"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Recap

As I write this I can hear the sound of snow blowers outside as neighbors work to clear several inches of snow that fell today. There was a skiff of new snow yesterday, so the bulk of our White Christmas came a day late. 

I'm ignoring my walks and driveway that need to be shoveled, because in my mind I'm already on vacation. Tomorrow we're headed to San Diego for some R&R, warmth and fun in the sun. I can't wait! A few months back we decided that this year we'd take a trip and make some memories together instead of spending money on unneeded, frivolous Christmas gifts. It made for such a stress-free holiday. I also kept my Christmas decorating to a minimum, and shopping for small, inexpensive gifts made the experience fun.

Of course, from this picture of Gillian's Christmas haul, you wouldn't know it was supposed to have been a "light" Christmas for her. She always seems to get spoiled on Christmas! 
Here are some more pictures from yesterday. We had a relaxing morning with Isaac, Gillian and the dogs, who were never far from the action.
Mike full of excitement and ready to cook breakfast.
Gillian's new prized possession: a One Direction toothbrush
(One Direction is THE boy band of the moment).
Sophie supervised all the unwrapping.
Another Buddha for Mike's collection.
Isaac loving on Sophie.
The kiddos, opening presents.

This year I tried to very consciously focus on spending time doing what would bring me the most pleasure. For me, the most important part of the holidays is relaxing with family and friends. I was able to do this, and had several enjoyable visits with people I love and cherish. 

The holidays now also bring reminders of Julie. There isn't a moment that goes by that she isn't missed, or in the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay, "the presence of that absence is everywhere." I think these two posts, left on Christmas night by my mom and Amy on Julie's still active Facebook wall say it best. 

Another Christmas without you. Not going to lie, it sucked, but we are all continuing to put one foot in front of the other. You would have loved seeing the kids with Mr. Boston and Hannah relishing all her Taylor Swift loot.

I continue to struggle to find the meaning behind the loss of you. Our family has changed a lot since then. My hope is that the why is yet to be revealed.

I sat in church yesterday(quit laughing, it's true) and they talked about the darkness. I've never been in the darkness so long as I have since losing you. Oh Jules, I love you!!! And thank you for those stupid slippers you gave me. I hated them then, I cherish them now. 

What Amy said...

We never talked about it, but all I could think of was how much you missed out on by leaving us so soon. You never got to see Hannah become the beautiful, tall, blonde beauty that she is becoming. You would have loved seeing her with her perfume, her nail stuff, and with Boston. You don't even know Boston.

You didn't get to see the handsome, caring, supportive, gift-wrapping guy that Mason is becoming. You didn't get to see him becoming a young teenager.

Then, there are the others: Parker, Gillian, Regan, Bridger, and Atticus. They weren't with us this year, but you missed seeing the young people they are becoming.

We did go to church. We know darkness now in a new way. I also know the Light that has led me to begin to heal as best I can. I trust you are with Him this year.

I didn't go to the cemetery because as Amy reminded me, you hated Christmas. I like to think you would have liked this one. I know we would have loved it if you would have been here.

I love you and miss you so much.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Cinnamon Rolls and Love

For as long as I can remember my nickname among my immediate family has been KeichaBell. When I was very young, around three or four years old, I made frequent visits to my neighbor's house a few doors down, always announcing my arrival by ringing the doorbell. I remember being so small that I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach the bell. The neighbor, an older woman named Sister Kunz (in the LDS religion adult women are referred to as sister and adult men as brother) gave me the nickname.  My earliest visits were spent sitting next to her on her bed, as she was immobilized recovering from her first knee replacement surgery. She'd do her leg exercises and I'd lie next to her, mimicking her every motion. 
Lois Kunz
November 15, 1917 - December 20, 2012
Yesterday I learned that Sister Kunz had died. She was in her nineties and I knew she hadn't been well, so her death wasn't unexpected, but I was saddened by it nonetheless.  As I looked at her picture with her obituary, memories came flooding back to me. It's been years since I've seen her, but seeing her great smile and warm eyes made her giggle and laughter come flooding back into my memory. She had a great giggle, and was often delighted, telling funny stories with a contagious glee that made a vivid impression on my young mind. 

