Saturday, April 30, 2016

You Are Not Alone

Out of the Darkness Walks are sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and take place across the country on campuses and in communities. I actually attended one in Galesburg, IL with a friend several years ago and was impressed with the message of hope, the collective spirit, and the focus on bringing a difficult topic out of the dark. A favorite cousin of mine had ended her life about 10 years before, and I walked with her in mind, chalking her name, Laurie, along the path. It was reflective, spiritual, healing. The main message I took from that day was that survivors of suicide loss don't have to be alone.

And so now, here I sit with more impetus to participate in AFSP walks than I ever imagined. Springfield, IL, where Adam lived for 8 years and died has their walk September 10, 2016. I am excited to have registered Team Tut and hope to join our family and Adam's friends together for this walk. This is my page:

http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.participant&participantID=988284

Information about the Springfield walk in general can be found here:

http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.event&eventID=3861

The super exciting news I also have to share is that there will be an Out of the Darkness walk in Macomb/McDonough County IL October 1st, 2016!!  The location is Lakeview Nature Center, where the natural prairie path will be fashioned into a huge Labyrinth which will be a perfect way to reflect, meditate, and heal while we honor our loved ones we have lost to suicide. Final details are still in the works, but I am your Walk Chair, so if you have questions or would like to help, walk, or participate in any way, please contact me.


*The AFSP is the leading organization for research, education, advocacy, and support for suicide prevention in this country. They operate a national suicide crisis hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mental Health

I took yesterday off. Up at 4 a.m. I mostly spent the day listening to sad music and looking at photographs of Adam. I wept. I don't think I realized the toll "holding it together" was taking on me until a full day with nothing planned and no one around lay before me. I did invite a friend over at 10:00 for coffee, one who knows something about grief. That was a good call on my part, but I now realize there is always an internal pressure to stop the tears when someone is there, and apologize, stupid as I know it is.

The rest of the day I just let everything pour out. The sobbing, wracking tears didn't stop for long until I went to bed, medicated, knowing I had to sleep in order to finish my work week. "Holding it together" for me has seemed easier than you would think. Looking a young man in the eye and asking him about his suicide attempt without flinching. Explaining to a child who lost his father that grief can hit you when you're not expecting it. Listening to a mother's valid concerns and helplessness about her adult child's mental health. Weekly crisis staffings. All in a day's work. By the external looks of it, I am unfazed. And truthfully, I have cut myself off emotionally more than I ever thought possible. My co-workers must think I am made of granite.

I believe I would have to employ the same coping mechanisms in any job, cutting off emotionally in order to function, but I hadn't considered the cumulative effect the level of suppression involved in doing my particular job might be having.

I don't know how this story is going to turn out. Staying home for an extended period or quitting my job certainly wasn't the answer as yesterday proved, much as I needed the release and the space to mourn.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Lighter

Yesterday after months of feeling an array of emotions, none of which I would categorize as happy, I told Eli, "I feel happy." The setting was Chandler Park, Earthfest, with Marissa on one side of me chatting up Mattie, and Eli on the other side, soaking up sunshine, perfect weather, and Hannah's jazz combo playing in the gazebo. Young hipsters with frisbees, dreadlocks and Grateful Dead tee's wandering by and occasionally dancing, a welcome sight not usually seen around our small town.

The day continued to go well, with Marissa and I getting a successful lesson in hula hooping, and then at home making crafty decorations for the rehearsal dinner coming up in less than 45 days. I was having such a good time, I forgot to take pictures!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Introduction to Tollywood: Indian Culture

I found this in Adam's room, something I had hounded him to write for several years, in fact. Unfortunately, he never completed it, but I think it's a good share.

In August of '11, two months after completing my Bachelor's degree, I set out for what I thought was the adventure of a lifetime. I recently had been hired full-time at the Japanese restaurant that I had worked part-time at for the previous 6 months. I was ready for a change, and in search of exciting opportunities. Opportunity materialized when one of my roommates was tapped for a job working on an Indian film in Los Angeles.

