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My First Dog

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I am one of “those people” who connects with animals way more than with people.  Always have, always will. It started the summer I was 5 when Smokey, a Cairn Terrier (like Toto), became part of our family. I’m pretty sure it was at my sister Leah’s instance that we looked for a dog at all, but when Smokey arrived, I fell in love. Today, June 18, is his birthday. He lived until he was 18.

My attachment to him was strong and my anxiety over his well-being kicked in whenever I was sent away to camp or we took extended vacations in the summer and left him in the care of others. I don’t remember how much we helped with what I’m sure we promised when we got him, feeding, brushing, walking, etc, in the younger years, but I was happy to take on responsibility as we grew older.

I always felt Smokey and I had a special bond because he had a habit of grabbing things from my room like socks, little toys, a calculator once, and putting them under a specific chair in the living room.  Since he only took my stuff, I believe it was because he loved me most.  It’s possible I was the only one who left their things on the floor though. I know we all had a very special relationship with him.

When I filmed my conversation with my dad for The Silent Goldens, he told me when my mother was ill with cancer, Smokey would lay down in whatever room she was in, just quietly keeping an eye on her.  That information really touched me because I didn’t think of them being close like that.  Luckily he was still at a boarding place when she killed herself since my parents had just returned the night before from my grandfather’s funeral in Minneapolis. I would have been so sad if he had witnessed that or thinking of her saying goodbye to him.

My sister and I arrived home at night after we were told of her death and when I realized Smokey wasn’t there I asked my dad if we could get him in the morning, but since we were turning around in a day or two to go back to Minneapolis, he said it would be fair to the dog to get him out and them put him right back in.  I understood, but I really could have used his company and calm. I also kept thinking how he would come home not knowing what happened and never see mom again. 

Once mom was buried, my sister and I returned to school and my dad went home and figured out a new life with Smokey by his side.  My dad and I were discussing how when things settled down in the months after we lost mom my sister continued to do well in school and my dad was moving forward with his relatively new job and new love, Connie, when I asked what I did and he responded “you attached to Smokey.”  A very revealing tidbit I thought.

I did indeed attach more than I had been because I didn’t have to share him and he essentially became “my dog.”  When I moved out of the house after my father got married I took Smokey.

When I moved to a studio apartment in NY with a roommate, I took Smokey. Unfortunately, by this point Smokey was quite old and my work schedule made it difficult to care for him properly, so I sent him home to live with my sister.  He lived for another year and my father sent me a plane ticket to come home when it was time to put him to sleep.  It was the first time I ever saw my father cry – even after all the stuff with my mom.  

Both Smokey and Riggs truly saved my life at critical junctures, just by being by my side, and I am forever grateful to them both for that and for opening my heart to unconditional love.  I know I’m in for a lot of pain as my clientele grows older, but I also know now that it only hurts so much because you loved so much, so I’m going to cherish love in the now and keep my trust that the Rainbow Bridge* is real and my babies will be healthy, happy, and waiting for me when I come to get them. I believe.

*If you don’t know about it, it’s all explained here Rainbow Bridge Poem.

Under the Mask: The Little Things

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As the country dips it’s feet back into the “normal” pond, I’ve been noticing the contrast between how I behaved way-back-when and some of the new habits that I’ve picked up since the world shut down, which I’m sure are very, very common.

Here are the top five in no particular order:

I learned not to jaywalk when I moved to Los Angeles over 20 years a go.  You can and will get a ticket. And it’s dangerous.  But once all the cars went away, I confess I’ve been doing it more than I’ve been crossing at corners. Carefully. 

My low impulse control forces me to put my fast food in the back seat so I won’t automatically start eating the fries on the way home with my un-freshly-washed hands.

My mask is now the thing I have to keep going back into the house for, always remembering it just as the door closes. And, similar to my reading glasses, I now have multiple ones but either have all of them together or can’y find any of them.

I admit to previously getting annoyed standing on lines where people left too much of a gap, impeding the feeling of progress.  Now my irritation arises from those who stand to close, whether it’s to me or others.

One habit that hasn’t died but now seems useless is that when I pass others and make eye contact, I feel compelled to smile.  I continue to do this knowing full well my gesture of goodwill is covered up.  

I wish I could say more profound changes have occurred, but if they have, they haven’t become apparent to me yet.  I’ll keep you posted!

Time in the Time of the Virus

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I always find it strange how fast a week seems to have gone by despite how slow the days may seem to be passing.  With no appointments, obligations, work or anything to differentiate the days, here are the markers I’m using.

