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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. 

Talking About Suicide Loss With Josh Reiter

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Today I am posting the latest episode of my YouTube interview series Talking About Suicide Loss With…, featuring  Josh Reiter, who I met while representing the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention during the performances of A Light in Dark Places, a September play series about suicide, loss and hope. 

In the three year span of 2011-2014, six of his classmates at W.T. Woodson High in Fairfax, VA died by suicide.  Two of those students were discovered dead just a day apart.  Though it’s not believed the suicides were connected, it was a time when suicide wasn’t being openly discussed in an environment that was filled with pressure to achieve.  

Like in all suicides, no definitive answers have been found of “why” this happened, but the silence around the subject obviously had a part in it.   After the first one or two, the phenomenon of suicide contagion to take hold.  This contagion is  defined on hhs.gov as “the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, one’s peer group, or through media reports of suicide and can result in an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviors. Direct and indirect exposure to suicidal behavior has been shown to precede an increase in suicidal behavior in persons at risk for suicide, especially in adolescents and young adults.”  

Luckily Josh found a way to get through high school and has used his experiences to reach out to those he knows are in pain.  He is excited that working with A Light In Dark Places is giving him a bigger platform to help reduce the stigma and silence and save lives.

Now, Josh is a Los Angeles based actor, writer, director, and coach. He has worked across the country in regional theatre appearing with the Saratoga Shakespeare Company, the Know Theatre of Cincinnati, and the West Coast Jewish Theatre among others. Josh can be seen on Saved By The Bell and Warped! He can be heard on Netflix doing the English Dub for The Hockey Girls and Vampires. Josh is Mr. June in the 2020 Nice Jewish Guys calendar. He holds a BFA from CCM and is a proud member of SAG-AFTRA.

Talking About Suicide Loss With Ale Fips

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I got a bit behind on my special content postings for September’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, as it’s always a very busy month for me, but there is always a good reason to spread awareness and that’s because people sadly keep dying by suicide and leaving many of us behind.

Every year when I show up as an American Foundation for Suicide Prevention volunteer to help out with the play series, A Light In Dark Places, a series of short plays about suicide that bring understanding and hope, I am so impressed with the production, the content and the people who make it happen.  This year I’m featuring a few of the cast and crew on my YouTube Talking About Suicide Loss With… series.

This week is Ale Fips , who directed one of the plays this year, among serving in numerous other production capacities.  When she was a teen, a good friend’s older brother died by suicide, and the silence surrounding it in the community affected her deeply.  When she began struggling herself, she found talking to be the way out  – something her friend’s brother wasn’t able to do – and has advocated for people to do the same since.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all remedy to preventing a suicide or helping someone cope after losing a loved one to suicide.  Support groups and therapy can be an invaluable resource for many, but the tools we learn aren’t always enough to get us through another bout of depression or anxiety, as Ale discovered.  For her, the the added layer of a few good friends and a mom who were open with her and really listened helped pull her back from the abyss.  

In advocating for “talking about it”, the idea is to talk to anyone that can help you when you are in pain.  A friend, a kind stranger, a faith leader, a neighbor, a teacher, a therapist, a co-worker – the list is endless.  You can decide who you trust.  There is no right answer or one path for everyone, just what works for the individual. If the person you first choose isn’t up to the task, they might be able to help you find the person who is. If you feel someone to isn’t being helpful, look around for someone who will be.  Others might not have answers and likely won’t be able to change anything for you,  but there is an indescribable relief just in getting something off your chest and feeling heard.  Talking is healing and if you look, there will be someone to talk to.

Art, especially theater, is  truly is a powerful force and great conversation starter about many difficult subjects.  Book and films can help educate others can help deuce You can use the play itself as the “in” to bring up the topic of suicide and go from there.

Check out Ale’s bio and then click here to watch her segment!

Ale Fips is from Guadalajara, México. Ale is an actress, singer and  producer that began her career at a very young age in shows for the FIL (International Book Fair)  for more than 4 years.  At age 15 she starred in the musical: El Principe Rana, performing more than 300 shows as princess Nadia. She moved to Mexico City playing a role on the Spanish version of Disney’s High School Musical. She has also been part of several TV series including Código Paranormal (LATV), La Rosa de Guadalupe, Como dice el Dicho (Univision) making a name for herself in Mexico, United States and other countries. She moved to the States in 2014 and Study at the Stella Adler Academy of acting LA. Her NYC credits include: “Seucy and Boto” “Undefined Fraction”(Loco 7 company); “Judgment on a Gray Beach” (La Mama, experimental theatre).

