Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Lost in the Plains: In the Words of a Survivor--Suicide Seen From the ...

Lost in the Plains: In the Words of a Survivor--Suicide Seen From the ...: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. On the 62nd anniversary of my father's death by suicide, May 8, I'm repeating this post, hopin...

In the Words of a Survivor--Suicide Seen From the Inside

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. On the 62nd anniversary of my father's death by suicide, May 8, I'm repeating this post, hoping that my voice as a survivor might shed a personal light on the life of one victim.

My father with me in happier days.
It is not an exaggeration to say that my father's death was the defining event in the life of our family. Everything before was cast into the shadow of that day, and some of us never recovered from the loss. Even to this day it can creep up on me, and strike me as brutally as it did over sixty years ago.

Only recently did I finally bring myself to destroy the letter my father wrote to my mother the day he died. I had promised myself for years that it would not be left for another generation to find when I was gone; it was not meant to be part of my legacy to my children and grandchildren, but a private farewell to the woman he loved. It was more difficult to part with than I had ever imagined. But the words are forever burned into my memory, words that seem to make so much sense, but offered no consolation.

In May of 1957, my father decided to end his life because, he wrote in that letter, he was "weary." He described his loss of enthusiasm for living, his failure to meet his self-imposed expectations, feeling old at only thirty years of age. He expressed his joy in my mother's love, despite feeling he never deserved it. He blamed no one, saying he'd considered suicide many times, looked for alternatives, and now believed it was the best way.

My father with his students-printed in the school paper at his death.
While he didn't enumerate his struggles, they had been obvious to those closest to him. Possessed of considerable talent, he had failed to achieve recognition, at least the kind he sought. An aspiring writer and a gifted cartoonist, his numerous submissions had met with rejection, something he found very hard to accept. His career as a high school teacher was not the one he'd hoped for, and although he was loved and admired by his students, his performance came under criticism from his superiors, something else he found hard to accept. In fact, at the time of his death, he had decided to leave teaching for some as yet undecided new venture. During periods of high spirits, he ran up debts far beyond his ability to repay and made notably poor choices; during the low times, he turned to alcohol to ease the pain. He was a classic bi-polar burdened with a load of baggage from his childhood. In short, he was a suicide waiting to happen.

In 1957 there was little viable treatment available for depression or bi-polar disorder compared to that today. My father did turn to the VA at one point, asking for help, but was told there was nothing wrong with him. To be fair, based on what they could see, there wasn't. He went to work, to church, taught and mentored young people, loved his family, and had a kind word for everyone he met. The kind of illness which caused his pain was only visible in his eyes, if you knew him well enough to see it. Even those who saw it convinced themselves he would never do anything so drastic. Only after the fact did they admit they had considered he might self-destruct.

Sad as it is to remember, at that time suicide was looked upon as an ugly secret among many families, something to keep hidden in shame. I was fortunate that that was not the case in my family, but there were still those, who I'm sure considered themselves well-intentioned, who pointed out the disgrace my father had brought upon us by ending his life. Time and again I went to my mother in tears, to have her remind me that no matter how hurt we were by his leaving, we must understand that he loved us and meant to do the best thing for us all. In fact, those had been his words as well. He said in his letter that he had spent weeks working out the best way, the method that would hurt us the least. He planned carefully, making sure my mother would not be the one to find him, never hinting to anyone what he was determined to do. From all indications, he was carrying out what he had long seen as an option to end his suffering, before he inflicted more on those he loved.

Could he have been stopped? I don't believe so. If not that day, someday, he would have succumbed to that weariness. That said, I believe some potential suicides can be prevented, and we must work unceasingly to raise awareness and encourage treatment. But for every one that is prevented, there are others that won't be. We will be shocked and saddened, and hopefully led to look more closely at those around us. But when the unspeakable happens again, as it surely will, my hope is that we will not second-guess the reasons, look for what-if's, or lay blame at the feet of the victim or those who loved him. Whether it be a celebrity, or someone in our own community or family, we will remember to honor the value of the life lived, even as we sorrowfully accept its end.

Just as all cancers can not be cured, all depressions cannot either. Each case is different, the sum of a person's life experiences compounded by the mysteries of brain chemistry. Just as all illnesses are not addressed "in time," the potential of those who suffer depression is not necessarily recognized until it is too late, even by those who suspect they may be suffering. Human nature requires us to question what might have been, pointless as that might seem. Fortunately, human nature also prods us to persistently seek a better way, to be a voice for awareness, open the lines of communication, and make every effort to reach all who suffer.

Therein lies hope for the future, and comfort and purpose for those of us who mourn.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Lost in the Plains: A Dilemma of Blessing$

Lost in the Plains: A Dilemma of Blessing$: Remember me? I know it's been a very long time, but I'm still here. The past twelve months have been mostly filled with more of the ...

A Dilemma of Blessing$

Remember me? I know it's been a very long time, but I'm still here. The past twelve months have been mostly filled with more of the same for us. Medical appointments, procedures, bills, and the ongoing financial insecurity. I hate to admit, but by the first of December, '18, I was feeling pretty worn out with the whole scene. John had been through four procedures to attempt to ease his back pain and allow him to stand for more than two or three minutes at a time. Those four had necessitated at least three times that many trips to Kansas City, a six hour or more drive round trip. I did almost all of that driving, until my own medical issues almost sidelined me. Thank heaven for friends who helped out, for determined, compassionate physical therapists, and finally for the relief provided by steroid injections. All those trips, all that effort to keep going from both of us, and  by the end of the year, we were facing the distinct possibility that none of it had improved John's condition.