Until yesterday, I never really thought about what a nuisance I must have sometimes been to her and her family. That she never acted or showed anything but love and a warm welcome to me is a testament to her kind, generous nature. In fact, as I reflect on those years I realize many of my memories of that period of time in my life are from her home. Most Sundays found me sitting with her during church instead of my family, riding home from church and staying for Sunday dinner, often joined by her adult children. I can still picture the stools at her counter that I'd sit and spin back and forth on while I watched her cook and frequently bake her famous dinner and cinnamon rolls.  After dinner, I'd watch the Lawrence Welk show with her and her husband while I played with the Barbies that belonged to her older teenage daughter. 

Sister Kunz was always busy, even when she was sitting and watching TV her hands were seldom idle. She did beautiful knitting and crochet work, and was almost always working on a baby blanket or booties. In her basement there were frequently quilts up on blocks, as she was also a talented quilter. I think I probably took my first stitches on a quilt on one of her beautifully hand-stitched creations. In my cedar chest, where I keep things I treasure and plan to keep forever, I have a set of placemats she crocheted as a gift for my first wedding, and a miniature quilt she made especially for my baby doll. I also treasure her cinnamon roll recipe, which is the only one I've ever used. 
Although the actual number of years I spent in frequent contact with her was small, since we moved away from her neighborhood when I was seven, her influence on my life was huge. In her home I always felt special and welcome. She treated me as she would a cherished grandchild, always patient and interested in everything I had to say. Her hugs were the kind of soft, grandmotherly hugs that make a small child feel incredibly safe and loved. In her home I wasn't a younger sister, competing for attention with my siblings, or waiting for attention from my busy, overwhelmed parents. I was simply her Keicha Bell, a little girl who for some reason was always welcomed with open arms, a warm smile, a hug and an abundance of love. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Time Passes, Memories Fade, the Heart Heals

Sometimes I long to go back to the days when the passage of time meant simply that, nothing more. Now it means so much more to me than just time marching forward. Thankfully, I'm long past the days when I kept track of each hour, day, and then week that passed, each one marking my loss. During those days I would wake each morning equally amazed and dismayed to realize I was still here, and that my heartache and loss hadn't disappeared during the night.

Today, 2 1/2 years after the day the world and my life as I knew it ceased to exist, I no longer mark time's passing with such sadness. As hard as it is knowing I've lived 2 1/2 years without my sister, I'm also at peace. As much as I can't stand cliches, it really is true that time helps heal all things. Not long ago I listened to this song by Mary Chapin Carpenter. The lyrics describe almost perfectly how I feel. The living, breathing, vibrant, funny, mercurial Julie that I knew is fading away, replaced with softer, faded memories of her no longer tinged with heartbreaking grief and sadness. I'm letting go, and that's okay.

This is for you Jules. Gone, but never forgotten...XO

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mehndi Memories

The travel bug is biting me again. Lately I've been dreaming of another big adventure. The news of a fire in a Dhaka, Bangladesh slum just about a mile from where my brother and sister-in-law lived reminded me it's already been two years since my last trip somewhere faraway. As I read the reports of the fire, my memories of that trip came flooding back to me. I was there exactly two years ago this week. Sometimes it almost doesn't seem real that I was there, and other times I remember things like it was yesterday. It hardly seems possible that in the midst of such a chaotic, upside down year that I was able to pull it together enough to make it happen. If you're wondering what took me to Bangladesh, I wrote about it here and here

