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November 2021

The Thanks I Gave

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This Thanksgiving weekend, more than most,  I have spent really reflecting on the many, many things I have to be grateful for in light of the many, many trials and tribulations that humanity has been chugging through this past year.  Mostly I am grateful for how my unconventional lifestyle has continued to work for me and allowed me to have ‘homes’ in places I could only dream of living  with an abundance of dogs to love, and that my big problems have come with solutions.

Numerous bad choices, lack of long-term goals, and various mental health issues have kept me on the edge financially throughout  my 20+ years of freelance work living in LA.  After the panic attack and depression that started my journey to dealing with my mom’s 1985 suicide and The Silent Goldens documentary, I decided to pursue dog-sitting as a way of making some money while giving me time to work on the film on my computer wherever I was.

A word-of-mouth business started by caring for the dogs of those who used to care for my baby, Riggs, when I traveled for work.  My schedule eventually became filled consistently enough that paying for an apartment I was never in became silly, so I gave it up.  Over the past 2.5 years, I have secured ‘crash pads’ to use when there is a hole in my calendar, but other than that, I circulate typically in the North Hollywood area.

I continue to be amazed how the dates seem to work out for the most part, and new clients have been popping up the last few weeks.  This year, a couple of regular clients moved into bigger and better places and, well, let’s just say the above panoramic picture was my view from the back porch all Thanksgiving week.

I am grateful not just for the work and the lovely places to stay, but also for the trust that my clients put in me.  My dog was my everything and I know the animals I care for are loved the same way by their people, so I how big a deal entrusting their care can be, as well as allowing me to stay in their homes.   I am proud to say that I deserve that trust, as I have no interest in snooping, stealing or otherwise taking advantage of the situation.  It’s not in my nature, but also I appreciate the job and I want them to call again.  So far, very very good.  🙂

In my April blog, When In Need, I Had a Friend Indeed, I expressed gratitude to my friend I call ‘Brigid’ and my father for their coordinated purchase of my Nissan Kicks after my 20-year-old, 207k mile Rav4 was taken out by a red-light-runner.  Every time I get it in I feel thankful and know how lucky I am to have people that care so much about my safety and well-being that they would just flat-out give me such an enormous gift.  As much as I loved my old car and mourned its loss, having a new one is a new lease on life in just knowing I have the freedom to “go” if I need to or want to.

I am extremely thankful I did not catch Covid and those I do know that had it did not develop the most extreme effects of it.  The help from the government in making pandemic unemployment available to gig workers like myself was life-saving.  My business went from booming to nothing starting March of 2020, as obviously people were in their own homes with their own pets, and the money I was counting on making to cover my life was suddenly gone.  Getting that assistance allowed me to eat, get gas, pay my modest bills (no rent since I’m on the move) without having to dig into my coin bucket.

Business has started to pick up again over the last few months, and I’ve also been helping the clients that have moved organize, which is something I’ve always enjoyed doing – for others.  Right now I have all of December booked!  So I’m very happy and grateful for that.  

So much gratitude also goes to all those who have donated to my documentary and continue to support me in my effort, which is now on track to have a finished version by Spring.

There are numerous other specific things I could list that I’ve noticed this year, but those are the big ones – money, housing, and transportation, the basics – that were covered and helped me feel grounded and safe throughout 2021.

And a special thanks to all who read this blog!!!

Happy Holidays!

Talking About Suicide Loss With Dr. Donna Barnes

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Marc and Donna Barnes

The Saturday before Thanksgiving was designated International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day in 1999 when Congress passed a resolution proposed by Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, whose father died by suicide. At observances around the world, people share their stories of loss, healing and hope in a safe supportive space with others who truly understand the specific issues and pain those left behind endure.

When I began dealing with my mother’s death 30 years after it happened, the first event I attended held by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Santa Monica was incredibly meaningful.  It showed how you could honor the life of people who have passed and not focus solely on the cause of death. I could see how powerful the experience was for those among the hundred or so that were there who’d had a recent loss and hadn’t yet found a way to speak about it.

Hearing others stories reflected in mine in these types of situations convinced me to begin speaking publicly about my loss six years ago.  In doing so, I have been able to process the grief for bothmy mother’s loss and wondering how different life might have been without closing myself off from my emotions for decades.  Most importantly, I’ve found purpose in helping others in their grief and encouraging conversations. 

Just as my story of silence after suicide is a common one in the loss survivor community, so is the one of the loss pushing survivors to “jump in” to the world of awareness,  prevention, and healing. This month, in honor of Survivors Day, and because I am thankful people like this woman exist and do what they do, I am featuring Dr. Donna Barnes in a new episode of Talking About Suicide Loss With.  After losing her 20-year-old son, Donna earned a Masters Degree in sociology, focusing on the social environmental factors that contribute to suicidal impulses, and has served the loss survivor community in many impressive and important ways.  Here are the highlights:

A certified Master Trainer for suicide prevention and intervention, Dr. Barnes trains faculty, staff and students as well as the community on how to recognize the signs of someone who is in a suicidal crisis. She is also the co-founder of the National Organization for People of Color against Suicide (NOPCAS) after losing her son to suicide while he was in college. Dr. Barnes teaches suicide risk management for the College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry at Howard University and has published peered reviewed articles and chapters as well as conducting presentations on the topic across the country. She is the author of the Truth About Suicide published by DWJ books in New York as part of the “truth about series…” for middle school and high school students.  She has developed a campus-wide prevention program at Howard University; and through NOPCAS conducted support groups for friends and family members of suicide loss survivors.  

 Barnes has been featured on several radio shows and media outlets including NPR, CNN, The Huffington Post and The Washington Post.  She currently serves on the CDC’s Board of Scientific Counselors for the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.