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Talking About Suicide Loss with Rob Barnett

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Jeff and Rob Barnett

The holidays are upon us once again and I’m feeling generally festive.  But I am hugely aware that this time of year can be especially hard when dealing with loss and grief. For those who lost someone to suicide, the Saturday before Thanksgiving is recognized as International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.  Events are held around the world and in the US to allow survivors to come together for healing and support, to share stories, and participate in memorial activities.   An easy way to find a program in your area is through afsp.org.

An article in psychiatry.org cites several studies that show how talk and support play critical roles in recovery and growth after loss, while staying silent contributes to loneliness, difficulty coping, detachment, and other depression-related symptoms.  My personal experience of staying silent about my mom’s suicide for 30 years and then meeting and talking to other loss survivors has shown me first-hand the truth behind these studies.  

Being able to share my grief and talk about my mother has also taught me the importance of remembering and honoring the lives of our loved ones, not just always being focused on the way they died.  Telling my story helped me heal. Perhaps most importantly, the simple act of talking allowed me to join a community of strong, resilient people who are loving and empathetic and who bring strength and hope to each other even in the face of tragedy.  

My mission with The Silent Goldens documentary is to try and open and normalize the conversation around suicide loss.  Very few people are not touched by these deaths at some point whether it is someone close, an acquaintance or co-worker, a community member, or an admired celebrity, yet it still is a taboo topic.  For the last couple of years, I’ve been recruiting other suicide loss survivors who have gone public with their stories to share why they feel it’s important to do so and how it has changed their relationship to their grief for my YouTube Series Talking About Suicide Loss With…

This month I am proud to feature Rob Barnett.  I met Rob over 30 years ago when we were colleagues at MTV in NYC.  We recently reconnected regarding my projects when I learned that he, unfortunately, lost his brother to suicide.  While we didn’t know each other well way back when, talking to him was like talking to a long-lost friend because of the bond of shared traumatic experience.  Unlike many of my guests, Rob spoke out very publicly immediately after his loss and since then has been finding creative ways shine a light on this important topic and support others who have lost someone.

Talking About Suicide Loss with Tammi Ginsberg

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One of the reasons it has been so important for me to tell my story about my family’s silence after my mother’s suicide is the validation I feel hearing other people’s stories.  Although the details of everyone’s loss vary greatly, it seems that those who faced the aftermath in silence struggled the same type of fallout I did in the long-term – years of suppress pain eventually manifesting into their own mental health struggle.  Meeting and sharing stories with Tammi Ginsberg at the Long Term Suicide Survivors Summit I attended in Cleveland was one of those connections that really hit home for me. 

Tammi is the mother of two and a mental health professional in Frederick, MD. She is the president of the Maryland chapter of AFSP where she focuses on educating as many people as possible on the risks and warning signs associated with suicidality.  Tammi’s brother, Brian, died by suicide when she was a junior in college. At that time, there was a huge stigma around mental health and going to therapy was considered a weakness. Her journey of healing includes her own struggle with depression which catapulted her into her second career as an LCPC. In that role, she works with people with mood disorders as well as those who have been affected by suicide. 

The work she has done for herself and for others has been what I see as a very refreshing take on acceptance of grief and living in the journey of healing.  Find out what Tammi has to say in the latest episode of Talking About Suicide Loss found here.

Talking About Suicide Loss with Janet Schnell

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Even though I had lived with losing my mother to suicide in 1985, it wasn’t until 2015 that I discovered I was part of a community of people called “suicide loss survivors.” Intellectually I knew other people had lost loved ones this way, but it never occurred to me that I would feel a deep connection to them, one born of shared experience.

It wasn’t until I attended an Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that Fall (they are happening now, check out AFSP.org to find one near you) that I met others who had been through what I had but were willing to be open and talk about it, unlike my family had been for 30 years.  The relief I felt was instant, not just meeting people I could talk to but in finally telling my story.

I became deeply involved in the loss survivor world and was able to speak at a conference for long-term survivors this past July.  Pictured are those who attended.  I met numerous fascinating people, shared stories, and was impressed by the numerous and different ways people have dealt with their grief and used their experiences for good.  A friend of mine once said, “we can’t save our loved ones but we can save each other.”  And that’s how it feels.  Talking about it saved me from a path of misery and pain I was on.

