Sunday, May 19, 2019

Ralph Barton

Ralph Barton was an American artist popular in the nineteen twenties and best known for his cartoons and caricatures of celebrities, though he did do commercial work such as the face powder label, above.

Barton suffered from mental illness through out his adult life. On May 19, 1931, Barton lost his life to suicide. He was thirty nine years old.

Charles ('Charlie') Chaplin, forefront. Ralph Barton, rear.

Ralph Barton 
August 14, 1891 – May 19, 1931

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Transience of Everything

"I’ve stopped taking anything for granted. I have an acute awareness of the transience of everything in this world. Looking back over my life, I see that everything I thought would never happen to me; good as well as bad, has happened and is happening."

- El Collie Kress

I woke up this morning, grieving. Mother's Day is difficult. Some years more than others. Since John's death, the grief around having lost my mother is heavy once again - despite the fact that I lost her fifteen years prior to him. So I woke up this morning sad and grieving.

I am, of course, afforded some relief when I think about the gift of all of the beautiful mothers in my life today. Those who mother me when I need it, and those who inspire me, regularly. And I am a mother myself, too. I think about my son, and my heart is full, today and all days.

But this morning, I woke up missing my mother. Plain and simple. I wanted to be able to call her and wish her a happy Mother's Day. I wanted to be able to take her to lunch, or dinner. I wanted to be able to buy her flowers. Irises perhaps. Purple was her favorite color.

On Mother's Day, I don't want to think about being a motherless daughter. I don't want to think about loss. And, I certainly don't want to think about suicide.

My mother was 54 years old when she died. Sometimes I let myself grieve for how much life my mother had yet to live. How many days she missed and will miss. How many joys and how much healing sorrow that will never be hers. And this is where my grief becomes piercing. Unbearable almost.

So this morning I turned to her writing. I don't do that very often, even though writing is something that I share with her. I don't often read her stories and essays, because so many of them became so depressing at the end of her life. During her last years, her mental illness was taking hold of her so completely. She believed she was channeling spirits and that she was having a spiritual awakening that caused her to feel all of the pain being experienced in the entire world. She wrote about this process endlessly. She wrote a book about it, and she sent it off to a metaphysical publishing house, hoping for success. She received a rejection, but the publisher was kind enough to provide a letter of explanation. "Your writing style is lovely and sophisticated," he told her. "But, your subject matter is far too dark and dreadful. We are sorry to have to turn this manuscript down."

Dark and dreadful. The perfect words to explain why I don't often read her writing. Her death was dark and dreadful enough. Where were the spirits she was channeling, when she needed help recognizing that there was value in living? How was her spiritual awakening of benefit to anyone, if ultimately she made the decision to take her own life?

But this morning, Mother's Day, I was sad and missing her, my mother with whom I share a passion for writing. I thought about all the words that were stifled the day that she died. I thought about the lost possibility that something might have turned her world around, perhaps giving her beauty and hope to write about. These thoughts left me feeling overwhelmed by what my mother had lost in life experience alone.

So I turned to her writing this morning in order to feel close to her. To feel close to the thing that she and I have in common, this commitment to words. And in and amongst the darkness, I found this one paragraph. In the essay she'd written, the paragraph was not highlighted in any way, it did not particularly stand out. But for me, this morning, it did. It was as if the hand of my mother herself had guided me, gently, to her own words.

"I’ve stopped taking anything for granted. I have an acute awareness of the transience of everything in this world. Looking back over my life, I see that everything I thought would never happen to me; good as well as bad, has happened and is happening."

And, there it was. The reminder I needed, right in this moment. My mother's life and her journey - her story - did not end the way I would have liked. Still, my mother had moments when she felt that she'd had a full life. My mother believed that the good things that she'd doubted would ever happen, had happened for her after all. There were moments when my mother believed that she'd truly gotten what she wanted from this world.

So for today, I will try to turn my focus to this: though my mother's loss is so often colored by her illness and pain - I must remember that her life also encompassed moments of joy. Moments of serenity. Moments of peace. I must remember the meaning behind her own words. A constant principle of quantum physics and spiritual understanding. It is true when applied to the plain old nitty gritty of life and death, as well. This remains certain. There will be change. 

I may not be able to turn to my own mother for advice or soothing, but there are so many other mothers in my life. And I may not have had my own mother in my adulthood, but I can be there for my grown son in no small part, in response to that loss. Today, it is so much easier to see the beauty of mothering that is all around me. And so this truth has the potential to bring as much comfort as it does grief. The undeniable transience of everything. 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

David Christie

David Christie was a French singer. Born Jacques Pepino in Tarare, he also went by the nicknames of James Bolden and Napoleon Jones. He is best known for the hits "Saddle Up" (1982) and "I Love to Love" which are included on various 1980s compilation albums.
As a composer he has sold more than 50 million records around the world. He worked with artists such as Gloria Gaynor and Grace Jones.
In 1997 Christie's youngest daughter, Julia, died in an accident. David Christie was distraught and grief stricken when he died by suicide on May 11, 1997. He was forty nine years old when he died.

David Christie 
January 1, 1948 – May 11, 1997

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Mike Brant

Mike Brant was an Israeli singer and songwriter who achieved fame after moving to France. His most successful hit was "Laisse-moi t'aimer" ("Let me love you").

Brant experienced great success and by the early 1970s he was performing in hundreds of shows each year. He complained of depression and loneliness and tried to cut his performing schedule down. On April 25, 1975, at the height of his fame, Mike Brant died by suicide. He was twenty eight years old.

Mike Brant 
February 1, 1947 – April 25, 1975

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