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A Little Trauma, A Big Reminder

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Recently I faced a situation that was highly traumatic for me.  What happened was not life changing, is not uncommon,  and it is something others easily cope with or even, I discovered,  laugh off.  It was, however, nightmarish for me and it left me shaken for a full day.  

My story involves a cat. I have never owned a cat, but through living with people who did, friend’s cats, and the ones I care for in my life as a petsitter, I’ve come to appreciate them and truly do love the ones in my life.  Recently, however, one of my little charges brought me a surprise gift at 1:30am that horrified, disgusted, and traumatized me.  Without getting too graphic, when I went to see what was up, I almost stepped on a large rodent in two very defined pieces.  

Rodents in general are problematic for me to cope with, and I’d certainly never been that close to one that big except from a distance walking at at night in NY, and I’d never seen anything freshly killed and bleeding like that in that condition.  Luckily it was outside and I was able to find two buckets to cover the remains until the owner returned later that day. I was not capable of dealing with it any further.

The murderous kitty had jumped on the bed and my guilt over not appreciating the act of love I’ve often been told these types of gift show, wouldn’t allow me to kick her off, but I couldn’t cuddle.  I also wasn’t able to sleep the rest of the night as every time I closed my eyes, I saw the scene in my head.  Being the middle of the night, on both coasts, I felt this trauma was not truly significant enough to actually call anyone.

The next morning, I had my weekly meditation class and was afraid to settle in for the practice as the picture of the carnage was more and more present since the shock had worn off. Even when I was driving or actively focused on other things, the image lurked in my brain, circling in the back but ready to jump to the forefront again.

I told my teacher of my experience and fear of the picture in my head so he suggested I pull up a happy picture on my phone to stare at and absorb during practice. I made it through with a little help from that for about 3 minutes and then a more help from some meditative Match-3 games on my phone.

All day I felt a little bit off, a little bit in a fog.  Luckily it was a busy day and I saw a number of different people, all of whom got to hear about the unpleasantness.   After my friend got home that evening, we spoke about the cat’s gift and my resulting trauma.  She pointed out that I was even starting to joke about parts of the experience and that just talking about it helps process it.

While the effects of this trauma were short-lived and mild, it reminded me how it affects the mind, body, and ability to function at full capacity.  It also proved how sharing is key to coping with the impact of any difficult situation. Even though I am on a mission to promote this idea through The Silent Goldens documentary, I still need to be reminded of this simple premise when it comes to my own reactions to things other than suicide loss.

Talking About Dana Fuchs

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Dana watching Kevin and Jon perform in NYC’s East Village at Jesse Malin’s Coney Island Baby.

 

May is  Mental Health Awareness Month and I’m so happy to have Dana Fuchs as the guest on this month’s Talking About Suicide Loss With segment for the occasion.  She is a powerful singer/songwriter who has added her voice to the conversation about suicide loss, sharing her story from the stage and her loss through her music.

Dana’s soulful voice was touted by Classic Rock magazine as “juke-joint dirty and illicit, evoking Joplin, Jagger and a cigarette bobbing in a glass of bourbon”.  She actually played Janis Joplin off-Broadway in Love Janis, and is often recognized from her role as Sadie in Julie Taymor’s 2007 Beatles-based film Across The Universe, singing “Helter Skelter” as one of her solos. The Dana Fuchs Band had become a top live act in the NYC blues scene when  her debut album was released in 2003.  Along with a very busy international touring schedule, Dana currently serves as an ambassador to the JED Foundation, a non-profit focused on suicide prevention and providing mental health resources for teens, in honor of her older sister who died by suicide. Her song “Songbirg (Fly Me To Sleep)” was written about that loss and is on her first album Lonely for a Lifetime. In 2018 Dana released Love Lives On, inspired by the music of Memphis, TN and recorded there.  All the info about Dana, her albums and tour dates can be found at danafuchs.com.

