Intentional

Alas, I can really only do one thing at a time – and sometimes not even that.

I despise the fact that I cannot accomplish every single thing that I want to do, check off all the items on my to-do list, answer every piece of correspondence, listen to each and every podcast in my queue, read all the novels stacked by my bedside and downloaded on my Kindle, and sort through the ever-growing mounds of keepsakes and god-knows-what-else accumulating in my garage. I resent that I have to pick and choose. I cannot tolerate letting others – and myself – down, but disappointment seems to be the direction I’m heading. I keep running up against the limits of time, endurance, focus, and those boundaries do not yield. I love the decisive, emphatic “yes”! I am not the biggest fan of the word “no,” but I suspect that this very small word might be my greatest advocate at the moment. “No” might hold the key to my sanity, and perhaps I should befriend it.

I feel like I have learned this lesson before. But I seem to have forgotten it somewhere. Evidently, it’s time to learn again.

I am confident that I am not the only one whose inner Wonder Woman struggles with this issue from time to time, fighting the urge to surrender. I wonder whether this resistance is serving my best interests or simply feeding my ego with a nutrition-poor diet of caffeine and dark-chocolate-covered-almonds.

I love caffeine and dark-chocolate-covered-almonds.

After Sam’s death, I was left to juggle all the life-logistics-parenting balls by myself. There were so many to keep in the air: paying the mortgage, showing up on time or at all, washing my hair, feeding the dog, all in addition to the paramount goal of nurturing the health, well-being and grief of my sons and me. The big one was eight years old, and the little one was six. We were devastated. Chores along the lines of getting my car washed never even entered the juggling ring. It was all we could do to get out of bed in the mornings. It didn’t occur to me to write a book. I could not even keep a journal. I could barely answer emails, and when I did, it was during a bout of insomnia, the time stamp on my note betraying my disinclination for sleep. I remember a friend asking me, How do you keep all the balls in the air? The answer, of course, is that I didn’t. On a good day, I got to choose which ones fell to the ground and bounced into the gutter. On a really good day, I tossed a ball to a friend. I focused on the most important things – healing, breathing, moving forward one baby step after another.

We have come so far. It will be ten years in October.

We have cried and laughed and read the entire Harry Potter series multiple times. We have run and prayed and cursed, usually in the same breath. I’ve baked scores of chocolate chip cookies for dozens of teams, groups and guilds. I’ve eaten a truckload of dark-chocolate covered almonds. The boys – not surprisingly – have eaten pretty much everything within arm’s reach. They have become young men. Now I am the little one.

Shortly after Sam’s suicide, a friend of mine who had lost his own father to suicide when he was a similar age to my sons, offered these words: “You will be amazed at what you and your boys will do.” I was encouraged; his was the voice of experience. He and his brother, along with their mother, had traversed this very path – or one similarly formidable – and they had moved forward in their lives with intelligence, joy and a weirdly dark sense of humor. All qualities I admire. He is a smart man and a reliable friend. He was also right. I am amazed. And grateful.

As I start to see the empty-nest phase ahead in my not-so-distant distance, I feel a pressing need to be intentional about my yeses and my nos. To think about why I do what I do. I drop everything whenever any of my four sons needs an assist, but they all seem to be alarmingly self-sufficient these days, so I am thinking about my empty-next phase.

I started writing the blog SushiTuesdays to bring light to others, to share what has helped me, to be a voice for hope for those who struggle with loss, faith and blending families. I write out loud because I think it’s the most effective way to take the stigma out of suicide and mental illness, and because it creates a community. Selfishly, I write to remind myself how far we have all come. I’m so proud of all my boys I can hardly stand it. I write because I think it helps to know that there are others in the same leaky boat. I write because I like to, even though it’s hard, even though I have a ton of shitty first drafts that never see daylight, even though it takes forever – maybe longer – to wrestle those slippery thoughts to the page.

I have shared bits and pieces of my healing journey through presentations, speaking engagements, coffee with friends and on this blog. I am often urged to “write the book.” Those who have been with me from the beginning know that I started the blog sushituesdays.com as a manageable step toward writing “the book.” It has, however, become increasingly clear that the book goal will be more demanding than I had anticipated. So, as the kids are heading back to school, I, too, am turning toward the manuscript more intentionally. It terrifies me to say this out loud. If I push “publish” on this post, it will be no small miracle. But it’s time. From the beginning, I have believed that the blog would help me achieve the goal of writing the book. The weekly discipline, the readers who have found inspiration in my sharing, the positive feedback and encouragement, have all increased my desire to complete the project and my confidence that the book will find an audience. All of which is to say, please forgive me if (when!) I miss my weekly posting goal here on SushiTuesdays.

I’m excited and intimidated.