One person I met was Janet Schnell. Janet is an LCSW who completed her master’s degree in Social Work in 2010 at the University of Southern Indiana. She is currently in practice with CareATC serving the needs of employees in a commercial furnishings company. Janet specializes in suicide prevention, intervention, and after a suicide occurs; depression; anxiety; and substance abuse. She has experience in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Brief-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (B-CBT), Motivational Interviewing, and Narrative Therapies. Janet is a suicide prevention instructor for Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR), She is a suicide prevention trainer for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). Janet is a founding member of the Retrospective Fatality Analysis – Consultants (RFA-C). The protocol is an investigative and research instrument with the goal to inform suicide prevention by using the stories of those who died by suicide. Janet is a public speaker sharing her experience as a suicide loss survivor and becoming a social worker after her brother’s death. She grew up as the middle child in a closely connected family of 7. Janet has been married for 38 years and has 1 son. Her hobbies include public speaking, gardening, and meeting people.

I Read a Book and Am Inspired

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I didn’t know what to expect when a friend (thank you Rob Barnett!)  gifted me The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer.  I had reached out to him for help in getting The Silent Goldens documentary across the finish line as I am working to raise the final $50,000 to finish it off.  The difficulty with this part of has been made even harder by my issues with asking for anything, but especially for money.

The book is an outgrowth of her TED talk on the subject that has been seen over 10 million times.  Her talk came about from her success in being the first musician to reach $1 million dollars on Kickstarter for an independent album.

I found the book inspiring on so many levels – her authenticity, vulnerability, resilience, fearlessness, persistence and her ability to find the good (or at least the lesson) in any situation.  Her story is about the relationships she spent years building with her fans by staying connected and creating a community online and in person and in how creating this, gifts show up in many forms. She illustrates how it’s easy for those who love you to give, whether it’s a monetary gift or loan, a couch to crash on, or a flower given as a thank you.

Her experiences and writings also show how gifts aren’t just about one person giving and one person taking.  There is a trade involved.  Her fans gave her the money to make an album they could listen to, attend shows where she performs and to allow her to exist and be the person who gives these things.  Sometimes, she points out, just allowing someone to give to you can be a gift in itself, allowing the other person to feel helpful.

I am a big fan of being a helper and find purpose and satisfaction when I know I have been useful, whether it’s a favor, a paid opportunity or even just lending an ear.  As long as what I’ve done fulfills a need, I’m all good.  I am also big fan of the trade.  In my current life has a roving dog sitter, I have had numerous times where I have traded dog care, cleaning or (when I can) money to have a place to rest my head when I’m in-between jobs.  Just last night I traded a ride to the airport for a place to crash for an evening. A win-win, I like to say.

What has been most difficult for me in the asking for help on The Silent Goldens documentary is that the story is personal so in a sense I feel like I’m asking for help for myself.  But while it is my family’s experience, the intent is to share it for the benefit of many.  To help those affected by suicide and teach others about the suicide loss experience so that they, in turn, can be part of the conversation and have an understanding that helps breakdown the stigma and shame surrounding it.

The ability to tell my story is what I have to give to the world and those that have heard it at conferences, my college reunion, and other venues I’ve spoken at have told me it is meaningful.  I’ve tried to spread the word through podcast appearances, written articles and interviews I’ve given.  The help I’ve asked for (and continue to need) are the funds and resources to get my film done, and many people I know, along with some I’ve never met have stepped up, warming my heart each time.  The trade I offer (along with the knowledge that the help is specific and  tangible) are memorial credits in the film and on my website honoring their loved ones lost to suicide.

I have a lot more work to do to achieve my goal and build my community and I hope by putting myself and my “ask” out there more consistently will be the key.  Amanda has proven that people are fundamentally generous when they care about someone or something and, given the success politicians find in fundraising, I know it can be done.  

So I humbly ask, in the spirit of the book and the perspective it gave me, if you are able to give and support suicide awareness in the form of my film, please visit thesilentgoldens.com and make a tax deductible donation and honor those lost to suicide.  And please post and share about the project so others may join the cause. 

And read the book!  It’s fascinating.

Thank you for your consideration!

A Very Good July

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July was a very good month. The long-awaited American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Long Term Survivors of Suicide Loss Summit – postponed twice due to covid – finally happened and was an intense, meaningful experience on many levels.

Topping the list was getting to present my workshop on “Breaking the Family Silence,” where I shared my story, my inspiration for breaking my family’s 30-year silence, and the process I followed to do it. I had been scheduled to speak when the conference was first canceled, so this was a long-anticipated moment for me. I had a nice group who were very engaged and asked some really good questions. I also world-premiered the new promo video for The Silent Goldens documentary featuring the conversations with my family!

This was a full-circle experience of sorts, as this was only the second summit and I attended the first one just as I was beginning to break my own silence and start the process of speaking to my family. I floated the idea of doing the film at the first conference and received a lot of encouragement to do it and validation that it is an important story. I’m happy to report that I found the same interest and excitement for it this time and as it inches closer to being finished, I am more enthusiastic than ever about getting it done and using it as a platform to get people talking.