Sunday Trash at curb for Monday morning pick up

Monday Return trash cans to driveway

Tuesday Make sure car is parked on West side of street

Wednesday Make sure car is parked on East side of street

Thursday Check calendar to see if it’s Thursday or Friday

Friday Host takes trash to curb so no one parks where bins go

Saturday Easy to throw out dog poop because most people have bins out already

Along with 4 dog walks a day, I’ve been spending most of my time working on The Silent Goldens documentary, my latest life-organization ideas, and adding to my Because It’s Punny series for my Gallery of tRuth collection, as seen in the picture.  

I can’t say I’ve been getting a lot done, but I can say I’m doing more than usual!  Little victories daily.  That’s how I’m rolling!

Out of the Ashes

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The first blog I posted on this website, A Year of Firsts, was about good coming out of bad with a quote from actress Delores Hart: “One’s deepest wounds integrated become one’s greatest power.” Actress Mariette Hartley shared those words at a conference for long-term survivors of suicide loss when I was just opening up about my mother’s death and developing the idea for The Silent Goldens documentary.

It crystallized my feelings upon discovering how the tragedy of my mother’s death left me with a story to tell and the power to help others that have been affected by suicide.  Everything I went through, everything I learned along the way (including television production) came together and will allow me to, hopefully, make a strong impact advocating for survivor support in a way that is unique  to and comfortable for me.  But it did take 30+ years to get here.

Our current coronavirus crisis has left me, like so many others, flat broke and unemployed and I have no idea what’s on the other side.  I watch too much news and continue to be crushed by the number of people dying alone and in pain and the stories of relatives who didn’t get to say goodbye and now are grieving alone.  I also fear the suicide rates will be increasing dramatically when the crisis passes, especially for those who were thrust into the front lines.

My goal in sharing my family’s story on film is to get people talking about the bad stuff and, though it specifically focuses on the unique burdens suicide loss survivors face, I think it will be a helpful guide to approaching tough conversations in general.  It feels particularly urgent now to get it done.

So I am taking the “gift” of time in lockdown to begin a rough edit on the documentary with the interviews I’ve already filmed.  Doing so has not only made me feel productive, but watching all the conversations makes me feel like I’m spending time with my family.  Hearing about my mom in general has me reminiscing about the way better times of my childhood.

From July 30-August 2, the AFSP is holding their second national summit in Cleveland and I am schedule to give a workshop about breaking the silence.  I have not yet heard if it is cancelled and I’m not asking because I don’t want to know.  It was at the first one that I was convinced this documentary path was the one to take.  I think with the trauma surrounding this virus will have a deep affect on many for years to come and I feel like this film will be a helpful tool as everyone everywhere tries to regroup and move forward.

I think it will take a long, long time for many to find a gift in this pandemic, but the spotlights on the people out there sharing and caring and the stories of how medical staff and communities everywhere have pulled together are evidence it is already happening.  People are finding such touching and inspiring ways to help and show support for others that it does give me hope for humanity.  We just need really to keep the lines of communication and our hearts open.  

Wishing you good health!

If you are in crisis or are worried about someone, please check out our resource page for ways to find help!

 

Observation on the New Normal

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Zeke. Not my dog, but I love him like he is!

I send my most sincere wishes to all reading, those they love, and those their loved ones love and so on and so on!  I am staying with a friend in Burbank, CA and am lucky to have Zeke to walk multiple times a day for fresh air and exercise.  I am also using the time to work on the story cut with what is already shot of The Silent Goldens.

The first thing that struck me about self-isolation was that it was going to have an opposite effect on me, actually forcing me to shelter with another person.  The very busy pet and housesitting business that provided me with both housing me and regular income  evaporated overnight. Needing a place to “shelter-in-place,”  a friend took me in.  Rather than having lovely large homes all to myself with just the furry beings, I’m now in a small condo with someone working from home with many daily conference calls.  I’m thoroughly grateful, just pointing out the difference!

Pre-COVID-19, I didn’t see many people daily,  and am generally protective of the time I spend with the pets as my companions, using this time to work on the documentary or to just sit and be quiet.  I stayed connected to others through e-mails and texts with my current clients, going to multiple homes  for walks daily.  When the pets’ parents came back in to town, I move on to the next client – kind of like being on the road with a production, just without a crew. As much as I might wish I could be alone, just me and the four-leggeds, I know it is way better for my mental health that I am not.

As a species, we are experiencing collective trauma from an invisible, potentially lethal enemy attacking randomly from all sides that has rapidly and without mercy changed every single thing about the way we go about our lives – individually and globally.  There is nowhere on the planet to run to be sure of escaping it and anyone of us might be the next victim or the one inadvertently spreading the disease.  My heart breaks thinking not just about those who are sick and dying in hospitals without their loved ones nearby, but also for those loved ones who will have to deal with the unexpected and sudden loss alone, in solitude.  The ramifications to our lifestyles and finances once the world “reopens” is truly unknowable.  We can no longer picture anything about our future the way we did just weeks ago.  Everything has changed in a heartbeat.  