I’ll be here. We will run into each other online and around town, at the market (after all, I have one teenager still stalking the refrigerator with his irrepressible appetite and his equally ravenous friends). I’ll see you in our favorite local Mexican restaurant and on the trails with my defective hunting dog. I will continue to sprinkle love and light in this space, but it might be on random days of the week. Just saying.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And caffeine and dark-chocolate-covered-almonds.

I Want You to Know

Here’s what I want you to know about my husband’s suicide:

I didn’t see it coming. In retrospect, I can read some of the signs differently, but at the time I did not know he was so close to the edge.

It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t his parents’ fault, or his kids’ fault, or his cousins’, or his sister’s or his friends’ fault. It wasn’t his doctor’s fault, or his boss’s fault or any of his colleagues’ or clients’. It wasn’t entirely Sam’s fault. It just was, and I cannot explain the why of it any more than anyone can explain why some people develop cancer or multiple sclerosis and others don’t.

It wasn’t for lack of love. His death is not a reflection on our capacity to love him. Or his capacity to love us.

Sam was not bi-polar. He was not diagnosed with any mental illness. He was not in any sort of treatment or taking any medications. He had a prescription for Vicodin for his back pain after multiple surgeries, but he refused to take it.

I don’t know what would have happened if he had lived. Whether our marriage would have remained intact, whether he would have been hit by the proverbial bus or an actual one, whether he would have survived another back surgery, whether we would have gone to family camp for another twenty years, whether we would have moved to Colorado or Canada, whether circumstances might have pushed the boundaries of our patience in ways we hadn’t yet been tested, or whether we would have lived happily ever after until death did us part when we were in our 90’s surrounded by our children and grandchildren. Or whether that last scenario might just be a story I read once upon a time.

I will never know exactly what happened and every why detail. The not-knowing is part of the deal. I know this now.

 

Here’s what I want his children to know about their father’s suicide:

You were the greatest gift of your father’s life. You were his joy, his light, his inspiration. This does not mean it was your job to save him. Your role then – as it is now – is to be yourself. Be your funny, spirited, smart, wonderful, glitchy, imperfect self. His death cannot take you away from you.

Your father loved you with all of his heart. His death is not the end his love for you.

He would never have left you willingly. Not in a million years. I know it looks like he chose to leave, but I promise you with every ounce of my being that if he was in his right mind, he would not have left you. No way. The only way I can reconcile the fact that he took his own life with how much he adored you is that he must have been gravely ill. Somehow in the warped operation of his mind, he was convinced that you were better off without him. This makes no logical sense. I hope that, as you navigate the course of your own life, you will be able to come to terms with this paradox.

You are not destined to repeat your father’s path. Be alert. Suicide and depression run in families, but they do not own you. Know yourself. Ask for help when you need it. Trust that you have resources and agency.

You didn’t deserve for your father to die. Life is not about what we deserve. Do your best to let go of life’s injustices and to hold on to moments of grace.

On the night your father died, I sat with each of you tucked under my arms. You were small enough then that the three of us fit in one armchair. I told you something that is as true now as it was then: Your father’s love for you will always be with you. Always. Forever.

 

Here’s what I want Sam to know about his suicide:

Your death caused us more pain than you could possibly have imagined. We forgive you and love you anyway.

To be unnervingly honest, I do have several friends who have no intention of forgiving you. I’ll just say that when they get to heaven, you’d better get ready to run.

You must have been experiencing more pain that we could possibly have imagined. We hope you forgive us and love us still.

The little baseball team you coached was devastated at your death – not because of your academic or professional accomplishments, not because you were the greatest baseball player or coach, not because you were somebody’s daddy, but simply because you were a kind man who cared enough to spend time with them on Tuesdays and Thursdays and every Saturday afternoon. I want you to know that your goodness is what we hold on to.

We are creating lives that would make you proud. We live with joy and passion and faith and integrity. We laugh and sing and run and play. We shout and swear and sweat. We have traveled to places you never got to go, and I’ve let the kids go places you might not have wanted them to visit. For the record, they loved it. We had your favorite comfort food for dinner last night, turkey meatloaf with garlic green beans and spaetzle with parmesan. We raise a glass to you on your birthday, your deathaversary, on holidays and random days. Sometimes it really irritates me that you believed that we could live full lives without you, but more often I am grateful.

I fell in love. I didn’t think I would ever do that again. He is handsome and kind and funny. He loves me, and he loves our sons as his own. Tim was also widowed, and he has two sons whom I love with my whole heart. We have created a family together, and I cannot find the words to explain how beautiful this life is.

I want you to know that we are happy.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And perspective.