A big part of the experience was just being with others who have experienced the same trauma and sharing stories. Even though suicide is not a fun topic, loss survivors have an instant bond and I met so many fascinating people, so many of whom are doing work in the suicide community to prevent these tragedies and help those who are touched by them. I was surprised at how much more social I wanted to be than I typically am in wanting to keep the conversations going.

I am so grateful to the AFSP for holding this conference and to all those who attended and made it the incredibly special event that it was.

And to prove life is a rollercoaster in ways big and small, in one evening I won a nice sum of money at a local casino in downtown Cleveland and then proceeded to sprain my ankle walking back.

Presenting The Silent Goldens Promo Video

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Ta-dah!  Introducing the first official promo for The Silent Goldens now living on this website! What a journey it’s been to get here, even without the 30 years of family silence about my mom’s suicide.

Setting a real deadline for myself – to have it ready for my upcoming conference workshop presentation at the American Foundation for Suicide Preventions Long Term Survivor’s Summit July 21-24 – has proven to be a necessary and important part of my creative process.  Pulling the team of co-producer, director, editor, graphic artist and sound mixer made me feel back in the game – doing what I know how to do in producing a project – and making this endeavor truly feel real to have people working alongside me.

Like with any project I’ve spent endless hours on, I can no longer look at it objectively but am proud it’s done and I very much hope you will like it.  It’s but a taste of what’s to come.

The work on the cut of the story is going well and I’ll be premiering new clips at the conference. I have also had new postcards made up to pass around at these events and hopefully that, along with this new promo, will help me raise the final funds needed to complete this film this year!

Please feel free to share, especially with those who may wish to honor someone lost to suicide with a memorial credit.  Just hit the donate button above and all the information about making a tax-deductible donation will appear!  Any help is a big help.

Talking About Suicide Loss With Stan Zimmerman

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Creativity has been a source of surviving and healing for me throughout my life.  My career in television was fun and distracting, allowing me to avoid many of my not-so-fun feelings for most of my adult life. I took up painting when I was recovering from the depression that changed my life’s direction and it did, and still does, give me great pleasure.  And being able to use my creative skills to tell the story of the aftermath of my mom’s suicide has allowed me to process it and heal in ways I never could have imagined.

An extra benefit of the work I’ve been doing in the suicide world is meeting others who have found multitudes of creative ways to tell their stories and work through their own grief.  Recently I was introduced to Stan Zimmerman, a comedy writer who has also written a play, right before I go, based around real suicide notes.  It’s a fascinating and important project which has gotten nationwide attention and been performed by such notables as Ellen Burstyn, Judith Light and Vanessa Williams.

Here is his official bio and the link to this month’s episode of Talking About Suicide Loss With…

Stan’s long career covers multiple mediums (TV, film and theatre).  He’s been nominated for two WGA Awards for Best Comedy Episodic Writing on the classic TV series – “The Golden Girls” and “Roseanne”.  Stan’s also written and produced on “Gilmore Girls”, co-created the Lifetime sitcom, “Rita Rocks” and wrote on both “Brady Bunch” movies. Stan has a BFA-Drama from NYU/Circle-in-the-Square and has directed such LA productions as the LatinX “The Diary of Anne Frank”, “Entertaining Mr. Sloane”, “A Tuna Christmas”, “Gemini”. and his original plays — “Meet & Greet”, “Knife to the Heart” and “Have a Good One”. Stan will be directing Colin Mochrie (“Whose Line…”) in “Hyprov”, a new show combining improv and hypnotism, playing for a limited run at the Daryl Roth Theatre in NYC starting Aug. 12. TRWplays recently published and licensed three of Stan’s work — “Yes, Virginia”, “Silver Foxes” and his suicide notes play, “right before I go.”

Talking About Suicide Loss With Louisa Rocque

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The ripple effect of every suicide reaches far and wide.  A factoid I’ve used in prevention presentations says that for every death over 100 people are affects.  Along with the family, friends, teachers, business partners, hairdressers, neighbors – no one who knows someone who died by suicide is left untouched by it, yet are forgotten in the story of the death.

While my mother’s suicide made me understand how it can affect a family, I’m fascinated by the deep impact it can have on others, specifically their friends and peers.  Louisa Roque lost her friend just before heading off to college, which later in life it led her to become the Area Director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Los Angeles and Central Coast Chapter, for which I volunteer.

She is this month’s guest on Talking About Suicide With, in honor or Mental Health Awareness month.  Even with 3-year-old twins, Louisa’s passion for the subject and her work has been expanding the chapter and it’s reach to great effect, working to save lives daily.