A childhood friend of my roommate, a recent USC film school Master's recipient, was hired by a big-name Southern Indian film director as the producer for a high-budget film, shot partially throughout the U.S.'s most iconic locations. This producer needed four people, with valid driver's licenses to work on the production crew. We were to transport the crew of 28, along with all the production equipment, as well as negotiate film permits, lodging arrangements, and guiding the crew throughout the country. Only four of the crew had visited the United States before, and many spoke no English. It is worth noting that this film was not a Bollywood film, the world's largest producer of films, but its southern Indian sister called Tollywood, as the region's most used language is Telegu. 

Anyway, we were to travel the country, shooting in San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Chicago, D.C., Boston, and NYC over a 3.5 month period. It would be long days and short nights for relatively mediocre pay. But, it so strongly appealed to my sense of adventure that I had to take it. My roommate informed me that upon accepting the offer we must leave in two days, which actually made it even more appealing to me at the time. 

I accepted and received the plane ticket the next day. I knew if I did this, anything really could happen, but I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.


*****


What  ensued on this trip was short-lived, but made for some of the funniest stories ever told by Adam. From fetching take-out three times a day to driving a large SUV in downtown LA (fender bender included) to driving out to Vegas where the main actor injured himself in a national park which stopped production to the shouting match in the LAX to get Adam the money for a ticket home, it was definitely an adventure.






Okay, this is NOT the film but maybe what Adam had in mind when he left on his adventure. 

Something Like This

The weight of grief


Yesterday I signed up for the Springfield Out of the Darkness Walk. That felt good, organizing Team Tut. September 10th I'm hoping our family can walk with Adam's friends from Springfield. It was really hard being in Springfield the last time, but I'm looking forward to this. 

Whether or not I accomplish starting a walk in McDonough County I will have this. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Left Behind

Remember when the Left Behind series was BIG (I never read it)? Now we have Miracles from Heaven and Heaven is Real. They sound really schlocky so of course, I won't have anything to do with them. In the 90's, however, I did read Embraced by the Light and found it comforting? inspirational? intriguing? The Five People You Meet in Heaven was a good read, though not claiming to be anything other than fiction.

I am overwhelmed right now with the fear of leaving Adam behind. As life goes on and the "event" is further and further away I am terrified of letting go of things that tie me to him: a plant, a box of memorabilia, his car, his phone, his friends, visiting Springfield. I am terrified that he is alone and that somehow my hanging on to constant reminders is keeping us close.

Maybe it is time to begin a new phase and seek spiritual guidance in some way. I trust the universe will deliver this to me when I am ready to receive it. For now, I soldier on doing the best I can.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Depression

All through this, I have resisted applying the label of depression to Adam. It's not because of stigma or shame; I have worked in mental health for 20 years and almost consider it normal. It's not because I don't think it could happen in my family, I have taken medication for depression most of those 20 years. You would think I could spot it a mile away.

Anxiety, yes. That runs in the family, and he would talk about his own anxiety at times. I encouraged him to see a doctor or a counselor. Addiction, I didn't realize, but makes perfect sense. Again, family history. Adam didn't have the telltale signs of depression or changes in behavior (fatigue, trouble concentrating, crying spells, loss of interest in things he used to enjoy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt) that weren't part of what I thought was his personality. He told me within the last year that he hadn't cried since he was 14 or 15. He would literally get mad at me if he saw me crying. Depression never really entered my mind with Adam even with our family history and knowing that depression and anxiety often go together.

Well, there's one thing Pat has mentioned a couple of times. Adam said he wasn't really into the NBA this year. Should that have set off an alarm?

He was good at hiding feelings and things he perceived as weaknesses. Most of us with depression are good at functioning and getting along around other people. It's the inner turmoil or angst we tend to keep to ourselves. Adam didn't talk about suicide ever, and though I didn't suspect it, I wasn't completely surprised either. My hunch from the beginning was it may have been an ever present or repeating thought for a long time, but he would never let his guard down and admit something like that. If he was going to do something, it would be his decision, and it would be final.

