Saturday, April 17, 2021

Leaning into the Arms of Grace

Leaning Into the Arms of Grace
El Collie, 1995

You learn to tough it out.

You learn to accept.

You learn to surrender.
You learn to lean into the arms of grace

both unseen, from the realms above,
and extended through a human hand.

You get through tattered and torn around the edges.
You get through wondering how you've managed

to make it through this far

You get through hanging on for dear life.
You get through shaken and shuddering

and sheared of everything

but your quivering mind and quaking heart,

and the distant echo of a memory that this was why you came here.

though you think there has been some colossal mistake,

inscrutably, incredibly, something in you knows

that this is precisely what you came here
so valiantly to endure:

this merciless nakedness
of heart and soul.

El Collie Kress

11/4/1947 - 4/17/2002

My mother, El, was 54 years old when she died by suicide.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Salt Water

Taking a moment to thank the lovely website Salt Water for re-posting my post, The Cruelest Month, today. Salt Water provides "a safe harbor where you can find comfort, support, and tools to survive your loss and rebuild your life."

I am always honored when my writing is shared. I am particularly touched that my post has been shared with a site dedicated to supporting the grieving. 

Margo Fowkes, the founder of Salt Water. has provided a powerful list of the things a survivor of suicide loss can do to begin the journey of healing. You can find that document here:

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Holding The Truth For You

Last Sunday, I received a message on Facebook from someone I'd never met. I was deeply touched by what she said. Her words could mirror my own that first year after John died. 
She speaks for so many spouses and partners who are new to suicide loss. 

Of her grief, the extraordinary pain of guilt intermingled with loss, and her acknowledgement of how important it is to not feel alone, I will say this:

She is why I write.

Sunday, 4/4/21

Hi Chelise,

I found your blog through a facebook suicide loss group. Thank you so much for it. I've been reading through your posts. I need them. 

My husband of 23 years took his life on Christmas, 2020. The only things keeping me clinging to life are my family, friends, support groups, and blogs like yours.

My guilt is all-consuming. My husband had what I would call functional depression and alcoholism. But the alcoholism was severely affecting our relationship. In the last few years, things were very strained. We fought a lot. I said hurtful things. He wouldn't get help, and I became angry, desperate, even bitter. All of the worst things. 

What I wanted underneath it all was just for him to get help, to be present for himself, for us. I wanted to have the man I saw when he wasn't drinking. Now he's gone. And I blame myself for everything I ever said, didn't say, did and didn't do. I feel I could have saved him. But I never had a clue suicide was a possibility. I knew nothing. I was a fool. 

I saw what you posted from another blogger: "I fought so hard to save her when she was sick. & while it took awhile, at some point after her passing I realized it was now time ~that I fight, to save me." 

I can't imagine ever wanting to save me. 

I feel I deserve a life of punishing myself. How can I possibly live on knowing he took his life, and our relationship could have been part of that. I love him more than anything in this world. 

Thank you for all you do. Your blog means so much. 

- Sarah*

Here was my reply:

Oh Sarah.

My heart hurts for you. We have so much in common. The first years after John died were riddled with so much guilt. So often, it was hard to breathe under the weight of it.

Please know that functioning depression does not mean that it is not life threatening - and it was not your job to fix that. It would have been impossible. His alcoholism increased his risk, not you and what you did or didn't do.

Guilt is common with all grief, but it is nearly universal with suicide loss. Your guilt is proof of being a suicide loss survivor, not proof of actually having done something to feel guilty about. There is something I often share with those who've lost their partners and who'd been struggling/fighting/setting firm boundaries with, or even leaving, at the time that their partner died. It is true for you too:

Your husband did not die because of the things you did or didn't do. And he was not dealing with mental health issues because of your fights. Your struggles with your husband were likely due to the same things that killed him - the alcoholism and the depression.

Partners have arguments. Even terrible ones. We have people in our suicide loss survivor group who were in the process of pursuing a divorce from their partner. It is not their fault that their partner died. There are many people in the group who were mid-fight with a husband when he suddenly completed right in front of them. Their argument/s, however ugly or painful, were not responsible for their partner's death.

I don't know what your exact circumstances are, but just like I know for certain that those people are not responsible for their partner's death, I know this is true for you too. If you can't yet take that in, please be very gentle with yourself.

And know that I, and so many other survivors, will hold the truth for you. You are not responsible. We will hold this truth for you until you are ready to take that deep breath and reach out for the self compassion that you so deserve.

💓 - Chelise

If you are a suicide loss survivor and can relate to Sarah's feelings, please try to take this in. You are not at fault. And you are not alone.

*Sarah is not the actual name of the woman who wrote me the letter. I changed her name in this blog post, for privacy reasons. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Cruelest Month


April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.
― T.S. Eliot

April is the month I want to rip from the calendar. I need wings. I want to fly over this month and everything that it brings with it. I will take to the skies and land in May. I will shake myself off and march forth, again. Willingly, I will stumble into Mother's Day which is a quagmire of its own. But no matter what Mother's Day brings, at least it's not April. 

