Wednesday, April 17, 2019

One Less Day

I'm not afraid of getting older 
I'm one less day from dying young 
I see the light go past my shoulder 
I'm one less day from dying young 
I'm one less day from dying young

 - Rob Thomas One Less Day

My mother died seventeen years ago, today. It was a cold Wednesday afternoon. Cold at least for the month of April, in Oakland, California. That day, the temperature outside never rose above 56 °F. My mother took her life sometime during those cold daytime hours, while she was home alone. My step father would find her when he came home from work, later that evening. I, however, did not find out that she'd died, until early the next morning.

I remember bits and pieces of that morning. It was just after 7 a.m. when my phone rang. My brother was on the other end of the line, and he said that he had bad news. Then he told me that my mother had taken her life. Needless to say, 'bad news' was far from an accurate description.

Over the next several days, I would vacillate between disbelief, anger, and grief of course. It was the grief that seeped in between every other feeling. It would rise until it took over where my other emotions couldn't manage to hold on. The disbelief eventually settled into acceptance. The anger eventually turned towards forgiving. Forgiving my mother, and forgiving myself as well. But the grief, it never went away. Not completely. Seventeen years later, and I still grieve, today.

Still, as time went on, it was not the grief that wrecked the most havoc in my life. It was something different. It was fear.

For years after she'd died, there were times when fear dictated every aspect of my life. And the fear was very specific. I was afraid of all the ways that I was like her. And I am like her, after all. We share some physical attributes. Many would say that you can tell by looking that I am my mother's daughter. And we both had a sharp sense of humor, though hers was more dark than my own. And this too. She was a writer. She wrote sophisticated fiction and less complex but equally powerful poetry. We were similar there too, of course. My writing style is different, but we always shared a love for pen and paper - or, later, for a keyboard and the accompanying screen that would fill so quickly with our words. This adoration of the possibility inherent in the written word - we shared that, my mother and I.

Me, with my mother, El Collie Kress. 
Saint Clair Shores, Michigan, 1978.

It was my mother's disease that scared me the most, though. Her mental illness that had steadfastly stolen her from me and from so many other people who'd loved her. I agonized over the deterioration of our relationship during the years before she died. And I agonized, even before she died, over the thought that we shared the illness that was taking her from me. The illness that would eventually take her life.

I once confided to a counselor my fear that because my mother had taken her life - it was inevitable that I would also take mine. Perhaps not right away, but one day, I said. I was truly afraid that I would leave my own son with the same loss that my mother had left with me.

"Your fear is not an omen," my counselor had tried to explain. "It is not a predictor of the future. It's normal, it's common, when a parent takes their life. Their children then must contend with the fear that they might lose their life to suicide as well."

Predictor or not, the truth is, I did eventually attempt to take my life. Afterward, I was absolutely wracked with guilt over the attempt. "I've done to my son what my mother did to me!" I'd often weep when talking to counselors, and doctors, and anyone else who would listen.

No, no, no, they'd correct me.

"How am I any different than her? How is what I've done not the same as what she did?" I'd ask.

"Chelise, it is very different." people would tell me.

"But how?" I'd cry. 

"It is different, because you are alive," they would explain, pointing out the obvious.

Of course. There it is.

I am alive.

There is evidence that my mother planned her death over a period of time. She'd acquired the means weeks earlier. She wrote a lengthy note. She'd likely been composing her last words, for days ahead of time. And she was fastidious in the execution of her plans. A fastidiousness that suggested pre-planning. 

I don't know why she chose this particular day in April. Likely, I never will understand. But I do suspect she'd chosen the date well in advance.

I would imagine that once she decided upon the day, then her measurement of time stopped flowing smoothly and became instead a chipping away of sorts. Suddenly, every day that passed represented one less day until the date she had chosen to die. 

So there are times now when I look at life through that same lens - counting time backward instead of forward. It is just that our start and end points are different - as different as the very natures of life and death.