Funny thing is, Adam was more communicative than ever, introduced a girl to us, came home more often, and seemed more comfortable being vulnerable. He went to Mens Wearhouse in January, got fitted for his tux for Eli's wedding, and put down a $100 deposit (something I thought he would have procrastinated on).

In the past, I have thought, anyone who takes their own life has to have a mental illness. It's not something a rationally thinking, mentally healthy person would do. I suspect mixing alcohol and pain medication as Adam did may have allowed him to carry out a plan he kept carefully secreted. I didn't know he had a gun. If I had he would have told me it was just a fascination, and I would have believed him. What flipped the switch on that day, we will not ever know. Did he quietly carry a deep depression that ultimately killed him?

Just because I didn't see it, doesn't mean it wasn't there. There are so many things I don't know.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

What I saw on Facebook moments after the last post


Can you say freak me out?

To Everything

Two recent interactions have pointed me in the direction of looking at things from the perspective of seasons. The first was a chance encounter outside my work building with a lady I hadn't seen in years. She definitely knew about Adam (her son coached Adam in wrestling many years ago) and offered her condolences (tearfully). She then proceeded to tell me about her daughters' battle with breast cancer. She kept telling me it was the Season, and I knew she was referencing the bible because she was also promoting the benefits of prayer and that only God could heal. I didn't really get what she meant but I nodded and struggled to comprehend through context what she was trying to tell me.

A quick check of Google yielded this result from a Christian sermon:

Our foundational scripture is Ecclesiastes 3:1 - 4. (it refers to times, which are seasons) .It reads..”To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up (harvest) that which is planted...

Of course, I have heard the song "Turn, Turn, Turn" by the Byrds. A time that has been allotted for something to happen is known as a season. "During a season, things around us are orchestrated in such a manner that our efforts are supported."  If I understand it correctly my friend was trying to say not to think of our trials as overwhelming obstacles but as natural passages that we can get strength from a higher power to bear. If anyone can elaborate or explain this better I am all ears. 

Grief itself can be compared to seasons. I can't find the article or blog that referenced this so I will just tell you my own experience. The seasons are not in order for me but the first 5-6 weeks felt like winter (the weather just so happened to coincide) to me. Unpredictable, cold, barren, uncomfortable, and wet are some words that come to mind that mimic my emotions during that time. Currently, I am experiencing autumn which for me has always been the onset of seasonal depression. I feel desolate, alone, blowing around like leaves swept up by the wind. Just listen to the song "Send in the Clowns" by Judy Collins and you will get an inkling of the melancholia that has overtaken my soul. I have no idea why that song comes to mind. Interestingly, Judy Collins recorded "Turn, Turn, Turn" also. 

I am hoping there will be a spring and summer at some point.





Hate

I hate that I have to write letters to companies saying my son is dead. I hate that I can't call him up and ask him what he thought of a certain teacher. I hate that I have to claw back in my memory to recall the day Adam met us at Lincoln Land Community College to watch Cal play baseball (it was a beautiful day, Adam was relaxed and in a good mood). I hate that life goes on and that I ever smile or laugh and that I don't know what to say when people ask me how I am.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A short poem shared by another survivor of suicide loss

the best often die by their own hand
just to get away,
and those left behind
can never quite understand
why anybody
would ever want to
get away
from
them”

Charles Bukowski

Monday, April 11, 2016

Waves

Someone found this on Facebook and shared it. The first few weeks after Adam's death I couldn't relate to anything anyone said or wrote. Now, I am able to agree or disagree, feel or not feel what others have experienced. This stands out today:

As for the grief, you'll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you're drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for awhile. Maybe it's some physical thing. Maybe it's a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it's a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float.

I have clung to all of those things: Adam's watch, a chapstick that was in his pocket, the Teavana mug he gave me, the memory of our deep talk in October, the picture of him stacking golf balls, his friend and now mine, Tara. I am floating part of the time, sinking other times.