At times, I debate this one thing. When John died, did he remember that two weeks later it would be the anniversary of the day my mother took her own life? Did he not care? Did he want to compound the pain? Or did he think to himself: "I will leave in April too, so that she can tie up all her grieving in just the one month?"

That last one can't be it. There is no 'tying up' of grieving, as if it could last just one month, anyway.

I do know that suicidal intention gets in the way of remembering anything about others. Their dates and plans and feelings and needs all fade away when you entertain the thought of dying. I know this. The date of my mother's death was a detail that was unlikely to bear any weight under the heaviness of John's desolation. It wasn't so much that he didn't think of me, as it was that he couldn't.

My debate goes on. Perhaps if I had held his hand in mine just a little more tightly, perhaps he'd have lived. Perhaps he wouldn't have taken the entire month of April with him. How could I not have saved him?

But the debate does no good. There is no way to win. So I live with this fact - the losses of John and my mother have impacted every part of me. Loss has settled deep inside of me and my bones have become brittle in response. I am always near breaking. 

There have been so many people who have stepped up in order to hold me together. The gratitude I feel for this is profound, yet it is always imbued with guilt. No one should have to hold me together. If I was just stronger somehow, I wouldn't push and pull at people, desperately hoping someone could rescue me from this relentless tide of sadness. 

But then again, strength does me no good either.

A friend and I were talking about this recently. She has endured similar losses to my own. We hate being told we are 'strong.' Words that seem like they are compliments. They are meant to be compliments. But for us, so often, the suggestion that we are strong makes us feel as if we are invisible. Can no one see us? Plus, when you acquire strength by necessity - it makes it sound like it is a gift. But, we don't want this strength. This is not what we signed up for, and this was not the prize we were hoping for. 

Some days, like today, there are no right words to say. I am full of fear and I need help. But I don't know how to ask and I don't know what to say. I've seen the tenuous threads that bind us to the earth. Too many times, I've watched them snap. People float away. There are many days when I am afraid to take stock of the joys in life. Is blind faith in the goodness of things better than the heartbreak of life's promises that are not kept?

I feel like 19 years later and 4 years later should be enough years to be able to breathe again. To fear only rain in April, not memories. Shouldn't this have been long enough?

They are not here, my mother and John. But sometimes when I write, I stop for a moment to remember them. To really remember. 

I think of his hands. Of his fingers which were long and thin. I think of his fingernails, which were flat. There was usually a little bit of dirt under them, some remembrance of the day he'd had. And he chewed his nails, so one or more of them was always ragged and uneven. If he reached for me while I was wearing a sweater, sometimes there would be just the tiniest snag, when his finger brushed against the knit. 

Lately it has been my mother's voice that haunts me. I can barely remember what it sounded like when she was angry or crying, but I can remember what it sounded like when she was telling me that she loved me. The rise, the fall, the intonation. I remember it all. "You are my sunshine," she would say. I think of it often, because it comforts me still. 

Perhaps this too is a part of April. The remembering of things. Maybe this is the sweetest part of grief. The way it knocks on our hearts asking us to tell stories about our lost loves.

Maybe John's touch and my mother's voice are wrapped up in this month. A month that I want to escape from. If that is the case, I suppose I am not so quick to say I want to take leave of these April days. 

Maybe April is the cruelest month. And I need help. And I am full of fear.

Knowing nothing else to do, I will do what my mother taught me, and I will write. Because this is where I find my words, and this is where I find my courage. And writing is the only way I know to find wings, and fly away.

John Bernard Macaluso
August 20, 1985 - April 2, 2017
Forever loved. Forever missed.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Allyn S. King

Allyn S. King was an American stage and film actress and singer who began her career in vaudeville. Later, she was a performer in the Ziegfeld Follies.
A victim of an undiagnosed eating disorder, King suffered nervous breakdowns in her late twenties. She attributed them to her struggle to meet the demands put on her by directors and producers to remain abnormally slim. 

Allyn S. King died by suicide on March 31, 1930. She was 31 years old.

Allyn S. King
February 1, 1899 – March 31, 1930

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Francine Mussey

Francine Mussey was a French film actress whose career began in the silent film era of the 1920s .
Mussey was born in the 18th arrondissement of Paris as Marcelle Fromholt in 1897. She made her debut in the 1920 Lucien Lehmann-directed film L'épave, and she went on to appear in a number of films throughout the 1920s and into the sound film era of the early 1930s. She appeared in the 1927 five and a half hour epic Napoléon.
Not a lot is known about her depression, however Francine Mussey lost her life to suicide on March 23, 1933. She was 35 years old when she died.