Last night I looked through this photo album I made of the trip. Looking at the pictures brought so many sounds and smells of Bangladesh back to me, and a strong craving for some delicious, sweet tea! I could almost taste the flat bread that was served with nearly every meal, and I really wanted some hard boiled eggs like the ones we had each morning in Srimongal. Why did they taste so much better there than they do at home? Everything tasted better there, as you can see by this picture of me loaded down with my daily supply of sightseeing snacks. It's funny to think that I was worried about not being able to eat while I was there. If it weren't for all the walking and profuse sweating I did, I would have come home at least ten pounds heavier!
Travel to foreign places and exposure to cultures and traditions that are different from mine is exciting, but it also helps me appreciate the everyday things I take for granted, like sour cream and onion Pringles and Sprite. Their ready availability at home makes me immune to the simple pleasure they can bring. Finding them across the world delighted me and made me savor every delicious bite. But I think what I like the most about traveling is how it connects me to the world. There's nothing like seeing how other people live, even those in one of the poorest countries in the world, to remind me how similar we all are. Whether someone is a poor rickshaw driver living with their family in a slum, a wealthy business owner, or just an average middle class American like me, we all treasure the same things--family, friends, security, love and companionship. 
This picture I took of a young village girl is framed and hanging in my home. I often look at her face and wonder what she looks like now, and what her life holds in store for her. Not long ago I mused out loud to Mike about what her life will be like. He said she'll never have anything. I disagree. Look at those eyes, see the sparkle and the happiness in them? She may not have anything by my standards, but that doesn't mean her life is less than mine in any way. Her world and her future will be vastly different than mine, but that doesn't mean that she won't be just as happy and fulfilled in her life as I will be. I don't know this girl's name, and I never will, but every day I look into her eyes and am reminded that every life is important, and every person deserves basic human dignity and respect. That's a realization I don't think I could have ever fully understood without traveling to Bangladesh, and a lesson that I'll always remember and be forever grateful for. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ten Thousand Things

It's weird to be part of a club that most of the time I don't know who its other members are, which is odd because it isn't really that exclusive of a club. People pay an incredibly steep price for admission. Still, many choose to remain silent and unknown in the shadows. Yesterday, around the world many met at an annual gathering to mark the one day each year dedicated to us, the survivors of suicide.

After my sister died, I didn't know how I would go on living, and I definitely didn't think I'd ever consider myself a survivor, which is defined as "one who survives; one who endures through disaster or hardship." 

There's a deep bond and connection between fellow suicide survivors that's hard to describe. They get it. All of us lost someone who lit up our lives, whose very presence in our world made it better, and we lost them in a tragic way. I find it incredibly comforting to be around others that know the kind of journey I've been on without having to talk about it. They're on the same journey and know how harrowing it is. They know the heartbreaking loss, the grief so intense that it causes physical pain, the sorrow of having someone take their life away, leaving those they loved and who loved them bereft and lost, facing the rest of their lives without them. I don't have to explain to them what it feels like knowing that things I once took for granted are no longer to be. My sister won't be beside me in our golden years. Our plans of being two feisty old women enjoying life to its fullest are now just memories. 

They know about the thousand times a day a song, a word, a place, a smell, a phrase, causes a memory to surface, turning everyday, mundane moments into an effort to stay focused in the present and not give in to the emotions caused by the triggers. 

They know about the nightmares--the vivid, awful scenes in our minds of finding loved ones dead by their own hand, seeing the lifeless body of someone whose presence lit up our lives and many others. And they understand the merciful peace of mind that comes when those nightmares and scenes start to fade. 

They understand the yearning for answers to questions that are unanswerable, the effort it takes to find resolution and move beyond questioning to acceptance. 

They know the unique way suicide has of shattering the innocence of even the most mature, worldly and jaded people. To them I've never had to explain the particularly toxic mixture of guilt, anger and resentment that suicide survivors so often feel. We all know about the lives interrupted, life plans forever altered, tasks we are forced to undertake, things we have to learn for our own survival. None of us ever wanted to learn such hard life lessons, to become experts on the suicidal mind and the underlying mental health issues contributing to suicide. But with this knowledge comes power - and more importantly - acceptance and healing.