I conceived of the Talking About series because of all the amazing people like Dana I’ve been meeting who have also been affected by suicide loss, and the silence that follows it.  I’m constantly in awe of the very different and creative ways people develop to use their loss for the benefit of others, as I am about to do with The Silent Goldens documentary.  Their work has inspired me on my mission, giving me the confidence and motivation to keep pressing on, and I wanted to create a platform for those who have opened up to explain why it has been such an important part of their healing while gently encouraging others to speak.  My story of silence, sadly is not unusual and though the details of all our experiences are worlds apart, the pain and problems we face are sadly all too common.

Survivor support groups often talk about “being in a club nobody wants to belong to.”  I’m sure other groups use that expression too, as it applies to all situations (I think) that one would seek out a support group to deal with. The bonds forged through common experience are often due to horrible experiences. War, natural disasters, crime, loss and all kinds of events that change us deeply.  But bonds are also made through good times. “Families” are formed because of togetherness, common goals and interests.  Working in television production – or any project-based job – can easily produce that connection because you often give your life over to the project for periods of time,  you travel together, you find yourself in unique situations and dealing with personalities that only other people on the production can truly understand.  

At the beginning of my television career in the early 90’s I was very lucky to work at MTV when it was still focused on music, was only on the cusp of getting a corporate vibe, and a lot of the stuff we were doing was still new – and generally very fun to be a part of. I am still good friends with many people from those days, and they are friends with others, and we all hear about each other and communicate online. Even if you don’t totally remember someone, there is still that automatic “in” for having worked in those halls at that time and always knowing at least a few people in common.

Kevin Mackall worked there.  We didn’t work together on anything or know each other well, but I remembered who he was when asked.  As we were starting to develop my film, he and The Silent Goldens director, Jon Bendis (my former MTV boss) reconnected and re-clicked as both are musicians and ended up in a band together.  Their catch-up conversations then led to the discovery that they were both working on projects for suicide awareness.  

My “celebrity lean-in” shot with The Dusty Wright 5 (l-r) Kevin, Bendis, Dusty at NYC’s Jesse Malin’s Coney Island Baby.

Kevin is now the Executive Creative Director of the JED Foundation and is married to Dana!  And that is how this very small world brought us together and now has bonded us in shared experience and purpose.  I communicated with Kevin via email a bit before I went to NYC a few months after the “suicide thing” came up and when we met in person, it was one of those conversations that was comfortable and natural, like we had known each other forever – even though we probably hadn’t ever had a full conversation because we “grew up” at MTV together.

  I’ve been able to spend a little time with Dana in NY and got to see her perform in LA last year, but she’s a busy, busy lady and even though we have yet to have a good sit down story-swapping session, I’m thrilled she’s in my orbit.  Both she and Kevin have been incredibly supportive of all I am doing, which is a huge layer of validation that makes me very very happy!

Here is a link to her very compelling story

New interviews will be posted every month on the 15th.  Please subscribe to the page to keep up with the latest guests and help us grow our numbers!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOmPFumUvgHp-ZE-06DOYig?

 

 

 

The Right to Not Help

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Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, I’m going to share a bit more about one of my struggles and a recent revelation I had about it.  Asking for help is one of the hardest things for me to do, but giving help is a driving force in my life and part of my self-identity. I consider being a helper one of my virtues and honestly enjoy being of service, however it is a trait that causes a great deal of anxiety in my life.

I attribute this trait to growing up in a family of social workers, doctors, and teachers.  My father was often on call.  My mother went out of her way to help her clients, even if it interfered with family plans. I got it. I couldn’t resent it because I understood the whys of what they were doing and had compassion for the individuals in need.  Even as a bratty teenager, I knew my desire to get home in time to watch a tv show could in no way surpass the need to drop baby formula off to a family without a car (even though it was before VCRs).  Any resentment I did feel led to guilt because what they were doing was important and what I wanted generally was not.  

Recently during a conversation with a friend about whether or not we were people-pleasers, I articulated my theory about my compulsion to offer assistance with a word that I hadn’t used before, one that both of us remarked on had hit the nail on the head.  This is what I said – 

I don’t think my motivation is people pleasing, it’s more like if I’m able,  I don’t have a right to say no.

