Quintessential

I was so disappointed the last time I saw my dad. Not in him, but I had hoped that the flowers I had brought over just a few days earlier would last the week. Instead, the crystal vase on the nightstand next to his bed in the nursing facility was empty, the wilted flowers having been discarded, and the vase itself wiped clean.

My parents had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. We weren’t allowed to release dad from the convalescent home, not even for such a significant event, due to certain, labyrinthine insurance coverage rules. Instead, my mother and my sister and I brought the celebration to my father, an elegant luncheon in the gardens. It was an intimate affair including only our immediate family, but with careful attention to detail, table linens, flowers, my mother’s favorite ganache cake, and a few bottles of my father’s favorite drink, a sparkly and benign apple cider.

The flowers were particularly beautiful, mostly white with a few gold accents in honor of the day. The tightly packed roses, hydrangeas, dahlias and peonies brimmed over the top of the square vase. I had mentioned to the florist that it was a special occasion, and he assured me he would carefully select the flowers. I ordered two floral arrangements so that each of my parents would have one. After the luncheon, one of my sons wrapped one vase with a towel and nestled it inside a banker’s box, so it wouldn’t topple and bruise the petals or spill water in my mom’s car on her way home. Another of my sons brought my dad’s arrangement to his room.

My father was pleased with the flowers. His grandparents were florists, and he grew up working in the family’s shop, overtime on all the major holidays. He had an eye both for the quality of the flowers themselves and for the overall presentation. When he was courting my mother, he made her corsages himself. Every time I plop cut flowers straight into a vase, he carefully removes each one, cuts the stem to a specific length and artfully rearranges the display. I was delighted that the anniversary flowers met with his approval, and doubly disappointed when later they didn’t meet with mine. I had arrived, expecting the arrangement to bring cheer, but the clear vase now held only a few brittle lemon leaves that had been spray-painted gold. The sight of the empty vase left me a little blue.

I didn’t say anything to dad about the missing flowers. We had other crucial ground to cover in our conversation – the grandchildren and their summer activities, politics, religion, the space program, the timing of his return home. He was his usual joyful, exuberant self.

“Oh Charlotte!” he exclaimed. He remembered something he wanted to tell me, “All of the nurses have thoroughly enjoyed the flowers you brought!” He was radiant.

I cocked my head quizzically, thinking about the absent flowers. He explained, “Every time a nurse came in to take care of me, I offered her a flower from the arrangement and a piece of chocolate from the box of See’s your sister brought.” The missing flowers suddenly made perfect sense. Nothing would have brought my father more joy than to share those beautiful flowers, one by one, with every person who walked through his door. It was exactly how he lived his whole life.

I had every intention of bringing him more flowers the following week, this time prepared for him to give away each individual daisy or sunflower, but I didn’t get the chance. He was gone too soon.

In his characteristic way, he left me with a gift, a story. It is the story of a man who spent his life giving, a story of love, selflessness, joy and hope. My favorite kind of story.

And so, I share. Because after all, I am my father’s daughter.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And stories of love and joy.

In Celebration of Love

“Hey Mom — What are you writing about this week? Death? Grief? Suffering? Misery?”

My kid thinks he’s hilarious.

Actually, I’m writing about “till death do us part.”

Which is completely different.

The gift of marriage is all over the news these days, and for good reason. Personally, I am delighted. I’m in favor of love, fidelity and equality. It is one of life’s sacred blessings.

The first time I was married, Sam and I were in our early 20’s. It was much easier to commit to “till death do us part” when death seemed a lifetime away. It was hard to fathom what sickness might feel like, especially chronic pain or mental illness, when we were both young and healthy. We could appreciate poorer, because we had nothing but student debt. Our net worth was a big red number. Which is not to say that “richer” is the key to a happy marriage, but we did think we might prefer it. The fact of the matter is that you have no idea what you’re getting into when you say, “I do.” Only that the two of you have promised to stick together through all of it. Until one of you dies.