Until my sister's death, I had only a basic understanding and knowledge about the disease that caused her death, bipolar disorder. Now I know that the very characteristics that made her loved and adored by so many were hallmarks of her disease. She cared so much about others and the world, that she couldn't cope with the pain and suffering around her. Most people with bipolar disorder care too much. Their caring overwhelms them. It causes them a level of psychic pain that most us will never understand. They leave us not so much because they wish to die, but because they just want to escape the pain they're feeling and are no longer able to see any other viable way to escape it. 

I'm reading the book 'Wild' by Cheryl Strayed, which is the story about her personal journey through grief after losing her mother to cancer. In it she describes her mother's love, "The amount that she loved us was beyond her reach. It could not be quantified or contained. It was the ten thousand named things in the Tao Te Ching's universe and then ten thousand more." I wept with recognition and understanding when I read those words. My sister's love was that large. All of us - her family, friends, and especially her nieces and nephews - basked in her love. Losing it was devastating beyond words. 

What a relief yesterday was to be surrounded by others who understand such devastation. I didn't fully understand the power of a day marked and set aside just for us, International Survivors of Suicide Day, until yesterday. The night before as I read 'Wild' I couldn't help but think of all my fellow survivors when I read these words of Cheryl Strayed's: "Nothing would put me beside her the moment she died. It broke me up. It cut me off. It tumbled me end over end. It took me years to take my place among the ten thousand things again... I would suffer. I would suffer. I would want things to be different than they were. The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods."

We're all on our own unique, individual journeys out of the woods, but I know without a doubt every one of us will heal and be able to take our place among the ten thousand things again because we're strong. We're resilient and brave. We're survivors. 

Basking in Julie's Love
Aunt Julie and baby Hannah
Julie and her dog Phoenix

Aunt Julie with Hannah, Mason and her dog Phoenix

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

High Heels and History Lessons

Last Thursday, Mike, Gillian and I attended one of my favorite local fundraisers, the Ogden School Foundation Fall Author Event. The foundation raises funds for Ogden School District which has some very challenging demographics, with a high percentage of low-income and ESL students and minimal school budgets. The money they raise is used to provide educational enhancements, including classroom grants for indivdual teachers and educational tools and supplies that individual school budgets don't allow for.

The author event is their biggest fundraiser, and one of the most anticipated local events of the year. Over the years they've brought in some literary heavy hitters, including Ray Bradbury, Chaim Potok, Shelby Foote, George Plimpton, Sandra Cisneros, Stehpen Ambrose, Jon Krakauer, Tim O'Brien, Geraldine Brooks, Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket, Stephan Venables, Alexander McCall Smith, Billy Collins, Ken Burns, Amy Tan, and David McCullough. I was lucky enough to serve on the foundation's board of directors for six years and had the opportunity to personally meet many of the authors.

This year's featured author was Rick Atkinson, a three time Pulitzer Prize winner and a military historian. He wrote the bestseller An Army at Dawn, the first book in a trilogy about the history of the American Army in North Africa, Italy and Western Europe during World War II. Coincidentally, the event happened on the 70th anniversay of Operation Torch, when U.S. and British forces invaded North Africa. For a history nerd like myself, I loved the historical significance!

The banquet room was decorated in a patriotic theme, with an amazing private collection of authentic period military uniforms and other artifacts on display. Local WWII veterans were invited as special guests that evening. One of the highlights was the recognition given to a local 95-year old WWII veteran, who was there in his full dress uniform. Yes, it still fit! Here's a link to a story about him. foundation-salutes-north-ogden-veteran.  

World War II was of such historical significance to the U.S. and the world. As Rick Atkinson pointed out that evening, veterans of WWII are dying at a rapid pace, and it's important that younger generations hear their stories, so that we understand our own history and can pass on their stories and experiences to subsequent generations.

Of course, Gillian wasn't as enthralled with the message as I was. She started the evening in high spirits, excited to be wearing a new dress with sequins on the bodice and a chiffon skirt. She of course needed appropriate shoes, and borrowed my black patent leather peep-toe pumps. The fancy dress meant she couldn't carry just any old purse either, so she also borrowed one of my evening bags. It happened to be the one that  I planned on carrying, so she ended carrying one purse for both of us. That's one benefit of taking my daughter along to functions with me--I don't have to worry about juggling a purse along with my cocktail!