I saw helping as a duty – I help because I can.  I help because I pathologically put other people’s needs before my own.  Saying no with the only reason being I don’t want to only leads to feeling guilty about it for much longer than it would have taken to help, so often it’s just easier to do whatever is asked.

My helping tendencies become a curse because I am still working on my boundary issues and continuously overextend myself at the expense of getting my own things done or trying to stick to a schedule I’ve set.   Feeling overwhelmed unfortunately shifts my mood to anger.  When I connect the dots, I recognize the anger is fully at myself for not making my own wants and needs a priority. 

Articulating my feeling that I don’t have a right to say no explains my anger to me.  I don’t like being told what to do.  I’m frustrated that I don’t stand up for my needs.  I feel trapped.  

I’m not looking to stop helping others – I honestly like doing it and it gives me purpose. in doing It’s just never felt like a choice and I need to balance what I say “yes” to with my own   My inner voice reminds me I have no rights.  I certainly didn’t have rights as a child to my parents attention or time when someone was in crisis.  I’m sure if I did put up any fight I lost it and the idea of helping others was reinforced.

I don’t yet know how this new revelation will affect my relationship with my helping issues, but I’m hoping the “have to” feeling dissipates and I will not just intellectually understand that I do have a choice and all my offers of help come from a true desire to do so.

Premiere of Talking About Suicide Loss With Carla Fine

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In September of 2016, I had just joined the board of the Greater LA chapter of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention and received a scholarship from the national office to attend their first ever conference for long-term survivors of suicide loss.  My experience there was a triumphant and validating culmination of a year of personal growth, purpose, and engagement with the world that started when I first shared my story with another survivor at the group’s Santa Monica Out of the Darkness walk the year before.

My mother killed herself in 1985, and suddenly talking about it to other loss survivors allowed me to process much and heal by leaps and bounds.  I became very comfortable talking about both my story and the subject of suicide.   Meeting other long-term survivors at the conference, however,  brought a whole other layer of relief I didn’t expect.  Long-term survivors have distance from the trauma and have either dealt with their grief, or are practiced at working around it.  We can laugh about some things that recent survivors might take offense at.  We can reflect on how we felt early on without the grief overtaking us for the rest of the day.  We have conversations that come from experience, scarring, and time.  Our grief is still deep, but it has shifted and our perspectives are different.  We survivors are all family, but among the many cousins, those who have similar distance from a loss feel like the ones we grew up with.

At the conference, one of the break-out sessions I attended was a writing seminar given by Carla Fine, author of No Time To Say Goodbye.  Her book, released in 1999, was one of the first to discuss grief after suicide.  She wrote it because when she searched for something to read about what she was experiencing after losing her husband to suicide, she found nothing. Now in it’s 23rd printing, the book continues to be a valuable resource for those affected by suicide.

Through her work, Carla has become a prominent figure in the mental health/suicide world.  She has continued to write about suicide loss and other subjects, and travels the world speaking to survivor groups and professional organizations while continuing to write.

The exercise she gave us was to just put pen to paper and write whatever came into our head for five minutes. Thoughts did just flow and I ended up writing about a teddy bear in storage and how taking it out would mean I feel I’m the person I’m meant to be – if I remember it correctly.  And, yes, the bear is still in storage.  

Going against my natural tendencies, I raised my hand when she asked who would like to share.  I was somewhere in the middle of about 8 people who read aloud. I remember being very impressed with all the stories and the wide range of topics and styles. I felt mine was a bit more rambling and not a good example of my skills, but I felt compelled to put my hand up, so I read mine.

I honestly don’t remember what anyone, including Carla, said about it in the room, but it couldn’t have been bad because I would have ruminated on that for a long time, and it would have missed the point of supporting each other at the conference.