I’ve felt what I just described before when my world and all my expectations about life were ripped away after my mother killed herself when I was 19 and for those who have or will tragically lose someone to this virus, the grief on top of all the uncertainty will be acute.  It will also put them in a new “club nobody wants to belong to” of  COVID loss survivors who, despite the collective trauma, are the ones who have faced the worst.  The health care workers of this country are another group who will need much emotional support when this crisis subsides – having essentially been thrown into the frontlines of a war.

The purpose of my film is to show how being able to talk to others who really, truly “get” a trauma like you’ve experienced is because they have too. This is not only comforting and validating but their stories can help you get perspective on your own.  It’s something I learned when I first began speaking with other survivors of suicide loss 30 years after my mother killed herself. It’s something I remember from 9/11.  It’s something I’ve seen in action watching the #MeToo movement rise.   It is something I think many are beginning to understand as the world experiences this current coronavirus crisis.  

May one of the silver linings to this surreal and sad time be the reality that every single human is in this world and lifetime together and plant the seeds of compassion and communication so they can bloom when we next see each other!  

Be well, be safe and let’s all just talk to each other!

Guest Blog by Leah Golden – January Mourning

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January has never been an easy month for me, marking the anniversary of my mother’s suicide (as well as the death of both my grandfathers).  After her funeral, the only year when my sister, my father, and I observed her death together was ten years later when we made a trip to visit her grave.  All the years before and since we have celebrated alone, each with our own thoughts and feelings. Separated, if not by distance, then by toxic silence. 

Every January I would struggle with my emotions.  At first chalking them up to the let down after the holiday season, usually a week or so into the month I would realize all the deaths involved were most likely the impetus for my low mood.  I would wonder what my sister and father and uncle were thinking and feeling, and when she was alive even my grandmother, but was too afraid to reach out and ask for fear of not being able to express myself, or worse yet, hurting them with my questions by bringing up pain which they perhaps did not wish to remember. 

Instead of calling them or visiting, I would mark the occasion alone, lighting the traditional candle, saying some prayers, and reminiscing. Some years I would read the sympathy cards we received, or go through her letters to me.  Other years I would look at family photos and reminisce on the wonderful fun we had. Every year I wished I had a recording of her voice – it was the first “memory” of her I lost. Some years I still do these things, some years the pull is not as strong. 

Blog Author Leah Golden

Old habits are hard to rid oneself of.  Although I still find it difficult to discuss my mother, and particularly her death, with my family, Ruth’s persistence and courage in choosing to unlock our silence has helped immensely. I usually still spend the day alone, but now I don’t dread January like I used to.  Because we all know we can talk to each other, I now have a choice and know if I need to reach out people are there for me.  2020 marks the first time in many years that I have been excited for the new year, and Ruth’s projects (her documentary and work in breaking the family silence) are the main reasons for this. 

Will it ever be easy or feel natural to talk to my family at will and with ease about my mother’s life and death?  That is hard to say.  I am by nature a fairly private person emotionally, and years of silence are hard to break.  Slowly the walls are coming down, and hopefully sooner rather than later, this will feel as natural as discussing any other topic of import.  

I hope my sister’s documentary and work will help inspire other families to break the toxic silence which often surrounds suicide.  It has meant so much to me, and I believe to all of our family.  

Note from Ruth:  If you have been affected by suicide, please consider donating in honor of a lost loved one to help The Silent Goldens raise the $15,000 still needed to finish filming the interviews.  Just click the donate button above for a secure link!  Thank you!!!!

 

My Sad Time of Year

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Today marks the 35th anniversary of my mother’s death.  While the fact that she died by suicide is typically the focus my thoughts and discussions about her, this is the one day that I my mind goes to the fact that she is gone more than how it happened. 

Right after she died  I noted every significant chunk of time – 24 hours ago she was alive, 2 days ago she told me she loved me, last week I had no idea my mother would be dead.  She dropped me off at college, but she didn’t know I quit and wasn’t around to see my sister graduate.  As time passed, I counted weeks more than days, then months more than weeks,  and suddenly the years started accumulating, but the actual date of January 15 is always one of reflection.

Until I had my mental breakdown/breakthrough, the anniversary was a sorrowful event.  I would think a lot about what she’s missed in our family and the world and, especially if I was struggling in my life, my thoughts would be more about I may have missed not having her around as I became an adult and wonder what she would think of me now.