Before the salad course was finished, she was bored and looking for distraction. Even the novelty of butter balls (which according to her indicates we're at a "really fancy event") wasn't enough to keep her entertained. I guess she'd expected a more light-hearted evening, since two years ago she went with us to see Lemony Snicket and we all laughed so hard we cried. So much for my hope of enhancing her historical education by exposing her to a well-known and respected author and historian. I gave in and handed over my iPhone so she could entertain herself playing games.  Oh well, hopefully someday she'll remember the experience, and maybe even pay a little extra attention when she's learning about World War II history in school. Sometimes it takes years before exposure to such educational things actually clicks and causes a lightbulb to turn on inside our heads.

I wish I'd gotten a picture of the three of us all dressed up. We all clean up pretty well, if I do say so myself. Here's a picture of us at another recent fundraiser for the local Boys & Girls Club. It was more Gillian's speed, as it was super casual and featured a photo booth with props! It's fun being able to take her with me to some of the many social events I go to throughout the year. I joke that I'm a professional seat filler, and I can work a silent auction like nobody's business! Besides learning how to make the winning bid at silent auctions, Gillian's also learning some social graces, along with being exposed to influential people in the community and causes that are important to me.

Not very long ago, Gillian would play in my closet, trying on my high heels and dresses while I got ready for an evening out. Now she's wearing those same high heels out, going along with me instead of staying home with a sitter. My mom pointed out to me what a fun, amazing age Gillian is at right now. On Thursday night she was thrilled to be getting dressed up and going to a grown-up event. Having the right dress, purse and shoes was critical! The next night, she proudly posted this picture of a blanket fort she and her friend made. I love the contrast, and I love that she's still at an age where she can enjoy both, because I know it won't last forever.

Gillian's Fort

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Caregiving and Farewell to Fall

I'm being lazy this morning, and feeling a little guilty about not being more productive. It's been a rough week though, and sitting in bed, drinking coffee with my dogs snoring beside me seems like the perfect way to regroup and recharge for the coming week. 

Last Sunday, Mike and I spent 6 1/2 hours in the emergency room with his 88-year old grandmother. A minor injury two days earlier had become a serious concern because of her being on blood thinners. She ended up being admitted to the hospital, something she was adamantly opposed to, and had minor surgery two days later. It's been an emotionally draining experience, trying to balance his grandmother's needs and wishes with what's best for her long term physical and mental well-being. It's put Mike in the unenviable position of  keeping his grandmother hospitalized against her wishes, and of balancing the stresses of being a caretaker along with working over 60 hours a week. She's now recuperating and receiving physical therapy in a skilled nursing facility, and is looking forward to returning home in about a week.

It's been a good reminder for me about the importance of making realistic plans for elder care and end of life decisions. So many people are uncomfortable discussing the specifics of how they want to live out their last days, or unrealistic about making financial provisions for the type of care they want. The sad reality for many elders in this country is that they have no long-term care insurance, and retirement income along with Medicare doesn't provide even close to enough money to enable them to live in their home forever with in-home medical care if needed. Families are then left with the horrible task of trying to find a way to honor the wishes of elderly family members, who are often suffering from some diminished mental capacity, with little or no financial resources to cover the huge expense of needed medical care or homemaking assistance. There are no easy solutions.

This week also brought the first big snowfall of the season. As it always seems to, fall was here and gone too soon. We had gorgeous fall weather this year with beautiful, vibrant leaves and amazing sunsets. I was sad to see the snow fly. Luckily, we were able to take a break from the hospital setting and take my dogs out for a walk on one of their favorite trails just a few blocks away from my house. As we headed back to the car, my nose was numb from the cold and snow flurries were just beginning to fly. As you can see from the pictures, Sophie didn't mind the cold one bit, even though I'm sure the water she was in was very cold!

