Not always. Not the majority of the time. But sometimes. Sometimes if I say careless words that hurt his feelings, I wrestle with a concern that his hurt feelings will result in his death. It sounds unreasonable writing it down. It sounds ridiculous. None of that matters. The fear itself does not care about what is reasonable. It just takes over. Out of the blue, small conflicts become matters of life and death. The amount of patience that is required of the man I am dating, over this one issue alone, is profound.

Of course, even before I began dating him, just having a crush felt significant. I was amazed that I was feeling things that I'd assumed I never would again. That part though, the sweet feelings, also came with a cost. It was unexpected, but when it hit, it was all consuming.

I felt guilty. Deeply, frustratingly, guilty.

On every rational level, I knew I had nothing to feel guilty about. John was gone. A significant amount of time had gone by. No one could tell me I was rushing into things. John would want the best for me. Of course it was o.k. for me to care about someone, and it was o.k. for that person to care about me.

But, as with much of grief, rational responses didn't apply. As my feelings for this new man grew, so did my desperation to somehow find a way to talk to John. I wanted to tell him that I was sorry. Sorry about having feelings for another man. I wanted to be able to extend some sort of act of contrition. 

I considered going to his cemetery. I imagined sitting down at his grave and begging him to forgive me, asking him to give me permission to be with someone again. But, it was a short lived consideration. John wasn't the one who I needed permission from. I knew that.




I haven't written much about the person I am dating. I'm not going to. This post is about me and this process of moving forward. Not so much about he and I specifically. But, what I will say is this. He is very patient. And strong. And kind as well. I didn't want the pain around John's loss to take this new man away from me.

Still, in the beginning there were times when I found myself debating whether or not having feelings for someone was worth the related panic and guilt. The debate was agonizing. Ultimately though, I knew he was worth it. For now, that will be the extent of what I will say about him personally.




Maybe it was the guilt that posed the greatest threat. The darkness of guilt has the capacity to cast a shadow over everything. Living in that darkness is completely untenable. Feeling as if I were somehow betraying John was not acceptable to me. I was questioning my own integrity and being a person who lacked integrity was not ok with me.

It wasn't easy, but I talked about these feelings and concerns in my suicide loss groups. 

How is it I could love a new person, when John wouldn't be able to love another person ever again? And would my caring about someone new send the message that it was ok with me that John was gone? Putting these thoughts into words and saying them out loud was heartbreaking. But it was critical that I do so. 

Once again, it was my fellow suicide loss survivors who helped me the most. One woman reminded me that when John was not ravaged by the worst of his disease, he'd taken good care of my heart.

She was right, but I couldn't imagine why she was telling me this. At first her words made me feel worse, not better. But, she continued.

"Chelise, John took care of your heart because he wanted you to feel loved. I think he'd probably be heartbroken to know that because of his loss, you'd never let yourself be loved again. I think if you choose to care about someone new, it would be a way of honoring John and what he wanted for you and for your heart. I really do."

These were the very best words anyone could have said to me. It was as if John were whispering in her ear and telling her what I needed to hear most. Not only were her words beautiful, but when I thought about them, I believed that they were true.




Many writers will tell you that when they begin an essay or story, they must set aside their notions of what the end result will be. Our best writing often happens when we let the words write themselves. We are often as moved or surprised by the endings as any other reader would be. 

I can tell you this. If loving John has been the foundation for this portion of my life, if he was the basis for chapter one, then I know I have done (and will continue to do) his story justice. As always, I will continue my efforts to advocate for suicide awareness and prevention. I lost my mother and I lost John. The pain around loss to suicide is devastating, and there are close to a million families worldwide, each year, who suffer these same losses. I will not stop fighting for those who are gone, and for those of us left behind.

But this is true too. There is a chapter two in my story that is writing itself. Just like the beating of a heart that always encourages one to give life a chance, chapter two in a novel always gives the promise of a story yet to be told.

And in the end, who am I, if not a writer? I write to honor my mother and I write to honor John, as well. Both of them will always be a part of every single chapter of my life. And for that, I will always be grateful.




Friday, December 28, 2018

Florence Lawrence


Florence Lawrence was a Canadian-American actress. She was known as "The Biograph Girl" for work as one of the leading ladies in silent films from the Biograph Company. She appeared in almost 300 films for various motion picture companies throughout her career.

Lawrence began to experience career decline and significant financial troubles. Her personal life was difficult, she was married and divorced several times.

On December 28, 1938, Florence Lawrence died by suicide. She was fifty two years old when she died.



Florence Lawrence 
January 2, 1886 – December 28, 1938

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Healing Ourselves and Healing Others




Lisa Mayne is a fitness and health coach who lives in Illinois. She is also a fellow member of my online Spouse and Partner Survivors of Suicide Loss group. She herself is an occasional Blogger. Her bravery and willingness to be vulnerable when writing is an inspiration to me.

