July 9, 2016

WARNING: The following post contains certain details regarding Jay’s suicide, and the aftermath. It may be inappropriate for some readers.

 

Did you know?

 

My question in return: Can you tell? At what point in that text exchange would you get Jay help? Tell me. Please. What is it you think I missed?

I was exhausted after my trip to LA. While I’d had a decent time, seen things I’d never seen before, done things I’d never done before, I was woefully short on sleep, and I hadn’t really had a chance to talk to Jay in private. The few moments I was able to steal to have a private chat involved me nearly crying while saying, “I just want to come home,” and he patiently reminded me that I’d be home soon.  I asked if we could come back. His response: “If it’s still there.” 🙂

I woke up that morning still tired, but happy. Finally! I was going home. Jay would get me from the airport, we’d get lunch, and then I’d face-plant like a champ.

On the way to my terminal I found a penny on the ground. I snapped it up. A good omen; it was going to be a great day. I don’t touch pennies now except to drop them on the ground if they’re handed to me.

I received Jay’s text letting me know he wouldn’t be picking me up. I guessed it was another anxiety attack. People, crowds, traffic… it was frequently overwhelming, but while I understood, I was still disappointed, and quite frankly a little irritated. I would need to get a cab. My idea of how the day would go shifted a bit, but it was manageable, and I knew I’d walk into the house a little mad despite knowing that sometimes Jay couldn’t do all the things. While I was waiting to deplane, I checked my wallet – ah, enough for a long cab ride. It wasn’t the end of the world.

This is the actual phone. I see it every time I’m in the airport. I see me at it every time I’m in the airport, and I wait for the officer to come get me.

I walked onto the concourse to hear my name being called over the loudspeaker. Please pick up a white courtesy phone. I almost didn’t, because I got it – I had to find my own way home. Thank you. I didn’t need them to tell me. “Ma’am, let me get my supervisor.” “Hello, am I speaking to Beth, and your husband is Jay, correct? I need you to tell me where you are. You need to stay right there, and an Austin Police Department officer will come get you.”

I knew Jay was in trouble, but he’d just texted that he wouldn’t be able to get me. Something must have happened outside the airport. “Are you ok?” Nothing. I’d forgotten that “airplane mode” held texts, so the message he’d sent wasn’t new. In fact it was about 25 minutes old. He was already dead.  The officer approached me. “We’re going to walk to our office here in the airport.” “Has something happened to Jay?” “I don’t know, I’m supposed to take you to the office, and a Pflugerville Police officer is going to come talk to you.” Why is she coming out here to talk to me? Did Jay have an accident? Did something happen with one of the neighbors? I started working out a plan to get a lawyer. I’d get recommendations. I knew lawyers, just none who specialized in the type of field I thought we might need – criminal law.

Officer O’Neil arrived, “Are you Beth? Are you married to Jay? Do you live at this address?” and then she told me the news. Lies. I just got his text. There wasn’t time for him to be gone. There wasn’t time for a police officer to be dispatched. Why would she lie? I stared at her and fell apart. Not Jay. “He let us know, and told us we needed to come get you. That’s why I’m here. Let me take you home”

The house was surrounded in crime scene tape, and two victim services volunteers waited for me on the driveway. “You’ll need to stand out here. The police are going through your house and collecting evidence. He’s in the backyard. Your dog is ok. When they clear the kitchen you can go into that room. Here’s some information you might need. Is there anyone we should call?”

Calls were made. People started arriving. “Beth, they’re taking him away now. Do you want to touch him through the body bag?” “You’re going to have to have someone clean up your patio. Here are numbers to call of companies who specialize in that. Do you know where your insurance information is?” “Ma’am, we need to act quickly. Jay is a donor, and we would like your consent to take…” “Beth, so-and-so is on the phone, they want to talk to you.” “Where are Jay’s meds?” ”Had he ever expressed any intention of harming himself?” “Did he suffer from depression?” “Here’s the number for the medical examiner. You’ll need to call her.”“We’re taking his gun as evidence, do you want it back?” “What do you want to eat?” “Where is your Dad? We need to help your Dad.” “What would you like us to do with his body?” “Have you thought about where you’d like to hold a service?” “Is this ok?” “Is this what you want?” “Was there a will?” “Your neighbor told us she threw holy water over the fence and prayed for Jay. Wasn’t that nice?” “Beth, tell us a story about Jay?” For several days my life was filled with questions, so many questions, and insurmountable sadness; it was completely overwhelming.