That evening at a reception, Carla sought me out to introduce me to a staff member at AFSP who  was coordinating the blog posts for the national site. She told me that she suggested I write the blog from the attendee POV about the conference for the official AFSP website. I was stunned but massively flattered and, of course, accepted the opportunity. The team was great to work with and I was motivated to turn it around fast. You can read it here:

A Year of Firsts

I am hoping The Silent Goldens documentary will open the type of doors that Carla’s book did for her – to be able to take my story around the world to inform professionals about suicide loss and encourage survivors everywhere to be open with their stories and to address their pain.  Carla sharing her story as a speaker at the event connected deeply  with me and made me want to attend her break-out session.  I felt unusually compelled to share my writing and Carla connected with that, solidifying my confidence to move forward with my project.  The confluence of events was on the magical side.

Carla and I have stayed in touch and I’ve visited her a couple of times when I’ve been in NY.  She’s been very supportive of my documentary project and I’m so grateful she spoke to me for this new Talk About Suicide With Carla Fine.

Check out her interview here: https://youtu.be/9M3-cb3bPFk

Be sure to subscribe to our channel! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOmPFumUvgHp-ZE-06DOYig?

Please share with as many people as possible – you may not know you know someone who it could help.

 

 

Breaking News – New Interview Project Talking about Suicide Loss

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Mariette Hartley – Actress, Author and Suicide Loss Survivor

I am proud to announce that today, March 15, in honor of my mother’s birthday, I’m premiering Talking About Suicide Loss With, a series of short interviews on YouTube with other loss survivors I’ve met who are public with their story and creatively use their experience to help and educate others. The goal, like with The Silent Goldens documentary, is simply to promote awareness about the continued and unique pain suicide loss survivors face and encourage all who suffer in silence to start their own conversations.

After 30 years of keeping silent about my mom’s cause of death, I first discovered it was OK to talk about suicide when I volunteered at a suicide prevention walk a few years ago.  It was the life-changing revelation that led me to dive head first into the world of suicide awareness.

Though conferences, as a board member for the Greater LA Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide prevention and going to a suicide loss survivor support group through Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, I’ve been privileged to meet so many survivors who combine their pain with their unique skills to offer help and hope to all left behind.

Suicide loss needs to be in the public conversation. The issues never go away for those who face it. The pain needs to be understood. The survivors need to share their grief as people can for any other type of loss.  The guests I am talking to gave me the space to open up about my story and the courage to take it public. Now I simply ask them why it was important for them to speak out and how it changed their relationship to their grief.   

Talking About Suicide Loss With Mariette Hartley is the first episode. She is an Emmy award-winning actress and author of the bestseller Breaking The Silence, detailing her family’s struggles with alcoholism, depression, and eventually her father’s suicide.  I knew who she was as an actress but was surprised to discover she had been a founder of the AFSP in 1987.

I was then stunned to find her name listed as the peer support facilitator for the support group I was assigned to (not your typical celebrity encounter in LA, at least for me). It is something she’s been doing for years and has remained dedicated to helping the loss survivor community at large.

It was during a group meeting when she and I were sharing the damage the silence after suicide can create in families, and my smartass remark about how in my home “silence is golden” that sparked the idea for The Silent Goldens documentary.  

The videos will live on a dedicated YouTube channel and be posted monthly:

Talking About Suicide With

We will post them on Facebook and promote them on Twitter and Instagram as well, so please follow us if you haven’t aready!

Also! We are currently running a GoFundMe campaign to expedite the creation of a video presentation about the project to use for grants and seek funding from other sources.  Our goal is April 1 so we can finish the tape by our first grant deadline on April 20. Check it out and please share. Thanks!

https://www.gofundme.com/the-silent-goldens-documentary-about-suicide-loss

Thank you!

Filming Has Begun and Shoot 1 is Done!

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Chris teaching Cousin Henry how to make magic through the lens.

It has been just over a month since I completed the first official shoot for The Silent Goldens documentary. It, I’m happy to report, a resounding success!  My family was very open and pointed with their opinions and feelings, and I was pleasantly surprised that no one seemed nervous about the cameras.  The crew members were all wonderful, artistic, professional, and all the good things you’d want in a crew (shout out Danny, Dre, Karen,  and there was great rapport between themselves and with my family for two long and emotional days.