Just driving from Bloomington to Galesburg Saturday and seeing the signs for Springfield, I was desperately trying to retrace and remember the day I drove from Galesburg to Springfield after school to visit Adam. Damn if I couldn't put the pieces together and how it wrecks me.

I can allow a little bit of anger at seeing happy families splashing around the swimming pool, blissfully unaware it can all be taken away. Like I used to be.

I welcome the waves. It reminds me I have not forgotten.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Kelsey


This girl made my day yesterday with a cool email. I found out Adam liked one of my favorite songs, Africa by Toto and that he liked to blast it and sing along. And most important, that he shared it was one of his dad's and my songs.

This is a blog post from 2014:

Half of Nothing is Everything


There's an essay circulating around Facebook called "16 Things Only Half-Siblings Understand."  I've tried not to use that term, which I despise, half brother, with my boys. To me they are brothers, even though they have different last names and different dads. I realize because of the almost five year age difference, some people don't know Adam is related to Eli and Cal, or that the younger boys even have an older brother, and vice versa. They are probably not aware that like most big brothers, Adam took his responsibility for “toughening up” his little brothers as seriously as the next guy, and that they share as many memories and inside jokes as the boys on My Three Sons.

The realization that Adam had a different dad and would go off with him periodically when they were little, I believe led Eli to invent "my dad with the monkeys" who was his imaginary dad who owned an ice cream store, and a castle and an amusement park. He must have found it quite mysterious and wondrous that Adam had another life outside of our family, so much that he created his own make-believe world away from us. This prompted Cal to chime in with all the cool stuff he got to do with "my dad with the giraffes."  Later we were all able to spend time with Adam's paternal grandparents going to Nebraska football games and chilling at the lake, thus brining that magical world into their lives.

The truth is, Adam has been the longest term relationship of my adult life. He has been with me longer than my marriage, or any other friendships. I know we are bonded by that, however awkward different stages have been. There was a time I actually picked up old receipts off his bedroom floor and read them, to see where he had been and what he bought, since I felt so little a part of his life. On the other hand, I do know that he loves beef jerky, can’t walk away from a debate, and eschews sweets other than Oreo Shakes. My Tiger Mama instincts came out once when an ignorant clergy once suggested that I hadn't raised Adam, because somehow his faulty memory or the fact that Adam didn't want to attend his f---ing stupid fake church services drew him to the conclusion I had abdicated my responsibility as a parent.  *probably need to let go of that resentment*

Adam actually helped me attract my current spouse, helped keep us together in ways he may not even know, and was even a chick magnet for his Uncle Chris. Yes, he was a pretty cute, awesome and precocious tyke. My special name for him is "best boy," and I want him to know he is 1/3 of my Everything.



Saturday, April 09, 2016

See You Again


I didn't like this song at all until after Adam passed and Cal mentioned it having a special meaning to him. Now, I love it and think of it as his song.  Call me out of it but I didn't realize until this morning it was a tribute song to Paul Walker. Did you notice his car driving away at the end was white?

Brother Love




This is a shout out to my brother, four years older than me today (you do the math). I don't give him enough props for being a great brother and uncle. Chris adores his nephews and was always willing to take them on adventures: the mountains, the beach, a solo road trip.

We spent Adam's first birthday at Chris' house in New Hampshire when we were transitioning to Buffalo. Adam was sleeping in a playpen in Chris' room. I went to get him up from a nap one day and when he opened his mouth, I saw it was full of change off Chris' nearby dresser. So he didn't have the safety thing down...he was the FUN uncle! Always down on the ground playing, a big guy acting like  a little kid, sledding, wrestling, hooping, whooping.

We got to spend more time with Chris when we lived in Buffalo, only a day's drive away. A sports enthusiast, food aficionado, a warm personality with go go go. That's My Chris. Happy Birthday Bro, see you at the wedding!

Friday, April 08, 2016

Sibling Loss

I have read novels about mothers who have lost children. Now, of course, I am living it. Something that always struck me was the needs of the siblings being neglected. The mother's grief was always so all-encompassing, the other children got lost.