I only had one question that I’d ask out loud when no one could hear. “Why didn’t you kill me, too? WHY?! I hate you.” because being alive in a world without Jay is really f*ing hard. It’s still hard. (Important side note: I feel I need to say that I am not, nor have I ever been, in danger of self-harm. I’m too curious about what the next day holds.)

I died that day. The Beth you knew vanished, and I’m sorry guys, you just get this – an actress uniquely skilled at playing my role. My ability to sympathize is completely wrecked. Within weeks of his death, people outside of my main group of family and close friends started, and continue to, come to me with their sadness and their woes, as if I’m now uniquely qualified to guide them through their hardship  – as if I can impart some wisdom, and I’m thunderstruck by how much I genuinely do not care. So much so that I have to shove down the urge not to express that sentiment out loud in order to hide how truly damaged I am. Let me qualify that a bit to say that there is a small amount of sympathy that manages to still cling on, much like “hope” in the story of Pandora, and it’s reserved for those closest to me (and their kids). In fact, if I’m teetering around the abyss of in my mind, all it takes is one well-placed, “Aunt Beth!” or “June?” and I’m paused – able to draw back – momentarily me.

At a friend’s suggestion, I recently took a personality assessment that looks at personal strengths, and the one I apparently lead with is “empathy.” I was surprised until I read its description. Basically, it said I’m decent at picking up on others – their emotions, their unspoken questions; however, “[I] don’t necessarily feel pity for someone’s predicament – that’s sympathy.” And I don’t. I used to, but I just don’t. Again, with the heavy qualifier that I do when it comes to my family and closest friends. I have real limits on how much of other’s burdens I can shoulder, and it’s not a lot. Does it grow? Sure. And I reserve it for the people who made up my protective phalanx – my vanguard. Your next door neighbor’s hairdresser’s cousin who is suffering unimaginable hardship is sad. I am sorry for them. Don’t text me hoping I will console you.

And I take things wrong – very wrong. The most well-intentioned words get flipped into something you absolutely didn’t intend. Something as simple as, “You seem like you’re handling things well. If I were in your shoes I’d be devastated,” as a testament of strength sounds like, “you clearly didn’t care about him; you’re not sad enough.” There are more examples, but I know if I list them, someone will read themselves into what I’ve said, and then I have to negotiate their emotions, and I can’t. I just can’t.

You see, you’ve lost part of me, and in its place is a newer me.

On November 10, 2018 I will be walking to raise funds for Suicide Awareness as part of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of Darkness Walk.  It starts at 10am and is approximately 5k. If you’d like to make a donation, you may do so at this link:

Out of Darkness Walk: Austin, Texas – Donations

I have set a personal goal to raise $500.

A huge thanks to all who have already contributed to this walk or through my Facebook campaign; it means a great deal to me.

If you would like to walk with me in memory of Jay, and would also like to raise funds to support this cause, we’d love to have you. Click here:

Out of Darkness Walk: Austin, Texas – To Join Our Team

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

Artist Unknown

The Unspoken Cutoff Date

Seventeen Days

In seventeen days it will be the second anniversary of Jay’s death. There have been two missed anniversaries, 24 missed monthiversaries, and four missed birthday celebrations (both mine and his). I count each one. And it’s been heavily implied that time is running out. I should stop mourning. I need to pack those emotions up, and stow them away. Surely, enough time has gone by. You can’t still be sad. Time heals all wounds, right? And your hour glass just ran out of sand, chica.

