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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Struggling To Be Supportive

Life and its challenges plus the busiest time of the year at work for me have been consuming most of my energy lately. I'm so looking forward to nine days off over the holidays. One more work week and counting then I get a break!

However, my long awaited break looks like it's going to be filled with the stress and demands of a new business venture for Mike, one that I'm really struggling to be enthusiastic about. From the day I meant him Mike has worked a second job in a bar. First as a door/security man and then as a bartender. Due to the nature of bars this meant he worked weekends from evening until the wee hours of the morning. This was in addition to his full-time day job. The money from bar tending is hard to beat, often averaging $25 dollars an hour, and on holidays it can be double that. The downside is the crazy hours. Because of my 9 to 5, five days a week office job it also meant I spent most weekend nights alone for the first three years of our relationship. I tolerated this because I knew the necessity of his second job. 

At the first of this year for various reasons Mike quit bar tending. After a few months he took a job at another bar in town. After giving his time and advice, all uncompensated, during the few months before opening, but with the promise of a prime position after it opened, things didn't happen as promised. There were also personality conflicts between him and the owners. Things obviously weren't going to work out so he quit. Despite the loss of income I wasn't sad to see an end to his bar tending days and schedule. I'd borne it as a necessary evil for years and was becoming more and more resentful of the toll it was taking on our relationship. The financial benefit hardly seemed worth the constant sleep deprivation Mike suffered because of the hours, and the effect that had on his emotional well-being and ability to function during the day. 

Then a couple of months ago he was offered the opportunity to become a partner in another local bar that was being sold. He jumped at the chance. He was happy. I wasn't. I've been down that road and was happy to be off it. I know the toll it takes, and I also know the time and commitment starting a new business requires. There were many tears on my part. I questioned his commitment to our relationship knowing how strongly opposed I was to the hours, time and commitment this venture would take. Not that I don't recognize the opportunity for him and he does have a real talent for bar tending. It's a job not everyone can do or do well. Who was I to demand that he not pursue such an opportunity? It was a positive for him, but felt like a step backwards to me and not something that would enhance our relationship. 

Getting financing and approval appeared to be several months off. That would hopefully give me time to adjust my attitude. At least we'd have the holidays. It would be the first Christmas Day that he wouldn't have to bar tend. We would get to spend New Year's eve together instead of him being behind the bar while I was on the other side pretending to enjoy myself, surrounded by people but feeling very alone.  

Wouldn't you know it, things sailed through and as early as this Wednesday he and his partners will be owning and running a bar. As I write this they're meeting with the staff and current owners. The days of burning a candle at both ends, working two jobs and working nights and weekends will begin again. Mike promises it will be different this time. He'll have more latitude, more flexibility, others can share the weekend shifts. Eventually that may be the case, but expecting that right away seems naive given the certain demands of ownership, staffing issues and growing the business. My input and presence is welcome, but owning or working in a bar has never been something I wanted. Being there while he works, helping in an administrative and marketing capacity is a poor substitute for quality time together. 

I'm sad and discouraged. He's happy. I'm trying to be a supportive partner while also resenting the lack of consideration for my needs and desires. We're at odds.  I'm not sure I want to play this time. I know other relationships have made it through these kind of challenges. Partnership is all about compromise, right? In this instance compromise feels like conceding to me, once again deferring what I want in support of what he wants. Right now it feels like a really bitter pill. Putting on a happy face is going to be really, really difficult for me. I need advice, support and encouragement. How have you overcome similar challenges in your relationships? 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Message From the Past

Sometimes I’ll be doing the most ordinary, mundane thing when it happens. It happened Thursday night when I was downloading old pictures so I could transfer them from my old PC to my Mac. I was efficiently clicking through folders, choosing pictures, having a nice trip down memory lane when. I came across a file in one of the folders that seemed out of place. I clicked on it and up popped a group instant message from 2008 between me and my sisters.

