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Love Hurts

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I am one of those people that feels more connected to animals than to humans.  I can easily give love to and accept love from them.  My own two dogs were the focus of my affection for the time I had them.  Now that I’m dog sitting for a living, I’ve truly fallen in love with them all and their unique selves, which has brought me much joy and sadness. 

Smokey

My first love was Smokey, a Cairn Terrier that my family adopted just before I turned six. He was the family dog, but I became very attached.  Smokey lived until he was 18, four years past my mother’s death.  When my father remarried and I moved out of the house I took him with me.  When I moved to NYC I took him with me.  His last year of life was spent in Memphis with my sister when my two jobs kept me from giving him the care he needed.  I flew home when it was clear we needed to say goodbye and it broke my heart.

I thought I would never get a dog again because of the pain of the eventual loss but when a friend told me she found the dog for me, something made me go meet him and there was my Riggs – the love of my adult life.  We had 10 years together, made many dog friends, and had lots of adventures.  He was with me as my mental health declined and it was his diagnosis of cancer that broke me.  Riggs stayed with me as I recovered until cancer finally took him a year later in 2016 and my heart broke again.

Riggs

Since his death, what began as dog-sitting for his friends who he stayed with when I traveled for work, to an ever-growing business pet and house sitting, giving me time to work on my documentary.  Initially I loved being around all these sweet animals without the deep emotional investment, but quickly I started falling in love.  With each and every one of them.  I also developed first an appreciation and then came to love cats.  I will never understand their gift-giving ways, but they’re pretty cool.

Unfortunately, since this time last year, more of those animals than I want to count have gone off to the Rainbow Bridge.  Some were clients, some were pets of friends and relatives and some I wasn’t as close to, but I got to know from the various neighborhoods I frequent with my job.  And the sadness has been crushing.  

Zoey

The streak started when I was with my friend Cheryl when she put Zoey down.  I had been helping her for a year as Zoe’s back legs began failing.  We did the deed at her house with the vet who helped me with Riggs.  It is so much better that way, but the 30 minutes from when she called to say she was on her way to her arrival felt endless.  I sobbed for hours.

And the hits just kept on coming as I heard about the dogs Woody, Prince, Lily, Henri and Donner, and the cats Josefina, Lilly, Jackson and Gui.  Coyotes were involved in the last two so there’s some trauma there as well.  In the last few weeks one set of cousins recently lost their longtime cat Willow, and another set lost their lovely greyhound rescue Sunny.  All of these I heard about after the fact and I cried and mourned for them all.

Priscilla

One that hit me super hard was in July, when the dog-sitter’s nightmare came true. Priscilla, a 140-pound mastiff stopped eating two days into my stay with her, then became lethargic and disinterested in even being petted.  I was in full communication with the mom and after a day of monitoring the situation, we decided I should take her to the vet.  That is it’s own story, but 45 minutes after I got her there, I got a call saying she needs to be in the hospital as her lungs were filled with fluid.  Tests revealed an aggressive cancer and they didn’t believe she’d make it through the night.  The family rushed home (they were a 6 hour drive away) and the vet had stabilized her enough so they could bring her home and back to her spot on the couch.  The next day, the same vet who helped me with Riggs helped Priscilla off to the Rainbow Bridge.  This woman is an angel walking on earth – I hadn’t told them about her, they just found her.

The family has two other dogs, so I had stayed with them until late in the evening and then went home and to bed.  I stayed there three days.  It was traumatic and too sad.  For the dog, for the family and for me.  She was such a sweet girl.  But allowing myself to just be and feel the sadness helped me get up on day 4.  

Lacey

A few weeks ago an old friend and colleague in Florida, Louise, called me to tell me she was putting her  dog, Lacey, down.  She wanted to let me know because I dragged her to a shelter when I was on a project down there to check out a lost dog I had found and turned in.  That dog was picked up by the owner but she saw another dog that was in rough shape and fell in love.  They were together for 14 years and she wanted to thank me for bringing them together and she thinks of me all the time because of the dog.  It was one of the sweetest calls I’ve ever gotten and it has renewed our communication.

Louise called on a Monday, though, and she had a vet coming to her house on Friday.  So my pain was nothing compared to hers, but I was “in it”, feeling for that whole time and the weekend after.

Sadness is just sad.  And I’m sadly getting used to it.  But I believe in the Rainbow Bridge and I feel my animal’s spirits around me much more than I do with people.  And picturing them out of pain, running and playing while they wait for us makes me happy.

There is no grand message here, just that we hurt so much because we love so much.  And all the joy is worth the pain.  I guess.

 

 

 

Successful September Synopsis

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Ruth speaking at conference on 09.26

In no specific order, the Jewish High Holy Days, Suicide Prevention Month and my birthday have wrapped up.  That means September is over.  I’m a little physically tired, but mentally energized and excited to build on the momentum behind the project created during a whirlwind few weeks.

Last Saturday was my conference-speaking debut at USC Verdugo Hills.  I gave a 50-minute presentation, which included 10 minutes worth of new conversation clips from the film.  Over 250 people were registered and the audience was made up largely of mental health professionals and students.  Thanks to some very good, honest, and helpful friends who let me practice on them, I was actually pretty calm by the time things started, although since I could only see the host and the two other speakers, it was far less intimidating than the originally scheduled in-person conference would have been!

I barely remember doing it now, haven’t been beating myself up over anything I did or did not say, and  got lovely feedback all around – whatever actually happened – so I share the link.  I am the first speaker after the doctor’s welcome – it starts 5 minutes in.     Meeting Recording

After the talks, Zoom room meetings were open for Q&A sessions.  My sister surprised me by being there, but it was a great opportunity to both explain how our experiences with the silence differed than was shown in the clips.  A few conference-goers shared their own stories of silence and one woman said she was inspired now, decades down the line, to speak to her siblings about her family’s tragedy.  Exactly why I’m doing this.

Talk back after performance of “Bernie.” 09.09

Every Wednesday night in September I joined the cast and crew of A Light In Dark Places to speak in their Q&A sessions live after each week’s original short play related to suicide and hope.  I show up as a volunteer rep for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, but it’s my personal chance to feel super Hollywood.  Each play is being left up for a month so you can check them out.

A wonderful surprise opportunity arrived in my inbox in the middle of the month with an interview request from a Voice of America reporter for a Skype interview.  I answered the call and you can see the result here if you jump forward to 35:30.  CurrentTime TV

Last week I turned in a written interview to an Egyptian site about surviving suicide loss and the film as well.  I’ll share that when it is posted.  Suicide is a worldwide problem and I can’t believe my wildest dream of making a worldwide impact with my message has already begun!

Finally, I added two segments to my Talking About Suicide Loss With… YouTube Series.  Both writer David Felton and his daughter, producer/director Caitlin, were colleagues when I worked at MTV.  They sadly lost Caitlin’s daughter, Charlotte, at age 15 in 2016.  They were open from the start and I was fascinated to hear how that affected their grieving process.  Here are the links for my blog about and the segments with David and Caitlin.

Now let’s see what October brings!!!!!

Talking About Suicide Loss with David and Caitlin Felton

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Today is Suicide Prevention Day and my YouTube short interview series, Talking About Suicide Loss With…, is back from our covid hiatus.   This series, along with The Silent Goldens documentary in production, is my effort to make the issues suicide loss survivors face part of the conversation that is, thankfully, growing nationwide about mental health.  Conversations bring healing.  Awareness brings help. Help brings hope.  

For this occasion I am posting two segments, David Felton and his daughter, Caitlin, who I had the privilege of working with at MTV in the early 1990s.  David was a writer and Caitlin was a producer in the promo department when we all helped bring the monumental Rolling Stone 25: The MTV Special – a retrospective of the magazine’s first 25 years – to the small screen.  And, yes, since then they have celebrated their 50th.

Tragedy struck in January 2016 when Caitlin’s daughter Charlotte took her own life.  I learned about it from mutual friends just as I was immersing myself in the suicide world and focusing on my own grief.  I was so impressed when I learned Caitlin, David, and their whole family where being open about Charlotte’s death.  

Less than three months after I saw David perform in a stage show telling stories with two other former MTV “old-timers” about working there in the very early, very innovative days.  He spoke about his loss and I was so moved by his words and impressed by his grace and ability to keep his composure that when I started the series, they both were at the top of my list to interview.  Since they didn’t have any silence to break, they could  speak to how that helped them each deal with their loss and healing from the moment it happened.  This past February – just before corona hit – I was able to connect with them in NY and am very grateful to them for sharing their stories. 

David won a Pulitzer Prize as part of the LA Times staff covering the Watts Riots before joining the staff of Rolling Stone magazine where he and fellow journalist David Dalton won a National Magazine Award in 1971 for their five part series on Charles Manson and his “family.”  He also edited Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In 1981, David got sober, gave up journalism and did some comedy writing before landing at MTV where he helped develop Beavis and Butthead and rose to Senior Vice President.  He is the author and editor of Mindfuckers: A Source Book on the Rise of Acid Fascism in America.

David’s interview:  https://youtu.be/WzMas1ACYlA

Caitlin began her career producing and directing promos and show opens at MTV Networks, winning numerous BDA, ACE & Telly Awards for her visual design and storytelling.  She became a sought-after commercial director and created ad campaigns for clients including Crayola, Subway and Medicare and filmed her own short documentary, Brick by Brick, about the creation of a brick cooperative the empowered Rwanda women to supply building materials for an education center.  Caitlin co-founded Detox Films with her husband, Barney, where she works as the Director/Creative Director.  

Caitlin’s interview:  https://youtu.be/P0qVioimeAc

Ruth Speaks for Suicide Prevention Month

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September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a time to shine a spotlight on this huge and growing problem throughout America.  Prior to the pandemic, rates were on the rise and at the highest since WWII, according to the CDC.  The multiple dire crises our nation is currently engulfed in Is making this crisis even worse.  Since 2015, my volunteer work in suicide awareness has kept me busy all month, manning resource tables at various events, and speaking at fundraisers. With The Silent Goldens documentary is well underway, even more opportunities have opened up for me to discuss my story, the film, and my mission to get people talking.  Since everything is on Zoom now, I’ve put together this newsletter to invite you to catch me when you can on “tour!”  Events are free.

 

MY BIG PUBLIC DEBUT

5th Annual USC Verdugo Hills Hospital Suicide Prevention Conference

Saturday, September 26 

9:05-9:55am Pacific

Over 250 attended in person last year, so you can help make those numbers go up for my talk.  Make my ratings golden!  And I’ve got new clips from the filmed conversations to premiere.

Register here.  

 

 

FOR THEATER BUFFS

A Light in Dark Places

Every Wednesday in September (2, 9, 16, 23, 30)

6pm Pacific

A virtual reading series featuring one original short play on the topic of suicide each wee

I will be participating in the talk-backs after the readings as a volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.   More information here.

 

ALSO IN RUTH NEWS

New interview about how risk taking has played a role in my career published on the web magazine ShoutOut LA!

New Talking About Suicide Loss With… interviews coming this month!

We are still gratefully, happily, beseechingly, accepting donations to help us finish this film by this time next year!  Every dollar makes a difference and every donation is offered a credit in memorial to a loved one lost to suicide.   

 

Opportunity Is Knocking

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On Saturday, September 26th, I am slated to be the Lived Experience/Inspiration speaker at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital’s 6th Annual Suicide Prevention and Awareness Conference.  In the past it has been attended by over 250 health care professionals and community members, but this year it will be virtual, so those numbers could rise – hint hint! You don’t have to come to California to watch me live!!!

It’s a very exciting opportunity to promote The Silent Goldens documentary, and I’ll be premiering clips from it as part of my talk about my mom’s suicide and the struggles I faced that led to the making of the film. 

Luckily, I have already had some experience telling my story in public – most memorably at the Carleton Class of ’87 reunion a couple of years ago, when I finally told my classmates who I ran away from after my mother’s suicide what happened all those years ago.  I am incredibly nervous and feel a huge responsibility, but so far I’ve seemed to be able to overcome most of my fears of putting myself out there if it relates to spreading awareness about suicide loss.

As I begin to work on my talk and focus it for this audience, I again think about how many different topics this one story hits.

Among them:

• Professional health care workers dealing/not dealing with personal health issues

• How suicide affects a family

• How the stigma affects healing

• The side-effects of silence

• When a mother dies

• Compassionate care vs. continued treatment for terminal illness

• The various burdens loss survivors carry

• How to help a loss survivor.

It can be overwhelming.  Based on the inspiration slot, I think telling the story as it led to the making of the film is still the strongest angle.  And I’ve already proven I can talk endlessly about it and have an outline of the film, so I am feeling pretty confident about at least making a solid point. 

This the first big public step on my my mission to get people talking and is exactly the type of thing I hope to use the film as a platform to be doing in the days, months and years to come.  It’s that simple. So please, put this event on your calendars and support me, the film and all who are working to stop the unbearable pain that leads to suicide and the unending pain that stays with those left behind.  It’s bad out there. I’ll post all the details as soon as they are confirmed and published.

See you on the web!

My First Dog

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I am one of “those people” who connects with animals way more than with people.  Always have, always will. It started the summer I was 5 when Smokey, a Cairn Terrier (like Toto), became part of our family. I’m pretty sure it was at my sister Leah’s instance that we looked for a dog at all, but when Smokey arrived, I fell in love. Today, June 18, is his birthday. He lived until he was 18.

My attachment to him was strong and my anxiety over his well-being kicked in whenever I was sent away to camp or we took extended vacations in the summer and left him in the care of others. I don’t remember how much we helped with what I’m sure we promised when we got him, feeding, brushing, walking, etc, in the younger years, but I was happy to take on responsibility as we grew older.

I always felt Smokey and I had a special bond because he had a habit of grabbing things from my room like socks, little toys, a calculator once, and putting them under a specific chair in the living room.  Since he only took my stuff, I believe it was because he loved me most.  It’s possible I was the only one who left their things on the floor though. I know we all had a very special relationship with him.

When I filmed my conversation with my dad for The Silent Goldens, he told me when my mother was ill with cancer, Smokey would lay down in whatever room she was in, just quietly keeping an eye on her.  That information really touched me because I didn’t think of them being close like that.  Luckily he was still at a boarding place when she killed herself since my parents had just returned the night before from my grandfather’s funeral in Minneapolis. I would have been so sad if he had witnessed that or thinking of her saying goodbye to him.

My sister and I arrived home at night after we were told of her death and when I realized Smokey wasn’t there I asked my dad if we could get him in the morning, but since we were turning around in a day or two to go back to Minneapolis, he said it would be fair to the dog to get him out and them put him right back in.  I understood, but I really could have used his company and calm. I also kept thinking how he would come home not knowing what happened and never see mom again. 

Once mom was buried, my sister and I returned to school and my dad went home and figured out a new life with Smokey by his side.  My dad and I were discussing how when things settled down in the months after we lost mom my sister continued to do well in school and my dad was moving forward with his relatively new job and new love, Connie, when I asked what I did and he responded “you attached to Smokey.”  A very revealing tidbit I thought.

I did indeed attach more than I had been because I didn’t have to share him and he essentially became “my dog.”  When I moved out of the house after my father got married I took Smokey.

When I moved to a studio apartment in NY with a roommate, I took Smokey. Unfortunately, by this point Smokey was quite old and my work schedule made it difficult to care for him properly, so I sent him home to live with my sister.  He lived for another year and my father sent me a plane ticket to come home when it was time to put him to sleep.  It was the first time I ever saw my father cry – even after all the stuff with my mom.  

Both Smokey and Riggs truly saved my life at critical junctures, just by being by my side, and I am forever grateful to them both for that and for opening my heart to unconditional love.  I know I’m in for a lot of pain as my clientele grows older, but I also know now that it only hurts so much because you loved so much, so I’m going to cherish love in the now and keep my trust that the Rainbow Bridge* is real and my babies will be healthy, happy, and waiting for me when I come to get them. I believe.

*If you don’t know about it, it’s all explained here Rainbow Bridge Poem.

Under the Mask: The Little Things

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As the country dips it’s feet back into the “normal” pond, I’ve been noticing the contrast between how I behaved way-back-when and some of the new habits that I’ve picked up since the world shut down, which I’m sure are very, very common.

Here are the top five in no particular order:

I learned not to jaywalk when I moved to Los Angeles over 20 years a go.  You can and will get a ticket. And it’s dangerous.  But once all the cars went away, I confess I’ve been doing it more than I’ve been crossing at corners. Carefully. 

My low impulse control forces me to put my fast food in the back seat so I won’t automatically start eating the fries on the way home with my un-freshly-washed hands.

My mask is now the thing I have to keep going back into the house for, always remembering it just as the door closes. And, similar to my reading glasses, I now have multiple ones but either have all of them together or can’y find any of them.

I admit to previously getting annoyed standing on lines where people left too much of a gap, impeding the feeling of progress.  Now my irritation arises from those who stand to close, whether it’s to me or others.

One habit that hasn’t died but now seems useless is that when I pass others and make eye contact, I feel compelled to smile.  I continue to do this knowing full well my gesture of goodwill is covered up.  

I wish I could say more profound changes have occurred, but if they have, they haven’t become apparent to me yet.  I’ll keep you posted!

Time in the Time of the Virus

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I always find it strange how fast a week seems to have gone by despite how slow the days may seem to be passing.  With no appointments, obligations, work or anything to differentiate the days, here are the markers I’m using.

Sunday Trash at curb for Monday morning pick up

Monday Return trash cans to driveway

Tuesday Make sure car is parked on West side of street

Wednesday Make sure car is parked on East side of street

Thursday Check calendar to see if it’s Thursday or Friday

Friday Host takes trash to curb so no one parks where bins go

Saturday Easy to throw out dog poop because most people have bins out already

Along with 4 dog walks a day, I’ve been spending most of my time working on The Silent Goldens documentary, my latest life-organization ideas, and adding to my Because It’s Punny series for my Gallery of tRuth collection, as seen in the picture.  

I can’t say I’ve been getting a lot done, but I can say I’m doing more than usual!  Little victories daily.  That’s how I’m rolling!

Out of the Ashes

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The first blog I posted on this website, A Year of Firsts, was about good coming out of bad with a quote from actress Delores Hart: “One’s deepest wounds integrated become one’s greatest power.” Actress Mariette Hartley shared those words at a conference for long-term survivors of suicide loss when I was just opening up about my mother’s death and developing the idea for The Silent Goldens documentary.

It crystallized my feelings upon discovering how the tragedy of my mother’s death left me with a story to tell and the power to help others that have been affected by suicide.  Everything I went through, everything I learned along the way (including television production) came together and will allow me to, hopefully, make a strong impact advocating for survivor support in a way that is unique  to and comfortable for me.  But it did take 30+ years to get here.

Our current coronavirus crisis has left me, like so many others, flat broke and unemployed and I have no idea what’s on the other side.  I watch too much news and continue to be crushed by the number of people dying alone and in pain and the stories of relatives who didn’t get to say goodbye and now are grieving alone.  I also fear the suicide rates will be increasing dramatically when the crisis passes, especially for those who were thrust into the front lines.

My goal in sharing my family’s story on film is to get people talking about the bad stuff and, though it specifically focuses on the unique burdens suicide loss survivors face, I think it will be a helpful guide to approaching tough conversations in general.  It feels particularly urgent now to get it done.

So I am taking the “gift” of time in lockdown to begin a rough edit on the documentary with the interviews I’ve already filmed.  Doing so has not only made me feel productive, but watching all the conversations makes me feel like I’m spending time with my family.  Hearing about my mom in general has me reminiscing about the way better times of my childhood.

From July 30-August 2, the AFSP is holding their second national summit in Cleveland and I am schedule to give a workshop about breaking the silence.  I have not yet heard if it is cancelled and I’m not asking because I don’t want to know.  It was at the first one that I was convinced this documentary path was the one to take.  I think with the trauma surrounding this virus will have a deep affect on many for years to come and I feel like this film will be a helpful tool as everyone everywhere tries to regroup and move forward.

I think it will take a long, long time for many to find a gift in this pandemic, but the spotlights on the people out there sharing and caring and the stories of how medical staff and communities everywhere have pulled together are evidence it is already happening.  People are finding such touching and inspiring ways to help and show support for others that it does give me hope for humanity.  We just need really to keep the lines of communication and our hearts open.  

Wishing you good health!

If you are in crisis or are worried about someone, please check out our resource page for ways to find help!

 

Observation on the New Normal

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Zeke. Not my dog, but I love him like he is!

I send my most sincere wishes to all reading, those they love, and those their loved ones love and so on and so on!  I am staying with a friend in Burbank, CA and am lucky to have Zeke to walk multiple times a day for fresh air and exercise.  I am also using the time to work on the story cut with what is already shot of The Silent Goldens.

The first thing that struck me about self-isolation was that it was going to have an opposite effect on me, actually forcing me to shelter with another person.  The very busy pet and housesitting business that provided me with both housing me and regular income  evaporated overnight. Needing a place to “shelter-in-place,”  a friend took me in.  Rather than having lovely large homes all to myself with just the furry beings, I’m now in a small condo with someone working from home with many daily conference calls.  I’m thoroughly grateful, just pointing out the difference!

Pre-COVID-19, I didn’t see many people daily,  and am generally protective of the time I spend with the pets as my companions, using this time to work on the documentary or to just sit and be quiet.  I stayed connected to others through e-mails and texts with my current clients, going to multiple homes  for walks daily.  When the pets’ parents came back in to town, I move on to the next client – kind of like being on the road with a production, just without a crew. As much as I might wish I could be alone, just me and the four-leggeds, I know it is way better for my mental health that I am not.

As a species, we are experiencing collective trauma from an invisible, potentially lethal enemy attacking randomly from all sides that has rapidly and without mercy changed every single thing about the way we go about our lives – individually and globally.  There is nowhere on the planet to run to be sure of escaping it and anyone of us might be the next victim or the one inadvertently spreading the disease.  My heart breaks thinking not just about those who are sick and dying in hospitals without their loved ones nearby, but also for those loved ones who will have to deal with the unexpected and sudden loss alone, in solitude.  The ramifications to our lifestyles and finances once the world “reopens” is truly unknowable.  We can no longer picture anything about our future the way we did just weeks ago.  Everything has changed in a heartbeat.  

I’ve felt what I just described before when my world and all my expectations about life were ripped away after my mother killed herself when I was 19 and for those who have or will tragically lose someone to this virus, the grief on top of all the uncertainty will be acute.  It will also put them in a new “club nobody wants to belong to” of  COVID loss survivors who, despite the collective trauma, are the ones who have faced the worst.  The health care workers of this country are another group who will need much emotional support when this crisis subsides – having essentially been thrown into the frontlines of a war.

The purpose of my film is to show how being able to talk to others who really, truly “get” a trauma like you’ve experienced is because they have too. This is not only comforting and validating but their stories can help you get perspective on your own.  It’s something I learned when I first began speaking with other survivors of suicide loss 30 years after my mother killed herself. It’s something I remember from 9/11.  It’s something I’ve seen in action watching the #MeToo movement rise.   It is something I think many are beginning to understand as the world experiences this current coronavirus crisis.  

May one of the silver linings to this surreal and sad time be the reality that every single human is in this world and lifetime together and plant the seeds of compassion and communication so they can bloom when we next see each other!  

Be well, be safe and let’s all just talk to each other!