What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Fact: Nothing drives my team lead crazier than when we’re encouraged to share “what we did on our Summer vacation” in one of our bi-weekly meetings. I know, I know, I just broke one of my writing rules – “Rule #1: Avoid discussing work”. But I promise you if she came across this blog she’d say, “OMG!!!! I don’t want to hear about another Summer vacation! You didn’t seriously tell perfect strangers about yours. GROSS!” and then she’d kind of laugh and shake her head. So, I’m writing this knowing most people probably aren’t dying to hear about my Summer vacation, but here we are – I’m writing, and for some reason, you’re sticking around.

Let’s pick up where we left off: Day 3 of Covid.

On the night of Day 3, I actually slept while laying flat down on my bed like a little bed sleeping hero. Go me! I mean, no offense to the recliner, but… Well, actually, it wasn’t bad, but I happen to be addicted to the bed.

My main accomplishments during my Covid stint included: making a tissue mountain, raising the stock prices for Puffs (you’re welcome Proctor and Gamble), and smothering my nose in copious amounts of mentholatum while perfecting the messy ponytail. I basically lived my best life – I smelled amazing (see mentolatum facial above) and looked great (also see sloppy hair reference above). Seriously, step aside Victoria’s Secret gals, meemaw is working this quarantine runway! Then, I finally got better. For weeks afterward more friends would rise up and attempt to steal my runway crown. Some people have no shame. Back up and find your own pandemic tiara.

Then in the middle of July, I spent two amazing weeks in Aotearoa/New Zealand – the land of the long white cloud. I went from Hakas to Hobbits – Fjords to Redwoods to geothermal springs (that smelled so bad and were so beautiful). I had the good fortune of taking it all in with one of my oldest friends and favorite people who now calls this place home.

However, I’ll do you a kindness by sparing you the details (my team lead would be so proud – ok, she wouldn’t, she’d be proud if I just dropped the whole subject altogether, but she can’t always have it her way). So, here are some highlights:

Seeing this girl again. The one who grabbed a new girl’s hand on her (my) first day at a strange school in a strange city and ran with her up a hill – their first recess together nearly 50 years ago.
Seeing my first rugby game where I landed on the jumbotron – a hot pink girl among the All Blacks (the name of New Zealand’s rugby team and color worn by the fans – see photo above) about to see her first Haka in Aotearoa mere hours after her plane landed.
Seeing my first sunrise on the first morning in a new country – one of many – all beautiful and perfect.
Seeing a place where adventures start…
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

The highlights (in words) :

  • Getting this wonderful moment to spend so much time (though not enough) with one of my very favorite people.
  • Appearing on a jumbotron at a major event thanks to some people going wild behind me. I squealed and pointed like you do. Well, I don’t know about “you” but definitely like that other person you’re sitting next to.
  • My first rugby match
    • My first Haka!
    • Cheering for Ireland the All Blacks!
  • Unexpectedly, running into friends in Te Anau, like you do in another country
  • Being handed Legolas’ prop bow while touring the Weta Workshop
    • “Who here has shot a bow?” “MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” “Here you go. Draw that.” “Please, thank you, and step off other tourists. I have THE bow! Ummm nooooo, you don’t get a turn.”
  • Sprinkle sauce (it’s a thing – trust me).
  • The Bucket Fountain (Hell Mouth – also a thing – trust me – every tourist should visit this national landmark)
  • Singing loudly along with a performer singing covers in a hotel bar and getting stared at by “proper Kiwis”.
    • Creating a playlist from said bar
  • Keas, Tuis, Pukekos
  • WINTER WINTER WINTER
  • Cheese, because… well… cheese
  • Every single other moment

It was beautiful – restorative – the place I wish I were right now sitting by a fire on my friend’s deck high up in the hills overlooking a harbor, drinking a cider, enjoying the cool night air while listening to my friend whistle to the tuis.

And yes, given the opportunity I would go back in a heartbeat just to explore one more path, see one more stunning/breathtaking view (New Zealand is kind of an overachieving showoff in this regard), and enjoy one more conversation – one more adventure.

One quick question though before I run off. Is anyone looking to adopt an adult? Must be wealthy. Must expect nothing in return other than super gracious notes of thanks and social media shoutouts. Must be willing to generously replenish empty bank accounts. Asking for a friend. Also, the aforementioned friend requested I note that Christmas is around the corner and nothing says Merry Christmas quite like adoption and a large travel budget. Please see me if interested in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Hope you all are having a great Summer (and surviving this heat).

Something Else Real

I’ll probably fire this one off a bit too quickly, then look back with regret that I hadn’t taken the time to massage the words as well as I could. Ehhh… that’s almost every post you read here. Somedays I get to own the fact that my words aren’t always my strength… and that’s ok.

When I asked people to share something real for Mental Health Awareness Month, that was a big ask – a hard ask. Hey guys, take this figurative microphone, and now go speak your truth to your friends, your family – the sea of co-workers, classmates, and that gal you connected with on that flight – those people you call your “followers”.

It’s daunting as hell to remove one mask to reveal a new one – an unknown one. It’s much easier to post vacation photos. However, a couple did fise to the challenge. You found your voice. You spoke your truth. You were honest. You were fearless. You were courageous.