In the weeks and months after Julie died I went through every email and IM I could find searching for any electronic correspondence between us. Not trusting technology and fearful of someday losing them, I printed and saved each one I found, desperate not to lose the memory of her written voice and record of our ordinary, everyday correspondence. For a while, I read them pretty frequently because they made me feel connected to her in some small way. Now they’re all filed away along with my other personal papers and memorabilia, saved like letters were in the days before email, texting and instant messaging.

Sometimes Amy, Julie and I would have group chats via IM. They seldom had a purpose, they were just another way we stayed connected with each other, sharing little details of our daily lives. We did the same thing over the phone, one of us calling the other and then conferencing in the third. I read the copy of our pointless, scattered conversation over and over, smiling at the memory of our silliness and then overcome with sadness, reminded of my loss and missing my sister all over again. 

Our chat on January 30, 2008 started at 8:30 a.m. and ended at 8:39 a.m. We were all at work just starting our day, probably drinking coffee while we checked our emails. Nine minutes. It’s amazing how many memories and feelings can be dredged up by reading such a short conversation. Julie’s words as she left the conversation that day are what really got to me. One of the many painful things about her death was that she didn’t give us a chance to say a final goodbye. One day she was there and then she was just gone, leaving everyone who loved her with unsaid goodbyes. I wouldn't have wanted to ever tell her goodbye or let her go. But if I had, I like to imagine her goodbye as cheerful and lighthearted like the one she gave us as she signed off that morning five years ago.

Julie: “Got all dressed up in a cute outfit and then decided to look out the window and it was snowing.”


“So I had to change.”

Keicha: “Is it as cute as the one I have on in my IM picture?”

Julie: “Amy, do you know what the male species of elk are called?”

Amy: “ I don’t see an outfit in your picture Keicha.”

Keicha: “What is a male elk called?”

Amy: “Ask Julie”

Julie: “What did I call them?”

“Men elk?”

“Elk men?”

Amy: “Men elk. They’re actually called bull elk.”

Julie: “I like men elk.”

Keicha: “ Only if they’re in full rut though, huh?”

Julie: “Ha!”

Julie: “You two.”

Amy: “Keicha started it.”

Juile: “Nice picture.”

Keicha: “Sorry. This is too much. I’m reading emails, instant messaging and answering messages on my Blackberry. AAGGH!”

Amy: “Would you say Jon is near East Boston?”

Keicha: “ Like I would know. Ask Julie. Cute picture Julie.”

Julie: “He is actually in the south suburbs.”

Amy: “OK, I want to send a balloon bouquet.”

Julie: “Oh.”

Julie: “Peace out sistas.”

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Where did September Go?

Life and its many other obligations seem to have taken over lately and I've been absent from regular blogging for far too long. So while I haven't been blogging much, I have been busy. I was relieved for summer to end. It's always full of fun but I was ready for a break from all the activity and a slower pace to life. Ha! September turned out to be the busiest month I've had in a long time. Much of the month was consumed by helping plan and organize a silent auction for the Utah Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Out of the Darkness Walk. It was a lot of work, but well worth it. The walk raised $80k, money that will be put to good use funding suicide prevention education and awareness efforts in Utah.

The end of September brought one of my favorite events of the year, Ogden's Harvest Moon Celebration. Here's a picture from that morning's suicide prevention walk that's organized by a local suicide prevention task force. Mike, along with my friend CJ and her sweet dog Sadie, joined me on the walk. It was CJ's first suicide walk in honor of her beloved friend James and an emotional experience for both of us. 