If you are struggling please go to our resource page for the National Crisis Hotline or text line and other help.

Talking About Suicide Loss With Tim McNeil

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When I began volunteering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 2015, I discovered purpose in life. Suffering from burnout and depression, I felt more accomplished passing out information materials at various events than I did seeing my name in the credits of whatever tv show I was working on. I told the director of the AFSP chapter I joined that “working in suicide makes me happy.”  It’s a line I heard her quote more than once.

While my mother’s suicide when I was 19 led to much grief and struggle in my life, when I learned to use my experiences to help others who suffered the same way I had, things came together in wonderful ways for me.  Meeting other suicide loss survivors has been the most impactful as there is always an instant connection, typically followed by a meaningful conversation.  Being a resource for the newly bereaved, or those who are still silent consistently touches my heart.

For the fifth year, I’m brining the AFSP’s resource materials to a very special event, A Light In Dark Places,  a collection of short plays about suicide and hope at The Stella Adler Academy of Acting theater, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, September 10-19.   The organization’s founder, Kelly O’Malley began producing the series in honor of her father, who died by suicide, after discovering the importance of conversation and community while studying acting at the school.

Every year has been completely different in terms of storytelling, as the plays are picked from nationwide submissions, but the dedication, compassion and care the cast and crew – both new and old – bring to the project are always outstanding.  I give an AFSP Talk Saves Lives presentation to them at the beginning of production to share the basics of suicide, risk factors, warning signs, and how to approach someone in crisis.  We also talk about how to safely discuss this important subject in a public forum.  Many came to the project because of their own losses or personal struggles and all have been incredibly open to these conversations and welcoming to me and all I have to say.

One of the first Talking About Suicide Loss With… short interviews I did for my YouTube channel was with Kelly.  This year I wanted to feature some of the cast and crew of A Light In Dark Places… to share their experiences with loss, the silence that followed and how eventually being open with their stories has changed their relationship to their grief and trauma.

This week, I present Timothy McNeil.  He is a writer, director and actor.  Tim recently directed his first feature film Anything, starring John Carroll Lynch, Matt Bomer, and Maura Tierney, currently available on Amazon , etc.  He will be directing his next film Purplish, which he wrote, soon.  He has had over 30 of his plays produced, including the play version of Anything (Best Production of 2008 by LADCC), Isaac Babel And The Black Sea, Machu Picchu, Tx., Supernova, Los Muertos, Crane, Ms., and Margaret, among others.  He has also directed over 30 plays including Hamlet, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Isaac Babel And The Black Sea, and many others.  Tim is also an actor and has done over 50 film and television shows including Forrest Gump, Contact, Starship Troopers, Seinfeld, and others, and over 75 plays.  He will be seen in Daniel Adam’s The Walk, coming later this year.  Tim is also a proud member of The Lab Theater and The Elephant Theater Company. He has been on the faculty of the Stella Adler Academy of Acting Los Angeles since 1999.

Little Things Can Mean So Much

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A big factor in the difficulty of grieving a suicide loss is the isolation it brings, whether families publicly acknowledge the cause of death or not.  If it is known, people not wanting to say the wrong thing or avoid the topic stay away, while those suffering don’t share their grief, to spare others the discomfort of discussing or thinking about suicide.

As I’ve been editing The Silent Goldens, I’ve been pulling some clips that identify ways to open and normalize conversations so those left behind don’t have to suffering in silence. When I first spoke to my sister, Leah, I learned that she told her friends my mom died from the cancer she was being treated for, not suicide. 

While I was in shock about being brought back to school the day after my mom’s funeral and found myself unable to follow my dad’s instructions to just “move forward,” Leah was happy to be at college.  She loved her life there, was able to focus on her studies as a distraction from her grief, and felt supported by her friends and the campus community.

As this clip details, she was especially moved by the simple gestures, the type of things people do for the bereaved when death comes in “socially acceptable” ways – disease, accident, or war.  Though reaching out to people in grief in any circumstance can be difficult, triggering, and awkward, knowing the circumstances helps people process the death and empathize accordingly, whether it is an elderly person who has led a good and full life succumbing to a debilitating illness vs. a child struck by a car or losing someone to war or murder.