Since beginning The Silent Goldens project, I’ve used the day as more of a moment to connect with her and “tell” her about the progress I’ve made with the project, the people I’ve met and everything I’ve learned about suicide.  

I am positive that my mom would be 100% behind the idea of this film.  I am 99.9% sure she wanted me to follow in her footsteps as a social worker and am 99.8% sure if she had not died I would have, so I believe she would like get a kick of how my ‘rebel’ life in television came back to this.

The fact that she’s gone will never not make me sad, but talking about her and using her story for good is the best way I can think of to honor her and keep her memory alive.  

Love you Mom!

Thanks and Giving

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Often I feel everything I am doing is going in slow motion while actual time keeps zipping by, but on Thanksgiving I took stock of how far The Silent Goldens documentary project has come since this time last year.  We’ve completed half of our principal interviews, edited and posted excerpt clips on thesilentgoldens.com, launched the monthly YouTube interview series Talking About Suicide Loss With, and I wrote an op-ed published on CNN.com.

While there are only so many ways to actually say thank you, I truly and consistently live in gratitude and recognition that every accomplishment has been possible because of help from others – from moral support to sharing knowledge and connections and, of course, the donations that are necessary to get this documentary done.  We are so close, the only thing keep us from reaching that goal is money.

Raising $50,000 by the end of January will allow us to finish principal filming in February and put us on target to having a solid cut of the film by the end of Summer 2020 when (breaking news!) I will be presenting at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Long-Term Survivors of Suicide Loss Summit in Cleveland, Ohio.  Any amount large or small will help us reach this goal.  The need to bring this conversation into the public is urgent and – with your help – I can do it!  And, of course, matching corporate donations accepted!

Tomorrow is  Giving Tuesday and as you spread around your charitable funds, please consider making a tax deductible donation here to The Silent Goldens documentary.  As my family and I break our 30-year silence about my mother’s suicide, this film will increase awareness of the issues facing those left behind and encourage other to speak.

Donations accepted through the 501c3 International Documentary Association and memorial credits available in honor of those lost to suicide.

Suicide affects us all – or likely will one day – and a donation to this project is a direct and tangible way to help me help the millions of other suicide loss survivors deal with the aftermath of their own loss.  

Even if you can’t give financially, please follow us on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and post about the project, like our web page, and subscribe to our Talking About Suicide Loss With series on YouTube!

Thanks in advance for giving!  Truly.

Ruth

Talking About Suicide Loss With Joshua Rivedal

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This coming Saturday, November 23, is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.  Throughout the world, events are held to honor those lost.  It is an intense but moving day and offers those grieving a community to help share their pain.  Local events can be found here. 

Every time I attend events like this, I am struck by how many incredible people I’ve met and the friendships I’ve formed out of tragedy. In 2016 I went to the first conference for long term survivors in Chicago where Joshua Rivedal was offering a workshop talking about how humor and creativity helped him work through his grief based on his fifteen-character, one-man play Kicking My Blue Genes in the Butt (KMBB), based on his memoir The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah. 

Since then, Joshua has achieved much Joshua Rivedal is the creator and founder of Changing Minds: A Mental Health Based Curriculum and The i’Mpossible Project and has spoken about suicide prevention, mental health, diversity, and storytelling across the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia.  You can read more about him at iampossible.com and watch his Talking About Suicide Loss With segment here.

I hope everyone has a peaceful Thanksgiving!

And Miles To Go Before I Sleep!

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It happened!  November 3, 2019 at 8:19 pm at La Cienega near Durango my steady companion in life, my mystic teal mica Toyota Rav 4 reached 200,000 miles!  One day shy of 19 years and 4 months in my life.  

Creeping up on this number made me do a lot of thinking about what has changed in my life since I got that car at the beginning of my life in LA.  I’ve been reminiscing about the people and animals that have come and gone and how many adventures I took with my dog Riggs.  This was the only car he called his.  

It’s also hit me that I lost my mom at 19 and 6 days shy of four months.  So at the moment the car represents an entire lifetime to me.  When I noticed this, I also realized this is happening at a time when I’m taking major steps with The Silent Goldens documentary by reaching out to prominent loss survivors to help support the film and applying for grants.

Yes, it is blurry. But festive. I meant to do that?

Though I fear for the longevity of my car, I have no plans or desire to willingly give it up. We are a perfect match.  I, therefore, am looking at this new phase as our leap into the unknown.  I have never had a 200k mile car and I don’t know what will happen.  I, too, am putting myself and this project out there.  I have big plans to bring suicide loss survivor issues into the national conversation and am pulling out all the stops.

I wouldn’t say the Rav4 is still the smoothest ride, nor would I say trying to produce a documentary has been, however, we both keep rolling along!