As if there wasn't already enough going on last month, Mike finally had some time to work on our wood floor project. The carpet has been torn up for most of the year so it was nice to finally make some progress. All of the rooms upstairs have original oak floors that were installed when my house was built in 1942. The bedrooms are in really good condition, the living room and dining room areas, not so much. After being sanded three times they looked almost new. It was a messy, dusty project and I'm not looking forward to going through it again for the remaining two rooms. It will all be worth it in the end though when I have gorgeous newly stained floors!
After sanding before being stained.
Gillian's room with dark walnut stain applied.
The next weekend we took a quick motorcycle trip to Southern Utah. The ride down was miserable and cold! We endured rain, wind and hail. I wasn't warm for the entire ride until the last 20 minutes when we entered St. George. Once we thawed out we had a fun, relaxing weekend. It was a nice getaway after a busy month, and thankfully the ride home was much more pleasant.
Bundled up for our ride.
Enjoying the Southern Utah sunshine. 
The following weekend it was party time! Gillian wanted to celebrate her 15th birthday by having a few friends for a sleepover. No problem. We decided they could sleep on our covered back patio. The plan was to hang canvas curtains to enclose it like a large tent, put cushions on the floor, set up the big screen T.V. and some space heaters and they could eat and watch movies all night long. Of course, we had our first cold snap and freezing temperatures that weekend so the party was moved indoors. Mike was a trooper and stayed up late mixing fancy mocktails and basically keeping an eye on things until the wee hours of the morning. He even made breakfast the next day, cooking two pounds of bacon that was consumed in an instant. Who knew teenage girls liked bacon so much?

Seven sleeping girls in my living room.

Last weekend I had two mini celebrities in my midst with a videographer following and recording Mike and Isaac for an upcoming video story that will be featured on NPR's Story Corps series. During the months long process of Isaac's dad's time in jail, deportation, Mike becoming Isaac's foster parent and Isaac gaining permanent residency status, a photographer documented his story for the local newspaper. It ran as a three-part series. The articles were seen by reporters for StoryCorps who came to Ogden and recorded interviews with Isaac and Mike for the series. They're working on an upcoming story series funded by Atlantic Philanthropies which records video stories about several of their focus areas, including immigration and the effect on children left in the U.S. after their parents are deported. Isaac's story was selected as the feature story on that topic. We had fun entertaining the photographer, Harvey Wang, who is based out of Brooklyn, New York, introducing him to O-town and its many charms. 

Isaac with Dave Foley, owner of Foley's MMA Training
Center where Mike met Isaac.
Most of Saturday morning was spent at Foley's, the boxing/MMA gym where Mike met Isaac and his dad. Harvey took a large group photo with many of the people who have been part of Isaac's life and have been there as supportive friends throughout his journey over the last 3+ years. The gym isn't just a place where people go to work out. It's a community, a place where everyone looks out for everybody else. It was a nice reminder of how lucky we are to be a part of the Foley's family. It was fitting to have much of the video shot at the place that has played such a central role in his story. I can't wait to see the finished product and will be sure to post the story when it comes out. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Journey Cut Short

Have you ever met someone who in a very short amount of time had a profound impact on your life? I had that experience earlier this year when I met a man named Joe Bell. He was passing through Ogden on a cross-country journey from Oregon to New York City, walking alone in honor of his teenage son Jadin, who had killed himself a few months earlier. Jadin was gay, and after coming out had been bullied because of his sexual orientation. 

Jadin had wanted to move to New York City when he was older, so Joe decided to set out on a trek to New York City raising awareness along the way about bullying and suicide prevention. He teamed up with some friends who were involved with a non-profit called Faces for Change and before long his journey had a name--Joe's Walk for Change. 

Me, Joe and my dad - June 6, 2013
I heard about Joe's walk on Facebook shortly before he arrived in Ogden. The moment I read his story I wanted to meet him, to shake his hand, hug him, and thank him for what he was doing. A few days after learning about his Walk for Change, I got to do just that. Joe was speaking at OUTreach, a local group for LGBTQ youth where they can gather in a place free from discrimination and work together to build happy, healthy lives. 

