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January 2018

Milestones & Memorials

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Here it is – January 15. Thirty-three years to the day my mother died by suicide.

While I do not light a candle on for her following Jewish tradition on the Hebrew calendar anniversary, I have always lit one on the evening of the 14th, said the traditional prayer that I Google each year, and “talk” to her for a few minutes. Many people eventually develop rituals around milestone dates for the deceased. Other than what I have mentioned I have never settled on one.

A few weeks after she died there was a memorial service for her in Galveston, TX where I spent we spent my teenage years. My sister and I were not brought in to attend, but each received a cassette tape of the service thanks to my mother’s friend, Ellen Levin. For a number of years I would listen to the hour-or-so long tape on my walkman and cry as I listened to the Rabbi Alan Greenbaum and Dr. Bill Daeschner, Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch where she was a social worker, speak about her. I felt pride in who she was and cried my eyes out that she was gone. I also wrote her letters expressing disappointment in myself, lamenting how lost I felt and how much I was struggling to get myself together or feel good about anything. After a few years I reread the letters and found them depressing. So I stopped.

That was also a time I was getting busy with life. My mid-twenties were fun.   I worked at MTV (when they played music). I lived in NY. I complained, I’m sure, but really had no complaints. I was free and felt like I was “going somewhere.” I do remember once or twice during that time telling my mom in our yearly “talk” that I thought she would be proud of me around then but it didn’t last.

I’ve been to her grave when I’ve been in Minneapolis for work or play. It honestly doesn’t make me feel closer to her and I felt self-conscious trying to speak out loud there. I connect more when speaking to a familiar picture.

Even with all the time that has passed, I am highly conscious of the date but the deep drop in my stomach and clench in my chest I used to feel when it came up is more like a light stomach leap now. Since I asked my family to speak to me about mom’s death about a year and a half ago, she has become more alive in my mind – a 3-D image with much more of a life, and many more good memories, than were part of the concise narrative about her that I created to “explain” her suicide.

This time of year affects my general mood, but it no longer shuts me down – especially now that I am finding my own way down the path I’m confident I would have ended up on so long ago had she been there to guide me – a career focused on helping others through action. The values, ideals, and passion that my mother instilled in me have awakened and the story she left me with is ready to tell. I think she would appreciate my current path, be thrilled that I’ve found purpose, and smile a slight “I told you so” smile to herself (but never say it to me.) I love you mom, I thank you, and will give you every reason I can to be proud.

I am using this date to unveil the Donor Memorial Page on my website listing those who are adding their voices to rid the world of the stigma and shame of suicide and honor those lost by helping The Silent Goldens become a reality.

My January Jinx

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January is a rough month for me. I always approach it with the hope of a life reboot – a marker used to change things up. Unfortunately I have been seriously thwarted on a number of occasions. This year a dog walking accident and face-plant into the cement left me with a huge bump on the head, increased the size of my nose for a while, and rendered my right hand unusable for a few days. That was a week ago and happy to say I’m on the mend and able to type again for short spurts.   A few years ago right around this date I had the panic attack in Target that was really the turning point for me dealing with the grief of the dreaded date of the 15th when my mother took her life in 1985. What I haven’t included yet in sharing my family’s story about her loss is that her father, Emmanuel (Manny) Berlatsky, died just four days prior on the 11th.

I was lucky enough to have all four grandparents until age 11 when my father’ father, Clement Golden, died. We lived in Texas but the funeral was in Atlanta. My parents went and left us home as they felt it was more important for us to not miss school. My sister and I hadn’t been that close to him because he wasn’t the grandfatherly type but I still felt I should be feeling and doing more than I did to mark his passing.

Grandpa B, on the other hand, was the ultimate grandfather. He taught me to play chess, tennis, and pool. When I was young, my family lived in the suburbs of NY and he and my grandmother lived in Queens. We saw each other frequently for birthday parties, holidays, and visits to “the City.”

He was the one who took us on adventures when we visited him and my grandmother in Miami after they retired. We hit 70’s hot spots like Monkey Jungle, Parrot Jungle, and the beaches of Ft. Lauderdale.

My soft spot for him was cemented when I was a teen and my grandmother told me not to put myself down because Grandpa was “fond” of me and it upset him.

I knew my family loved me as a family does, but I always felt like Grandpa B was one of the two people that really liked me – my personality, sense of humor, and interests. The other was my mother.

His first heart attack was in December 1984. His fatal one was on January 11, 1985 and his funeral was on the 14th (Jews bury fast). It was in Minneapolis where that side of the family was from and those who have passed are buried. My sister and I were both at Carleton College in the nearby town of Northfield so were invited to come this time even though we’d be missing class. It was my first funeral.

I sat next to my mother. I sobbed. I was stunned and disturbed by the tradition of mourners throwing a shovel of dirt on the coffin once it was descended into the resting spot but my grandmother did it so I felt I had to. I don’t remember if my mother did.

After the funeral we went to a deli for lunch. We had no family left in Minneapolis at this point so there was no obvious place to go. I sat next to my mother. She was chatty and the conversations seemed normal and rather upbeat given we’d just come from a funeral. I remember Mom eating fried eggs, which surprised me because she always made scrambled. After the meal my mother and father drove me and my sister back to school. I don’t really remember the ride but clearly remember my mother getting out and giving me a millisecond longer than usual hug and saying “I love you.” I went back to my dorm, my parents dropped my sister off and then flew home.

Less than 24 hours later my mother was dead and her suicide immediately overshadowed any thought of or possibility of grieving my Grandfather’s loss for me. I hadn’t even really started. I didn’t yet know how to grieve and the family shut down on talking about my mom’s death, and his as well, so it seemed he too just disappeared. I’ve had a few conversations about him now that my family has opened up and hope through working on The Silent Goldens I will also get the information about him and share memories so he, like my mother, can be brought back to life in mind he will be brought back to life in my mind the way my mother has.

But I do have flashes of memories, a general feeling of love and appreciation, and the knowledge that he led a full life and cared deeply about his social work career and his community. He has not been forgotten. He was, and is, loved.