Her background is as a non-profit leadership expert, TEDx speaker, public speaker, and trainer who delivers high-energy presentations that challenge audiences to leverage their focus and pay attention to what matters most in life. 

She is skilled in fundraising, relationship management, curriculum assessment and development, staff development, target marketing, and organizational development. Her work touches audiences from every walk of life, and they love the practical strategies they can apply personally and professionally. 

Louisa earned her MPA from California State University Northridge and is currently the Area Director for Greater Los Angeles & Central Coast for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Her strong background in learning, development, and extensive experience in managing teams and volunteers makes her the perfect fit for any audience. 

When not speaking, or fighting for suicide prevention and mental health advocacy, Louisa can be found hiking or spending time outdoors with her husband and sons.

April Showers Bring More Than May Flowers

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One year ago on April 2, I lost one of the big loves of my life – my car when it was killed by a red-light runner.  It was a 2000 Toyota Rav 4 with over 200k miles that had become part of my identity and my life for over 20 solid years.  It was also that day that I learned a huge lesson in generosity, friendship and fatherly love when my friend “Brigid” (identity covered for modesty) and my father collaborated to gift me with a brand new Nissan Kicks on April 7.  The full story is in the blog I wrote when it happened.

The incident also taught me about letting go, moving on and focusing on what is right in my life.  When I sat in the car to take the test drive it had 3 miles on the odometer, now it has 5139.  I have fallen in love with it but am still slowly getting adjusted to the 20 year jump to the future in car technology.  It has been to the mountains and it has been to the beach.  Need to get it out to the desert for the full trifecta of “Los Angeles is great because you can get mountains, beach and desert!.”

Like the miles, my life has slowly progressed in the year since.  I have a full script for my documentary and am deep into the rough cut of the story with the intent of have a full film by the end of July. My house/petsitting business is fabulous and I have great, steady clients and a group of new ones that are keeping me housed in style while fully giving and receiving love to and from all the animals – cats included.  I have even quashed my reptile phobia enough to share a room with and keep the water dish full for a small, elegant snake.  I fed it today.  A frozen mouse.  That was traumatizing, but I did it.  So I’ve grown up just a bit.

My friendship with Brigid has held strong and she has never held it over my head in any way or made things awkward – speaking about it is joyful for both of us.  I do understand the joy of giving, as that’s my jam, but it’s constantly a newish feeling to be the recipient such a huge gesture as the car.  We plan to take a ride to celebrate on the 7th, the day I actually got the Kicks.

Learning how worried people were about me driving around in my Rav, with it being so old, was very touching and since my father seemed thrilled to have the opportunity to get me in something safe, my appreciation is on the tangible and the emotional level with him.

It’s interesting to look back on the even a year later and think about where the car has taken me and what it has allowed me to do.  When I was considering the offer, Brigid said “it’s for what comes next.”  Once my doc is done I know change will come and I am ever so curious to find out where that wonderful little car and I will go!

Happy Birthday?

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Many of life’s milestones bring up grief for those who have passed on.  After losing my mom at 19, the two that always hit hardest for me are the anniversary of her death, January 15, and her birthday on March 15.  The anniversary brings up memories of how much I miss her as a person and having a mother in my life.  Her birthday, however, makes me think about all that she has missed.

She died at age 47 – before my sister graduated college and became a nurse; before I found a career in television that I liked and was successful in, and before my dad retired and began traveling, something she’d always dreamed of doing.  There is no imagining what “back to normal” would have been like for her, our family, or me had she not killed herself or been able to beat the cancer she’d been fighting.

To me, she has never aged past 47, yet I still see her as the “adult,” even though I now am, and look, older than she got a chance to be. For yet-to-be-discovered psychological reasons,  I don’t keep track and rarely think about the age she’d be had she not died and have to do the math to first figure out when she was born by subtracting her age from date of death to get the year she was born then subtracting that from the current year.  And this year’s answer is 85!

When I figured that out, I said to myself “wow, I can’t picture that,” which immediately made me think, “I bet there’s an app for that.”  My next thought was “I’m not sure I want to see that.”  I decided to confer with my father and sister to see if they would be interested in seeing such a thing.  They were, so I gave it a try.

I’m sorry I did.  Not because it was freaky to see her looking old, but because it looked like someone scribbled lines over her face and added fat to the lower portion of her cheeks.  I did one with my dad’s face too, using a photo from around the time of her death and they appear to have used the same template.  I’m not going to name and shame because it was a quick experiment, but it is an image I will not keep or think about again.

Luckily, working on The Silent Goldens Documentary allows me to constantly go through family photos from when we were all young, healthy, and relatively happy.  Thanks Mom for giving me a good life and grateful for the good times we did have. Happy Birthday!