I applaud your bravery for being willing to take that leap.

Before Jay died, I hadn’t given much thought to the community I had around me. It was a given – these people who steadfastly stood by my side weaving a net of support in the event I fell (like I’ve always woven for them). And when I fell and fell hard, they held tightly to its edges unable to prevent all of the bruises and deep scrapes but enough to protect me from shattering on the ground.

I thought about them a lot last week.

As I mentioned, May heralds the beginning of my season of sadness – of anxiety. Last Monday, I found myself outside a building unable to flee, pleading into a video that I just wanted to go home – that the day was overwhelming – that I was a freak. I explained that I just wanted to pull the blanket over my head and be done with the day. Why was the Uber app not resetting my password so I could just get one fucking ride home? Was it too much to ask for the universe to stop conspiring for one bloody day so I could just shut all the blinds, lower the temperature in the house, and just “not” for a bit? My phone buzzed, “where are you?” I frowned. “We can’t find you?” You don’t really want me around …and then I let my friends coax me back until I was ok.

At the end of the day, I sent a new video explaining what happened as big tears spilled down my cheeks. “I’m ok now, it’s just that for a moment…”

The rest of the week was calm, and on Friday a new message, “are we doing something tomorrow?” I rescheduled my day of nothingness and when Saturday rolled around I asked, “do you know what today is?” Yes. “I almost forgot. I was always bad at remembering.”

Saturday was our 15th wedding anniversary. We would have been together for nearly 23 years.

She pulled me into one of the best days I’ve had in a while – one filled with laughter and paint.

The subconscious is an incredible and crazy thing – working in the background and oftentimes keeping our conscious out of the loop. A seemingly random Monday wasn’t as random as I thought. My skin just a bit thinner as we march through the months of this season. I suspect a lot of Monday had to do with Saturday.

… and then there are my friends – still holding onto the edges of that patchwork net – knowing instinctively, without being told, that they should hold on a bit tighter.

Thank you, my friends. Thank you for being there, for listening, and for lifting me back up. Thank you for pulling me back when I start tumbling towards the edge…

…and thank you for splattering me with paint to make sure I was ok. 🙂 (not figurative.)

Thank you for covering me from head to toe in paint (and for taking care of me)

Tell Me Something Real: David

A few days ago I threw out the challenge to share something real – something true – something unfiltered in light of Mental Health Awareness Month – a way to press pause a bit on the fairy tales we spin through social media – a way to show that our lives are real and not these flawless Rockwell-esque fictions – that we’re more akin to the characters from Shameless than This is Us.

A day later, my friend (and editor) David bravely took up that challenge by writing a very open and honest piece about his own mental health challenges:

Tell Me Something Real by David Farnell

Please take moment to read his words, and when you’re finished accept my new challenge to you:

  • Educate yourself on how to help a friend or family member in crisis
  • Do your part to help remove the stigma around seeking and receiving help for mental health issues
  • Support legislation to make mental health care both affordable and accessible
  • Listen more
  • Talk/try to fix less

… and if a friend/loved one is in crisis, recognize you don’t have to shoulder their burden, but be able to provide them with the information and resources to put them in contact with professionals who can.

Then plan to walk with me and my Jay Walkers team on Saturday, October 29th from wherever you are in this big ol’ world.

Let’s all work to be better – better people, better friends, better members of our global community.

I’ll see you in October.

A Metaphor About a Rock

Hubris told me that I could take any topic thrown my way and spin it into a story.

“Beth, write a metaphor about a rock.”

I paused on “metaphor,” brain fumbling – a metaphor about a rock. “My writing relies on anecdotes,” I weakly protested. That’s always my fall back – anecdotes or rants – my writing go-to’s. I quickly spun the rolodex and plucked out a few stories featuring rocks:

  • When I was around 5, I firmly believed all rocks came from the Moon carried back to earth by the members of the Apollo 11 space mission, and I was quite distressed about the whole thing. Didn’t they realize that children were getting hurt because they were throwing these same rocks at one another? How could these American “heroes” be so irresponsible? I launched a complaint to my parents who thought I was absolutely adorable. It was that same short-sighted, patronizing attitude that likely drove the astronauts to bring back all those rocks in the first place. Adults were exhausting back then – they just didn’t take the growing rock crisis as it related to childhood rock injuries seriously enough. Why were they idolizing these monsters?
  • By 8th grade, I realized I had it all wrong – the astronauts had really opened the door for new collaborative ways to bring kids together. Each morning, the bus stop kids divided up, choosing respective sides, and would line up on opposite sides of the street. Rocks would rain down until the bus came into view. I’m not great at many things, but I can nail you with a rock when motivated (or just cranky). This likely explains archery – it turns out I naturally have a decent sight picture. Combine that with not being a morning person, and well… you get the idea. On a particular morning, where I probably wasn’t in the mood for a prolonged battle, I ended the day’s rock shelling by picking up a large rock and charging the other side in what could best be described as a determined run-waddle. Tossing the thing more than three feet would have been impossible; however, the results were undeniable – the other team scattered in fear. I returned to my side the victor for the day.  Thank you, astronauts! Who needs coffee to get you going? Adults were clearly doing things wrong.
  • Fast forward to Covid – that little thing that’s still going on that you may have heard of – that thing doubtlessly created by Netflix to keep you glued to your couch and away from hugging your grandmother. Why does Netflix hate your Meemaw?!?! Anyway… I was chatting with a friend, “I need a movie suggestion.” “Beth, this is easy. You’re kind of going through a Dwayne Johnson thing which is pretty ridiculous, but might I suggest one of those?” I watched Rampage. It was great – my kind of stupid – though, to my knowledge, astronauts had nothing to do with this particular Rock.