It would be easy to sit back and blame my mother for my mental and emotional woes. It seems likely that I have a genetic predisposition toward both mental illness and addiction, and those genes both appear to originate on the maternal side of my family. And I could blame much of the childhood trauma I experienced on her as well. Living with a parent who was so severely mentally ill meant that I lived in a constant state of chaos with little structure or support. My mother's untreated illness tore my childhood away from me. This is true.

But my anger at my mother has softened. By and large, I am much more forgiving now. My mother lived with an illness that was (and still is) misunderstood and stigmatized. She was provided with very few resources and no hope for a cure. The universal lack of understanding when it came to mental illness meant that she was blamed for her symptoms. Blamed by society, blamed by myself, and blamed by other loved ones as well. Looking backward is where I find my compassion for her. As my mother got older, her symptoms increased. Her anxiety and pain were joined by delusional thoughts that often bordered on psychosis. Her despair was relentless. In fact, without any hope for relief, in many ways it is amazing that she lived as long as she did.

So it is guided by this compassion that I allow my own countdown to begin. Unlike my mother though, I am not counting down to a final day. Instead, each day that I wake anew, I recognize that it is one less day until I live past the day that she died. And tomorrow will once again afford me the opportunity to say that I haven't just survived so far, but that I will continue to survive. I am my mother's daughter, I am a part of her legacy. So, despite her death, I will do everything in my power to carry her legacy forward as one that speaks of survival instead of one that speaks only of loss.

My mother died seventeen years ago, today. It's a sad day for me. This is true. But if someone asks me how I did today, a day when the absence of my mother is so prevalent - I am glad that it is one less day until I can say that I made it through.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Karl Dane

Karl Dane was a Danish-American comedian and actor known for his work in American films, mainly of the silent film era.
After signing with MGM in 1926, he appeared in supporting roles in several popular silent films before teaming up with George K. Arthur to form the successful comedy duo Dane & Arthur. They appeared in a number of silent, short comedy films and toured the vaudeville circuit. 
As the film industry transitioned from silent to sound films in the late 1920s, Dane's thick Danish accent became problematic. By 1930, Dane was relegated to less prominent roles, often with little to no dialogue. Later that year, MGM terminated his contract. Dane attempted to pursue work in other fields but found no success. Despondent, Karl Dane he died of suicide on April 14, 1934. He was forty seven years old.

Karl Dane
October 12, 1886 – April 14, 1934

Monday, April 8, 2019

Yukiko Okada

Yukiko Okada, in junior high was on a Japanese TV talent program, Star Tanjō!. She won the show in 1983.
That same year, Okada won Rookie of the Year, and was awarded the 26th Japan Record Awards Grand Prix Best New Artist Award for her third single, Dreaming Girl.
Okada played the leading role in her first television drama Kinjirareta Mariko (The Forbidden Mariko), in 1985. Her 1986 single "Kuchibiru Network", written by Seiko Matsuda and composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, reached number one on the Oricon weekly singles chart dated February 10, 1986.
Those who were close to her claimed that they were very surprised by her death by suicide. At the time that she died, she left behind notes that indicated that unrequited love contributed to her despair. Yukiko Okada was 18 years old when she died.

Yukiko Okada
August 22, 1967 - April 8, 1986

Monday, April 1, 2019

Leslie Cheung

Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing was a Hong Kong singer and actor. Cheung rose to prominence as a teen heartthrob and pop icon of Hong Kong in the 1980s, receiving numerous music awards including both Most Popular Male Artist Awards at the 1988 and 1989 Jade Solid Gold Best Ten Music Awards. In 1989, Cheung announced his retirement from the music industry as a pop singer. Returning to the music scene after a five-year hiatus, Cheung released several more chart topping albums. He was honored as "Asia's Biggest Superstar" at the 2000 CCTV-MTV Music Honors. 
During his career, Cheung broke more records as a bestselling pop artist, in China's history. He also broke records in many other Asian countries.

On April 1, 2003, Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing lost his life to suicide. He left a note behind, in which he explained that he had been suffering from depression. He was forty six years old when he died.

Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing
September 12, 1956 – April 1, 2003

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Lil' Chris

Christopher James Hardman, known by the stage name Lil' Chris, was an English singer-songwriter, actor, and television personality. He was on the 2006 Channel 4 series Rock School, a show where KISS vocalist and bassist Gene Simmons organized a rock band at Lil' Chris' school. Later that year he released the single "Checkin' It Out", which charted at number 3, and a self-titled album. In 2008 he hosted his own series, Everybody Loves Lil' Chris

He was open publicly about his struggles with depression. In March of 2015, he died by suicide. He was  twenty four years old.

Christopher James Hardman (Lil' Chris)
August 26, 1990 – March 23, 2015

Sunday, March 17, 2019


Capucine was a French fashion model and actress known for her roles in The Pink Panther (1963) and What's New Pussycat? (1965). 

Friends and loved ones report that Capucine suffered from major depression during the last years of her life. On March 17, 1990, Capucine died by suicide. She was sixty two years old when she died. 

January 6, 1928 – March 17, 1990

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Richard Jeni

Richard John Colangelo better known by the stage name of Richard Jeni, was an American stand-up comedian and actor.

Jeni first received recognition through a series of Showtime stand-up specials and frequent appearances on The Tonight Show. After making his Tonight Show debut in 1988 with Johnny Carson, Jeni would return often and later made appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, all told with more appearances than any other stand-up comedian.
Jeni had numerous comedy specials on both Showtime and HBO. In 2004, Jeni was ranked #57 on Comedy Central's list of the 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time
In 2007, Jeni had recently been diagnosed with severe clinical depression coupled with fits of psychotic paranoia. On March 10, 2007, Richard Jeni lost his life to suicide. He was forty nine years old.

Richard Jeni 
April 14, 1957 – March 10, 2007

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Mark Linkous

Mark Linkous was an American singer, songwriter and musician, best known as leader of Sparklehorse. He was also known for his collaborations with such notable artists as Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Daniel Johnston, Radiohead, Black Francis, Julian Casablancas, Nina Persson, David Lynch, Fennesz, Danger Mouse, and Sage Francis. A member of the 1980s indie band the Dancing Hoods. In 1995, he created a project named Sparklehorse, which released a number of critically acclaimed records.

Despite his success, Linkous was known to have battled depression for many years. He was also greatly shaken by the December 2009 suicide of close friend Vic Chesnutt. On September 9, 1962 Mark Linkous also died by suicide. He was forty seven years old.

Mark Linkous 
September 9, 1962 – March 6, 2010

Friday, February 22, 2019

Ed Flanders

Edward Paul "Ed" Flanders (December 29, 1934 – February 22, 1995) was an American actor best known for his role as Donald Westphall in the television series St. Elsewhere.
After winning two Emmy awards for prior work, he received four Emmy Award nominations as Outstanding Lead Actor in a TV Series, and won his third award in 1983. 
After a stormy departure from the series in 1987, he returned for two more episodes in 1988, including the series finale. During a scene in which Westphall addressed the staff, Flanders began speaking extemporaneously about the quality of art and had to be edited for broadcast. His exit on St. Elsewhere as a regular cast member was titled Moon for the Misbegotten after the play that won him a Tony Award. The episode gained much publicity as Westphall left the hospital after "mooning" his new boss, Dr. Gideon (played by Ronny Cox). Flanders continued his working relationship with executive producer Bruce Paltrow in the short-lived 1994 CBS series The Road Home.
Following his roles on television he went on to have a successful movie career as well.
However, Flanders had a difficult personal life. He went through four divorces. In 1989 he had an automobile accident hat left him with a chronic back injury. Most notably though, he had a lifelong battle with depression, Flanders died by suicide on February 22, 1995. Ed Flanders was sixty years old when he died.

Edward Paul "Ed" Flanders 
December 29, 1934 – February 22, 1995

Friday, February 15, 2019

May Brookyn

May Brookyn  was an English born American stage actress.(Her name was spelled Brookyn but is often misspelled Brooklyn). She achieved success and fame, however in late 1893, her lover Frederic A Lovecraft died by suicide. Despondent over his death, May Brookyn also died by suicide on February 15, 1894. Although her exact date of birth is unknown, Brookyn was in her mid to late thirties at the time of her death.

May Brookyn  1854/59 - February 15, 1894