Sam and I met in law school. We sat next to each other in Community Property, Wills & Trusts and Contracts. I understand intellectually the whole idea behind the prenuptial agreement, but I never wanted one myself. I don’t understand getting into a marriage from which I already think I might need an exit strategy. I appreciate emotionally the urge to control all the various facets, plan for future eventualities, to keep things neat and tidy and predictable. Like a flow chart, or an algorithm. But life isn’t like that. Neither is marriage.

I did a lot of things right and a few things wrong in my first marriage. We went out on date nights. We implemented a financial plan. We held title to our home in our family trust, which is only prudent in California. I trusted Sam completely. When he died, I had never paid a bill online, I didn’t know how much was owed on our mortgage, I didn’t know a single password to any one of our accounts. My mom literally handed me two 5-cent coins, because I did not know if I had two nickels to rub together.

She’s hilarious, my mom.

A sense of humor is key to life. And marriage. She has been married to my father for a long time, and they still seem genuinely to like each other, so they must know something about marital bliss. I’m happy, too — not just because I’ve benefitted from my parents’ example of love, commitment and faith — but because I am a girl who likes to throw a party. Just give me a reason. Or, as of next June, 50 reasons.

Or, better yet, 200.

In one of the quirks that is our blended family, my husband Tim and I have all eight of our collective parents and in-laws. Our children have four sets of grandparents, all of whom they call grandma and grandpa in one language or another. Each of these four pairs has been married once and is still married several decades later.

Two summers ago, we hosted a 200th wedding anniversary party for our parents and in-laws. That year my parents (the “newlyweds” among this group) were celebrating their 46th anniversary, Tim’s parents were at 48 years, one of our in-laws were at 49 years and the other in-laws were celebrating 56 years of marriage, for a combined two hundred years of holy matrimony.

That’s a lot of for better and for worse.

In case you’re counting, all those anniversaries only add up to 199, but we called it an even 200 and threw a party. Just for the record, the following summer it was 203, and this summer they hit 207. There’s more to marriage than math, but those are some compelling numbers. That’s a lot of love, honor and cherish. I’m not saying that marriage is always sunshine and champagne, but when storms are brewing and the chocolate is running dangerously low, these parents of ours believe and hope and pray and love their way through. Together. What an amazing legacy for our children.

And for us.

Because the second time around, Tim and I knew — even more so than our parents — what “till death do us part” looks like. In fact, the only thing we argue about consistently is which one of us will die first next time. We know a little of the for better and for worse of this life. And somehow, miraculously, we have found each other and committed to each other for a lifetime. When, during our wedding ceremony, Tim pledged “in sickness and in health,” I began to cry because here stood a man who knew exactly what he was signing up for. And he promised to love me anyway. It’s crazy, really, if you think about it.

Tim and I are much less likely to hit the 50 year-mark (an occupational hazard of having married in our 40’s), although I certainly hope we do. In the meantime, we will love and laugh and cry and pray and work and play together. Not every day is a party, to be sure, but we celebrate the little things along the way. We will have date nights and share passwords and a dark sense of humor. We will hold title to our home in a family trust and hold each other when Life kicks dirt in our faces.

Every once in a while, when I tell Tim “I love you,” he will pull me close and whisper, “I love you too.” Then he pauses, “Until the day I die.”

He thinks he’s hilarious, my Tim. And I do, too.

***

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

Dear Reader

(on our first anniversary)

The concept for SushiTuesdays the blog was initiated exactly one year ago, on what would have been Sam’s 48th birthday. Those milestone days often include a wide range of feelings — pain, fear, anger, love, joy, strength. I was running, of course, my preferred method of experiencing the emotional panoply and finding quiet and clarity in their midst. My therapist and more than a few friends had urged me to “write the book,” which seemed a good idea, a worthwhile endeavor and yet, an overwhelming task.

But maybe, I start to think as I’m running with my beloved and defective hunting dog, I could start smaller. One little step at a time.

I have often thought that the big mistake Sam made in the course of fighting his depression and pain was that he didn’t talk to anybody. He suffered alone and in silence. I will never know what he would have said about it. He never said one word. I do not know what terrible weight or fear or stigma kept him from speaking. But I do know his heart. He listened to and counseled more than one friend who was struggling with depression himself or herself. He was kind, caring and helpful. He had a beautiful perspective on life. Even his own. Except at the end.

