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.

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?

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.

Jay Anthony Utz: 2/25/1976 – 7/9/2016

There wasn’t an official obituary announcing to the world the loss of my husband. Of all the things we had to deal with that day, and for the days that followed, this was one we pushed to the side. If you planned well, or worked with any funeral service, someone will likely handle this detail. We did not. We were reeling.

I learned that in trying to settle Jay’s affairs that there are companies who really would like one to prove a death has occurred by means of an obituary. I suppose a medical examiner’s report or a death certificate doesn’t carry the weight that an obituary posted in the newspaper does.

So, I give you this – for all the people who need one…

Jay Anthony Utz

Jay Anthony Utz of Pflugerville, TX passed away on Saturday, July 9, 2016.

A memorial was held at 10am on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at Restoration Covenant Church in Round Rock with Jay’s aunt, the Rev. Marsha Emery officiating.

Jay was born in San Antonio, Texas to Lois and Samuel Utz on February 25, 1976. He married Beth Doughty on May 21, 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Jay is survived by his wife, Beth Doughty; his sister and brothers Enid Celeste Kowalik, Joel Samuel Utz, and Dale Eldon Utz; his parents, Lois Margaret and Samuel Franklin Utz; and his nephews and niece, Everett, Zachary and Katy Kowalik.

Beth’s aunt, Philis Goodwin read the following on Beth’s behalf:

Today we say goodbye to a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, and a friend who left us all too soon with so many words left unsaid, so many adventures left to do, so many wry/sardonic laughs left un-chortled, and so much love left unexpressed. For me I’m saying goodbye to my best friend, my confidante, my co-conspirator, my teacher, my hero, my voice of reason, and the only adult in the house.  And today and for all the days to come, I’m also saying goodbye to my very favorite person in this world.  The best person I know.

Monday was our 202nd Monthiversary which celebrates the day we started dating – it’s a ridiculous holiday unless you’re us. It also happens to be my very favorite.  This was the day I’d try my level best to wish him a Happy Monthiversary first.  I never really told him we were in competition, but still he almost always managed to win.  

And this is also one of the thousands of things I’ll miss.

Jay was the person who stayed with me each night until I fell asleep.  Then he’d be there when I’d wake in the middle of the night to ask important questions like: What’s the difference between alternating and direct current? Tell me about stationary objects in motion.  And he’d patiently answer until I was satisfied I completely understood and I’d wander off to fall back asleep. I suspect he shook his head when my back was turned, but I have no proof.

On the plane Saturday I realized I didn’t completely understand how planes generated lift, so I made a mental note to discover this information on our ride home.

There wasn’t a ride home – not with Jay, not on this Saturday when my best friend felt he had to leave.

Someone suggested I might be angry, and if I’m angry about anything it’s at this faceless disease called depression.  I’m angry that it took away the best person I know.  I’m angry it made him feel worthless and that it blinded him to being able to realize how amazing he truly was.  I’m angry that he tried and didn’t get the help he needed to fight it.  I’m angry it made him see so much bad about himself when all I could ever see was good and kind and beautiful, and he was absolutely beautiful. It robbed me of laughs, of the one person who understood me, of a thousand inside jokes, and a thousand more kisses.  It took away our ridiculous Monthiversaries, and it took away my favorite person.

I love you, Jay. You said I deserved better, but there will never be better than you.  You are the love of my life, and I miss you so much.

Jay’s brother Dale also spoke and shared personal stories that helped further bring to life a person whom we will all miss dearly – with whom we’ll never get to share another laugh, nor enjoy another character like “Laguardia”.

An Anniversary


Anniversary Card 2016

How long were you married?
Nine years.
Oh.
But we were together almost 17…
OH!

As if the length of time is a measurement of how much sympathy a person should garner. “She only knew him 1/5 of her life – one can hardly form attachments in such a short span. Oh, about 1/3 you say? How very sad. That explains the tears.”

Just a friendly reminder that when dealing with the bereaved, empathize if you can, sympathize if you’re not a sociopath and have an IQ over 30, but don’t ask how long the deceased was known. In fact, don’t ask about the relationship. Loss for a first cousin once removed may be just as sad as an aunt, a nephew, or a brother. I’ll also throw in, don’t ask how it happened, because you’re not a ghoul and this isn’t your wreck to rubber neck. You’ll know if you need to know.

This has been your latest installment of: How to Deal with Death

Today is my anniversary. My first anniversary without Jay.

Ten years ago today we were in Las Vegas – me in an overly feathered top, and Jay dressed like he walked off the set of Miami Vice. Hey, it was Vegas, baby! We’d dressed for the occasion. A few friends had joined us – Kendra, Jeff, Lynn (Ravenhex), Jen (Aunt Mahgs), Harry (Uncle Fel) and he who shall not be named out of fear of one of my guests. April had been headed that way, but the car gods were apparently angered. It was one of those beautiful and great days. A ridiculous day, as we started out at Quark’s being teased by a Klingon and were carried off to some Elvis chapel where apparently some of our other friends have been married (forget Bon Jovi – who cares? Meredith and Jerin where there once! I think Brandi and Ed were, too!).