The rolodex stopped spinning, and that’s all I really had and they were anecdotes, not metaphors.

Rock as a metaphor.

I started thinking about rocks in metaphor – symbols of permanence, unwavering strength – immovable, unchanging, reliable, a challenge. I thought about Sisyphus and his eternal punishment to push his enchanted boulder. I thought of the punishment of the Titan Atlas – his burden to hold the celestial heavens (arguably a large group of rocks and a whole lot of vacuum).

Rocks as punishment was becoming a theme within my thoughts.

I mean, let’s be honest who doesn’t enjoy a good stoning? Ask any proponent of cannabis and you’re bound to find a fan or two.

I thought of telling a story about ripples in a pond as they form, then spread out once a stone is skipped. But that story is about the ripples, not the stone which now lays quietly on the bottom – no longer in the sun. In the metaphorical world, rocks really get a bum rap. While they occasionally get to shine – they never dance like light, make a splash like rain, rumble like thunder, or gently stroke a cheek like a breeze. They’re grounded. They’re slow to change.

Then I remembered…

  • a piece of quartz I have sitting on my computer, a reminder I will heal
  • stones from the Mediterranean, brought by a friend after their travels overseas
  • rocks from the Kingsland slab, one handed to me – a reminder of a quiet and beautiful day in a cool breeze – fish dancing in a stream
  • a discovered rock to start a garden

Symbols of time and friendship.

So, I offer this to a bard –

True friendships sometimes form through the heat of life – friendships that once opened, reveal something wholly unexpected and breathtaking. Some friendships are built over time – layer by layer – each day, each week, each year adding something new, something unexpected, while others come through a metamorphosis – as a person transitions from neighbor/classmate/colleague to friend. Each is unique… beautiful – made of the dust of stars.

I guess I owe thanks to a group of explorers who brought pieces of the Moon down to Earth – who brought you to me.

You are my rocks.

The Dust of Stars: From the Mediterranean to the Texas Hill Country

The Lost One

Last night I reached out to a dear friend of mine and said, “I want to write, but I don’t know what to write about.” He suggested tribalism and the election (FYI – get out and vote today). My response was, “you’d do a better job on this topic,” because he would. That’s just fact. He’s a beautiful speaker, brilliant debater and nothing quite gets him as excited as history.

So, without further ado, and much credit (he offered up: tell them it’s someone you’ve mentioned before), I give you John’s post:

“I’m one of the lost ones.    

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, either a giant slab of quartz or Dwayne Johnson, you know that the Presidential election is this week.   Once every 48 months, we and our fellow citizenry get to cast our votes for the highest office in the land.  Ideally, this is to exercise our greatest duty as constituents of our grand Constitutional Republic.  What actually happens is that we collectively suffer through a mob-ruled quadrennial festival of rampant tribalism. 

2020 isn’t special.  We’re told it is.  “It’s the most consequential election in our times!” – which is true if you consider only the last three years as “our times”, then yes, this is the most consequential Presidential election.  “But we have a pandemic in which 200,000 people have died!  Many personally stabbed to death by President Trump”.  The 1918 election cycle took place during the flu pandemic that infected a third of the world’s population and killed an estimated 50 million worldwide.   There’s no accurate reporting on how many President Wilson personally stabbed to death.    

Though President Trump and Vice-President Biden trade barbs; it’s civil-ish.   In the 1800 election, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied with 73 votes each (Broadway, it’s a wonderful teacher).  Alexander Hamilton, seeing Jefferson as the lesser of two evils, lobbied the Federalist to his side and we got a very decorative nickel as a reward.  Three years later, Burr shot Hamilton to death.  The election of 1860 wasn’t contentious, it tore the country apart and led directly to the Civil War and the deaths of over 600,000 Americans. The election of 1875 is a doozy too complex for this small article.  Hays vs. Tilden and Google is your friend.  2020 is not the ‘most contentious election in history’.  It’s arguably not in the top 10.  Back off and talk to the historical hand. 

“If we elect Biden, we’ll be allowing in socialism for the first time in American history!”  This one is also stupefyingly incorrect.  We’ll go more recent history for this one.  Why didn’t the United States enter WWII in 1940 on the side of the British during the darkest days of the war when Hitler, if he had more than an infantry corporal’s knowledge of military tactics, could have conquered Britain?   As with all things, it was political pressure.   F.D.R. was running for an unprecedented third term at the encouragement of his party, because he was incredibly popular.  More so than any other Democrat.  Though public outcry against a “third-term candidate’ was pointed from a vocal minority, the Democrats countered that the Republican Wilkie was a “third-rate candidate”.  Well known at the time, but not well publicized after the war, was the strong isolationist and non-interventionism sentiment championed by one of the biggest “Hollywood Elites” of the time – Charles Lindbergh.  F.D.R. – and many President’s since, capitulated to Lindbergh and the money coming from the left coast and promised to keep America out of the war. Yes, that Lindbergh of ‘the Spirit of St Louis’ and the Trans-Atlantic flight.   Yes, that Lindbergh of the kidnapped baby.  Yes, that Lindbergh of, “The Jews are war agitators”.  Yes, that Lindbergh who cautioned Americans against, “the infiltration of inferior blood and dilution by foreign races.” Yes, that Lindbergh who told the world that, “Adolf Hitler has established himself as the world’s greatest safeguard against Communism!”.  Hooray for Hollywood!  Neither Lady Gaga, nor her crushed beer can, can touch Lucky Lindy. 