By the first of December, our bank account was tipping toward the negative, we were fiercely nurturing our holiday spirits, and faith was only thing keeping us going. I was once again wondering if things would ever change, or if we could somehow find some other means of meeting the challenges.

And then the Blessing$ began to flow in. I've said many times that without the generosity of family, friends, and even strangers, the past four years would have brought us to a very different place. But what amazes me is that after so much time, the generosity has not diminished. It seems our situation, not unlike so many others, has somehow inspired ever greater willingness to help. I can't explain it, but every gift feels guided by goodness, marked with love. We accept them with prayerful thanks, knowing just how blessed we are, and try to faithfully use them wisely.

December's gifts quickly brought us relief from the immediate strain. I could pay the bills on time, the pantry shelves were replenished, and a whole deer took up residence in our freezer! We even bought new shoes, replacing the ones John and I had worn most days for the past four years. Most amazing of all those gifts was the new mattress John's brother gave us! Two people with bad backs on a marshmallow/trampoline, we had despaired of ever having a comfortable night's sleep again. I wake up every morning thankful for that particular gift!

We have a rule here. Beyond the essential monthly bills--if it cannot be eaten, isn't necessary for our basic health, or won't go in the gas tank of the car, we don't NEED it. The one exception, what we call our one vice, is seed for our bird feeders. John is convinced our feathered friends will not survive without our help, and he takes such pleasure in watching out for them, I'm willing to keep those feeders filled.

At the end of the year, we were breathing much easier. With strict stewardship, stretching every penny, we might be able to stay ahead of the due dates for a good while. But then something completely unforeseen happened. The gift$ kept coming. For the first time in years, there was--for us--a substantial balance in the bank plus a tidy sum of cash tucked away. For the first time in years, we started to look around for things we've needed, but never thought we would be able to afford
I hear a lot from my friends about self-care. Being a caregiver is endless work and leaves little time for attention to the caregiver's needs. I know it's true, that if I don't take care of myself, I won't be here to take care of John. But the days go by, and I do what I do no matter how I feel, until I realize I'm near the end of my endurance. When my Primary Care Provider told me in January--sternly but with a hug--that  I was close to collapse, it hit me hard that she was right. It was time to do something for myself, regularly, or the needs would outlast me. But what?

On the way home from choir last week, we were talking about things worthy of our gift$. At John's insistence, I had already gotten new lenses for my glasses. (I think he'd been quietly terrified during those KC trips, knowing I couldn't read the road signs.) We know he'll need a new wheelchair soon, but it looks like Medicare will take care of most of that. Of course, we could just squirrel away the money for unexpected expenses ahead, but was that what the givers intended? We walked into the house still debating, and I was struck by the pathetic condition of John's recliner. He'd mentioned often, with a laugh, that someday he'd like one that didn't lean sideways.

"You need a new chair! That's what we should buy!" And then a wild idea blew in. I needed a chair, too. One I could sit in for more than a few minutes without my back complaining. One I could get out of without groaning. One comfortable enough to read in, or even watch TV with John sometime. Two chairs? That's crazy, right?

Cut to the end. After some online research, and visits to our two local furniture stores, I found two chairs, matching, no less! With a little negotiation, they even came within my allocated budget. I was glad to be able to buy local, too. Within a day, the chairs were delivered, the old one taken to the alley for trash pickup, and I was battling my conscience.

Judge me if you will, but I've decided I did the right thing. There's still a very comfortable balance in the bank, and I did something everyone was telling me to do. Something for myself. I may not have a lot of time to sit in that chair, but when I do, it feels good, almost like something I deserve. I refuse to regret it, no matter what my conscience says. But the greatest benefit of all is that I spend more time with John, just sitting side by side. That's the best therapy of all, I'm pretty sure. I think it's even worthy of the shower of blessings sent our way.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Beginning and the End--FREE

Begin at the beginning with Hearts Unfold, always FREE wherever ebooks are sold.

August 28-29,  Offered For Love is FREE exclusively for Kindle.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Because Sometimes Only a "Book-book" Will Do

 I love ebooks almost as much as I do chocolate! But I'd never buy one for a gift. For one thing, how would I wrap it, or even slip it in one of those cute little gift bags? And how would my friend put it in a special spot, where she would remember me whenever she sees it? Where would I write that  message that has meaning for both of us; the words he'd look back on and smile whenever he opened the cover?Only a "real" book--not an ebook that vanishes into the ether--a "book" book, with a colorful cover and plenty of paper pages, will do the job.
For that reason, I've slashed the price of all my paperbacks to make it easy to purchase a thoughtful gift for under $10. Mother's Day? Graduation? Birthday? Or just a gift to say "You're special."
I would have lowered the price even more, but the on demand printer won't print them for any less. My royalties will amount to a few pennies, but that's okay. The thought of someone receiving one of my books as a gift from one of you who's read it and consider it worthy of your special someone is reward in itself!
Click on over to Amazon (hover in the blank space below the photo for the link) and check out the titles available. And thank you for warming my writer's heart by sharing my words with your family and friends.