I'm hopeful things will be  calmer and less stressful this week. This afternoon I'll go outside and finish the last few yard chores I need to get done before winter. Having that off my list will be one less thing weighing on my mind. Then later today Mike and I will head to a black belt party. A friend of his (and fellow blogger, you can check out his blog Tap or Die here) is having a party to celebrate getting his black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. It should be fun, and a perfect, stress-free way to end the day. 
Sophie drinking from her favorite watering hole.
Sophie running down the trail. Lucy is in hot pursuit , even though you can't see her.
My gorgeous girl.
Me and my babies, Lucy and Sophie.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Letting Go

More changes and letting go of pieces of my past this week, and I find myself resisting, wanting to hold on, unwilling to face yet farewell. As you can read about in this blog post, my mom and stepdad are moving from their home in Pueblo, Colorado where they’ve lived for the past 17 years.
Our family made memories at 3 Oakbridge Drive, many of them, and I love revisiting the place so many happy moments were shared whenever I returned for a visit. Now, it will be added to the list of places I can return to only in my memories, opening the doors in my mind, mentally visiting each room, recalling all the life that happened there.
However hard it is, these words by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, remind me it’s time to move on, to let go.
In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver
Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails are bursting
and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Below are some pictures of some of my favorite times at 3 Oakbridge Drive.

Gillian and Mason making pancakes

Trampoline Time with Uncle Jon

Easter Morning 2009

Saying goodbye to mom on a snowy Easter Day - 2009

LiteBrite and morning scare hair - Easter 2007

Me with Hannah and Gillian - 2003

Easter Egg Hunt

Cousins crashed out in Grandma's living room
Silly sisters in mom's backyard

Monday, October 8, 2012

Happy Birthday to Gillian

I'll be honest, having a teenage daughter is more than a little challenging, especially when the similarities between her and I are the main reason for the challenges. I'm happy to be raising a smart, observant, independent thinker who is comfortable expressing what she wants, but it does make for some less than peaceful moments at home. Along with the challenges of raising a teenage girl there is also the delight that comes from watching her mature into a young woman, testing, experimenting and learning about the adult person she'll become.  

On Saturday, we celebrated another year of Gillian's life as she turned 14. I was reminded, as I always am on her birthday, what a gift she is to me, and how lucky I am to have a daughter to love, protect and cherish. I'm excited to see the woman she will become, and look forward to watching her experience the next few years of life and all the fun and adventures it will bring.  Here are some highlights from her day.
Presents for the birthday girl. 
Gillian protesting having her picture taken,
and the dogs wishing they could join the fun.
Sophie and Lucy being cute, even in exile.
Birthday breakfast at IHOP
Hunger Games themed birthday cake
Making a wish

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Long Trip Alone

On May 29, 2010 my life changed forever. At the time I thought that day was the darkest of my life. In the immediate aftermath of Julie's suicide a deeper, more intense pain didn't seem possible. But, the deep, dark sadness and grief that took hold of my soul that day continued to descend, almost unabated, for the next year until I was in the depths of a black hole with seemingly no way out. For just over a year I struggled alone, trying to deal with a loss and grief like none I'd ever experienced. Finally, I cracked, unable to take the pain any more. I realized I could no longer do it alone. 

The year following Julie's death had been filled with stress and strife. My family, always fractured and with many unresolved issues, was now a house divided. Just weeks before, some of us had come together to remember the first anniversary of Julie's passing and to inter her ashes. Bitter hostility and disagreement had kept some away, my parents unable to put aside their differences and be together for the sake of their children. 

I've always been the peacemaker in the family, trying like hell to maintain civility and bring everyone together. I guess I've never let go of the fantasy of an intact family unit. I finally let go of the fantasy that weekend. Repressed feelings of anger, regret, hurt, sadness, betrayal and loss, shoved inside me since I was 11 years old, were brought to the surface again. That was the week I cracked, no longer able to tolerate the negativity, fighting and bitter accusations. The crack that appeared in my psyche quickly grew into a giant, gaping wound. Just a few short weeks later, I was completely frazzled, unable to cope and in desperate need of help, right then. I couldn't bear the thought of jumping through the hoops required by my insurance, waiting weeks to be seen by a therapist. Finally, in desperation, I drove alone and distraught to the hospital, and checked myself into the inpatient psychiatric ward. 