In 1799, George Washington was asked to come out of retirement and run for a third term.   “The line between the parties,” Washington said, had become “so clearly drawn” that politicians “regard neither truth nor decency; attacking every character, without respect to persons – Public or Private, – who happen to differ from themselves in Politics.”  The full quote is long enough to where I’m reasonably sure he didn’t tweet it. 

I’ve seen MAGA hats smacked off the heads of the elderly.  I’ve seen a Biden/Harris bumper sticker spray painted over.  Both sides have said some of the most heinous things about each other, each accusing the other of “hate” while trumpeting themselves as the chivalrous champions of ‘fairness and anti-hate”.   This isn’t at the national-level – this is in my neighborhood. Politics is supposed to be ‘the art of compromise’.  In America, it’s a show.  It’s “Us vs Them”.  You’re “with us or against us”.  In 2020 – that’s also led to violence.   If you’re blue, it’s ok to make the red people bleed.   If you’re red, wishing death on the blue may be too good for them.    

If you identify with either party, we can guess who you are.  We know what you stand for.  We know what you believe, who brain-washes you, what news channel you watch, and can’t allow you to infect your children with it.   You must be stopped.    

I’m stopping.  I’m getting off your whack-job Tribal Train.  I’m joining those both parties consider ‘lost’.  I prefer to call us independent thinkers.  I’m a Lost One. I’ve not watched the news in two weeks, and I couldn’t be happier.   I’ve already voted – after researching all 77 candidates on the ballot and the 9 unopposed candidates.  Yes, I looked into all four of the local schoolboard positions.  These people set the tax rate on my house.  There are 22 Judges on the ballot, in seats at the District, Appeals, and State Supreme Court level.  All of whom are far more consequential to my life than the United States Supreme Court.  My State Senator and Congress seats vote on and pass legislation.  The President is just the figurehead who signs this legislation into law.   

It’s the 2020 election.  It’s not special.  It’s not ‘the most consequential’.  It’s just an election.   You should vote. 

It doesn’t give you any excuse whatsoever to be the jackass you accuse everyone else of being.”       

The Jay Walkers – 2020

These are my people, these are my friends… my beautiful tribe.

On October 24th, over 37 family and friends walked on behalf of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They walked up Mount Kaukau and Arthur’s Pass in New Zealand. They walked atop of the hill that is Sohara Park in Fukuoka, Japan – a place where battles were fought. They walked in Ohio, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Virginia, Florida and of course, Texas. They walked to raise awareness.

They walked for me.

They walked for Jay.

With over 66 donations, we raised $4646.14 and were the number one fundraising team for the Out of the Darkness Event in Central Texas this year. Huge thanks to all of you for your continued support!

Just looking at this collection of photos touches my heart and brings tears to my eyes. You guys are simply the best, better than all the rest, better than anyone…

I love you!

I wouldn’t be here without you.

Out of the Darkness Experience 2020 – Oct. 24th!

To My Team & Everyone Else (I’m all inclusive like that!):

The Central Texas Out of the Darkness Experience (aka the Walk) – “a journey of remembrance, hope, and support that unites our communities and provides an opportunity to acknowledge the ways in which suicide and mental illness have affected our lives and the lives of those we love and care about” is this Saturday, October 24th.

The walk officially runs between the hours of 9 AM to 1 PM.

You choose your location, the distance you want to travel (a good time to check that mailbox or meander over to the 7-11 (Wag-a-bag if you’re in the Round Rock area – you do you, you special ray of walking sunshine)), and your start time. This year you won’t have to search around for a parking spot or fight the crowds downtown. This year you support a cause in your own way – just make it Saturday or lie about it later. Who will know? (Your conscience. That’s who will know.)

Have you wanted to join, but not felt like hassling with the official website?

Well, my friend I have a deal for you! You can now join my team off the books. (Psst, you always could. You knew that, right?) What can I say? I mean, call me magnanimous, benevolent, generous, altruistic, kind, incredibly damn sexy – you could go on and on, I know. No seriously, go on – keep that flattery coming. I mean, I’ve never actually had my own sycophant, so consider this your audition. Genuflect? Why, thank you! Who am I to insist you stand? Just avoid the hassle of officially signing-up to walk for my team. Online forms, am I right? And don’t give a second thought to the fact that I want the biggest team, nor that I will judge you if we’re #2 in number of walkers and your laziness kept me from another framed award. Hey, at least you’re saving yourself from an unsolicited email or 500 by joining that way AND you’re still walking. I’m here for you.