It’s all a little crazy-making to try to sift through, but in the middle of all the things I do not know, one thing I do know is that he would have wanted his life to be a blessing to others. Even though he was not able to find his voice toward the end, I believe that he would have wanted me to speak up. To chip away at the stumbling blocks of stigma and break through to a place of healing.

I talked to my husband Tim about the blog idea. To which he responded, “It’s about frigging time,” or words to that effect. We decided that if by writing this blog I could bring hope and light to just one person, then it would be worth it. I was excited and terrified.

I emailed one of my best friends and early proponents of the book idea. I told her that she wouldn’t believe that her tech-unsavvy friend was about to jump into the web-wide-world of blogging, and by the way could she maybe point me in the right direction. To which she responded, “It’s about frigging time,” or words to that effect. Within two hours, she launched the SushiTuesdays website and hit “publish” on my first post. My adrenaline soared, my stomach sank, and I was off on a new adventure.

In session the next day and with a combination of trepidation and pride, I confessed to my therapist what I had done. To which she responded, “It’s about frigging time,” but in more genteel words.

Three days later, I received an email from a woman I did not know, who had just lost a sibling to suicide. She thanked me for sharing my story and bringing her hope. She used the word “hope.” She was my one.

There have since been many more “ones,” and each one is thrilling and gratifying. And heartbreaking. I hope that you draw comfort — as I do — from the fact that we are in this leaky boat together. Presence is a powerful healing agent.

I have no idea what Sam would have said about the SushiTuesdays blog, inspired by his life and death. I suspect that a piece of him would be appalled and horrified. On the other hand, he would probably grin and say “It’s about frigging time.”

***

Thank you — one and all — for bringing me light and strength on my writing path. And hope!

Only Four Reasons

IMG_2099bwA few weeks ago, I participated in a survey conducted by young psychologist who asked me, “While you and your husband were still dating, what was the biggest impediment to your relationship?” I laughed, thinking about that time, because Tim and I had a standard caveat for when we made plans. “There are only four reasons why I might not make it.”

At the time, our impediments were 7, 9, 12 and 15 years old. Dating is a whole different game for a single, widowed woman in her 40’s with two young kids seeing a single, widowed man in his 40’s with two kids. Needless to say, the logistics were complicated. Between homework, school fairs, parent teacher conferences, sports, scouts, music lessons, social engagements and doctor appointments, the boys’ schedules were packed. It was a challenge even to find a date and time for dinner that didn’t conflict with any of the four boys’ activities.

For the first few months, we did not tell the boys about each other. The children were all grieving the death of a parent, and while Tim and I were taking the risk that our own hearts might break again, neither one of us was willing to subject our sons to this potential. For a while it looked like mom had unusually frequent book group dinners and dad attended a surprising number of booster club meetings.

Once we did let the boys know we were dating, only one of the children was actually in favor of this idea. And even he changed his mind from time to time. At any given moment, our relationship had somewhere between a 0%—25% approval rating from the kids.

At one point, one of the older boys told his father, “Dad, it just looks wrong.” I appreciated his comment, because it was kind and accurate. It wasn’t personal. It’s just that I’m not his mom. Because I’m not. It must have looked wrong: I’m tall, blonde and blue-eyed; his mother was a petite brunette with brown eyes. Furthermore, it is wrong for moms to die when their kids are in elementary school, or high school. Moms are not supposed to die even when the kids are in college or graduate school for that matter. There’s really no good time.

One of my favorite wedding photographs is me whispering into one of my step-son’s ears. In the picture, he is leaning toward me, and I remember promising him that I would never try to take the place of his mother. But I also said that I did hope that someday he and I would have our own thing.

Tim and I celebrated our fourth anniversary last week, which makes us sound a little like newlyweds and I suppose we are. Kind of. But in the same way that dating is a whole different game with four children to consider, the honeymoon with four teenagers and pre-teens isn’t typical newlywed fare. And while we certainly considered the children’s feelings as we were approaching the marriage decision, we did not let the children’s opinions dictate our marital status. Several people assumed that we decided to get married after all four children agreed that it was a good idea. Let’s just say, we’d still be waiting to choose a caterer if we had granted the children the power of the veto.

