There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.
I have seen this quote before, and I love this simple and sweet ornament. It is the perfect quote for those of us who have lost someone to suicide. We carry our love for those we have lost in our heart, forever.
This ornament is from the White Lillies Design shop out of Stowe Vermont. The designer at the helm of the online shop says this about her creations: "Each piece is the result of much thought and inspiration. I first began making jewelry because I wanted something different, I wanted something unique and something unlike what I would see on a friend. This began a life and love for making jewelry. The name White Lilie was inspired by my grandmother, Lilyan. I promise that your White Lilie piece will be original and one of a kind just like she was!" You can find the White Lillies Design shop by clicking here.
There's a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother's story, because hers is where yours began.
I am a writer. I write because my mother wrote. I can remember exactly what she looked like when she sat at her desk, fingers tapping on the keyboard of her typewriter. Throughout my childhood, she used a large beige IBM Selectric. Then, in the early 1980s, my father bought her a sleeker Olivetti typewriter. It had a tiny LED text bar just above the keys, so that you could proof your work as you were typing. It wouldn't print on the paper until you pressed the return key. This was before word processors, and I thought her new typewriter was absolutely fantastical. To me, knowing that it was on my mother's desk almost felt like having a celebrity in the house.
My mother was so extraordinary at creating a visual, it was if she were a performance artist and the written word was her stage. When she was in her early twenties (and less agoraphobic than she would later become), she did perform her poetry in small cafes and bars in Berkeley and San Francisco. Her words would leave people laughing, or crying, or both.
It wasn't just her poetry that she shared publicly, though. Once she wrote an advertising jingle and entered it in a contest. I don't remember the jingle. I do remember she won free vitamins for a year. We gave vitamins as gifts to everyone we knew. I was young enough when this happened (not yet a mortified teenager), that I thought it was cool.
Sometimes I lose those memories, all the things about my mother that I once thought were cool.
But sometimes, when I myself write, I find the memories, once again.
Mostly though, her writing was known for the pessimism that began to color all of her attitudes toward life. When she incorporated humor into her writing, it was brilliant but terribly dark. Ultimately, it would be the darkness that would dominate all of my mother's thoughts and words.
My mother was mentally ill. She'd been so since before I was born. She was first hospitalized at the age of 17, and she was traumatized severely. She was institutionalized for several months in the mid 1960s, and she endured archaic treatments. Electroshock therapy that had not yet been refined and was barbaric in nature. Prescriptions for medications that made it impossible for her to focus or react - when she took them she was even less functional than she was at the worst of her depression.
My mother quickly became terrified of doctors and psychiatry. Years later when therapy and mood stabilizers may have made a difference, the trauma she'd endured as a teenager made it impossible for her to seek help. 'Help' scared her. And so her illness, untreated, grew more and more severe.
When she died, people would say to me: "I am sorry for your loss." Though I was engulfed by the throes of fresh grief, I would often reply to people with this - because it was true: "I did not lose her just now, I lost her many years ago."
It was hard to put into words. But I tried. What I couldn't say out loud, I wrote about. I filled journal after journal, trying to make sense of her loss.
My mother told me that when you are writing, you should write what you know.
A few years ago, I wrote a novel. In it, the main character's mother is neglectful and abusive and then dies. Much later, when a friend asks the main character about her memories of the mother she has lost, she has difficulty answering. This is what she says about the complexity of those memories:
"I can almost remember my mother. Her soft hands and voice. The warmth of her body when she hugged me or held me in her lap. I can almost remember. But when I try, those simple memories get gobbled up by the monster memory that follows so close behind."
And that is the best way I can describe what the monster of my mother's mental illness was like for me, for so long. In my mind, her illness began to encompass the entirety of her. I didn't see her paranoia and anxiety as symptoms, I saw them as a parts of who she was.
By the time I was a teenager, her fears had spread to every corner of her life. She would whisper disturbing secrets to me, and then admonish me to not tell anyone. "They won't understand," she'd say. "They'll think I'm crazy," she'd accurately access. So, for a time, I kept many of her secrets. Initially to honor her. Later, because her irrational fears left me feeling ashamed.
I had been an adult for many years before I realized that her mental illness did not equal shame that I had to carry. It would take even more years before I understood that her illness was unfair. The injustice of her life experiences impacted not only her, but myself and everyone else who loved her, as well.
I lost my mother to suicide, sixteen years ago, today. Her name was El Collie Kress, and she was 54 years old. She was a writer and for most of her life, she wrote every single day.
She left a note for us when she died. In it she wrote of her love for her husband, for my brother and his wife, and for me too. I think of that sometimes. That even on the day that she died, she wrote.
And if there is any compensation in that fact, it is this: Just like with my beautiful John, the last words my mother ever wrote spoke of love.