BUT whether you’re an official walker or one of the more covert, off-the books walker, here’s my ask (serious face now):

  • Send me a photo of you walking that day. This will be used in a post-walk collage. I may post it, so if you don’t want your image shared, let me know. I do still want to see your face.
  • I want to do a video where my walkers (you) pass something to another person. This can be related to the walk, your feelings, or Jay. If you’d like to participate, here’s my ask:
    • You receive the item from the right (a heart, a candle, a photo of Jay (contact me if you need a photo) or whatever you want to do.
    • You pass your item to the left
    • You say why you’re walking (or you can be silent, too), but if you choose to speak think of saying something along the lines of why you walk. It could be fairly simple/short: “I walk to raise awareness.” “I walk for Jay.” “I walk to keep Beth from hunting me down and giving me the socially distant stink eye.” Or say whatever you feel – it could be the lyric of a song, a poem (I dig slam poetry), you could sing, play an instrument – go crazy (please, don’t go crazy – that would be wildly inappropriate)
    • Hold each movement for a beat or two: The receiving action, the holding the item for the camera action, and then the passing action.
    • The video should be between 5-10 seconds (unless you’re singing, you sing! Take all the time you need! You’ll likely be the feature, and I will genuinely applaud you – seriously, I would – I’m not opposed to someone more talented and creative doing something bigger – if it comes from the heart, it will be amazing)
    • The video can be filmed on your phone. I will provide upload info – just let me know you have the video ready.
    • Let me know if you will participate in this part.

Are you ready to walk on Saturday?!?

Also, real quick: a huge thanks guys for making this virtual walk so successful – whether you’ve agreed to be a walker, you’ve donated to AFSP, or you’ve sent words of encouragement. It’s all appreciated!

I love you guys! You’re the best! Especially you. You’ve always been my favorite.

Four Years, Two Months & a Handful of Days

This is one of the rare posts that I’m not sharing on Social Media. I recognize that when I do, it’s with the intent to alert my family and friends that I’ve been writing again and I really need some “Likes” (watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix (it’s well-done) and then blame the platform developers for driving those addictive needs that I find difficult to wean myself away from).

Over the last month my posts have had a dual purpose – to raise awareness and to also raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I think both are important. However, I don’t need that today. If you feel like donating when I’m through, you can find the link.

Let’s Start

On any given day I feel ok. On any given day I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress. I’m surrounded with a solid support base. I’m handling disappointment better (a tremendous hurdle for me). To give you some idea of where I was: In the past if someone backed out of a plan, I’d be an emotional wreck. It could be as simple as, “I can’t make lunch” to “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have invited you on the Paris trip. You don’t mind if I uninvite you now, right? My bad!” Both were met with the same level of disappointment. Not going to Chuy’s for a margarita and super nachos was as heartbreaking as being uninvited from standing in the Louvre fighting for a spot to glimpse The Mona Lisa. Two things that absolutely should not be equal were equal to me, but I moved on – my sense of perspective began to normalize again. Now I can drink a Chuy’s margarita and fuss about being uninvited to Paris. Of course, I probably still can’t go to the Louvre without causing some sort of scene by trying to flip some art or kicking an unsuspecting French person who would be wholly undeserving of said kick, but yay progress. Am I right? (Hey, I said I got my perspective back in terms of “nachos don’t equal the Louvre.” I didn’t say I magically matured or that I was over having the invitation rescinded. Pro tip: Don’t make big offers to recently traumatized people then pull them back. It’s not a good look, and the reaction you get may not showcase them at their best.)

Over these four years, I’ve made other positive steps. I’ve stopped crying regularly. I do still cry, sure, but it’s not with that same frequency or intensity. I miss my person and all that he was. That’s not going away.

In these four years, I’ve gotten a better handle on my anxiety attacks, which I mentioned in a previous post.

All decent steps forward.

Sure, I’m still mad that a condition of us being together was that I had to agree to never having children. I’m mad that I find myself alone having made that sacrifice. I’m mad that I’m old. I’m mad that I was abandoned. I’m mad that the prospects for someone finding me attractive are non-existent and I’m mad that I will never be touched lovingly again. All of that weighs on me. All of that hurts me to my core. All of that I have to work on.

But still, I’ve made progress. I work through and manage my issues on a daily basis – just like everyone else. And I feel ok most of the time.

On Friday I was on our bi-weekly lunch call – arguably my favorite “meeting” where I get to see all the faces I miss (and all of those faces seem to give me a certain amount of grief – hrmm, I may have questionable taste). During that call, I heard a knock at the door signaling my lunch had finally arrived. YAY! Warm sandwich and a cookie! My go-to for these lunches. I don’t know what it is, but the sub shop must sprinkle their turkey sandwiches with magic. They’re crazy delicious. When I opened the door, I was surprised to see a gentleman standing there while another was leaving. Odd. He then handed me my sandwich while addressing me by my legal name. Weird. No one calls me that, and it seemed odd for the sandwich guy to even have that information. Are you…? (Umm… are you a stalker? Serial killer?) The gentleman then explained he was my postman. (I guess gone are the days of the easily identifiable polyester uniforms. I mean sure, good on them, those didn’t look comfy. No judgment. But on the other hand you kind of end up looking like my sandwich guy.) He handed me a certified letter and my lunch.