Mom’s brother and sister-in-law reading her final note for the first time.

For me, the experience was overwhelming in a variety of verygood ways.  On a personal level, I truly don’t have the words to express how thoroughly touched I was by my relatives coming together to have these intensely personal, raw, fully open conversations with me about such a horrible and traumatic subject as my mother’s suicide.  They didn’t have to.  They probably didn’t completely want to  – especially on camera – but they stepped up for me, because I asked and because they knew it would help me.  Every one of them also pitched in to make this shoot happen with travel, accommodations, and location, showing generosity of spirit in giving more than just their time and emotions.

The family’s trust in me to tell our story in a documentary is huge. Yes, my career has been in TV production and, in one of the biggest surprises I discovered in the interviews was that my dad watched some episodes of My Big Redneck Weddingwhen I produced it, but they admittedly don’t have a full feel for all that I’ve done over the years. And if they do think about what I’ve done, it’s usually Redneck Weddings or Hogan Knows Best.

I admit it’s hard to explain as the job titles and tasks are ever evolving, dependent on the shows but this was the real deal and the first time any of them would see me “do my thing” and it was on my mind that things needed to run smoothly. Now I’ve exposed my inner most feelings and everything my “wacky” career has led to with my production coordinator, location producer, and interviewer skills full display to them and thanks to all involved – no major screw-ups!

The personal satisfaction of a job well done in front of an audience (and one that I felt would be judgmental on various levels) mixed with professional satisfaction of hitting this milestone and bringing to life what I’ve been talking about for almost 2 years and was a good feeling too big to completely process at that moment.

The idea for this film came to me in a flash while in a support group with suicide loss survivors within months of their loss.  I was emotional acknowledging how beautiful it was that they could all express their feelings so well so early on, explaining how in my family “silence was golden.”  I was being a smartass, but that’s who I am and that’s when inspiration struck. Already “in between jobs,” as we say in the freelance world, I decided to make this documentary my job. I’ve sacrificed a lot lifestyle-wise by turning to fulltime house/pet sitting to accomplish this, but also gained so much in terms of time to focus on getting done what is now truly happening, and I now have so many furry creatures to love.

Former boss from my job at MTV (when they played music) who taught me how to make docs is now directing my film. And taking selfies on the plane.

Typical production projects I work on are handed to me with a budget, a concept, a company and core support systems in place to make things happen, and within those parameters the creativity with casting and story can happen.  With this film, though, I had the concept, the cast and the framework of the story, I just needed to figure out how to build the production up from scratch, start an LLC, find funding, negotiate prices with vendors, get paperwork signed, sealed delivered, etc, etc.

It seemed like an endless process, but suddenly we were there. One by one the things on my “to do” list got checked off, I was on the plane, the crew arrived, the first interview started, more conversations, it was done.  And I did occasionally think to myself – I did this.  I got help from generous donors, my A-team director Jon, co-producer, Jamie, and DP Chris, all people from different parts of my worlds colliding and all who have stepped up so tremendously to help. Because I asked.  That’s what was hardest to do but that’s what I did.

My sister and I having a heart to heart – finally making my grandmother’s wish for us to be close come true!

Above and beyond getting answers to numerous questions, assumptions, and perceptions I’d held for the 30 years my family spent in silence about my mom, what has meant the world to me is the constant support from them and others who see the of the value of having these conversations documented along with friends, strangers, suicide prevention volunteers, and all those I meet who have been silent about their own losses or suicidal crises who encourage my mission.

Our story is being shared as an example of many families who don’t talk about important issues and to encourage those still suffering in silence to share their story with someone.  Anyone.  It honestly never occurred to me to find people outside my family to talk to about this in the three decades I was acutely aware my family wasn’t dealing with it.  Finding those people at a charity walk opened up this whole new world to me and gave me the courage to then turn to my relatives.