He was soft-spoken but his words were powerful. He wept as he told his story and nearly everyone in the room wept as they listened. His words were simple, yet powerful and touched the hearts of many, including mine. I watched him comfort a young man who told how he had been shunned and kicked out of his home by his own father because of his sexual orientation. I did get to shake Joe's hand, hug him and thank him for what he was doing. I left in awe of his strength, but also his humility and complete conviction about what he was doing. He was a hero, the kind of person the world needs more of. I began following his journey online, tracking his progress, reading his comments and experiences about his journey.

Yesterday evening he posted a picture of a road sign just outside a remote Colorado town with the words "Making headway, one step at a time." This morning as I scrolled through my Facebook feed I stopped to read about Joe's progress. My heart stopped as I read the news that he had been hit by a semi-truck and killed. I was stunned, overcome with sadness. All day my mind kept drifting to thoughts of him and his family and the tragedy of his death. I can't stop thinking about it. What about his surviving son? What is he thinking? How on earth is he going to pick up the pieces of his life and move on? I've also thought about Joe. I hope his death was sudden and painless. I don't believe in an afterlife, so thoughts of him having a reunion of sorts with his son bring me no comfort. In a strange way though, I feel relief for him. His journey is over. His grief has ended. He no longer has to live a life with a permanent void in it. Mostly though, I'm just sad because the world needs more people like Joe Bell and now he's gone. 

I don't know what his death means but I know his message of acceptance needs to continue to be shared. His son Jadin's life mattered. Joe's life mattered. His journey was too important for it to end. Joe touched so many lives as he walked for change. Somehow his work will continue and his message of acceptance will keep being shared. It has to, for Jadin, and now also for Joe. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Shining Light

Tomorrow, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day. At 8 p.m. I’ll join others around the world in lighting a candle and placing it in a window to remember my sister Julie, to show support for suicide prevention, and for the survivors of suicide.

The act will be a solitary one for me. I prefer to be alone when I light my candle—alone with my memories, my sadness and my reflections about the journey over the last three years. At the same time, I know I really won’t be alone because hundreds of thousands of others will be joining me as they light their own candles. Knowing that brings me both comfort and sadness, because I know it means so many others lighting candles have experienced the same kind of loss and grief as me. The comfort comes from knowing that each one of our individual losses makes us survivors and we have each other for support. 

Lighting a candle is symbolic in many ways. A single candle can bring light to the darkest of places. Everyone knows the phrase “There’s light at the end of the tunnel.” I remember hearing this when I was in the midst of deep, dark despair and grief and thinking there would never again be light and happiness in my soul. My sister was gone, the source of light and joy in so many lives snuffed out in an instant. Her smile that lit up a room—gone forever. Her laughter and silliness that could brighten any situation never to be enjoyed again. My candle will be lit to remember these and so many other things about Julie and to honor her life. 

In the weeks and months after Julie died, my loss overwhelmed me. I often sought refuge alone in my dark bedroom. For months I spent many nights awake in the darkness, unable to sleep because of my unsettled thoughts. Being out in the bright, bustling world overwhelmed me. I felt fragile, broken--alone and bereft even when I was surrounded by others. I was enveloped in a dark cloud of depression and I wondered if it would ever go away.

Gradually, imperceptibly at first, the darkness inside me began to fade. There were times when I again felt light and carefree. I could laugh and not have my laughter turn to tears because of my emotions being so close to the surface. I began connecting with other survivors and realized there was a light at the end of tunnel. They understood how I felt, they knew all about the questions that can never be completely answered, the anger and the guilt that come after losing a loved one to suicide. My candle will be lit for the millions of other suicide survivors in the world. It will burn as a symbol of hope, support and solidarity with them. 

My candle will be lit in support of suicide prevention efforts taking place all over the world. I often wish that I could return to the time when I knew very little about suicide. Ignorance was bliss. Now I know that suicide is one of the major causes of death in the world. Worldwide, nearly one million people die by suicide annually. That’s one suicide death every 40 seconds. I also know the impact mental illness has on suicide, and the importance of access to mental health services. I know too that the stigma surrounding suicide is still very prevalent. Many seem to think if they don’t talk about it that it will somehow go away. Too many people are still unaware of the many contributing causes to suicide, how to recognize suicidal behavior and how to intervene and help someone who is suicidal. This has to change. Suicide needs to be brought out of the darkness. A very bright light needs to shine on the importance of suicide prevention education and that lives can be saved. 

