Saturday, May 1, 2021
Friday, April 30, 2021
Why didn’t we see something? Why didn’t we realize she was in danger?
Why didn’t she say something? Reach out?
What was she thinking? How was she hurting so badly inside?
What could we have done differently? Would it have mattered?
Here’s an idea:
Instead, what if we focus on what we DO know about her?
I know Tammee valued her family, her faith, her friends.
I know Tammee was adventurous, even to a fault. Whether flying airplanes, scuba diving, riding horses, driving motorcycles, she loved speed and exhilaration.
I know Tammee danced always like no one was watching, even though entire dance floors would stop and clear to watch her (which would always then embarrass her greatly).
I know Tammee was impulsive, always choosing immediate action over analysis and planning. I know this caused many wonderful things to happen, and sometimes not so wonderful.
I know Tammee was in great pain and fear 24x7.
I know Tammee was somehow stronger than anyone I’ve ever known, and it still amazes me.
I know Tammee loved me.
I know Tammee is in heaven.
I know I loved her always, and will love her forever.
These things I know.
Fly free, Tammee Lee!
Jim Yoder lives in Kansas. He sings in a gospel band, he's a Kansas City Royals fan, and he is a survivor of suicide loss. On April 29, 2012, Jim lost his wife Tammee. Yesterday, Jim shared the note above with his fellow loss survivors.
The anniversaries of my own two primary suicide losses are in April. As we round the corner from this month into May, what Jim wrote was a beautiful reminder to me that we can move forward holding equal amounts of Grace as grief.
Saturday, April 24, 2021
Mantenuto played one season for the University of Maine Black Bears men's ice hockey team. The next season he transferred to the University of Massachusetts at Boston and played one additional season for their team. His then auditioned for the role of Jack O'Callahan, a player on the 1980 Olympic men's ice hockey team, who beat the Soviet Union team. He won that role in the movie, Miracle on Ice.
Saturday, April 17, 2021
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
Saturday, April 10, 2021
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.
She is why I write.
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.
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.
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.
*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
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.