Understandably, when suicide is involved no one knows what to say or do.  And there really is nothing to do other than to say “I’m so sorry for your loss” and asking if you can help in any way. You listen without judgement if they want to talk about it. You don’t need to get the answers to all your questions or try to answer the questions they might pose of “why.”  “I don’t know” is a valid answer. You treat it as a death, a tragic, unexpected and traumatic loss. You focus on the survivor.

 Although my sister had to deal with the questions and emotions arising from our mom’s death being from suicide without the help of her friends, her grief simply being acknowledge meant the world to her, which touched me deeply, primarily because it took me 30 years before I figured out that I hadn’t really grieved at all.

I share this clip to confirm that little things can mean a lot, especially to someone in pain. In suicide prevention talks I give we tell people to ask someone directly if they are ok if you are concerned about them, assuming you might be the only one who will.  I think that advice can be used in comforting suicide loss survivors – reach out and treat them like they suddenly lost a loved one. Touch the part of them that isn’t bogged down in the details of how it happened.

Podcasting and Other Ways I’m Trying to Prevent Suicide

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September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day.  September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and a good time to spread the message behind The Silent Goldens documentary – conversation around suicide must be normalized.  It is an instrument of helping and healing.  So here are some Ruth and documentary related tidbits to mark the day:

September 11 and September 18 I will be representing the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for A Light In Dark Places, a series of short plays about suicide and hope at The Stella Adler Acting Academy theater, which I’ve been involved with for the last five years. Yes, me on stage at Stella Adler for the 4th year running! If you are in LA come see me!  Tickets here.

My 3rd guest spot on Wife of the Party podcast with LeeAnn Kreischer, wife of comedian Bert Kreischer was just posted. I shared the spotlight with Kelly O’Malley, founder of A Light In Dark Places, the play series mentioned above.  Over 1200 views in two days!

My 2nd guest spot on the Wife of the Party podcast went up a month ago.  It was just me and LeeAnn chatting about numerous topics, the primary one being The Silent Goldens.  It’s had over 1400 views so far!

More to come! It’s a busy month. Never-before-seen clips to premiere, and new Talking About Suicide Loss With… YouTube segments with cast and crew from A Light in Dark Places.  I’m also about to launch a new fundraising campaign to fill out our post-production budget so we can finish by Spring 2022! 

The International Foundation for Suicide Prevention,  which founded World Suicide Prevention Day and Month has great information and resources on their website!

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

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September is a big month in my life.  Primarily, it’s because I was born in September.  Then I always started school in September. And the Jewish High Holidays are typically in September. So it’s an annual sense of renewal, fresh starts and resetting goals.

It wasn’t until I was 50 that I learned it was Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month.  Suicide had been a part of my life since my mother killed herself when I was 19, but it was a part locked deep down inside me.  Everything changed when I attended my first suicide prevention walk with the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention in Los Angeles as a volunteer and immediately realized I found my people.  I was able to talk about my mom freely – no explanations needed.  The fact that everyone there had lost someone to suicide was new to me – it never occurred to me to look for other people but here I was in that “club no one wants to belong to” and there were so so many.

As a club member who is committed to speaking out about suicide loss and its ramifications on those left behind, I plan to be very active this month in putting forth information to help open and normalize conversations.

Coming up:

• Two new clips from the film will premiere.  The first on Friday, Sept 10, which is Suicide Prevention Day and then on Tuesday, September 21, which is my birthday.

• I’ve had two guest spots on Wife of the Party podcast hosted by LeeAnn Kreischer, wife of comedian Bert Kreischer, to discuss my film and suicide loss posting next Thursday, Sept 9.

• Four new Talking About Suicide Loss With… segments for my YouTube series. Guests are actors and crew from A Light in Dark Places, a play series about suicide and hope at the Stella Adler theater in LA.  Will be posted weekly on Sundays.

Prevention Tip:

If you are in crisis, are with someone in crisis or are concerned about someone here are the numbers you should know

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline     1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line        Text HOME to 741741

911       If someone is actively suicidal and has access to lethal means.

Let’s take care of ourselves and each other!