Psalms For Us

Sometimes I start my prayers for my children by looking toward the heavens (or their now-deceased mother and father, which, I believe, is the same general direction) and shouting, “Don’t blame me, they’re your children!” I think this approach is based in sound theology, an awareness that the boys are children of the universe, beloved, intended, gifted. As both a child and a parent myself, I find this perspective inordinately comforting, that is, when I’m not infuriated by the fact that I am not in charge. Honestly, there are a lot of things that I would do differently in this half-baked, overcharged world, but I cannot swaddle my children in bubble-wrap and keep them securely on the sofa. No doubt my sons are grateful for this fact, but when I am powerless to keep them safe from, nuclear holocaust, weather, dread illness or their own misguided decision-making, the only thing that helps me keep a semblance of sanity is to trust them to a higher divinity.

I realize this approach sounds bonkers.

I accomplish excessively nothing with my ranting, my research and my own resilience. I might as well just sit down. So I do. Which, as it turns out, helps a great deal. Breathing slowly and intentionally, I quiet my inner crazy.

It’s not entirely unorthodox. King David appears to have prayed the same way. First, a raging storm, the desperate fear, the raised fist, the crippling arrogance. Then, the folded hands, and the receptive, grateful heart.

 

Selections from Psalm 139

[As rendered and annotated by an Ordinary Mom]

Oh Lord, You have searched [my son] and You know [him].

Dude! I cannot figure this kid out – what inspires him, what he’s about, why on earth he does the things he does – but you know him inside and out. The child makes no sense to me, but it gives me great comfort to know that You understand him. You don’t have to explain him to me. Anyway, it’s probably best that I don’t know. But if You could just make sure he knows that You understand him, I would be grateful. Make sure he has a place where he fits, that he feels loved, seen, held and safe, that he has a home in the world. Give him the confidence that comes from knowing he belongs.

You know when [he sits] and when [he stands]; You understand [his] thoughts from afar.

It’s definitely best that I not know.

[His] journey and [his] rest You scrutinize; with all [his] ways You are familiar.

Look out for the boy. He’s setting out on his own path. Thank goodness You are with him, especially now that he has left home, but I sure miss him something crazy. I worry about him constantly, even though I’m not peppering him with questions and text messages. I hope he knows where he’s going. I hope he gets enough rest. I hope he eats well. Throw some vegetables in his path for me, please. I hope You’re whispering in his ear.

He can leave and go away from home, but he is never away from Love, Yours and mine. Walk beside him on his day. You know who he is and the young man his is becoming.

Even before a word is on [his] tongue, behold O Lord, you know the whole of it.

The things he says – OMG – I realize he doesn’t intend to say anything irretrievably mean, or worse, unabashedly stupid, but help him to explain his ideas fully. Show him context. Teach him to be a good listener; maybe he could learn to swallow the wayward word on his tongue before it escapes. Or at least teach him to pause.

Teach me, too.

Behind [him] and before, You hem [him] in, and rest Your hand upon [him]. Such knowledge is too wonderful for [him]; too lofty for [him] to attain.

You advocate for him. You pay attention to his needs. You listen. Your presence is a guiding constant in his life. He doesn’t know how wonderful it is that you protect him on every side – emotionally, physically, mentally – but I do. Thank you.

For it was You who formed [his] inward parts, You knit [him] together in [his] mother’s womb.

When he was so small, a baby, still in utero, I could wrap my arms around him and almost believe that I could keep him safe, that I could create a healthier baby by eating well, and breathing clean air and reading to him, singing him to sleep, rocking him gently. But this child was never really about me and my procreative prowess. I am grateful for the privilege of mothering him, but he belongs to You. He was always Yours. He still is.

I am, too.

[He praises] You, for [he is] fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works; that [he knows] very well.

His life is a testament to You. His goodness and kindness in all their forms, as class clown, athlete, confidante, show Your dedication to his well-being. When he smiles, You smile. He knows his self worth as Your child, beloved, intended and gifted.

I do, too.

***

Wishing you light & strength on your healing path. And peace in your heart.

Hey SushiTuesdays Lovers

It has come to my attention that every now and again, some of you might have a question or a comment that you’d like to send my way without posting it in front of the entire (virtual) world. I hear you. Feel free to send such notes to charlotte@sushituesdays.com, and I will get the message.

Here’s another something new: As heard on KCBS, this spotlight aired a few weeks ago featuring yours truly. I am grateful to Jeff Bell and the Adversity2Advocacy Alliance for making this happen.

And a final word. My English major friends and I used to be amused by “Dear Reader” notes from the author. Truth be told, we mocked them mercilessly. That’s what we found amusing. We were too young to know how startling and humbling it is to have a readership. So here I am, writing one myself. To you, dear reader: Please know that I am grateful for you, for your thoughtfulness, your engagement, your generous hearts, your broken hearts, your healing hearts, your listening hearts. From my heart, thank you!

Love & Light,

Charlotte