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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Farewell to Phoenix

It seems to be a summer of goodbye's for me. Yesterday I received the news that my sister Julie's dog Phoenix was put down earlier this week. Julie got Phoenix around 14 years ago when he was a pup, and he was her constant, loyal companion until her death. Phoenix, or the The Fiend as he was also known, will always be remembered for his viciously wagging tail that could take down small children and bring grown men to their knees if he hit them in just the wrong spot! Like his owner, Phoenix was a little neurotic and high-strung, but also beautiful, strong, graceful and very lovable. He was an anxious car traveler and had to be sedated with Benadryl for long trips. He loved to hike, chase tennis balls and lick lotion off of just moisturized feet. More than anything, he loved Julie. He was her protector, friend, companion and security blanket all rolled into one, always by her side, including the moment she took her last breath.

I visited Phoenix in May while I was in Colorado. Seeing him was a priority for me that trip. I knew he was getting very old and I wanted a chance to say goodbye. I spent over an hour alone with him on May 29, the four year anniversary of Julie's death. That morning I laid on the couch in the house where my sister once lived, with my head on one of her old throw pillows and had a heartfelt, tear-filled talk with Phoenix. He came and sat next to me and put his head on the couch right next to mine. When it was time for me to leave he followed me to the door. I went back twice to kiss him and say goodbye. I knew it was our final farewell and I'm certain he knew it too. 

Phoenix was lovingly cared for after Julie's death by Jason, who made sure his final years were comfortable and full of TLC. In addition to Jason, he leaves behind a loving family who will always remember him and be grateful for the years we had him in our midst. I think my sister-in-law said it best. Phoenix had, and gave so much love in his life. Those of us who were lucky enough to be touched by that love will be forever grateful. 
Valentine's Day 2010
Hannah, Julie and Phoenix at Grandma Sally's
Jason and Phoenix 
Morning coffee at mom's house - Easter 2008
Julie and Phoenix - Easter 2010
Buster, Julie and Phoenix - Easter 2010
Walking with the kids - Easter 2010
Road Trip to Grandma Sally's
Saying Goodbye - May 29, 2014
Phoenix - May 2014

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Gillian Goes to High School

Today was Gillian's first day of high school. That's right. My baby. My one and only child, is now a high school sophomore. It's the oldest cliche' in the the world, but I'm still going to say it. Where on earth did the time go? The other day after shopping for school supplies, she wondered aloud about being able to fit her new puppy in her book bag to take to school with her. I said it would be like the book she loved that I used to read to her, "If You Take a Mouse to School" except her puppy would be much harder to smuggle in. How many years has it been since I read her a bedtime story? Back then it seemed like a part of life that would last indefinitely. 
I remember when she started Kindergarten high school seemed forever away. Back then I couldn't even conjure a picture in my mind of what my cute little girl with glasses and hair barely long enough for pig tails would look like in high school. That was probably a self-preservation thing on my mind's part. Can you imagine if I knew then what she would look like now at 15? Just to be clear. She's going to school now with 18-year old men! I'm trying to remain calm and not think too much about what I did in high school.

I've been telling Gills for the last year that I thought she'd finally really find her place in high school. She's old for her class, and has always been pretty mature for her age. I think the last year of Jr. High was especially boring for her in many ways. She was so ready for bigger and better things. Last night I could tell she was nervous. She even admitted to being a little apprehensive about things. The school she's going to is huge. I get lost every time I'm there. When I finally fell asleep around 11:30 last night she was still up primping and prepping. This morning she was up early getting ready. I warned her last night that I would be taking her picture so she could either pose and smile for me at home, or I would follow her to school and make her pose in the main rotunda. Either way, I was going to get my first day of school shot. She opted for the picture at home option. 
1st Day of High School
Other than a little glitch over lunchtime planning, things went great today. So I paid for lunch three times before noon. Who's counting? She now has cash (or did, it seems to have been lost in the excitement this morning), money in her school lunch account, and money in her checking account for lunch. She better not come home in the next few weeks complaining of being hungry! Her first day report was glowing. It seems she already has high school totally under control. She loves the people. No more childish junior high kids in her midst! And, there's a gorgeous foreign exchange student from Finland in her Health class. We chatted about his long, flowing blond hair and amazing accent. Yep. My 15-year old daughter and I talked about a hot foreign exchange student together. I never saw that one coming!

Last night I felt a little weepy at the thought of how quickly time was passing and Gillian was growing up and moving on. Tonight I'm no longer weepy. Hearing her happy and excited voice as she told me about her day made me happy. I really do think she's going to thrive in high school. She has a fairly challenging schedule full of honors and AP classes, but I know she's going to do well. She's going to experience so many new things over the next year. It's a great time of life. I still think back to my Sophomore year and remember it as my favorite year of high school. I hope it's the same for her. 