So what about the brothers? Eli and Cal are almost five and six years younger than Adam. They didn't enter high school until after Adam graduated. They are only one year apart in school and spent time with each other's friend group. They live in the same apartment building this year. Why am I saying this? It is not to say their loss is any less. It is to say they have each other in this shared experience and thank god for that.

They have been strong and brave and loving. As Pat observed, they have taken care of us at times. The first few weeks we talked daily, if only to check in. It was comforting to hear their voices and see how their days went. Eli has Hannah, and Cal has a plethora of childhood friends, college friends, and a passel of girls, known as Cal's gals (from his trip to Guatemala).

I remember sitting outside very early on the morning of February 8th. It was cold and freezing rain was coming down. Eli was driving back to Blo-No very early to return to student teaching just two days after Adam's memorial service. I was scared and sad and tears were flowing. He got up after me and courageously drove back to his life.

I remember the fear and anxiety in Cal's voice February 2nd when he called as we were on our way to tell them. He was able to get to Eli very quickly so they could be together until we got there. No, I can't imagine what they have gone through and continue to go through. I'm afraid to even put myself there mentally for fear of having a break down.

I just want to say how proud of them I am. How honest they have been. How open with their emotions, questions, and support they are. How connected they are to us as parents. How much they love Adam and have paid respect to him. How they carry on with him in their hearts.

No one has an instruction book for how to handle this situation, but it feels like we are on solid ground as a family. I get to spend some time with them tonight, and I can't tell you how much I need that.


Together on Valentine's Day 2016
(the new normal in Normal)

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Wild

I had really been kind of dreading finishing Wild for the past few weeks, as I have felt so attuned to Cheryl Strayed's journey: physical, mental, emotional. I parceled it out slowly not wanting it to end. At first I was not that into it, perhaps because of my own confused mind state. But before long, I was hooked and looked forward to picking Cheryl up along the PCT trail. I could relate to the physical side in some teeny tiny way because I have problems with my feet yet love to walk. Some days it does feel like I have to push through some pain and eventually I become numb to it. After I get going I feel like Cheryl did eventually, sad that it's going to end.

Mentally, Cheryl had toughness and I feel a certain mental toughness in meeting the challenge of Adam's death. I know I have to keep going, be there for others, separate my brain and emotions so that I can function. She knew she was going to finish the Pacific Crest Trail, even when detours and obstacles changed the plan. She didn't give up or get stupid about sticking to the original plan, but adapted and rethought things, finding a new way when necessary. I hope that's how I manage this curve ball I've been given.

The most interesting aspect, however, is the emotional journey and how it parallels what is going on with our family. Cheryl's mother was taken by cancer when Cheryl was a young adult, a mother who was her sole parent and her soul parent. She is lost after her death and makes a rather slapdash decision to hike 1100+ miles, after seeing a guidebook on the Pacific Crest Trail. The grief process is tied to this hiking experience and she weaves her mother's life and impact into the book along with her own mourning. I was conscious that losing a parent, even at a young age, is different than losing a child, but I felt I was experiencing many of the same emotions as Cheryl did. She was hiking to heal herself. I am writing to heal myself.

As I neared the end of the book, I was looking forward to seeing what kind of bang or poetic note she would end on, while still feeling bereft that I wouldn't have her as my daily companion any longer. As I got to the last page and read the following words, I remembered that I picked the book up off Adam's floor February 4th, and the tears started flowing:

It was my life--like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred.

I wonder if Adam finished the book and was reading this very same page? She was about to turn 27, Adam was 27. Young adulthood is all about growth and differentiation from one's family of origin. She concluded the book with this observation about her life:

How wild it was, to let it be.

Cheryl "got it." We always have endings, some bitter, some sweet, some bittersweet. Going forward can be scary but new beginnings are what makes life ours. I have a hunch Adam never finished the book. 

Monday, April 04, 2016

Tugging on my Heart

I keep thinking about those coloring books and the nice colored pencils, barely used, Adam had in his room. I know he was searching for peace and calm and it pains me greatly to think how he didn't find it.