Actually, the caterer is probably the one thing that all the boys were happy about.

Once Tim and I got engaged, all four boys relaxed just a little. We had six good reasons, really, to get married, but only two of us were permitted to vote. They might not have approved of the situation, but they knew what “till death do us part” looks like, and they trusted it. We told the boys that we loved each other and we loved each of them and we thought that we were stronger together for all four of them.

Our approval rating still hovered around 25%.

We started planning our wedding. In the category of “Things I Never Expected my Life to Include,” planning a second wedding turned out to be one of the items that was loads of fun. My perspective was different planning a wedding at 43 than at 23, and yes, we went over budget, and yes, the coordinator made a huge gaffe, and yes, there were guests who I was really hoping to see that didn’t show, but at the end of the day — whether it rained, or the caterer goofed, or the band was late, or even if a family member said something small and mean — at the end of the day I would be married to this wonderful man. That’s a good day. On the actual day, it did not rain (not during the reception, at any rate), and we had a rocking band, and the bartender was fantastic, and the flowers were beautiful and the kids loved the caterer, even though we didn’t have a cake.

But the matter of the guest list was tricky. Family alone adds up to about 80 people. We essentially had two choices: elope with a friend or two or three (including Elvis), or plan a huge party (including children). We were blessed with so many stalwart friends who picked us up and dusted us off when life was hard, who brought us casseroles and took us to coffee, who walked with us in every possible way that it just didn’t feel good to exclude them from our celebration when life was happy. Ultimately, the decision was easy, but the logistics were complicated. Now we were talking about 500 adults and kids, and that’s a lot of rubber chicken.

Expensive rubber chicken.

Expensive rubber chicken that kids won’t eat.

As for the ceremony itself, we wanted to include our own children, but we didn’t want to put pressure on them. We anticipated that they would each experience a range of feelings, and we wanted them to feel safe to do so. We knew that they would be under the spotlight enough as it was without adding the role of best man to the groom or walking the bride down the aisle. The standard we set was that the boys were required to wear tuxedos and attend the wedding, but they could sit with whomever they wanted. They were not, however, required to smile. As children will do, they pressed the envelope. One of the boys insisted — even on the morning of the wedding — that he would wear the tuxedo but he would not go to the church.

I reminded him what we were serving at the reception.

He decided to sit with his best friend.

While the church seats 500 comfortably (well, our four sons were uncomfortable, but that had nothing to do with church capacity), the matter of a reception venue was a challenge. Of the guests, nearly 200 were 18 or younger. One of the gifts of being a family with lots of children is that many of our friends are families with children. And while children are often excluded from wedding ceremonies (with good reason), our particular circumstances allowed us to blend the traditional with the unexpected. What we most wanted was a celebration of love — our love for each other, but also an acknowledgement of the love that brought us to this place, and our children are an expression of that love.

We had our traditional church wedding, featuring several priests, a best man, a best woman, a flower girl, a long silk dress, a tuxedo, and a unity candle, followed by a celebration at the local park, surrounded by several hundred friends and family, and including a seven-piece band, kids in collared shirts and party dresses, a boy straight from a football game still wearing his grass-stained uniform, a bounce house, an ice cream truck and the In ’n Out Burger truck. Another of my favorite photos from the wedding is one of the boys, tuxedo shirt untucked and stained by chocolate ice cream and a spontaneous nose bleed, holding a cheeseburger in his hand and sporting a huge grin.

I would never have imagined selecting cheeseburgers for my wedding menu. In fact, my initial reaction to the idea was, well… an emphatic NO. But I changed my mind. And I’m glad. Everybody loved it. Especially the dads. Our approval ratings from the kids have steadily climbed (mostly) since that day.

And speaking of changing minds, I recently had a conversation with one of the impediments about that wedding day and he recalled the cheeseburgers in the park with a smile. Then he added, “You know, Charlotte, I am really glad you married my father.”