My official diagnosis and reason for being there was extreme anxiety and depression with some complicated grief thrown in. Really, I was there due to my broken heart, but I don't think a CPT billing code exists for that. Like Humpty Dumpty, I was completely broken and shattered, with no idea how to pick up the pieces and put myself back together again. My world had been shaken to its very foundation, leaving me to question myself and everything around me. Guilt, regret and 'what if''s' were eating me alive. I didn't know how to go on. I wasn't sure I even wanted to. Mostly I just wanted to lie down in a quiet room, go to sleep and never wake up again. I didn't want to die. I just didn't want to feel the pain I was feeling anymore.

Despite my deep longing for rest and isolation, that's the last thing they allow in the psych ward. Thankfully though, I was immediately put on some very strong anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs. Finally, after more than a year I was able to get some relief from the chaos in my mind. Yes, I'd gone 13 months trying to gut it out alone without the help of any form of medication or therapy. Until then, the strongest thing I'd taken was some Benadryl a few nights in the weeks after Julie's death when I was desperate for a full night's sleep.

I didn't stay in the hospital long. I quickly realized I didn't need to be locked up, not allowed to wear shoes or any clothing with drawstrings, belts or anything else I might use to harm myself. On my second day there I met with a therapist. After explaining to her what the last year of my life had been like, she very kindly told me, "This isn't what your sister would want for you. She would want you to be happy. You need to do whatever it takes to get better so you can live your life." As strange as it may sound to a rational person, not only had I never thought about things in such profoundly simple terms, nobody had bothered to point this out to me. I was sick, but I could get the help I needed on an outpatient basis. 

Finally, after 13 months, I gave myself permission to fully grieve. I quit pretending for the world that two weeks had been plenty of time to cope with losing my sister, mourn, and attend to all the awful details that came with her death. I took time off work, telling them I didn't know when I'd be back and not to bother me. I stayed in bed, almost catatonic, sad, crying, and physically hurting inside from my grief. My daughter stayed at her dad's so I didn't feel obligated to take care of anyone but myself. I slept as much as I wanted. I quit trying to regulate the degree to which I'd allow myself to feel my loss. 

After a few weeks, very slowly, in a way that was nearly unnoticeable to me, the darkness that had enveloped me for so long started to lift. I went to therapy appointments like it was my job. I took my medications religiously. I reminded myself daily to be kind to ME, and to not feel compelled to pretend to the world that everything was okay. Eventually, about six months later, I felt different. The sadness and pain was still there, but it was different, no longer all-encompassing and much more manageable. I was beginning to accept my new normal. 

It was like a re-birth. I'd been dismantled down to my very core and put back together. Parts of me died, forever ceasing to exist when Julie died. My psychic reconstruction meant I was different inside. My very soul is different now. I see and feel things differently, and perceive the world in ways I never did before. I look the same on the outside, but I'm a completely different Keicha now.

For the last twenty-eight months I've been on a journey that I didn't choose, and if I had a choice, would never choose. At first I tried to do it alone. My breakdown forced me to realize the foolishness of my stubborn, solitary journey. It allowed me to open my mind and heart to letting others help me, and made me realize I needed to heal so that I can help others. Thankfully, mercifully, I'm no longer traveling this hard road alone. 