With these interviews, we will be editing an official trailer to be completed by the end of April to use for three grant applications deadlines, to reach out to prominent loss survivors for help with funding and bringing attention to the film/cause, and to seek partnerships with documentary film companies.

To expedite this process, we are now crowd funding $5000 to film certain visuals and create elements to complement the storytelling in the on-camera conversations and represent the full film we envision!

Please help us keep the momentum going!

Incentives for donors include

•. All donors, regardless of amount, are currently listed on our website memorial page as supporters of suicide awareness with the option of having a memorial credit honoring someone lost to suicide. Donations can also be anonymous.

•  Donors giving $500+ get memorial credit with a photo of their loved one.

•  Donors $1000+ get memorial credit with a photo & a short personalized message along the lines of “Forever in our hearts.”

Donations are accepted by the International Documentary Association* for payment as we are under a 501c3 Fiscal Sponsorship with them and contributions are tax deductible.

Donate Here, Please

Thank you for any help you can give!  A little is a lot to a documentary filmmaker…

Please note the online donation form does not have a space to note any memorial information.  All donors will be contacted directly when we are notified it’s been received to get that and other credit information.

And A Happy New Year (Let’s Hope It’s A Good One…)

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I think – I hope – when I look back at 2018 in years to come, it will flash by like a montage in a movie that connects a moment of revelation to the important action that determines a character’s purposeful and happy future path.

In many ways I’ve been living a dream existence for a little over a year.  My love of dogsitting grew word-of-mouth into an almost fulltime gig.  I’ve been lucky to pick up clients who live in beautiful homes, many with pools, where I stay with the various dogs and cats I’ve now fallen in love with – like Gigi, pictured above.  This existence has allowed me the time and space to focus on my documentary project, volunteering, and have the sense of freedom that I seem to crave.

Unfortunately, the forces of anxiety and depression were strong with me this year  – something that all of these wonderful things couldn’t keep at bay.   This thwarting of desire to enjoy and be present in this unique chunk of my life devoted to my passion project added to the overall frustration I felt with myself and the world and my sense of hopelessness.

The lessons learned over the years from my constant struggles with these energy-zapping conditions sent me back to therapy later rather than sooner, but way earlier in a spiral down than before!  Basically, my need to serve others overwhelmed and conflicted with the expectations I put on myself to get through the “to-do” lists of my own life and the film.

Since then I’ve made some baby-steps toward creating boundaries with others and being more realistic about what I can accomplish in a day.  Instead of always setting myself up to fail and focusing on what I don’t get done, I’m trying to pave my road with little wins by acknowledging what I doget done. My resolution for the coming year is get keep getting incrementally better at that.

I’m excited for 2019 as it will start the next chapter in my life.  On January 28 filming will officially begin for The Silent Goldens documentary!  I’ll continue writing blogs and include production news as we work.   Additionally, I will soon be launching an interview series on this site with other suicide loss survivors about their own choice to speak out publicly with their stories.

Thank you to all who have been following this journey through these posts. I’m fascinated to see what comes next and I hope to keep you interested as well!  I wish you all health, happiness, love, and good communication with others in your life as we approach the New Year.  To those who need it, I add my wishes of  and healing, comfort, and peace.

Christmas Caroling in My Head

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Trying to explain my chronic anxiety to others, even my doctors, always raises my level of anxiety.  I get frustrated trying to describe why one day a minor problem might be rage inducing, while on another day it might barely register as a problem.  I can’t articulate how my list of things to-do on paper is ceaselessly running through my mind as “must-do now” list, which I constantly reprioritize.  If I have conversations about it,  I leave them ruminating about something I said, the way I said it, or what else I should have said.

When my anxiety level is very high, I do have a physical sensation of a hand on my back between my shoulder blades nudging me forward, like it’s saying “go, go, go” only I have no clue where I’m supposed to go or what I’m supposed to do.  I’ve never able to accurately described the baseline level I live with however, until a revelation a few years ago during the holiday season while listening to the 24/7 Christmas music radio station.

