Tag Archives: death

We Lost One of Our Own

12 Aug

I don’t subscribe to People magazine.  It’s not that I don’t admire talented actors, authors, politician, and the like.  I do.  But I’m not one to get star-struck in the traditional sense of the word.  I don’t think someone famous has merit simply because of their fame, and I couldn’t be less interested in where they went to eat last Saturday or why their marriage fell apart.

So when a celebrity dies?  I’m never struck in the gut like many of my friends seem to be, filled with outrage or grief. Why is the death of a news anchor from the 50’s or a famous painter more important than that of any other father, son, brother, or friend?  If our inherent value and worth is not dependent on how much we accomplish but instead ingrained in our shared humanity, each death is equally notable, for there are concentric circles of mourning that spread out from the places each person leaves behind.

I tell you all this to explain the shock I find myself facing after learning of Robin Williams’s apparent suicide on Monday morning.  The news found me via twitter late Monday afternoon and was soon impossible to avoid.  And as I read the full story, I found my usual modest sympathy and vague interest replaced by a heavy blanket of sadness.

And today, here I am, contributing to yet another blog post about the death of a celebrity, hoping maybe if I can sort out where this pain springs from that I will feel like I can breathe again.

It wasn’t that he was famous…  Maybe it’s a sense of familiarity I feel obligated to admit to, woven from all he shared of himself with us through his work. Perhaps it’s because when such a talent is snuffed out prematurely, we mourn in part for all the art they will not get to create.  None of that seems to quite fit, though, and I want to be sure I don’t internalize others’ grief.

I see the comments about how “maybe he should have tried harder,” that he “took the easy way out,” or that “he was so successful and seemed so happy,” and I remember believing those very things about depression and suicide.

MedicationsThat stigma? The prejudice? Kept me from seeking treatment for 5 months after my oldest daughter was born. It contributed to my refusal to take medications because I believed they were a sign of weakness.  Ignorance and mental illness conspired to nearly destroy my life.  Like many other things in life, I had to live depression before I could truly understand.

And now. I get it.  Robin Williams was an unwilling member of my community, as we all are.  We lost one of our own.  A warrior from a familiar battlefield – a dark place of such self-loathing and pain that I remember being willing to give anything, ANYTHING, to escape.  I think about the suffering that must have filled his days before depression took his life on August 11th, and I ache with understanding.

So today, I find myself more than a little numb.  I can sense the tears that want to fall and I waver between seeking out the stories and images that will let them loose and protecting myself from the pain, hiding in my work, my children, and a ball of yarn.

I find hope in the stories of my friends, the survivors.  I see you sharing your truths, opening up about something you’ve never been able to say before.  I see courage spreading like the branches of a tree and I catch glimpses of empathy among those who are lucky enough to be untouched by mental illness.  I find hope.

All it takes is a tiny sliver of hope.  You are not alone.  And neither am I.

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If you or someone you know is in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always open.  1-800-273-TALK.  They host an online chat at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.  Help is only a click away.

The Time I Inadvertently Brought Up Death With My Toddler

25 Aug

Sex, drugs, death.  Conversations I’d honestly prefer to “paper, rock, scissors” with the hubby to avoid.  Not because I’m embarrassed, but because I’m worried I’ll say the wrong thing.  Topics I want to handle just right, and topics I feel could have been handled better by my parents.

Mom, I love you.  You know I love you and think you did an amazing job raising us.  But every child has things they want to do differently than their parents, if for no other reason than because I am a different parent than you are, parenting in a different generation and with a different child.  We cool?  Cool. 

So when I casually reminisced at the breakfast table about something my grandfather used to say, I was caught off-guard when my two-year-0ld asked me, “Mommy, where is your grandpa?”

My husband and I believe in telling DoodleBug the truth.  When we ask her to eat three more bites, we hold to three, even though I may want to sneak an extra on the plate when she’s not looking.  We don’t dodge questions, and we follow through on consequences.  She knows when Mommy or Daddy say something, we mean it; I like to think our consistency and honesty help her to trust us now and will foster open communication as she gets older.

And of course I would be the first parent to have to take this parenting value for a test-drive.  Here’s how the conversation went:

DB: Mommy, where is your grandpa?

Me: Um…Well… (Looks around in desperation for help.  Or a distraction.  Nothing?  Crap.)

         Well, my grandpa isn’t around anymore.  He lived a long life and was a daddy and a grandpa and when he got very, very old, his time was all done.  He is all done.  I miss him, but it’s okay that he’s all done, because even though people can’t be around forever, new babies are born and new grandmas and grandpas love those babies.

DB: (Stares at me.  Silence.  And then.) Mommy?  Your grandpa’s all done?  It’s okay.  You can share my grandpa.

Me: (Speechless)

I want DB to feel differently about death than I did as a kid, and still do as an adult.  I want her to understand that as hard as it is to close one chapter and open up the next, that’s the way life is; that without death, life wouldn’t be precious.  I want her to know it’s okay to grieve loss, but to take solace in how life continues on.  I don’t want to hide the truth from her to protect her, and yet I don’t want to scare her, either.

I spent the whole day replaying the conversation in my head, wondering if I had said the right thing.  Then.  That afternoon we were out on the back deck and she pointed to the flower pot.

DB: Mommy?  Why are those flowers squished?

Me: Well, they are wilting because they are all done being flowers.

DB: All done like your grandpa?

Me: Yes, it’s kind of the same.

DB:  Look, Mommy.  There are new flowers that are going to come out soon, just like the new babies and grandmas and grandpas.

I *think* I may have knocked this one out of the park.

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