I took everything in and set it down. The letter was from my city, which usually means that the city is asking for participants in their annual water testing project. I’m usually up for that, so I opened it expecting to find the timeline and arrival of the collection bottles.

It turned out that the letter was not from their public utilities department, it was from the city’s police department. It stated that the police were in possession of my property – a claim I found both odd and completely incorrect. Unless someone stole something, the police department shouldn’t have any of my property. I wasn’t missing anything. Did someone take something from me? I searched my memory. Could I be so oblivious that I was missing something important enough for the police to reach out about? Maybe? I read further and the letter made no sense. You see, my brain wasn’t processing the words that described the item they had listed, and that’s because I’m unfamiliar weapons – their brands or their descriptions. It’s not my world. What this letter was telling me was that the police had the weapon Jay used to complete his suicide – four years, two months and a handful of days later. The last thing he held in his hand. The letter demanded I contact them immediately and either pick it up or have it destroyed. The last thing he held in his hand. The thing that he used to take his life. The thing I told them the day of Jay’s death to destroy. The letter said I had 60 days to act – like I’d done something wrong or negligent. I reeled.

I told myself I was ok. It was only a letter describing an object.

I was not ok.

I walked over to my laptop and slammed it shut. The cheerful voices continued to dance through the speakers. I popped it back open, found the “Leave” button for the meeting, and then collapsed on the floor wailing – something I haven’t done in years. All of the pain of Jay’s death pulsing out from my body in large inconsolable waves. I allowed myself to have that moment, and then I called my people – my brother-in-law, my bestfriend, and my step-mom – each pulled me back an inch at a time – each with an immediate action plan on how to address the situation. Finally, my friend Edward offered up, “Hey, at least the cops didn’t show up with a warrant to search your dungeon basement. Does your mom know me as the guy who lives down there whom you keep demanding to cover himself in lotion?” (Silence of the Lambs reference and ongoing inside joke.) I finally laughed again. (Note: I do not have a dungeon basement that Edward lives in. This is Texas. Edward lives in my crawlspace. We don’t have basements. Also, I’M KIDDING. No Edwards were harmed – he’s too funny to hurt.)

Another friend chatted with me the next night, and helped further define my path forward – my next step, which is: I’m going to contact the police department and suggest they work with their volunteer Victim’s Services group to engage them for this type of outreach. It shouldn’t be a form letter. What they did was ham-fisted at best, and this process desperately needs improvement.

All of this said to further put a spotlight on the aftermath of suicide. It is absolutely devastating to the survivors. It ravages those left behind, taking tolls on physical and mental health. And while survivors can and will rise back up again, and again – this snapshot into a single day of my experience points out that even when we feel our strongest, we will experience momentary set-backs – unforeseen things – things that sit closer to our tears.

And it’s why I come back time and time again to express the importance of the mission of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and why I know you can make a difference – why you should make a difference – whether you’re advocating, educating or supporting with a donation. Be a part of that solution. Do it for me. Do it so future families won’t receive a letter four years, two months and a handful of days later and crumble to pieces. Do it so they never have to know that loss – that pain.

Me, I have a mission to make change. That’s my commitment.

Mosaic

This past year I joined a Facebook group for spouses/partners who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. While I have this incredibly supportive network of family and friends who are always there for me, our loss is different. They lost a beloved son, a son-in-law, a brother, an uncle, or a friend. In a lot of cases, Jay was someone whom they’d known most of his life if not all, or for some, they’d known him all of theirs. Whereas, I lost a husband – my best friend, my favorite person, my raison d’ê·tre. And while the losses are equally tragic, they’re also very different. I have never lost a child or a brother or a good friend to suicide. They have never lost a husband to suicide.

In this group I’ve found a comfortable space where every member has experienced a similar tragedy. Just reading their words or posting mine has helped me put my grief in perspective and it has helped me realize that the ways I feel and think aren’t particularly uncommon – that I’m not alone in the thoughts/feelings that I have. It’s a safe place where I can share my best and worst thoughts, where I can celebrate what was but still show how deeply my scars run. It’s a place where I don’t have to lay out a backstory or offer-up a lot of explanation – a place where the members just get “it”. They inspire me. They break my heart. They laugh, cry, and share their stories – the good and the bad. It’s a group no one wants to belong to and one we’re glad exists.

Occasionally a member will post a photo of a meaningful momento – something they keep close to remind them of their loved one, and that’s what inspired my post today. (This is the post I mentioned I was struggling with over the past couple of weeks. I couldn’t figure out how to sink my teeth into what I wanted to say. So, here we go!)

Before Christmas, one of the members shared a photo of a bracelet she wears. It’s fairly simple – a square on its end divided into quarters with two lines crossing it. In each quadrant is a letter – from left to right the letters represent one set of initials, from top to bottom represent the letters represent another person’s set of initials. Let me just show you, it’ll be easier:

Custom Crossed Paths Initials Bracelet

When I saw it, I knew immediately I wanted one – truly a no-brainer.