I love the holiday season and the music.  One of my favorites is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24), the instrumental mash-up of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Carol of the Bells.  You can listen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHioIlbnS_A

The intense rolling beat, the triumphant vibe, and the familiarity of the melody have put this song into heavy rotation on my personal device playlists for years.  Then one day as I was listening felt more connected to it somehow, like my mind inside my head was bobbing along. The underlying beat and the repetitive short bursts of tunes felt more driving than rolling, much like the hand I feel pushing my back.  The back and forth between the instruments felt chaotic and overwhelming.  Even in the quieter parts of the song there’s an ominous anticipation of the crash of the drum and the intensity ramping back up. At the end, you feel a little drained.  This is what it’s like in my mind.

My brain is constant motion and my thoughts are repetitive and invasive, constantly telling me to do more.  The varying intensity of my anxiety always affects my mood and sometimes my ability to function. When my levels are low, the anxiety feels like background music – but it’s still there and I remain ever vigilant waiting for the next thing to trigger me. The busyness of just thinking can sap all my energy.

Now when I hear the song I find it amusing to have this thing has always given me joy be useful in describing my distress and am comforted that for all 3:25 of the song I feel understood.  Where words fail, music speaks my mind.

The Language of Grief – A Book

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Stacy Parker and Ruth showing off their living quarters at Kibbutz Yahel near Eilat, Israel. 1986. No idea who or what is happening on the lawn – or with our hair.

In January 1986, a year after my mother died, I enrolled in a semester abroad program in Israel on the pretense of sparking my interest in returning to college but in reality to escape home when my father remarried.  One of the people I became close to on the trip was Stacy Parker but we did not stay in touch for long after as she lived in California and I was getting ready to move to NYC both in the midst of launching our “real” lives.

She knew my mom had died, but, as she has now told me, I did not speak about it at all and she didn’t feel able to ask because of her own aversion to  the subject at that age.  I knew through the grapevine that she had lost her first-born daughter, Alyssa, in 1997 at age 2, but only when we became Facebook friends years later did I learn how involved she was with organizations dealing with palliative care and hospice for children because of her experience. I also realized how close she lived to me and when I was ready to face my own grief and get involved with suicide related groups, I reached out to her to better understand the nature of volunteering in the grief world.

Our friendship resumed over lunch as if no time had passed as we shared our stories of loss, the need to talk about it, and the desire to use our pain to help others suffering. Even though suicide wasn’t a common factor in our losses, the traumatic nature of them was. While our discussions often focus on grief and death, it is never in a morbid way.  It’s been normal for Stacy for years and her comfort talking about it helped mine grow.

Spending time at her home and with her husband and teenage son and daughter impressed on me how someone who has passed can be kept ‘alive’ in a way, as there are pictures of Alyssa around and they honor her during special occasions.  She is not some memory too sad and upsetting to be discussed nor does her presence overshadow their present life.

Stacy has known about my idea for The Silent Goldens documentary since it’s very early days and has been supportive and helpful in multiple ways and I was happy to return the favor when she asked for some input on her latest project, a new book called Grief As a Second Language, which is now on Amazon.  She even uses my story as an example in one of the chapters – but you’ll have to read it to find out which one!

One goal for my website and this blog is to promote other people’s projects that are in line with my mission to get people talking and sharing.  So let this post serve as a  plug for her book.  Here is the review I posted on Amazon about it :

 Having experienced traumatic grief after my mother’s suicide, I found this book covered the wide range of feelings and experiences I faced in the aftermath.  With the author so openly sharing her story of losing her daughter and how she got through the worst of it, the book reads like a letter from a friend who understands, not an expert listing generic advice about dealing with the “stages” of grief.   The details of everyone’s story are different but loss brings on many common emotions and situations that only others who have experienced can truly understand.  Stacy simply shares what she learned and did to give others the space to come up with a way to start healing that works for them.  I’d recommend this book for anyone with a recent loss or anyone who wants to prepare for the inevitable sadness we all must face.

I’m excited to go to her book party on Jan 8 and get my signed copy!!!