This past year, I've made no secret of the fact that writing every single day has helped me to heal. I know - I've always known - that in large part, I write to honor my mother. It helps me to feel connected to her. And always, with my words, I hope to make her proud. Perhaps it is because of this that I knew instinctively, writing would help me heal when John died. I knew that keeping his goodness and his love alive through written words, was an honorable thing to do.
I am braver now than I once was. I am willing to do battle with the monster memory of her mental illness. I will not let her suicide win. Her death will not become the defining moment of her life, and it can no longer encompass all that she is.
The truth is simple. I miss her. Not only my memories of the times when she was younger, more silly, and sweet. But I miss who she may have been, had she lived. Had she believed in healing, the way that I do now.
Today, my memories of my mother are more forgiving and more complete. Today, when I remember her, my memories are sometimes simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking.
But I will take it all. I will hold up to the world one of the best gifts she ever gave me. In her memory and in her honor, I will share that gift with you, as well. My writing.
Tarita Cheyenne Brando was a Tahitian model and the daughter of actor Marlon Brando.
Cheyenne Brando had a conflicted relationship with her father, often resentful that he did not prioritize seeing his children regularly. In her late teens she began abusing drugs and alcohol. Adding to the trauma of her personal life, in her early twenties, while pregnant with his child, her boyfriend was killed by her older stepbrother, Christian. Christian maintained that it was accident, but spent several years in prison following a plea bargain. In the next few years, Cheyenne Brando began suffering from mental illness including depression and possibly schizophrenia. On April 16, 1995, Cheyenne Brando died by suicide. She was twenty five years old.
I love this so much. This suicide awareness ribbon beside a boxing glove. A symbol of the strength that those who have overcome suicidal thoughts exhibit. And also, demonstrating the strength of survivors of suicide loss. It's a powerful statement and a beautiful necklace.
The FJJCreation online store is full of jewelry that features a number of different cause awareness designs. Jenjer Overweg, the artist who creates the work lives in Harderwijk, in the Netherlands. She sells her creations customers from all over the world. Jenjer says that she is honored that I wanted to feature her necklace, as she herself has been personally touched by suicide.
You can find more of Jenjer's creations via her online store, here:
Elm Studios was founded by Erin Lynne Meissner of Buffalo, New York.
On her Etsy page, she says this:
Art is a source of our memories A moment captured in time to reveal who we really are A reminder of our past And it brings out the curiosity of our future.
Although the artwork shown above was created for anyone who might be struggling with grief, the heartbreak of suicide has impacted Erin's life. Her loved ones have struggled with depression and suicidal feelings. Her cousin died by suicide a couple of years ago. She feels empathy for those who have also been touched by suicide.
"I know the pain it leaves to those left behind. But, love... it's the one thing that doesn't change. Anger, grief, sadness all take on different forms, but the love that was designated in your heart for that one person never disappears... it remains the same," she says.
A few years ago, Erin's cousin died by suicide. I asked Erin if there were anything she wishes she could say to her cousin, now.
"I guess if I could go back and tell my cousin one thing it would be- you are worth more then you think and you are loved more then you know. Stay with us so we can show you."
Malcolm Jones III was an Americancomic book artist best known as an inker on The Sandman, where he added his illustrative line and textures to the work of pencillers such as Mike Dringenberg, Kelley Jones, and Colleen Doran. He was also known for inking Denys Cowan's pencils on The Question. Jones attended the High School of Art and Design and later, he graduated from the Pratt Institute in New York. He made his professional comics debut inking Dennis Yee's pencils on "Cheap Labor" in March of 1985.
He also penciled his own work, including a Spider-Man story for Marvel Comics Presents, and the unpublished Coldblood mini-series for Marvel Comics.
For reasons that are not well known, Malcolm Jones, III, died by suicide in 1996. He was 37 years old, however, the exact dates of his life and death are not known.
Kurt Donald Cobain was an American singer, songwriter, and musician. Cobain formed the band Nirvana with Krist Novoselic and Aaron Burckhard in 1987 and established it as part of the Seattle music scene which later became known as grunge. Despite the success of his band and his adoration among fans, he expressed having a great deal of difficulty dealing with his fame.
During the last years of his life, Cobain struggled with heroin addiction and chronic health problems. On April 5, 1994, Kurt Cobain died by suicide. He was 27 years old.
As soon as I saw this mug, I knew I wanted to feature it on Lighting Up the Sky. I think that the vast majority of survivors of suicide loss wish that the person they lost understood that this world needed them.
Delicious Accessories is an Etsy shop that specializes in 'unique and fun shirts, coffee mugs and other swag.' When I contacted the store's proprietress, Sarah, to ask her if I could feature the mug, she says she was moved to tears.
"I made this mug with suicide prevention in mind. My best intentions and genuine warmth are behind this product," she says. You can find the mug on the Delicious Accessories Etsy shop, below: