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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.  

Road Trip 1: A Tiny Adventure

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Driving a 2021 model new car after spending two decades in my old one has been a trip in itself.  Luckily I’d been at the wheel of rentals over the years and a passenger in autos more modern than mine so the transition wasn’t exactly like in the movies where someone wakes up after being frozen in time and the world has changed, but there is a lot to get used to.

Over the years my dearly departed Rav4 had developed some quirks that I got completely used to.  All the audio connections except for radio quit working probably over 5 years ago.  The lighter plug burned out even before the music did, so charging in the car was not an option and had to ration my GPS use if going far.  Sometime last year the spring in the back passenger door close/locking mechanism suddenly fell out.  I bought a ratchet strap to keep it closed until I could get it fixed then, upon learning it would cost at least $200 if they could find a used part, I chose to stay with the ratchet strap. 

When I started driving the new car, it honestly took me a few days to remember I could once again open the back doors to stash stuff in the back seat.  Being able to listen to my choice of music off my phone is a fabulous thing, as is the coordination that app does with my map app so I know where I’m going while I’m singing. And since I plug it right into the USB port of my dashboard (!!!), I don’t worry about running out of battery and can go right to playing my games once I’m at my destination.  

I’m learning about the features slowly so as not to overwhelm myself, but have the basics down, so I took it on the road to stretch its wheels and get me to my pre-planned Tiny House getaway.

Sometime over the last few years, I’ve formed a dream of living in a tiny house.  One thought is that a good friend will buy a house with a huge plot of land that they will let me build it on, or to have a plot of land and develop a small community of tiny houses.  During the pandemic, when my pet and housesitting business evaporated and I was looking to leave the situation I was stuck in when lockdown was called, I looked for furnished apartments, guest houses, and tiny houses for rent.  Lo and behold, I discovered tinyhouseblock.com – a community of tiny houses in a resort area of the mountains east of San Diego.   They have long and short term rentals or you can build on their land by renting a space, similar to an RV park, so I figured I’d do a test run and make sure I actually do like the idea before I dream up my whole future in one.

I do like it.  I like it a lot. My entire adulthood, no matter how much space I’ve had to myself in small apartments or large homes, I always pick one spot on a couch or bed (whatever is facing the tv) and use that as my spot for as long as I’m there, so I’m good with a small space.  Even though the one I’m in is smaller than a hotel room, there is something about it being a freestanding building, with a bit of space between your neighbors.  Long-term residents decorate around their space and its a homey feel.  Pets are allowed and there are lots of very well behaved dogs.  Inside there is storage under the bed, and lots of drawers in the kitchen area so I easily put everything away.  Each house is different in layout and the rentals have themed decor.

The people that work here, Nick and Natalie, have been incredibly nice and have given me a lot of information about the Tiny House Block itself, as well as, tiny houses in general.  And they gave me a gift certificate to the restaurant that is on the property where I had the most delicious French onion soup I’ve ever had – and I’ve had a lot.

Over all the place feels like summer camp, both for the fact that it’s out in a nature area and how nice and interesting people can be.  I’ve had at least one fairly long conversation a day with various people and all say how like-minded people (like to travel, like nature, minimalist, interested in others) gravitate to this community.

Best of all, alone in the woods, I am getting stuff done on my project, and my story will be featured in the May Tiny House Block newsletter!

When In Need, I Had A Friend Indeed

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The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions and life lessons.  When terrible things happen, it often takes time to see the silver lining that often comes out of it.  This time the turnaround was very quick. The good doesn’t make us wish the terrible thing didn’t happen, but it opens up our lives in new ways.  This is my story.

On April 2, I was preparing to write a blog about all the change in the air with Spring renewal, the light-at-the-end-of-the-COVID-tunnel (I’m vaccinated!), and significant life shifts for some of my closest friends, including one moving away from the house that has been my second home and refuge for the last eight years. It’s all good change, but it made me look at that chunk of my life and all that had transpired, so saying goodbye to the space was bittersweet.

Since professional movers were involved, my only job was to pick up their dog and bring her to my house while the movers did their thing.  Later in the day while the dog was napping, I went out to do a couple of errands and radical change hit me – literally.  A man chose to run a red light as I was turning left, and my beloved Rav4 was mortally wounded in the ensuing crash.  No person was hurt, but my 20-year-old, 207,078 mile Mystic Teal Mica baby that I have loved since I first drove it off the lot brand new on July 3, 2000, that took me and my dog Riggs on so many adventures, and that became part of my identity was essentially gone.

It was my perfect car for many reasons and in my perfect world, I would have kept it forever despite it’s age, miles, and knowing (but not admitting) that driving long distances in it wasn’t realistic anymore. Still, my first instinct was to get an appraisal to see about fixing it, which was about 7x what the Blue Book value said it was worth before the crash.  My mind was numb as I tried digesting that number while still processing the magnitude of it all. As easy-going as I like to believe I am, I was not ready for this, I did not want this, and my emotional attachment to my faithful companion had put me in a state of grief.

I didn’t tell my friend what happened until she was ready to come get the dog since she was in her own version of hell, but when she arrived less than 30 minutes after we spoke, she did something that opened up my eyes and my future. This essay is a tribute to my friend and our long-lasting, ever-evolving friendship. In order to not completely embarrass her, I’m using the code name Brigid.  Brigid is a Celtic ‘Triple’ Goddess of healing and fertility, passion and poetry, and of life and death.  All these attributes reflect her impact on my life.

We met in 1990  at the taping of Sinead O’Connor and The Church for MTV’s Unplugged during its first season of production.  We started talking and never stopped. We both worked at MTV and moved into our dream jobs down the hall from each other a week apart.  We both lived in the East Village.  It was instant connection and we’ve helped each other through the ups and downs of life, work, love and heartbreak.  That kind of friend.  

Brigid even helped me hobble around NYC when I broke my ankle skydiving and co-opted a colleague to decorate my cast.  And, coincidentally (?), it was touring her groovy new house in LA last month when I most recently sprained my ankle.  And she and her husband took me to the emergency room.  That kind of friend. 

Our paths diverged when I left MTV after a few years and she stayed, which began a career that has seen her rise to great heights in the industry, using her natural creativity and talents, along with being an incredibly hard and devoted worker.   I’ve long admired her career and know now that along with all those attributes, it is her diplomatic way with people and true ability to see two sides to every issue that separates her from the pack, and is a skill set I lack (or that devolved over my time in production).  I am constantly in awe of her abilities in this area, especially knowing the craziness she has to deal with.

As we each threw our lives into our work and developed other relationships, we didn’t hang out as much, but I always ran to her with my deepest, darkest problems and was always there to deal with whatever she wanted to share with me. When I moved to LA, Brigid remained in NY, and we didn’t talk regularly, but no matter how much time  passed, the conversations just picked up as if we’d seen each other an hour ago.  

When she and her family finally came west 9 years ago, so did the friendship.  Her executive position at a network kept her busy, but my freelance lifestyle allowed me the time to pick up her daughter from school for a few years and stick around til dad got home from his teaching job.  I saw more of them than her, but she was very generous in treating me like part of the family for fun outings or occasions, and I was happy to be of service.  I haven’t been needed in a couple of years since the daughter hit high school and then the pandemic halted the rest of normal life, but we do see each other on Zoom every once in a while, and more recently at some outdoor get-togethers with a small friend bubble.  

Brigid was well aware of my deep attachment to my car and listened patiently while I explained that my early thinking was wrapping around the cost to fix it or looking for another used 2000 Rav4 with less mileage.  Then, to my complete surprise, she flat out said she wanted to buy me a car – or fix mine – whatever I decided.  I was actually totally speechless – a confused, disbelieving, not understanding silence.  And I started crying.  It was such a generous, unbelievably kind offer, and difficult to comprehend that someone actually just made it to me, solving a problem I was still trying to pretend didn’t really happen.

Aside from my denial about the Rav needing to go, asking for help and accepting help, especially when it comes to finances, is an extremely complex and loaded problem for me rooted deep in self-esteem issues.  I knew in the worst case scenario I could turn to Brigid for a loan, but never would have dreamed of her – or anyone – simply giving me such a life-changing gift.

She explained that this was a tangible way she could show gratitude for the help I’d given her and her family since thy moved to LA, something I felt she’s always been clear about.  Apparently my giving my time when needed gave her the peace-of-mind that allowed her to be fully invested in her job, which, in turn, has given her the resources to be able to help me in this way.  This explanation helped me understand, and believe, the purity of her offer,  and she is literally the only friend I would even think about accepting this significant a gift from because of how we’ve backed each other up in ways big and small. 

Brigid’s other words that stuck out to me were that she wanted to see me in something “safe” and it was “for what comes next.”  After she left, I began to realize that I was trapped from my wanderlust ways by my car.  It had no significant problems, but any thoughts of going too far outside LA involved wondering what I’d do about transportation.  She was offering me back both my daily freedom to get around and the ability to hit the bigger picture road ahead.  It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

We made a plan to go to CarMax just to see what was out there.  Since I didn’t ever want to get rid of the Rav, I hadn’t paid attention to cars in years and my interests run to something cute and easy to drive vs. caring about all the bells and whistles, so the idea of test driving a bunch of cars on various lots wasn’t very exciting.  

When I called my dad to let him know what happened to the Rav, about Brigid’s offer, and get advice on buying a used car, I was stunned again when he said that he’d been concerned about me in my car for a few years and was so touched by Brigid’s generosity, that he and my step-mother instantly said that they would be happy to add on to whatever she was planning on helping with to put me in a new vehicle that I could keep for another 20 years!  And I felt like I won the lottery!  Not just in getting a new Nissan Kicks (which I do love a lot!), but in having such generous, caring people in my life.  I really didn’t know people were so worried about me in the Rav.

I’ve heard it can be a kindness to let others do for you.  It’s not the way I usually roll and I can’t say I’m completely comfortable with such a massive, incredible gift from either my friend or my parents, but Brigid opened my eyes a little better to the impact I make in others’ lives through my friendship, and that being open to receiving from those who want to give back to me is part of that.  

I am still stunned at the swift turn of events and how this story played out.  I am forever grateful to Brigid, my father, and step-mother for your help and this awesome, wonderful, cute, fun car!  Long may we ride together!!!

A Birthday Gift for Mom

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This Monday, March 15, was my mother’s birthday.  Unlike January 15, the anniversary of her death, it’s a milestone date I’ve never been sure what to do with. Rituals are typically built up around death dates.  In Judaism, there is a prayer and special candle to light.  Over the years I’ve spent the day looking at old letters from her, going through photos, writing updates about my life in letters that will never be sent to her, or listening to the recording of her memorial service.  It’s a day where melancholy feels natural.

Birthdays, however, have that celebratory edge.  I know people often commemorate the lives well-lived of loved ones who have passed, using those dates to share happy memories.  But because my mother died by suicide, her traumatic, unexpected and premature passing tends to overwhelm anything else about her life,  and knowing how the story ends, the idea of celebrating always comes with a cloud over it.  

Since I began work on The Silent Goldens,  my ultimate tribute to her life and legacy in opening up conversations fro help others touched by suicide, I have learned that the suicide will always be part of her story, but before that her life was well-lived and deserves to be celebrated.  By expanding my idea of what “celebrating” is, I realized that anything I do related to my mission of awareness of loss survivor issues celebrates her.  It doesn’t have to be balloons and a cake.

For this year’s birthday, I have posted the first Talking About Suicide Loss With episode of 2021 on YouTube featuring Dorothy Goulah-Pabst, who lost her mother to suicide in 1972. 

I first met Dorothy when I was her interview subject for her Masters thesis, Suicide Loss Survivors: Navigating Social Stigma, and I was thrilled when she agreed to participate in my project.  Dorothy’s experience really shows how awful the stigma around suicide can be for the survivors and how speaking after decades of silence can be completely life changing.

Along with earning her MA in Sociology from Cal State Northridge in December 2020, Dorothy has become a facilitator with the Los Angeles Area SOLACE suicide loss survivors drop-in support group.  Info at solace4sas@gmail.com.

Check out her segment here.

Representing Resilience

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Tommy Raskin | 1995-2020

Besides COVID-19, there is one problem that crosses all cultures, religions, ethnicities, class status, political ideologies and every other factor that divides us without mercy – suicide.  And because it is still a much stigmatized issue in all these same groups, the people left behind often keep their grief to themselves, staying silent about its cause.  Yet it is an equalizer among those who have experienced it, giving them entree into “the club nobody wants to belong to” and instant connection with the only other people who “get it.”

Since my mission is to be a voice creating awareness of and advocating for those left behind, for the above reason, I have purposely refrained from posting or discussing politics on social media. Given the high-level of tension between “sides” these days, my goal is to reach all who have been affected and not alienate anyone because our political views are different.

This week Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) will be leading the impeachment managers in the Senate trial.  He, therefore, will be front and center in the news and a prime target of attacks from those who are against this process.  But while he does his work and takes the hits, it should be noted that he will also be a man who is grieving the very recent suicide of his son, Tommy, and that’s why I am writing about him.  

As a survivor of my mother’s 1985 suicide, I’m hyperaware when it is mentioned on tv or in the movies or news.  I read about this New Year’s Eve tragedy as soon as the news came out and found the statement the family put out remarkable and beautiful.  

Raskin Statement on the Remarkable Life of Tommy Raskin

Along with sharing how much Tommy lived, laughed, loved and was loved, they shared Tommy’s own words from the note he left stating “My illness won today.”  I found that thought incredibly poignant. Though I am grateful to never have been actively suicidal, I have been down that dark hole of helplessly watching the depression take over, regardless of any rational pep-talks to myself.   And it rarely helps in the moment to know I’ve made it through before.

By being open about Tommy as a whole person, the Raskin family has done a great service, for which I thank them.  Their statement shows that people aren’t all or nothing.  Suicidal people aren’t necessarily sitting in a corner looking depressed and being sad.  Tommy obviously was very productive and had interests, friends and a bright future.  But his brain had a disease.  Just like other lethal diseases, the symptoms don’t always show.  Many times, the diseases can be treated but sometimes it festers, grows and eventually kills.

I was surprised to see Representative Raskin speaking in Congress when the counting of the electoral votes began on January 6, but impressed at his commitment to show up less than a week after his son’s death.  Then came the insurrection.  As it became clear the type of danger lawmakers were in, I couldn’t help think how traumatic the entire situation was for all involved, but especially for him on the heels of such recent emotional devastation.  I thought about his family too, and the fear and uncertainty they faced watching this in their fresh grief, unable to imagine myself coping.

When he was discussing the Articles of Impeachment in the aftermath, I learned that Tommy’s funeral had been on January 5 and that his younger daughter and older daughter’s husband were with him in his office that day, also in danger and hiding from the rioters.  Again, I was unable to imagine myself coping in any of their shoes – on that day or in the immediate aftermath.

Yet he was there, ready to lead the way to do what he thought needed to be done, getting back to work and helping lead the impeachment process,  declaring “I’m not going to lose my son at the end of 2020 and my country and my republic in 2021.”  To witness such resilience and resolve after a suicide is extraordinary and whether you agree in his politics or not, he is an outstanding example of how power and purpose can arise out of the darkest moments in our lives.

Note:  I meant to post this before the trial started but had some technical issues.  Now I am posting just after Rep. Raskin spoke to the Senate – and all of America – about his and his daughter’s experience.  I am in tears.  And have so much respect for the human being able  to press in service to his country.  When all else is stripped away, we are all just people with pain trying our best to survive.  RIP Tommy and my deepest condolences to the entire Raskin family.