Jay’s family weren’t told about the wedding where mine were. Jay had said he wanted to “elope”. I asked him about that decision at the time, and then later. It’s something I still don’t understand and can only offer that I think he liked the idea of “eloping” despite us having my friends there and despite my family also knowing.

Jay kept many things to himself, and he didn’t always explain himself. You just had to accept that it was a Jay thing.

Just a few thoughts I wanted to share on this day – my take away from being with Jay for nine or 17 years, depending on how you want to consider it…

Love isn’t always neat. It’s not a movie. It’s sometimes inconvenient and hard. Sometimes you have to fight for it. You have to take risks. Sometimes you have to yell when you’re being told your relationship isn’t ok in someone else’s eyes. Always keep in mind it’s not about them; it’s about the two of you. When you know it’s right, it’s something to fight for – to strive towards.

I met Jay at the worst time, but he was worth every risk I took, the sacrifices I made, and the lines in the sand I drew. He was worth every verbal scrap I got into. I knew he was the one. That he would love me absolutely despite a mountain of flaws, which he did.

Today I want to challenge you that when it comes to love take risks where you can. Remember, you only have one life. Live it deliberately. Worry less about the noise from others around you especially if they’re holding you back. You get to decide. If what you want is inconvenient for someone else, isn’t harming anyone, and they’re preventing you from moving forward, well too bad – screw them and screw that. Your life isn’t about them. Your happiness is not about them. Live for you. You only get this one life, this one shot. You are responsible for your happiness. Know and believe that you absolutely deserve to love and to be loved. Who cares what other people thing? What do you think?

Today I challenge you to love someone. Let them love you back.

Happy Anniversary to my best-friend, my love, and my favorite person. You were worth it.

(Disclaimer: Relationship risk advice excludes taking those risks with anyone who is related by blood, anyone whose spouse might have an uncontrolled anger issue and who also possesses firearms or is related to/belongs to a “club” with anyone like that (unless you can counter with court orders/law enforcement), anyone who dresses in a onesie whose last name ends (begins) in “Kim”, and anything involving animals. Basically, if you can be arrested for it, you shouldn’t do it. However, mirrors are ok. Go on and freely love yourself, you narcissistic little monkey!)

How Do You Do It?

When someone passes away, amidst all the love, a lot of questions come out.  I thought about ranking them in the degrees by which they annoy me, but that seemed a tad harsh.  People are curious, you can’t fault them for that (well, you could), and for the most part they’re not trying to be annoying (although sometimes I wonder), but by golly they’re curious.  Some of that curiosity comes from knowing we’ll all be impacted by death throughout our lives, and there’s this hope that the person can shed some little pearl of wisdom that maybe we can use if we’re in a similar situation. Some of the questions come from having never been in a particularly unique situation, and they feel like they’ve pulled up to the world’s best car wreck, and screw the rest of traffic, they’re going to take their nice long look.

Let me start by addressing a few of those questions/statements by offering some advice when it comes to someone who has died by suicide.  (Now followers of my Facebook feed may feel this subject looks somewhat familiar.  I like to think of my feed as a micro-blog (because that’s a thing, right?) at times, and my followers as a focus group.  Err… I think of them as good friends, that’s what I meant. Good friends.)

Don’t ask how it happened especially of the immediate family. Ever. If the person chooses to share that information, that’s one thing, but what has happened is deeply personal, and fairly traumatic. Each retelling can open up some really large wounds, because it’s not a “story”, it’s a life.  It’s lives.  You don’t have a right to know.  Yes, I get it’s a wonderfully dramatic story, and you can’t help but to slow down and try to drink in the drama, but do that from as far away from me as you can possibly get.

Don’t run around asking if any of the immediate family (or me) is suicidal.  Yes, something bad happened, and you may be worried, but your worry seems more like gossip when you flitter from person to person planting that little seed.

And whatever you do, don’t go up to any family member (for example: me, again) and make this request: “Please don’t kill yourself.” There are no words that can ever properly convey how wrong I find that statement.  I could start with “you clearly don’t know me,” but that just lightly begins to air kiss how deeply angry I am at your words.  If you are genuinely worried, you’ll figure out a better way to approach that conversation.  As it stood, I nearly said “well damn, there goes my Wednesday plan. I guess I’ll just watch TV now. Fingers crossed wrestling is on tonight!”

Then there’s this other question I’ve had thrown my way that while I find annoying isn’t meant so. It’s mostly annoying because I’m asked it a lot, which means someone who reads this blog (maybe a few) is (are)  going to say, “oh hell, I didn’t meant to step in it with Beth.”  You didn’t.  But since you asked, I’ll answer.

How do you do it? How do you get up in the morning?