I am, too.

On the day of our anniversary, Tim and I were sitting down to a romantic lunch. Even with two sons away at college, we still struggle to find time for just the two of us. We both have busy schedules for the afternoon, and we briefly debate whether we should order a celebratory glass of wine with lunch. Just after we select a sauvignon blanc, I get a text message that sewage is backing up into the boys’ shower. We decide to ignore this particular issue until after our lunch. Clogged pipes are not one of our four reasons.

The wine arrives, and we relax. Within a few moments the phone lights up again. This time it is our 13-year-old, the one who suffered a concussion earlier this week. His head is aching, and he is ready to come home. Tim smiles at me, “Go get our son. I’ll meet you at home.”

Half an hour later, the three of us are sitting outside in the shade eating our take-out lunch, waiting for the rooter guy to clear out the main pipe. Not exactly the lunch we had planned, but not bad either, with both dogs wagging hopefully at our sides. I know what a bad day looks like, and it’s certainly not this. At the end of the day, for better or for plumbing backups, with headaches and in health, I face whatever comes my way with this kind, funny, lovable man at my side. Together.

And that’s a good day.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And reasons to celebrate.

Calendar Collision

Sometimes it bugs me that there are only 365 days in the year. And then those days repeat and events start to converge on the “same” day in different years. After enough years, each day develops multiple overlapping meanings, such as when a national event like 9/11 falls on my goddaughter’s birthday. Which it does. Who gets the day?

We have several instances of calendar collision in our blended family. Tim’s first wife and my sister share the same birthday; Sam’s deathaversary falls on the same date as one of my now niece’s birthday; one of my cousins died on Tim and Debbie’s wedding anniversary. In one of the twists of the calendar, Sam and I were married on the same day as Tim’s parents. Well, not exactly. Same day, different years. We were married on their 28th anniversary. But of course we didn’t know that at the time.

Sam and I had been married for just over 15 years when he died, and the date that would have been our 16th wedding anniversary was a remarkably difficult day. One of those days that arrived, despite my best efforts. I closed my eyes and held my breath, but the clock kept ticking and the calendar page turned. Of the days during that first year as a widow that took my breath away, my wedding anniversary was one of the hardest. Only the parties to a marriage can know the significance and intimacy of that day. After Sam’s death, it was a harsh reminder that I was single. He was gone. The anniversary that would-have-been, wasn’t.

It is hard to say goodbye.

I was surrounded by Sam’s family on a summer trip to the Sierras for that first anniversary that wasn’t. I don’t know whether that made it better or worse. On the one hand, there were aunts and uncles and cousins available to entertain and safeguard my boys while I melted down. On the other hand, an argument with an in-law sent me — literally — running for the hills. I ran farther than I had planned (farther, in fact, than I had ever run at all) at altitude, listening to an album by Jason Mraz. “Details in the Fabric” still makes me think of that tearful, miserable, intensely therapeutic run. Good for the heart, I suppose. And good for the broken heart as well.

In all fairness, it would not have taken much to spark my emotions into orbit that particular day. My head and my heart were at odds with each other, trying to reconcile the fact of Sam’s love with the matter of his death. It should have been our anniversary; we were supposed to be together, celebrating. But he was dead. And by his own hand. It was all so wrong. I faced into the ugly, messy reality that now comprised my life, I reached a place where the impossible had happened and somehow I was still moving. Through the heat and steep terrain, through the beauty and the pain and the sweat and the tears, the broken heart beats. It is no small miracle. With family by my side (for better and for worse), I was embraced by their love. As were my children. As was Sam. Unbelievably, our hearts hold on.

I honestly didn’t want or expect to find love again. I had been married to a man who loved me for who I was, and I was grateful for what we had. Truly. Some people live their whole lives without experiencing a love like that. It ended too soon, but I had it.

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. I felt better after my run.

Even better after my cousin made me an omelette. Because snacks are key to the process.

But while we’re on the subject of sparks… On the opposite end of the spectrum that day, was a phone call toward the end of the day from a man I had met recently. The cell service in the mountains was spotty at best, so the fact that his call came through at a time I happened to have reception must have been the work of divine providence. Tim had also been widowed, and I was calmed by the sound of his voice and the fact that he cared. He knew exactly what day it was.