I immediately went to the company’s website, and that’s where I read their description: “Who crossed your path and changed your life forever? Cross your initials with the initials of the person who set you in a new direction and stay connected wherever you may wander.” I paused. So many people have crossed my path and changed my life forever – more than Jay – people who had an equally strong hand in righting my course in this life (or at least made small, but significant course adjustments). I suddenly pictured dozens of bracelets running down my wrists, filled with their initials: JU, AA, AB, AG, DP, HB, JB, JH, JJ, JK, JS, KT…. (the list goes on). The imagined bracelets celebrated everyone who not only had an impact on the course my life has taken, but have greatly influenced the person I am today. People who believed in me. People who took chances on me, opened doors and presented me with new opportunities both personally and professionally. People who taught me my self-worth (hrmmm “…taught me…” makes it sound as though it’s in my past. I should change that to”…continue to try to teach me and get frustrated, slap their forehead, sigh, and maybe even cry a bit in regard to my seemingly hard-headedness in regard to…”) Most of my good friends, would tell you this is an area they’d greatly love to see me improve upon. Hey, I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t challenging. My job is to keep them busy and sighing. You’re welcome, friends!

Those people shaped the me that you have now. Without them, I wouldn’t be me. (Now you know who to blame. 🙂 )

Of course, wearing that many bracelets seemed a tiny bit ridiculous, so I looked at the company’s other offerings. There I discovered another type of bracelet – one which displays the latitude and longitude of the place you met someone. My first reaction was, “that’s ridiculous! I have no idea where I met my friends.” Then I thought about it, and realized that with rare exception I could actually pin-point the location of our meeting. From a particular room in a house to a desk in a classroom to an office or a meeting room. Not only did I know where I met them, I remember the moment – the formal introductions, the stolen glances across a living room, the picnic table on a Thanksgiving Day – all photos sitting in my memory I can easily leaf through – all with very specific locations. My imagined bracelets doubled and now gracefully hung from two wrists.

With some I remember there being this immediate connection – a moment when I just knew, “this person is part of my tribe.” Aside: one of my friends once went completely slack-jawed after she’d introduced me to her friend. In a matter of hours we had our arms around each other, giving each other huge hugs. Typically I’m not the hugest fan of strangers touching me – even some acquaintances, which this friend was quite aware of, but hey I’d found one of my people out in the wild, I had to hug them because I didn’t realize that, even though I didn’t know them before, I really missed them and needed that hug.

Of course, some of those first meetings didn’t go quite as well (definitely zero hugging). They were more of the, “I think I’m going to sucker punch this jerk and see if they’ll make fun squeaky ouch noises?” variety. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t, though I have since slugged almost all of them in the shoulder more than once. Hey, they can’t help being them, and I can’t help being me.

And there were those in the middle. People who were this constant presence in my life. People who didn’t elicit that visceral “OMG! I adore you!” or the “OMG! I cannot stand you!!” reaction. These people just appeared beside me, and we were simply friends.

And all of these friends, no matter how we met, would end up becoming essential to my story influencing so many aspects of my life from my thoughts, my tastes, and my tolerances.

Recently, an old friend made a fairly simple observation. I was in the process of making a choice, and then explaining the “why” behind that choice when they said, “you probably got that from me.” And I’m pretty sure they were right. Then I realized it wasn’t just that single thing I’d taken from them, or from others – I’ve taken so much more. In fact, the more I thought about it and the more I think about it, I recognize that not only did people cross my path, but I carry many of them with me every single day. It’s in the way I smile, my facial expressions that aren’t easily concealed, my wit, the way I write, the choices I make when I park, the music I enjoy, the way I laugh, the way I sneeze, or the way I speak when I’m expressing an idea emphatically. Their traits, their quirks, their habits have been added to my own and I’ve become this incredible mosaic of all the people who have touched my life.

After thinking about all of this, it was hard not to ask for those bracelets for my birthday. I was only held back by the uncertainty of how people would perceive me crossing their initials with mine and wearing them around. I imagined incredibly awkward conversations. “Ummm Beth, we’re not going steady.” While I looked completely surprised, “wait, we’re not???” So, I suppose I’m content to wear them in my head and on my heart, for now.

I’ll wrap everything up with this final piece.

I’m not sure how you feel about the TV show This is Us, but a recent bit of dialog really stuck with me (and it’s the theme for this season):

It’s so strange, isn’t it? How just like that a complete stranger can become such a big part of your story. It’s actually kind of terrifying, y’know? How a single cross with one person you’ve never met can change everything.

This is Us, Season 4, Episode 1 Strangers

I look forward to 2020, to a year which includes a new job, being on a board with new people, traveling to new cities and starting a new personal project. I know with absolute certainty that my path will cross with many people, and I look forward to that next person who becomes a significant part of my story, to that friendship, and seeing the new/unexpected (and hopefully welcome) directions we go – adding and changing the mosaic that is me.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

I Won’t Be Silent

I returned to work a week after Jay died. I braced myself as I headed towards my desk; I needed to be prepared to cope with the cards and flowers that people likely left there. I needed to steel myself for the outpouring of sympathy, knowing it would be hard, but well-intentioned. It’s what we did as a group – we came together to support our teammates during their times of loss or need. Plus, for the most part, people generally like me (except that one woman who clearly has no taste). Why wouldn’t I expect a big show of support?