Check it out on Amazon!

My Terrible Horrible No Good Thanksgiving

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My first trip home from college was for Thanksgiving 1983.  My flight from Minneapolis to Houston on the very busy day before was cancelled due to snow, so my arrival was delayed until the holiday itself. I was greeted by my father at the airport and we chit chatted about my trip while we waited for my luggage.  There was no clue that life as I knew it was about to change forever.

In the car my father announced that my mother had cancer.  The diagnosis was Hodgkins disease and she would be going through radiation treatment.  Cancer wasn’t talked about much at that time and even though I was assured this was a treatable kind, the “c” word brought very dark thoughts to my mind.

The ride home took about 50 minutes and I was only beginning to absorb this information when we arrived home.  Mom was sitting in the living room in a chair wearing a long, loose dress and holding a pillow to her stomach.  Right before my finals at school my parents did tell me she was having her spleen removed due to an infection or something.  Their explanation didn’t seem completely right from my limited knowledge of diseases but I went with it. Now it made sense.

I really don’t remember anything my mom and I said to each other.  I don’t remember taking the picture (above) of us ready to go to turkey dinner.  What I do remember is soon after arriving being told by my mother to take a shower and get dressed to leave for the Finklesteins in an hour.

The whole dinner was a blur.  I couldn’t understand how they could throw this news at me and then expect me to have a fun Thanksgiving dinner with 20 people.  I couldn’t understand why my mom, with this scary diagnosis and still in pain from surgery, would want to go to Thanksgiving dinner.  When I am distressed I shut down.  I isolate.  I wanted to be in my room.

Her goal, I would learn more than 30 years later when I finally asked my father about it, was to keep things as normal as possible – for her and for us.  I understand appreciate that was her intention but my coping mechanisms at the time were not that mature.  Even now I’m still working on honing them.

My interpretation of the messages I got were:

  • School is top priority and mom’s illness will distract you so we won’t talk about it.
  • Act like everything is ok and keep moving forward no matter what.

I was incapable of not being distracted but didn’t have the courage to break through my parent’s unspoken ban about speaking of the cancer beyond the basic medical factual updates. I don’t know how good I was at acting like everything was ok then, but over the years any skills I had have deteriorated significantly.

That day set the stage for the handling of the events to come when just over a year later my mother killed herself and the family went silent about it – and her – for the next 30 years.  The day after her funeral my father dropped me back at my dorm room with instructions to get back to normal and move forward.   That was impossible for me and I soon dropped out of school.

While I was able to forge a career in tv production, live independently and support myself, I still feel 19 emotionally and have not grown into a “normal” adult life. I am not married.  I have no children.  I do not own anything of significance except my 18-year-old Toyota Rav 4.  I am currently dog and housesitting for a living while working on The Silent Goldensdocumentary about the damage silence after suicide does to the people left behind and what is said when that silence is broken. I love it, but it’s not a life-long career for me.

My life has improved leaps and bounds since I started talking about my mom’s death and I hope the doc encourages others to speak.  It truly is a part of healing. Filming starts in January and I feel like I’m ready to get moving and start growing.  For me the doc is the first of many projects I have in mind to bring awareness to the silent suffering of suicide loss survivors and the mission to normalize conversations about suicide in our culture.

This Thanksgiving I am grateful to my family for agreeing to talk to me about my mom – especially for doing it on camera.  I am grateful to all those who have supported this project financially and emotionally since I began it.  I am grateful to all the loss survivors I’ve met for sharing their stories, offering me comfort and showing me how my story helps them. I am grateful to my mom for the 19 years I had with her and for leaving me a story to tell.  I wish it was a better, happier story covering a much longer span of time, but it’s a story that has given me a clear purpose and path for my life that honors my mother’s passion for helping others.

Fundraising for The Silent Goldenscontinues!  We’re just $25,000 from our end of year goal for our filming budget. Please help us with a tax-deductible donation, add your voice to a good cause. Memorial donations honoring those lost to suicide are encouraged!