Yesterday marked another milestone in my journey of healing. Together with thousands of others survivors and people whose lives have been affected by suicide, I walked. We walked - strong, proud, tearful, and brave - in the light of day, confronting the darkness of suicide. We walked for hope and healing, for my beautiful, beloved sister Julie, and for so many others.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bee Stings and Bears

It's hard to believe it's already been a year since I headed off on my first motorcycle adventure to Yellowstone National Park. Two weeks ago, eight of us set out for the 2nd Annual Foley's Jackson to Yellowstone Motorcycle Adventure.  Like last year, I was the only female in the group of seven men and seven motorcycles.  I wrote about that trip here.   Hopefully, next year a few more ladies will be brave enough to join us, so I'm not the odd man (or rather, woman) out again. 
The Cast of Characters
This year several of the riders from last year rejoined us, some from last year couldn't make it, and a few new people joined in.  Even though some of us were strangers at the start, we were soon fast friends, laughing, teasing and talking together like we'd known each other for years. We all have the same common connection, our friend Dave, owner of Foley's MMA Training Center.  
Our VRBO rental in Victor, Idaho
We did a few things different this trip.  For one, we decided not to camp and instead rented a luxury home in Victor, Idaho.  What a great decision that was!  It made packing the bikes so much easier and it felt much more like a vacation.  Being able to sleep in a comfortable, warm bed, take hot showers and baths, and wake up to fresh coffee brewing and a hearty breakfast eaten with a beautiful view from the back deck was heaven. It also didn't hurt that I did none of the shopping or cooking on the trip.  A crew of tough, manly men, several of them professional MMA fighters, doesn't at first glance seem like a group to spend a weekend with, but that's why it's dangerous to make judgements based on stereotypes. I have to admit I was spoiled and well taken care of the entire time. We also didn't ride nearly as many miles as last year, when we went all the way through Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, Cody, Wyoming and over both Chief Joseph and Beartooth Pass, and to Red Lodge, Wyoming and back.
The view from the back deck.
Mike, the head chef, flashing gang signs in the kitchen.

The crew ready to hit the road.
The highlight of the trip was early on our second day when we saw a Grizzly Bear in Grand Teton National Park.  It was my first time seeing a bear in the wild and it was beyond cool!  I'm giving credit for the sighting to our collective positive energy, as that morning I'd asked everyone to think positive thoughts and focus their energy on seeing a bear.  If I'd known it was that easy, I would have tried that method years ago! 

We also saw a large group of elk, and I spotted a moose drinking from the river when we were still in Utah heading up a mountain canyon.  Dave saw a bee up close and personal, as one flew inside his helmet and stung his ear on our first day as we were driving over Monte Cristo Highway in Utah.  More on that later.

The weather was beautiful the entire weekend, which made riding that much more enjoyable.  Our itinerary was very flexible, so we spent as much time as we felt like at different stops along the way.  In Jackson Hole, we did the usual tourist things, watching an old West shootout on the street, posing in front of the elk antler arches, and shooting whiskey at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.  Okay, I guess not everybody does that last one, but since it was Shawn's first time there, I felt like the occasion should be properly celebrated.  

Just like last year, we spent way too much time at Old Faithful, or as we like to call it Old Disappointment.  Not because it doesn't erupt regularly, but because it's more than a little underwhelming seeing it in person for the first time after hearing about it for years.  Or, maybe we're just jaded. Honestly, we all like the ice cream cones from the visitor center better than the geyser.

Ice cream and Old Faithful
At this point in the trip, a new member joined our group.  Dave's bee sting had made his ear swell and redden to a point that we couldn't ignore it. His ear had taken on its own identity!  We named him Monte, after Monte Cristo where he was stung. We teased and laughed at Monte unmercifully for the rest of the trip. For a while we were worried Monte was going to require his own helmet and bike! 
Monte, a good listener with an ear for everyone.
Like all vacations, this one didn't seem long enough.  There never seems to be enough time to cover the vast space in Yellowstone Park and see all the beautiful sights there.  We left the park on our second day already making plans for next year.  Yes, we will be back, and chances are I'll be on my own bike.  That's right.  I've been bitten by the bug, and getting my motorcycle license and eventually having my own bike has officially been added to my bucket list.   
Boys and their toys.
Justin had some odd choices for riding attire this year.
An overcast day in Grand Teton National Park, but still beautiful.
Rest stop