I wasn’t prepared for what I found as I rounded that corner. I found nothing. Absolutely nothing. No cards. No flowers. No little notes. In fact, people kept swinging by to ask me about my vacation, and I stared back at them dully, unable to speak. Others avoided me (for months). In fact, I asked one months later if they knew Jay had died. They did. They explained they didn’t know what to say, so they decided to say nothing. That friendship is dead to this day.

Let me clarify something real quick: I had an incredible core group of coworkers who rallied around me and supported me completely. They attended Jay’s memorial. They sent cards, texts, and called me on the phone. But when it came to telling the rest of the team, they found themselves in an extremely awkward situation. They worried about how to share my news and they had serious concerns about violating my privacy. Their silence on the subject was well-meaning. How do you tell everyone, “Beth’s husband died by suicide?” They decided it was better to err on the side of caution to avoid causing me additional pain. No one wanted to see me hurt more.

Unfortunately, the side effect was that I did not have the usual support that one would receive after losing a spouse. So, in the absence of a conga line of teary-eyed condolence hugs and cheer-up candy from my coworkers, I began to behave in ghastly ways. I was blunt. I was harsh. I was rude. I was unforgiving and unapologetic. When asked about my vacation, people staggered out of my office backwards while stammering out their apologies. When asked in meetings, “Is everything ok, Beth?” people suddenly wanted to end the meeting early while quickly excusing themselves. I was unpleasant on a good day, and intolerable on a bad day, and there were plenty of bad days.

I finally had to ask a team member to spread the word that Jay had died, because crushing people’s “welcome back from vacation” cheer was wearing me out.

What happened to me was not atypical.

There’s a stigma around suicide and around mental health issues. We, as a society, shy away from talking about it. If it happens in your family, you keep it in the family. I mean, what will the neighbors think? (Well, in my case, my neighbor threw Holy water over the fence into my yard.) What will your friends think? What will your co-workers think? What does it say about you, your lifestyle, your family…? And talking about it, except in hushed whispers, makes us uncomfortable.

Well, if suicide makes you uncomfortable, it should.  Here’s why – it’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s steadily increasing each year. In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide. That same year, in the US, there were over 1.4 million attempts. There are approximately 129 suicides per day, 22 of those are veterans. Globally, over 800,000 die by suicide annually.

We need to talk about it. Hiding it isn’t working. Silence isn’t working.

People who are struggling need help, and we’re telling them to be silent. We’re telling them there’s shame in having a mental health issue – there’s shame in suffering. However, if they had a chronic condition like arthritis or asthma or even cystic fibrosis, we’d encourage them to seek treatment. If they had cancer, we’d make referrals to well-respected oncologists. We’d offer advice. Hell, we’d become WebMD authorities and merrily hop down every homeopathic trail in hopes of getting them relief.

What we wouldn’t do:

We would never ask a person with a chronic condition to suffer silently. We would never tell them they needed to smile more. We would never insinuate they were making a choice to be ill.

And if a co-worker lost a spouse to cancer, the team would rally around them because we understand cancer.  There is no shame in having a spouse die due to cancer.

Like many people who die by suicide, Jay suffered from depression. He’d suffered since he was a teen. Convincing him to see a medical professional was a battle. It took years of talking about medical intervention, and pointing out people he knew who, like him, suffered from depression but were having success with medication. I had to work on removing the stigma of seeking help just to get him to make an appointment. And once his medications started having an effect, he said something that broke my heart, “this is the first time I’ve ever felt happy.” Imagine going your whole life without knowing or remembering what “happy” felt like.

We must keep talking about suicide. We must keep talking about mental health. We must make mental health a priority.

When I first opened-up about Jay and the impact his death has had on me, I received feedback from a couple of people. They shared their personal struggles and said they didn’t fully realize how devastating suicide was to the people left behind; that my stories had made them think. Then last week another friend, also deeply was affected by Jay’s death, shared a similar story.

That’s why we keep talking about it. That’s why we cannot and should not be silenced or marginalized. Talk makes a difference. Talk saves lives.

Last year a co-worker attempted to admonish me by saying, “I don’t think you realize how much you talk about Jay.”

I will never stop.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) will also never stop. Their mission to fund important research into the best ways to prevent suicide, to advocate, educate, and provide support to those who have lost a loved one gives me hope that they will reach their goal to reduce suicide by 20% in 2025.

I believe in their mission.

That’s why on November 2nd I am walking in the Out of the Darkness Walk here in Austin, Texas. I’ve set a goal for our team of $5,000, and a personal goal of $3,000.

I believe it’s a challenging goal, but achievable with your support.

Please help by making a donation today.

We’d also be honored to have you walk with us! Just click the link! OR consider re-posting this blog post, and tell people your story.

But no matter what you decide to do, I ask one huge favor:

Never stop talking about mental health issues. Reach out to anyone you think may be struggling (assume you’re the only person who is reaching out).

Huge thanks to those who have already signed up to walk with me, and to those who have made a donation; it means a lot, it makes a huge difference, and I appreciate each of you!

If you or someone you know is in distress, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

24/7 Crisis Hotline: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
1-800-273-TALK (8255) (Veterans, press 1)

Crisis Text Line
Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7

Veterans Crisis Line
Send a text to 838255