Friday, May 18, 2018

Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell was an American musician, singer, and songwriter. He was best known as the lead vocalist for the rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave. Cornell is considered one of the chief architects of the 1990s grunge movement. During his career, Cornell received numerous Grammy nominations and won two. He also received a Golden Globe Award nomination for his song "The Keeper", which appeared in the 2011 film Machine Gun Preacher, and co-wrote and performed the theme song to the James Bond film Casino Royale (2006), "You Know My Name".

Cornell was open about the fact that he had suffered from depression and substance abuse problems. On May 18, 2017, after performing at a Soundgarden concert hours earlier, Chris Cornell died by suicide. He was fifty two years old.

Chris Cornell
July 20, 1964 – May 18, 2017

Sunday, May 13, 2018

This week (May 13 to 19, 2018) is the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Prevention Week. The week is dedicated to increasing public awareness and efforts related to mental and/or substance use disorders.

Communities and organizations across the country will come together to raise awareness about the importance of substance use prevention and positive mental health. The theme this year is: Action Today. Healthier Tomorrow.

Are you doing something to participate in the activities this week or to raise awareness about substance abuse and mental health? I want to know about it. Leave a comment below.

And to all the organizations and individuals who are speaking up about these important issues, thank you. Speaking up fights stigma. Fighting stigma reduces shame. Reducing shame saves lives.

Working toward substance abuse and mental health awareness is working toward suicide prevention. Again, thank you. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Isabella Blow

Isabella "Issie" Blow was an English magazine editor. Serving as an inspiration to hat designer Philip Treacy, she is also credited with discovering the models Stella Tennant and Sophie Dahl as well as the fashion designer Alexander McQueen.
Though very successful throughout her life, she suffered from professional frustration and felt some rejection by the designer fashion industry when McQueen sold his brand to Gucci and did not include her in the dealings.
Blow's noted childhood trauma (the death of her brother when he was just two years old, the divorce of her parents and sense of rejection by her mother and later her father as well) as having a profound effect on her.
When Blow was in her mid-forties she was struggling with the impact of the trauma, her feelings of frustration within the fashion community that had been vital to her career, and a recent cancer diagnosis. Those her knew her say that she'd begun to suffer from a profound depression.
On May 7, 2007, Isabella Blow lost her life to suicide. She was forty eight years old.

Isabella Blow 
November 19, 1958 – May 7, 2007

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Beauty of Grief

Hafiz Shirazi was a 14th century Persian poet. Though separated by many centuries, here he puts into words the sadness that, even today, so many of us who love those struggling with mental illness, go through.

We who have lost someone to suicide, often live with the grief of believing that we were never able to show the person we lost how beautiful they were. I want to offer that many of us were an integral part of the light and goodness in the life of our loved one, while they were still living.

Perhaps, in allowing our memories to include the good and not just the circumstances around the eventual loss, we will begin to see the astonishing light of our own beings. It is in that light, I am certain, that we will find pieces of our healing.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Adrian Borland

Adrian Kelvin Borland was an English musician and record producer, best known as the frontman of post-punk band The Sound.
While still having a very successful musical career, Borland did suffer from symptoms of schizoaffective disorder throughout his adult life. On April 26, 1999, Borland lost his life to suicide. Adrian Borland was forty one years old when he died.

Adrian Kelvin Borland
December 6, 1957 – April 26, 1999

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Beauty of Grief

Mama Aga is an artist in Chicago, Illinois. Her store, Aga's Box of Miracles, sells prints that feature inspirational images and quotes. She says this about her offerings:

"I had a dream when I was a little girl. In that dream, I was told that I am here to make this world a better place."

I contacted Aga when I saw the angel painting above, because the image is so sweet and the colors purple and teal are incorporated in the design. I asked her about the artwork's connection to suicide prevention and awareness. Her answer to my question was very touching.

"This healing angel illustration has a special story behind it. I created it for a mom who was purchasing inspirational quote prints from my shop a few years ago. As I started exchanging messages with her, she opened up to me and mentioned that her daughter committed suicide at 19. Moved by her story, I created this illustration with her daughter as an angel watching over her and sent it to her as a gift. Mother to mother. 

A dear friend of mine lost her 15 year old daughter to a drunk driver. My godmother lost her son to suicide. I've seen what unbearable pain a loss of a child brings, how every day is a struggle and how powerful small acts of genuine kindness can be in their life. And so, this healing angel was born. 

Each time someone purchases this print, I donate a portion of proceeds to twloha.comorganization in memory of this 19 year old young woman, hoping that it will help others realize that their lives matter."

If you would like to see more of Mama Aga's work, you can find her store here:

Aga's Box of Miracles

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Beauty of Grief

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.
–Washington Irving

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Beauty of Grief

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.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Sometimes Simple, Sometimes Heartbreaking

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.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Cheyenne Brando

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. 

Tarita Cheyenne Brando
February 20, 1970 – April 16, 1995