After the Pulse Massacre, LA Showed Its Pride

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On June 12, 2016 I marched in the Los Angeles Pride parade with the Greater LA Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to spread awareness and hope in a community where suicide rates tragically run high.  Unfortunately, in the overnight hours before the event, the massacre at Pulse in Orlando took place. The parade organizers debated whether to continue with it, not only because of the horror, but because various threats against the parade were actively being investigated.   

Like so many people marginalized and victimized solely because of their identity, the LGBTQ+ community rallied.  None of our chapter’s volunteers dropped out either, despite the anxious and subdued atmosphere.  The crowd was thinner than it typically would have been and security presence was quite visible, which was both comforting and disconcerting. It felt important to be there, especially because of the trauma of Pulse, to allow anyone wanted one to have a chance to express their shock, grief, anger and pride.   So many more people of all backgrounds, some targeted, some because they happened to be where one of these incomprehensible mass shooting events took place.  

I believe the growing frequency of the the mass casualty events and random acts of violence  throughout the country are triggered by hate of the “other” and fueled by self-righteousness and entitlement.  I know because I have my moments too – I can hate with the best of them in the moment, but by not acting on that hate, I avoid killing or maiming.  Typically the intensity of my anger eventually either dissipates or at least subsides to a tolerable level where I can sometimes even understand the other side.   Acting out in anger or with malice, in my experience, has never brought a positive result and any satisfaction I feel in the moment morphs into embarrassment for how high the level of my anger reached, even if it was only expressed it my head.

I am currently convinced I’m watching civilization devolve before my very eyes. It’s extremely scary and terribly sad, and has exacerbated quick-temperedness and reactivity for many, myself included, so perhaps it’s a chance to hit the reset button and really take a look at my own values and visions of who I want to be and the world I want to live in and act accordingly in all circumstances.

For me, the people showing up to that parade on the heels of the Pulse tragedy exemplified the importance of showing up and fighting for your rights, beliefs, and your identity no matter with a positive message that invites people to your conversation. Despite what had just happened, the messages at the parade seen on signs and the group chants were of love for all, pride in identity, and support for the Orlando community. Hate is not an option and rage is not the answer.

A Small World Story of International Proportions

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Author, Left Behind

In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I am posting another installment of  my YouTube series Talking About Suicide Loss With… The backstory to how I met this interviewee shows how the things we struggle with most are the things that can truly connect us. 

Last month, my good friend and mindful meditation teacher, Brian Shiers, who has been of great support in all my endeavors since I meant him 20 years ago, sent me a posting for Awakin Call, a free ‘weekly global series of deep conversations with inspiring change makers’ on Zoom.  The speaker he thought I’d be interested in was Dr. Nandini Murali, a South Indian journalist and author, who had just released a book, Left Behind, published by Westland Publishers, about facing down the stigma, shame and secrecy around losing her husband to suicide in 2017, rebuilding her life, and the importance of opening the conversation around this taboo topic.

Obviously her story and her push to get people talking piqued my interest, given my continued work on The Silent Goldens documentary, but her name also rang a bell.  Last September after I gave an interview to an Egyptian website, Masarawy,  for Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, the reporter asked if I knew anyone internationally that could also participate.  I didn’t, but contacted author Carla Fine, who I befriended a number of years ago at a conference, who supplied the contact information for – you guessed it – Nandini Murali.  

Carla’s book, No Time To Say Goodbye, was written in 1999 when she was unable to find any books to help with surviving the loss to suicide of her husband.  Nandini faced the same problem finding resourced in India, but found Carla’s book and reached out to her, forging a quick and close friendship.

Her talk was very powerful and her ability to process the tragedy and move through it very purposefully and thoughtfully was incredibly moving for me, especially since it’s only been four years since her loss. She also spoke about wanting to collaborate with other loss survivors in spreading our mutual message, so I immediately wrote to introduce myself and let Carla know of the coincidence.

A few days later the three of us were on a Zoom call, and a few days after that Nandini and I re-Zoomed to do her interview, which I am proud to post for Mental Health Awareness Month.  Carla’s interview was one of my first episodes.  

As I read Nandini’s book I find myself nodding along to her pain, but so impressed with her resilience.  A must read for anyone dealing with suicide grief and a great read for those mired in any type of grief.

Nandini has also established SPEAK – Suicide Prevention Postvention Education Awareness Knowledge – an initiative of MS Chellamuthu Trust and Research Foundation, Madurai, which fosters safe and supportive spaces to change conversations around suicide and promote mental health.