I had met Tim a few weeks prior. Mostly because my friend Susan thought I could benefit from talking to someone who was in the same leaky boat. I never imagined that the love of my life would be waiting for me there.

Meanwhile Susan kept telling me “Tim’s just a nice guy.”

Every time she said that I wanted to meet him less.

As it turns out, Susan was right about having somebody to talk to. Tim and I spent two plus hours chatting at lunch. She failed to mention, however, that he was also nice-looking, which sort of distracted me from my intention never to fall in love again. After Tim and I had been dating for a couple years, one of my nephews was reading the morning Los Angeles Times, and says, “Hey Dad — George Clooney looks like Tim!” Tim would like me to point out that while he and George share the same color gray hair, Tim is taller.

Also, as Susan told me, Tim is in fact a nice guy.

By my second would-have-been anniversary, I had fallen in love with this wonderful man. Even so, I spent the afternoon in bed (alone) with a migraine.

I can’t recall the details of subsequent years, which is as it should be, I suppose. I observed several would-have-been-but-wasn’t anniversaries by taking my headache and a book to bed. But time and healing (which are two separate things) do their work, and ultimately it made no sense to me to count up all the anniversaries I didn’t have. This year, for example, it would have been… let me calculate… 22 years, but the “would-have-beens” don’t count. Sam and I were married for 15 years. On the timeline of my life, our marriage shaped who I am and the lens through which I experience my world, but I don’t wish for a past that was not or a future that is not to be. It makes more sense to me to think of it like this: Sam and I were married on this day 22 years ago. A joyous day, to be sure. Like many other beautiful days we spent together.

As painful as it was to say goodbye to Sam and our life together, it was crucial, because that process opened my eyes and my calendar to present possibilities. I would not be here now if my heart and head had been stuck tallying anniversaries that weren’t. The anniversary headache has been gone for years.

In fact, this year the date nearly slipped my mind completely, because we were focused on a momentous celebration: Tim’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

Fifty years.

That’s. Just. Wow.

The day has transitioned from “our” day to “my” day to “their” day. I no longer feel the desperate need to cling to that day as my anniversary, although I do think of that happy wedding day. On our family calendar, the day belongs primarily to my in-laws.

Naturally, Tim and I have our own day. Lots of them, as a matter of fact. We have some happy calendar crossover as well. For example, Tim proposed to me on my parents’ wedding anniversary. I am grateful. And head over heels for my Tim. With a little luck and exceptionally good health, we hope to reach our own 50 year milestone.

While my history continues to have relevance, I have learned to put the past in perspective. There are not enough days in the year for every significant happening to claim its own exclusive square on the calendar. Which now I (mostly) consider a positive. The overlapping events point toward the heart’s capacity to hold the full range of our days.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And days enough to share.

Deathaversary

The word “anniversary” doesn’t convey the right amount of heartbreak when observing the “anniversary of a death.” We couldn’t find the word to mark this particular occasion, so we made up our own: “deathaversary.”

Somehow the word “deathaversary” carries a better balance of the gravity and levity of the day. The passing of another year after the death of a loved one is not a celebration, and yet… when we acknowledge how very far we have come in the process, when we think about how proud our loved one would be, when we notice that we can still laugh and love and run and find joy, well then, there is reason for celebration. We are grateful for our loved one’s life in our lives, we miss them dreadfully and we cry – or at least I do – because I (not to be confused with the men in my life) am a sissy crybaby. Personally, I believe the fountain of tears has contributed in no small part to my ability to heal, gentlemen, but I digress…

Our hearts break wide open. A little time passes. The heart still beats. More time. The scar begins to heal. Months go by. Hearts beat. A year passes. And love is still. It’s astonishing.

We have, over the years, observed significant deathaversaries in various ways. We have played baseball games and gone away for the weekend. Dinners out work well. Preferably with a glass of something red. Laughter, tears and chocolate – all on the approved list. A visit to a gravesite or favorite park. Occasionally, we have ignored a difficult date, but that strategy usually backfires. I prefer the “grab the bull by the horns” approach. Obviously.