Though we have never met in person, I consider Lisa to be a friend. And though we are connected through such heartbreaking loss, I am very grateful to have her kindness and support as a part of my life.

Lisa wrote the essay below to share some of her personal thoughts on how we can heal ourselves and how we can heal others, during this holiday season.

Today is Christmas Day, and I am happy to share the gift of her words with you now.



 LISA MAYNE

There is a saying that goes something along the lines of  'In giving we heal ourselves, but in receiving we heal others'. If nothing else, in the months since Keith’s passing, I’ve been given a master class in that quote.

Last year my girls and I received these sweet gifts from some secret elves. I still don’t know who they came from – though I have tried to guess at least a million times. This Christmas surprise wasn’t the first either. I recall a box of sunshine (full of fun yellow things) showing up when we returned from a much needed retreat to the north woods.

Someone also paid for my girls school registrations that summer. The FFA class made fleece blankets for the girls for Christmas too, and we were given some amazing play equipment by two great families when we moved among countless other little things that came along to brighten our days … and sometimes big things, like not even realizing that hog raffle being held by the local American Legions was intended for donation to the memorial fund for the girls. Wow! Overwhelmed to say the least.

I’m not sure I was always able to communicate our immense gratitude for it all, whether we knew where the gift came from or not. Nonetheless, gratitude for the people who have surrounded us still swells in our hearts. I’ve come to appreciate this side of loss more than ever. Those people and groups who stepped forward to help us, support us, and just plain love on us in our grief, especially in the days long after the funeral.

I’ve become especially fond of being a secret giver now, since having been the recipient of secret givers myself. There is such a blessing in giving and helping and doing. And though we all want to help we often don’t know how. Unfortunately those who need us don’t always know how to ask.

Asking for help is hard for almost everyone and it is not any easier for a widow or anyone else who is bereaved. Our pride gets in the way. We often want to be able to repay a favor but aren’t always capable of doing so. And asking for help actually takes a lot of emotional strength because it reveals where we are vulnerable. These things have opened my eyes to the beauty of anonymous giving.

Since it is the holiday season I know that we all want to find ways to give. So give however you can and give where you see a need. If you can give of yourself without announcing it, you should! It blesses both the giver and the receiver. And isn’t that Christmas Spirit? Best of all, giving in a way that removes all possibility of any form of repayment can open the door to paying it forward for others.

***

On her blog, Lisa Mayne describes herself as an unexpectedly widowed mom of two who has found herself running, writing, and making her way up through the grief journey, following the loss of her husband to suicide.

You can find her blog, Motherhood Miles and Makeup, at the link below.

motherhoodmilesmakeup.com

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Ryan Freel


Ryan Paul Freel (March 8, 1976 – December 22, 2012) was an American professional baseball player. A utility player, Freel played second basethird base, and all three outfield positions in Major League Baseball for the Toronto Blue JaysCincinnati RedsBaltimore OriolesChicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals between 2001 and 2009.

On May 28, 2007, Freel was injured in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates when chasing a deep drive to right-center field. Freel and a right fielder collided, resulting in Freel's head and neck hitting Hopper and finally the warning track. He was transported by ambulance to Good Samaritan Hospital, where he was reported to be coherent with feeling in his extremities. Freel began working out on June 15, about 2 weeks after the collision. He was briefly sent to the AAA Louisville Bats for rehabilitation. Freel began getting random headaches and pains in his head, which delayed his return for another 2 weeks. On July 3, 2007, 1 month and 5 days after the accident, Freel returned to play for the Cincinnati Reds.
In 2009 with the Baltimore Orioles, he was hit in the head by a pickoff throw while on second base. He was put on the disabled list after the injury, and officially retired a year later.
On December 22, 2012, Ryan Freel died by suicide. After his death, Freel's family donated his brain tissue to Boston University for research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative neurological condition associated with multiple concussions which at present can only be conclusively diagnosed postmortem. In December 2013, a postmortem examination by the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy showed that he was suffering from Stage II CTE, making him the first MLB player to have been diagnosed with the disease. Ryan was also diagnosed with various mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, adult ADHD, depression, impulse control disorder and anxiety. Additional mental illnesses are consistent with many athletes who also suffer from CTE once their playing careers are finished.


Ryan Paul Freel 
March 8, 1976 – December 22, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Healing involves pain. There are times when this feels like the greatest injustice. But survivors of suicide loss must find a way to live with their pain. Through their pain. Around their pain. We gain nothing by pushing it away, pushing it down, or denying it.

Surround yourself with support. Accept the help of others, find support groups, reach out to those who love you and learn to immerse yourself in self-care.

Feel it all, including what hurts. In this way, you will find yourself bearing even the most unbearable of pain. Do not give up. Do reach out. Do be gentle with yourself.

Remember, we do recover.