So many careless words spilled at my feet. Words that amount to, “Buck up little camper! It’s time to move on! You’ve had two delightfully self-indulgent, sad years, so let’s turn that frown upside down! Pssst, also we didn’t want to mention it, hun, so of course we are, we’re all impossibly bored now. I mean “boo hoo,” am I right? Whoopsy poo, someone just spoke that thought bubble out loud. AWKWARD! I should really lay off the wine!”

Little spoken reminders litter my days letting me know there’s a cutoff date on expressing my feelings. There’s a cutoff date on my mourning. There’s a cutoff date for sharing my loss.

“You can get away with saying that for now.”

“You don’t realize how much you talk about Jay.”

“Don’t worry about [what you just said], she can handle it now.”

“You’re strong.”

I get it. I do. It’s exhausting. You’re over it. You’ve moved on, but I’m still here. Me. Your friend. Moving through time, yet some how fixed. I’m still sad. Maybe not like I was, but it ripples beneath the surface sometimes bubbling forth at unexpected or inconvenient times. Sometimes erupting. Maybe not all of the days – some of the days – fewer days. And parts of me are permanently damaged – never to be fixed.

A broken teacup – pieced back together – whole in structure, but fractures ribbon through the beloved and familiar pattern. Made whole again, still beautiful – new, similar – not the same.

 

And while my sadness doesn’t define me, I do get sad. My heart aches. The tears spill.

I recently discovered the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, which has a number of great resources, and I truly wish I’d found them sooner. That lead me to the local chapter’s website where I found this beautiful manifesto from one of their members. I need you to read this, and keep me in mind – keep Jay in mind.

My Survivor’s Manifesto

Revised by Farren Smith with credit to Laura McCord

I will not get over this regardless of how much time has passed. There is a wound in my heart that will never heal.

I will speak my loved ones name whenever I wish. They existed – a beautiful person and I will not allow them to be forgotten.

I will cry for my loved one whenever I feel the need – be it in the grocery store, the middle of a restaurant or at home in bed and I will not feel embarrassed.

I believe I lost my loved one to an illness not unlike cancer, diabetes or heart disease. That illness might not have been visible, but it was no less real – or deadly.

I will not allow any stigma to fall on me because of my loved ones choices. Their decision was made from an unimaginable pain and a desperate attempt to end their suffering. No one – not even my loved one is to blame.

I will allow myself to feel no matter what emotion I experience whenever I feel it. Be it guilt, anger, resentment, rage or laughter at a fond memory. I will accept these feelings as a natural part of grieving and express them however I need.

I am entitled to the same respect and kindness, sympathy and dignity shown for the survivors of any other kind of death. No matter the cause I lost someone I loved dearly. My grief is justified and no less important than anyone else’s.

I will allow no one to slander or smear, belittle or demean the name or memory of my loved one. Their death is in no way a reflection of the person they were and I refuse to let one action define them.

Finally, I accept that I will never be the same person I was before this loss and I will not pretend otherwise for anyone’s comfort. In fact, I will demand that others in my life accept these truths and accept me.

And I say all of that as a reminder to everyone that I’m not over it. That there’s no time limit on my feelings. I’m not going to reach July 9th and shrug and say, “well, we had a good run sadness, but Jay isn’t going to be more alive if I cry one more time. AMIRITE?” You’re all right: I am still very strong and I am still funny and cheerful and goofy, and all of those other adjectives. But please don’t shut down my sadness, or ask me to move on, or ask that I not speak the name of my favorite person because you’ve heard it enough, you’ve moved on, or you’re quite simply bored with it. Because if you truly are, that’s fine, even understandable, and you can also move on out of my life. No hard feelings. Best of luck to you. May you never know sadness.

On November 10th I will participate in the Out of the Darkness 5k walk for Jay in Austin, TX. I would love it if you would join me or support my team. There will be a second walk in Dallas – a 16 mile Out of the Darkness next June. That one starts at dusk and ends at dawn. You truly are walking out of the darkness. As you walk across the finish line, the path is illuminated by luminaries, representing those who were lost. The ones who weren’t able to make it out of the darkness.

Let’s raise awareness. Help honor Jay, and do our best to help destigmatize mental health issues. Will you take a walk with me? Because I’m here to tell you that I will continue to honor him, to celebrate both him and his memory, and I will never stop.

And I will not recognize a deadline.

 

Assigning Blame

If you followed the recent news, you may have noticed that we lost two beloved celebrities last week. And I’m here to tell you that their loss had zero real impact on my life. By that same token, I also recognize that their deaths strongly impacted those around me, and they definitely impacted their friends, family, and business partners who find themselves struggling with “what comes next?”  I understand that struggle. I live with it EVERY SINGLE DAY – every time I walk into this house.

Like many, I read the articles to try to glean the facts. What happened? How did we end up here? Then the follow-up articles came out – those discussing the inevitable confusion of people who don’t quite understand depression – the “but they had so much to live for – they were adored – if only they could have seen that…” – those folks who naively believe that simply smiling will destroy all the demons. The “yay life” cheerleaders. The ones who view the victims as people who just need to toughen up a bit, to believe and fully embrace that tomorrow is a brighter day – the ones who see the victims as unfortunately having a bit of a weak constitution – the very ones who add to the shame that prevents people suffering from mental illness from seeking much-needed help – the ones who unwittingly are part of the problem.  And I was fine with these reactions, because they weren’t unexpected.

Then I read more follow-up articles designed to increase clicks and further milk the celebrity death interest, articles with a different angle – with new, exciting perspectives. By Friday I started shutting down while I processed all the words that were out there. Granted, I may have been unconsciously drawn to articles that would upset me, and I may have latched onto a line or two that skewed my abilities to fully comprehend all that I was reading. I’ll own that.  But what I felt like I was reading, and what I definitely reacted to, was this idea that the people around suicide victims were at fault for not doing enough. That it was through their failures to listen, to get this person the necessary help, to ask the person if they were suicidal, or to remove any means for the person to carry out the act that ultimately led to their special someone’s death. And let me tell you, I absolutely refuse to abide these sentiments.

Yes, we should always listen, yes, we should point people towards getting help, and yes, we should remove all judgment when that person is speaking frankly about their intentions. That said, unless you are a trained mental health expert, you are NOT a trained mental health expert. The best thing you can do is encourage them to get help from a professional. And if, at the end of the day, after you’ve done everything you can, they choose to take their own life – that is not on you. How dare those authors even lightly suggest that the people around the victim are culpable when we, the friends and family of the victims, deal with our own guilt, guilt we’ve piled on our own shoulders whether deserved or not, every single day. We don’t need the help figuring out where we could have done more, and we don’t need fingers wagged in our face by people who lightly perused a website about suicide trying to increase their organization’s readership.

In my previous blog post, I warned that this month I was going to be blunt about suicide. If you are sensitive to this type of story, I strongly encourage you to stop reading at this point. I’m not kidding.

I struggled trying to get Jay to seek help from a mental health professional for years, and it wasn’t Jay I was struggling with – it was the stigma surrounding what seeking that help involved.  I had to find cases of acquaintances and friends who were under care – people he respected – to make it ok.  And one day, after the meds had finally taken hold, he looked at me and said, “this is the first time I’ve felt happy.” Do you know how hard that is to hear? To hear the person you love more than anything in the world has never experienced true happiness, and to wonder what it was like for him to finally have that weight of depression lifted. My personal default setting is “happy” and if I’m truthful, it’s probably better defined as “goofy.” My idea of a perfect day would be to twirl in the parking lot every morning, arms outstretched and sing, and I cannot imagine a world where that is not my truth. So, to hear someone I love, my best friend, has never felt that way before, made my heart hurt. Imagine a world where you’ve never known true happiness.

Well, the thing about antidepressants is they need to be adjusted and changed, and the person needs to be monitored, which was what I was talking to Jay about in our last real conversation before he died. His depression prior to his death had returned with a vengeance, and that was combined with his untreated sleep apnea – something that wasn’t being addressed by his C-PAP machine.  Severe depression plus extreme fatigue is a deadly cocktail. We talked about going back to the doctor – that the meds and lack of sleep were not ok. Or more precisely, I talked about it and Jay got quiet, because he knew when I came home from my trip I was going to start pushing that issue – that’s what I do.

My brother-in-law and I live with the guilt of his death EVERY SINGLE DAY, but don’t you dare imply it was our fault – that we failed Jay, that we didn’t talk to him, we didn’t listen, or pay attention, or wrap him in bubble wrap, because at the end of that day, after all of our talks, Jay walked outside and shot himself in my backyard, and that’s on Jay.

And if we want to play that “what if” game… if I had removed the gun, he would have asphyxiated himself in the garage, if I had removed his car, he would have likely poisoned himself, and if I’d removed all cleaners/medications, etc., he would have found something else. He was in extreme mental pain, and he was highly motivated.

And my brother-in-law and I both dream about him, and in both of our dreams we have to explain to Jay that he died, because he doesn’t understand what happened or why he’s dead – because he had a mental snap. Imagine repeated nights where you have to say, “baby, you were ill and you died” to this beautiful soul who was only 40 years old.

And nearly every day is a varying degree of hard for us without some detached writer pontificating about suicide and attempting to assign blame.

Step the fuck off.

So please forgive me if I’m not more upset about two celebrities when, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 123 people die by suicide EVERY SINGLE DAY. Where are those articles lamenting those lost, and equally as important, souls?

A Must Read from Wil Wheaton

View story at Medium.com

I rarely promote other blogs. It’s not that there isn’t some amazing content out there, I just reserve this space for me and my thoughts – my little island to practice my writing.  But here we are about three weeks from the anniversary of Jay’s death, a day or two after more celebrity suicides, and I made you all a promise to talk about some of the things that weigh heavy on my heart.  I’ll get into that some tomorrow, but in the meantime, please read this piece by Wil Wheaton, and I want you to think of Jay. It gives you a little window into some of Jay’s personal struggles, and I am so thankful to Wil for standing up, putting a face on chronic depression and anxiety, and for putting himself out there.

My name is Wil Wheaton. I Live With Chronic Depression and Generalized Anxiety. I Am Not Ashamed.

View story at Medium.com

Happy Anniversary

“Happy Anniversary” Jay’s whisper floated through the haze of my dreams every year on this day – spoken as he went to bed late in the night. “Happy Anniversary,” my groggy reply. “I love you.”

Today is the second year I woke up after midnight and whispered into the air that wish to an empty room. “Happy Anniversary,” spoken to the empty side of my bed – no longer our bed.

Someone told me I was strong today – for no particular reason, they just mentioned it. They had no idea that today was any different than any other day, and I suppose it’s not – not any more. It’s just a day whose lost its meaning.

I went to a quilt show once. Of all the random stories you get to hear about that now. At this quilt show hung a beautiful work of art that read, “My Son is Dead”. The card next to it explained that this is the invisible sign the artist wears every day. A sign no one sees, but that she now shouted out to the world with the creation of this quilt. And I get that.

I talk. I laugh. I tell stories. And all of that is part of who I am, but the invisible sign I wear every single day screams out, “My husband is dead” with the subtext “My favorite person is dead.” “His beautiful face.”  Some days it’s painted in bright angry colors, others are softer/more blurred, but it’s never not worn.

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to talk about suicide and the aftermath. I haven’t chosen my direction, but I need you to be prepared. This may not be your topic. That’s ok. You don’t have to read or bear witness. I just have things to say, and they may not be beautiful or perfect or particularly meaningful, and that’s ok for me, too. But if you get to say I’m strong, then I get to show you all the cracks and imperfections that are also a huge part of who I am and my experience.

Schrödinger’s Shopping Trip

I actively dislike Edwin Schrödinger, maybe not in the same way that I dislike Thomas Edison. I mean, I don’t want to go back in time and remove Schrödinger from history. (Tommy, hope that time machines forever elude me. Where tons of people will be on the “let’s take Hitler out” case, there will just be you and me… and a whole lot of volts. Historic karma, baby.)

On any given day, I don’t think about Schrödinger nor his boxed up cat. In truth, my brain mostly goes through a pattern of: “Why all the days? Song stuck in head. I should sing it.  Jay Jay Jay. GRRRRR! Seriously? OOO SHINY!!! Stupid song. Jay Jay Jay. So many words from one face. SHOO, kk? Jay Jay Jay. Do I have that song on my phone? We do not “hug” us. No no. Hands to ourselves. Audible! Story time! KITTY! Come back, kitty!! Jay Jay Jay. Ok, night night.” No seriously, that’s my brain on any given day. This is why it would be a bad idea to read minds. You’d just get slammed with a gigantic wall of nonsense and images. Well… at least from me.  But now and again that man and his box re-enter my world, and when they do I get irked.

It’s not that I don’t get the paradox. For some strange reason when I kvetch about it there is always someone who decides that my problem is clearly based on a gross misunderstanding of it, and if they just tried using little words I’d have my “oh! Now I see! It IS both alive and dead,” I’d be convinced that this was a great mental exercise. Of course, when they do try to explain it in a sad attempt to sway my thoughts, and declare, “golly, that is a neat mental game – alive? dead? We don’t know!,”  they never bring up quantum superposition, quantum mechanics, or the Copenhagen interpretation theory, which actually is interesting.  And it’s not because they know I’d get glassy eyed, hop onto a yawn Ferris wheel that I’d never exit, and would end up demanding more coffee and a pony to pat in order to be bribed into listening. No, they just want to take shortcuts, and try to bludgeon me into understanding that the cat is both alive and dead until it is observed. See? Get it? Again, alive and dead! ALL AT ONCE! My personal take on it is this:  you put a cat in a box with no air holes, you introduce a radioactive substance and poison, and you have A DEAD CAT.  So, in my unwillingness to open my mind to this bit of mental gymnastics, I tend to use my adult vocabulary and declare the whole thing as being both “stupid” and “irritating”. That’s also not a paradox! I observed it!

So, of course the stupid cat and the death box recently came up, and I was without caffeine, and had just entered into the “why all the days?” part of my day, which makes me less tolerant of things and more likely to see words as “too many” or “word drool” when a friend of mine figured something out. “She has a problem with it being a cat.” Yes! “Beth, imagine it’s not a cat, but…” and then he came up with something that didn’t involve a helpless animal being trapped and murdered. A light flipped on. I can play this mental game if this game doesn’t involve fluffy creatures. (By the way, if it was Schrödinger’s Flying Water Bug, I could get behind it being stuffed in a box – no problem there whatsoever. Much like my issue with Edison, the heart of my problem comes down to the animals. If the man had just electrocuted anything but dogs and elephants, I’d be fine with him trying to demonstrate the dangers of AC (or his ego, I always get those mixed up). For example, say he made his point by sacrificing himself – applied those 6600 volts to his face, then we’d be ok. (I “may” have an issue with animal cruelty and animal testing. You probably caught onto that.)

This brings me to boxes in general, and the one I currently have sitting on my table. It’s a long running joke that I don’t open boxes. I have no natural curiosity when it comes to what they might hold. I genuinely don’t care about presents. I like them, I’m thankful for them, but I’m not going to go nuts trying to guess what’s inside. So, earlier today I was thinking about that package, and how I have to open it, then it dawned on me “it’s Schrödinger’s cat!” Hear me out. Currently, it’s in an unknown state where it is both amazing, and incredibly underwhelming and disappointing. Right now it’s “special,” a state that will disappear when observed. Once opened the contents become just things I own (or in this case determine whether to send back). So, the box sits on my table with the best things ever inside, and the worst things I’ve ever seen.

Schrödinger should have gone shopping more – appealed to those with a softer, non-murdery, pro-animal side. Just sayin’. Maybe once I’m done with Edison, I’ll swing by to pick Erwin up, take him down 1930’s 5th Avenue – we’ll talk clothes, wrapped gifts, and making our theories accessible to everyone while simultaneously enjoying the magic of alternating current… and how nice cats can be.