It is true that by doing or saying something to mark the passing of the year, we risk hurting feelings. On the other hand, not saying anything is almost certain to hurt feelings. Personally, I prefer to have my feelings hurt by somebody who is attempting to say something because the fact of the matter is that my heart is already broken. And maybe, just by saying something – even something stupid – the underlying message is that they care enough to notice my pain and try (and maybe fail!) to help.

Our town has a deathaversary coming up. It is more than a little painful. Last year, a senior boy committed suicide on campus at our local high school. The year before, a sophomore took his own life at a neighboring high school. Our Number 2 son found out about both events before any of the rest of us because friends were texting him (in school, of course, but don’t tell the Dean of Discipline).

How do we let these kids know how desperately they are loved? How worthwhile their lives are? I don’t know, but I want to try. At the time, I responded in the way most natural to me. I went for a run. I used my words. I talked to my children, and I wrote an article for the local paper. In the interest of grabbing that deathaversary bull by the horns, I’d like to share that letter again, and I apologize because some of you might have already seen it, but I think it’s still relevant, so here it is…

The Speech

I am a lecturer of some renown. If I do say so myself, I am passionate, articulate and persuasive. My audience is often glued to their seats in anticipation of my next dispensation of wisdom. That, plus they have their seatbelts firmly in place (clearly as the result of a previously delivered lecture), and they are my hostages. At least until they are 18 and self-sufficient (another plentiful source of lectures). Yes, I deliver countless lectures for the benefit of my captive audience of sons.

And here’s today’s: Every, every, every problem has a solution. And your father and I will always, always, always love you. Period. End of speech.

But I have so much more to say.

I am keenly aware of the impact suicide has on a family. It struck ours in 2007. My heart breaks for the family of the young man who took his life at his high school last week. For the students, teachers and staff at the high school who were witness to his death. For the friends who have lost a loved one. And for the young man himself. Suicide is a confusing, messy death. At the end of it all, mental pain and anguish is as lethal as a sudden heart attack or an undiagnosed cancer. It just looks so much uglier from the outside.

My boys can ask me anything. They know they can count on me for an honest answer, but after today’s speech they continued their normally scheduled programming of Facebook, xBox and homework, not necessarily in that priority. I trust that they will revisit the issue when they want to talk.  My sons know that they can count on me for the truth insofar as I know it. And I know that the conversation is not likely to end after a 10 minute dialogue.

The tragedy of suicide is how much suffering the victim endures on his own without help.  When my cousin was battling cancer – a fight she ultimately lost – she had casseroles delivered, therapy, childcare and pain medication. When my husband was suffering from depression – a fight he likewise lost – he fought it alone. This provides the theme for many of the speeches that I inflict upon my sons. Life is a team sport. Proceed with friends. We are meant to support each other and live in relationship with each other. Especially when life is hard. Tell me three people you can reach out to if you need help – this is one effective way to inoculate yourself from mental pain.

I do not believe that Life only gives us the challenges we can handle. Life routinely hands out way more than we can handle alone. I am, however, a great believer in the power of Love. It was Love whose face I did not always know, but whose presence I recognized, who delivered countless meals for my sons and me. Love showed up on my doorstep like a drill sergeant rounding up socks, shoes, homework, lunches, backpacks and ushering us up the hill to school on time in the morning. Love mended a favorite blanket that had been shredded in a fit of grief. Love rolled up her sleeves and cleaned out my closet, carefully packing all of Sam’s shoes, suits and belongings, labeling everything and storing it carefully where I could deal with it in my own time. Love got up at 5:30 in the morning to run with me – and to watch my children while we did. Love took my hand, and introduced me to the man I married just over a year ago. (Three years now!) 

I pray every day that our sons will find their way through the challenges that life throws their direction. I am devastated that this young man was unable – for whatever reason – to find his way through the pain he was enduring. And I hope that as a community, we will find ways to support each of the broken hearts left in the wake of his death.

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Wishing our teenagers light and strength. And extra snacks.