A friend of mine I've known since the 6th grade commented today on Facebook about our kids growing up and going off to school, saying we could get together and cry. She's sending her oldest off to college this week. Both of us worked very hard at having children. There were points when we both despaired that we may never have kids. We went through rounds of IVF around the same time, and back then shared our stories of the pain, heartache, hope and expense. I still remember a visit from her while I lay flat on my back for three days after an embryo transfer, fearful of moving or hardly breathing. Today, 16 1/2 years later, I watched my baby, the baby that I laid immobile and flat on my back for days for so I could give her a chance at life--nurtured, protected and loved from the very instant her life was inside mine--walk purposefully away from me and down the street to this new, exciting chapter in her life. It was a happy moment. No tears, only smiles. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Suicide, Celebrity and Stigma

I've debated adding my voice to the thousands who have already written about the tragic suicide of Robin Williams. What more can I say that hasn't been said? Plus, sometimes I feel like a broken record when it comes to the subject of suicide. I imagine people rolling their eyes when they see another blog post about it. But then I reminded myself that I write this blog for me. My readers and the friendships that have come from it are a bonus. Writing helps me process. It's my own private therapy, even if I do make it public for the world to read and judge. I've also learned that I should never silence or edit myself when it comes to the subject of suicide. It's too important and I never know who is listening, or in this case reading, and may be helped by hearing about my personal experiences.

Hearing the news of ANY suicide devastates me. They all feel personal. Every. Single. One. Yesterday was no different. I heard the news shortly before I left work and called my sister as soon as I got in the car. She was weepy and sad. We didn't need to explain to each other why. There was no talk of how silly it was to mourn the death of a stranger. We know. We know the horror of that moment when the bottom drops out of your world. We know the  mind-numbing grief, the shock, the despair, the anger, the sadness, the questions, the guilt, the confusion, and the horrible, long journey the survivors left behind are just now beginning. As my mom said today in a Facebook post, "It all hits just too heartbreakingly close to home." 

Here is what else I know. There is still enormous stigma, judgement and misinformation surrounding suicide and mental illness. Although most of the comments, stories, blogs and news reports I've seen have been good and filled with positive messages, education and expressions of deep love, sympathy and compassion, I've also read some very awful, judgmental comments. I've tried to avoid those as much as possible. A clip posted today caught my attention. It was about a Fox News reporter who called Robin Williams a coward for committing suicide. I didn't watch the link because I choose not fill my mind with hateful comments from uninformed people. However, I did post this comment about it. 

"A perfect example of the kind of remarks that continue to stigmatize suicide and contribute to the many myths surrounding it. The only way to counter such uninformed comments is to shout the truth from the roof tops and drown out the voices of those who judge and spread misinformation. 

Robin Williams and so many others fought valiantly for years to stay alive. My sister fought a battle for her life for almost twenty years--a very fierce battle. She was exhausted, right down to her very soul, and in a weak moment with an unclear mind clouded by mental illness took her own life. Nobody, not a single living person, knows the personal battles and the toll they take on those who die by suicide. Judgement of them for losing the fight is absolutely wrong and shows a lack of compassion, not to mention a lack of facts about suicide."

I guess this post is my way of shouting from the roof tops. There will always be those who judge, are misinformed, uneducated, or just plain lacking compassion, empathy and understanding. I want the voices of those of us who know better to be louder than those who continue to contribute to the stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness. We must speak up. It really is a matter of life and death. 

I'm no expert on suicide. I only have my personal experience of living through the aftermath of the suicide of someone I dearly loved and the knowledge I've gained since then. But there are experts, people who have devoted their lives to studying the causes of suicide, mental illness, and the many contributing factors that can lead a person to choose to take their own life. Please help me share their knowledge. 

Here is a link to some very common myths vs. facts about suicide from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Suicide: Myths vs. Facts. The media can also play an important role in educating the public about suicide. Unfortunately, in cases such as Robin Williams' and other celebrity deaths by suicide, the story is often reported in very irresponsible, destructive ways. Words matter, and often the words the media choose to use in reporting on suicide are dangerous triggers to individuals who may already be having suicidal ideations. If you want to learn more about this, here is a link to a statement released today by AFSP's Executive Director, Robert Gebbia. Unsafe Reporting on Suicide Can Cost Lives. If you see instances of irresponsible reporting about suicide by your local or even national media, I encourage you to contact the source of the story, and ask them to please be part of the solution to preventing suicides and use safe reporting practices. 

My sister's death changed my life forever. I miss her every day. I mourn the loss of her life, and I mourn the loss of all the hundreds of thousands of other lives lost to suicide. I grieve for her, for me, and for every other person coping with either their own struggle to stay alive, and those who are now learning to survive after losing someone to suicide. My sister is gone from my life forever. Sometimes I wonder how she would feel about me talking about her so much. Should I be using her death to help deliver a message I feel is so important? I don't know how she would feel about that. But it's what I have, so I share it. Her story is now my story. I'm going to use it in whatever way I can to hopefully save lives.