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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Loving Life

This was the scene in my bathroom last night as Gillian and her friends primped for their first high school dance. The dress code for the occasion was neon. They couldn't find any super bright neon clothes so they made it work with brightly colored outfits. This first dance was a casual, no date needed gathering. Back in my day we called them stomps. Back in my parent's day I think they called them sock hops. 

The primping took a couple of hours. When I opened the bathroom door and peaked in the fumes from nail polish, hair spray and perfume nearly knocked me off my feet! They put a lot of thought into their hairstyles and 'look' for the night. Gillian was the designated make-up artist for everyone. She's an expert primper and really does have a knack for doing hair and make-up. She's my go-to person when I need my hair styled in an up-do these days. 

Listening to their excited talk and speculation about what the night would be like made me smile. They're in such a prime part of their youth right now. Nearly everyday is a new adventure or experience. Gillian hasn't been this talkative about school for years. She excitedly jabbers on for hours about her day, her friends and her newfound freedom. She's not quite a month into her sophomore year of high school and is completely, 100% enjoying everything about it. 

After all the primping and prep was done, it was time for a final photo and then off to the dance. Aren't they cute? 
I chauffeured the girls to the dance, stopping to pick up one more friend on the way. As they all exited the car and walked into the building I was struck by the significance of the moment. None of them realize it now, but these are most likely some of the happiest, simplest, most carefree days of their lives. For just a few more precious months I get to shuttle them around in the car, listening to their backseat chatter. Right now, most of them are in driver's education. Next week they start driving on the training range. In less than two months, some of them will have full-fledged driver's licenses. Official dating hasn't started yet. There have been some junior high, teenage heartbreaks, but right now all of them are still untouched by the complicated, sometimes heartbreaking complexities of dating and relationships. 

Driving home in my empty, quiet car I thought about my own high school days and friends. The bonds we form during junior high and high school can be some of the strongest of our lives. So much of our live's critical learning and growing up experiences happen with our friends by our sides. I have a very similar picture of me with three friends before we headed off to a 9th grade junior high dance. We were about a year and a half younger than Gillian and her friends are now (but much less stylish and sophisticated!). The four of us did so much growing up together. Although we aren't close friends who talk often, we have stayed connected over the last 25+ years. 
Roni, me, Stacy, Gina  - Spring 1984
There's something so comforting about having friends from your youth in your life. They know me in ways friends I've made as an adult never can. They understand my back story. It isn't just a story I've told them about my life. They were by my side as I lived it. We all knew each other as carefree, innocent children and teens. As adults, we've all suffered from heartaches and loss. None of us has been left untouched by death, divorce or disappointment. Even though our contact is infrequent, and mostly made through social media, there's a deep comfort in knowing that the friends from my youth understand my life better than most. I know when it matters most they're the first people who will reach out to me. 

I love watching Gillian enjoy life right now. I want her life and the lives of her friends to remain carefree and easy for as long as possible. I hope they soak it all in and enjoy living in the moment like only teenagers can. Adulthood and its many responsibilities will come soon enough. Right now they're learning about life, and if they're lucky, also forming friendships and connections that will remain far into the future. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

World Suicide Prevention Week

This week is World Suicide Prevention Week. The theme for this year is Suicide Prevention: One World Connected. Being connected to others is important in so many aspects of life. It's especially important when it comes to suicide prevention, as many studies have shown that social isolation increases suicide risk. Having strong human bonds can help protect against it. As I reflect back on my journey through grief and healing the last 4+ years, I realize that my connections with others helped lift me out of my anger and despair. The connections I've made with so many of you through the blogosphere helped me on my journey and continue to be very important and treasured relationships to me. 

Much of what I've written on here has been about my personal experience as a survivor of suicide loss. I haven't used this as a platform for talking about suicide prevention education and awareness, which is a little odd since in the 'real' world that's a topic I'm very vocal about. One thing I've learned since I've started speaking out about suicide is that I never know who is listening--and my voice, my experiences--connect with more people than I realize. 

Last week the World Health Organization released the World Suicide Report. The statistics in it didn't surprise me, but are alarming nonetheless. Worldwide, over 800,000 people die by suicide each year. That's approximately one suicide death every 40 seconds. The number of deaths due to suicide each year is greater than the deaths caused by homicide and war combined. Suicide is a major public health problem. Recognizing this, the World Health Assembly adopted the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020. All 194 member states who adopted the plan committed to reducing their suicide rates by 10% by the year 2020. Here in the U.S., the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a goal of reducing suicide in the U.S. by 20%  by the year 2025. I'm committed to doing my part to achieve these goals. I realize many others also share this desire but aren't sure where to start or how to help. One of the most important things we can all do to help prevent suicide is to stay  connected to others. Be aware of what's going on in the lives of your friends and family. If you think they may be struggling with depression or anxiety, talk to them. Below are some tips for how to start the conversation. I hope you'll read and share them. This week and beyond I challenge you to learn more about suicide and how to prevent it, start a conversation, and join the fight to end suicide.