Tomorrow night my candle will shine brightly for all of these things, but most of all it will shine for Julie and the unique brightness and light her life brought to the world. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Friends and Family

Year three of our annual motorcycle trip to the Yellowstone area has come and gone and I can’t believe it’s already over. The first year I didn’t know what to expect and ended up loving everything about the trip. The second year I knew what to expect and was even more excited to go. This year I’ve been eagerly anticipating our trip almost since the day we returned home last year. I’ve yearned for it, first counting the months, then weeks, and finally the days before we hit the highway.

Our group numbered ten this year and for the first time in three years I finally had a female partner in crime to share the fun with. Five of the ten have made the journey all three years, a few have made it one or two times, and there were two newbies joining for the first time. 
Besides all the fun and laughter, every year I’ve taken away something different and very personal from this trip and this year was no different. Having solitary time on the back of a motorcycle, alone with my thoughts, surrounded by beautiful scenery, naturally leads me to thinking about many of my thoughts and emotions. I realized that it's very rare that I'm able to be completely quiet inside myself, away from all the stress and obligations of everyday life, just reflecting on my life. 

What struck me this year was how close a group of such different personalities and backgrounds can become. Tight bonds are formed that last well beyond our short vacation. This year, like last year, we rented a large house that we all stayed in together. At dinner time on the second night we were all gathered around a huge dining table eating our spaghetti dinner, when someone commented that they felt like they were at a family Thanksgiving. Someone else said, "This is better than my last Thanksgiving when I was alone with some store bought chicken and potatoes." Of course we all laughed and kidded him, but someone also said something to the effect of  "Well, we're your family, so it should feel like a family dinner." 

The day before someone mentioned how great it was that we were all together as friends, people that we'd chosen to spend time with because of the positive things we bring to each other's lives. We don't choose our families, and some in the group have less than ideal family dynamics, but we do choose our friends and our friends can be our family too. 

I realized that on some level that's why this trip, and this group of people, have become so important to me. They feel like my family. I've always loved big family gatherings--having everyone together under one roof, late nights spent talking, laughing and goofing around, leisurely mornings in pajamas drinking coffee while planning the day, and laughter filled dinners at a big table surrounded by people I love. 

I do, of course, have a large loving family of my own, but our family gatherings just aren't the same anymore. For one thing, there have been very few of them in the last three years. The last time we were all together under one roof was the week after Julie died. I don't think any of us would have survived that week if we hadn't been together. Little did I realize how much things would change after that. My mom said recently that Julie was our family lynch pin. A lynch pin is something that holds the various elements of a complicated structure together. That was Julie. Now that she's gone our family structure seems to be in a free fall. We're lost without her. When we are together, as Edna St. Vincent Millay said, "The presence of that absence is everywhere." In her absence we just don't get together that much anymore.

During our trip I laughed until my stomach hurt and there were tears streaming down my cheeks. There were long days and late nights filled with fun, but also talking about more serious things with people we all trust with each other's feelings. There were even some disagreements and squabbles, but they were all quickly put to rest with sincere acknowledgements of one anther's feelings and opinions with apologies when needed. I was surrounded by people that Mike calls "lifers", friends that are there for life, through thick and thin. The connection remains strong whether we see each other once a year or once a week, just like family. 
I guess my soul has been searching for a way to replace what I feel I've lost. I need those large family gatherings filled with silliness, laughter, closeness, support and love. When I got on the back of our motorcycle and hit the open highway, besides a vacation I was also seeking some peace and solace from my unconscious longing for connection. Lucky for me, I found all that and more.