Francine Mussey 
October 6, 1897 - March 23, 1933

Friday, March 19, 2021

Tom's Clothes

Written by Kimberly A. Starr

When Tom died, I took the easy way out when it came to his clothes. Within a few weeks of his death, my husband and I packed them all up in Space Bags and took them out to his dad’s house for storage. It was sort of “out of sight, out of mind.” That was just about six years ago.
Around two weeks ago, I decided I was ready to look through his shirts to have them made into a quilt. I texted his dad, and he agreed to bring all the clothes down to our house. When he arrived with them, he told me he was alright with me donating them because, “I have many things to help remind me of Tom.” He also mentioned that “Tom would approve of us donating the items.” I immediately broke down. The idea of donating his clothing had not even been on my radar even though it is a completely reasonable and logical thought. Tom’s dad left all the clothes and told me he was alright with whatever I decided. I am blessed to have a good relationship with him even though we divorced in 2006.
My anxiety was heightened, and I was tearful for a few days as I anticipated touching each of his items and having to decide what to include in the quilt and what to pass on to another medium-built teen.
Finally, yesterday I went through all the Space Bags and Tupperware tubs. There were clothes I hardly remember and others I expected to find and did not. I went through all of the cargo pants and sweatshirt pockets, hoping to find a new piece of his life but did not find anything as hoped. I did take one of his sweatshirts and wrapped the arms around me for a bit. I cried on and off, but I did get through it.
I kept about 25 pieces of clothing including t-shirts, shorts, and sweatshirts to be made into the quilt. I also pulled out a few items to be made into teddy bears for me, my daughter, and a few of Tom’s friends.
This morning, we drove 25 miles to a local charity thrift store and dropped off the bags, as I could not bear to donate it someplace local, and then see someone wearing one of his clothing items around town. I held it together while handing the bags to the attendant, but the tears started again when I returned to the car. My husband pulled away from the donation door, stopped the car, and held my hand until the storm of tears passed.
It was time. Even though it was painful, I feel like a burden has been lifted. And Tom’s dad is right, our family has many other reminders of our beautiful son.

© 2021, Kimberly A.Starr Thank you Kimberly, for being willing to share this very personal and poignant piece of writing with Lighting Up the Sky readers. For suicide loss survivors who choose to let go of some of the material possessions that belonged to the person we have lost, your words are a beautiful reminder that we are not letting go of the memories or the love. 💓

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Nick Hughes

Nicholas Farrar Hughes was a fisheries biologist known as an expert in stream salmonid ecology. 

Hughes was the son of the American poet Sylvia Plath. He and his sister Freida were well known as small children, especially after their famous mother's suicide
Hughes attended Oxford University, where he received a BA degree in zoology, and a Ph.D. in biology from University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).
After receiving his doctorate, Hughes held a post-doctoral fellowship with the Behavioral Ecology Research Group at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. In 1998 he became an assistant professor in the School of Fisheries and Ocean Science at UAF. Hughes made important contributions to the field of stream ecology and he was considered a prominent Alaskan biologist. 
According to Hughes' sister, her brother had been feeling depressed for some time when, on March 16, 2009, he died by suicide.

Nick Hughes was forty seven years old when he died.

Nick Hughes 
January 17, 1962 – March 16, 2009

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Sarah Kane

Sarah Kane was an English playwright. Kane's published work consists of five plays and one short film (Skin).

Kane's plays have been widely performed in Europe, Australia and South America. In 2005, theater director Dominic Dromgoole wrote that she was "without doubt the most performed new writer on the international circuit". At one point in Germany, there were 17 simultaneous productions of her work. In November 2010, the theatre critic Ben Brantley of the New York Times described the SoHo Rep's "shattering production" of Kane's Blasted (which had opened two years previously) as "one of the most important New York premieres of the decade". 

Kane was known to have struggled with severe depression throughout her adult life. On February 20, 1999, Sarah Kane died by suicide. She was twenty eight years old when she died.

Sarah Kane 
February 3, 1971 – February 20, 1999 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Exactly where we need to be.

To all of us who have lost a partner to suicide. To those who have lost a partner in any way. To the widows and the widowers. And to the forever heartbroken. 

I see you.

To those of us who have someone new,

To those of us who are still waiting for the heavy veil of grief to lift before we can love again,

To those of us who yearn for someone to appear and hold us through it all,

To those of us who choose solitude intentionally because it offers us safety and warmth,

I see you and you are exactly where you need to be.

Some of us will bear this day that celebrates love by hiding our sorrow. 

Some of us will take the vulnerable step of asking others for support. 

Some of us will sit in peaceful memories. 

Some of us will stand in anger. 

Some of us will be celebrating with someone new. 

Some of us never cared about Valentine's Day anyway.

Whatever you do - 

I see you and you are exactly where you need to be.

Watercolor at top © Mira Santos, 2021