Being fitted for his tux for Eli's wedding, putting down a deposit; this is more like a metal vice grip on my heart.

To make myself feel better when overwhelmed by work or life, I used to tell myself, "My real job is to make sure my children are safe and secure." I wasn't able to do that. I lost one. Adam won't get to find himself. He won't get to find his love. He won't get to find his peace.

I don't know how but somehow the hole in my heart keeps getting bigger. Sometimes I walk on the track at the Y in the evenings with tears streaming down my face. Tonight was one of those nights.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

My Twinkling Star

Last night a star was twinkling at me, and I felt our spirits connecting.

Adam was an affectionate little tyke, a bit clingy, and always ready to climb into my lap for a story. He was an avid reader from a young age and was thrilled to receive books as presents. He was bright and bubbly and attracted a lot of attention for his cuteness. His favorite movies were Bull Durham (age 2 hence Pat's nickname for him, Nuke) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (age 3 or 4). The first movie I ever took him to was Gremlins (big mistake), he was terrified.



Adam was funny, often hilarious. Whether reflecting on his high school career and sleeping through his science class with Mrs. -- every single day (and the truce they came to), relating his adventures working on a Tollywood movie (the next level down from Bollywood) in LA and Vegas as a go-fer and driver (the kid who learned to drive in Macomb), the ex-convicts and immigrants he worked with, or the note I found when I got up one day about the raccoon eating bread he encountered in our kitchen in the wee hours of the morning, he was a very good story teller.

Generous would be a word to describe Adam the past few years. He kept me well supplied with Teavana teas and paraphernalia, and the boys received thoughtful and expensive gifts such as watches and cash. He loved his material things and shared his good taste with his family.

Adam was hardworking. One summer when he came home from UIS I went off on him after several weeks of what I perceived as lazing and bumming around. I mean, I went ape-shit. The next day he was employed making concrete statues; hard, physical labor that he kept up until it was time to go back to school. I'm sure he was pretty happy when that day arrived.

Adam was passionate about many things, especially the ridiculous immigration laws, helping his friends deal with their legal issues around this, racial injustice, other cultures and eclectic music.

Adam had respect for his elders, patiently listening and spending time with his grandparents to learn how their life experience related to his unique perspective. He spent every holiday with family and valued the sentimentality of our past times; playing games, making strawberries, flexing our intellectual muscles, and "visiting."

.

Yeah, Tara, he was a pretty great guy, and oh so amazing. Thank you for reminding me almost everyday. We all miss him and his bright light. Just look to the stars and you will see it still shining.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Life in the Darkness

Some questions I was asked by a friend after she read "How many children do I have?: Do you think it is hard for you to say you have 2 kids instead of 3 because of the way he died? If it was an accident or something do you think it would be easier? I know I wanted to avoid talking about my dad because I hate telling people he killed himself. It almost made me feel less of a person because I wasn't enough to make him want to live. I know that's silly but that's how I felt for a long time. Suicide has such a stigma and some people have no understanding of it and are very judgmental.

Saying I have two kids feels disrespectful to Adam, but there are definitely times I don't want to get into it and that makes saying I have two kids easier. I think my fear is more of breaking down while talking about it and being vulnerable. That is just not something I want to do with everyone. My desire is to be open, but it's not always going to be the time and place.

My "less of a person" feeling comes more from fear of being judged as a bad mother that would have a child that felt he had to kill himself. Sometimes I imagine people are looking at me and thinking, "There goes the girl whose son killed himself" (maybe to torture myself). I know Adam did not want me to think I failed as a parent. In all his writing and conversations I have had with him and that others have shared with me, I believe he understood all his experiences made him the person he is and that he had perspective on his personal traumas (the divorce, moving to Illinois, being bullied). I tried to be careful about not talking about my mother guilt with Adam because I thought he would feel like I thought he was a failure as a person.

I still am not really feeling the stigma or judgment coming from people about suicide. So, no I don't think it would be easier to say he died in an accident or of natural causes. Saying he is dead is just something that sticks in my throat when I try to say it out loud.