I can’t give you a silver bullet answer – something you can apply to your own lives.  I can tell you some key things about me and my situation.  The biggest thing that gets me up and moving is I was literally just born this way. I’m a “happy” person.  In fact, I’m a borderline (and sometimes not so borderline) airhead.  I’m goofy. I’m silly. I’m the kid who at five was told by other five year olds I needed to grow up. (To this day we feel sorry for any five year old that feels they need to grow up.) When it comes to a happiness ceiling, mine is really high.  I’m a whole lot like one of my aunts who when we get together, we just giggle.  Now that said, that doesn’t mean I (or my aunt) can’t be brought down or that I don’t get angry.  I actually have quite a temper, but my fuse is exceptionally long.  You just don’t want to be around when the fuse is gone. Jay would point out, when I did finally blow, that I was spending a lot of energy being really mad about a person or thing, and the object of my anger couldn’t see how angry I was – that I was wasting a lot of energy.  I can blow up like the best and most uncomfortable fireworks display.  Thankfully something shiny will usually appear, and I’m chasing it down again.  Unfortunately, that shiny thing may not appear for a day or two, but it will always appear.

Another key thing is that no one left me alone, not even when it was really all I wanted. I longed to go shut the door to my bedroom after Jay passed away.  I didn’t want to do the things that needed to get done.  Dad had me make a list, and on a normal day the list was something I could have accomplished in a few hours. On that second day after Jay left, I had only managed to do two things, and the process was absolutely the most  mentally exhausting thing I had done.  Dad then helped me make the plan for the next day and the next slowly showing me how to walk in the world again.  During all of this, I didn’t want to interact with anyone, and yet they kept appearing at my house forcing me to be here.  When you combine that with another inherent trait I have – wanting everyone else to be ok, you have a situation where I felt forced to come out and to try and make everyone else feel better. I would tell stories about Jay, and while I wasn’t fully present, it kept me present enough.

I remember when Mom passed away unexpectedly, I tried to cheer-up the hospital chaplain by telling him stories despite desperately wanting him to leave the room so it would just be the two of us.  I once fell down a staircase trying to get a bag of glass bottles to a recycling station, and when  the glass and I landed at the bottom I saw a little boy looking on in horror, and so I did what I do – I talked to him, laughed about being clumsy, got everything together, and then fell apart behind closed doors. Part of who I am is a less polished version of my grandmother. A woman who when presented with any group of people would go immediately into hostess mode.  This is what I do.

To this day, some six months later, I am still not left alone over the weekends.  I have activities through the middle of March and beyond. They’re rarely anything I’ve planned, but are things people have brought me into.

So, in short: How do I get up every day? I can get up because that’s who I am. I don’t know another way (and as one friend “gently” put it: “…because you’re not a pathetic piece of shit,” (no intended offense to those who can’t), and because I have an amazing support group in my family and friends. They don’t let me make any other choice … and I try to remain open to new situations; I try to still live and experience new things/new and interesting people. I don’t have a silver bullet.  I only have me. And the truth is I’m not always sunshine and lollipops. I still get sad, and when I do I get a tissue, and I start over again.

To my friends and family (and new/amazing acquaintances), and of course the Phalanx: Thank you for continuing to help me walk through this world. I love you more than you’ll know (because I’m apparently keeping that a secret? Who says “more than you’ll know”? Why is that a saying?) Bah, you’ll know how much, because I say I love you in awkward ways that make you feel uncomfortable, so suck it up.

You’re welcome!

On Christmas

On Christmas Day 2016 midnight passed without the traditional, “Happy Birthday! I love you!” declaration. I didn’t incoherently mumble back, “I love you more.” When I finally decided to drag myself out of bed, no one snored peacefully beside me while I was brimming in the delight of the day, and an overfilled stocking with all its promise didn’t wait on my chair (I like stockings best). I didn’t spend the month randomly announcing, “It’s my birthday!” to only be told, “nuh uh”. “Yuh huh! I get ALL the days! Happy Birthday to me!!!” “No!” “YES!” “No dancing!” “It’s my very special birthday dance to celebrate! Maybe there’s a song!””Look away, Sam!”

It was sad – not all the time, but most of it.  It was hard – not all the time, but most of it.

I wanted a margarita (maybe two) and some Tex Mex, which wasn’t going to happen.  Really? Only Chinese food places are open? No one is in town?  I went to the movies, another tradition.  It was enjoyable.

Then I sat alone in a house missing all the other Christmases when I could see his beautiful face.  I thought about how I still hope when I pull into the garage after work that he’ll magically fling open the door and help me bring in my stuff.  I still hope that maybe I’ll wake up, and this will have all been a horribly vivid, and unwelcome dream.  And then I buck up, put on a smile, and greet another day.

Since I get asked, usually with a pitying face, “How was your Christmas?”  There it is. That’s how my Christmas went. Oh wait, I meant to say, “it was fine, how was yours?” Do tell me about how losing another celebrity has devastated your world.  I’m THE person to talk to about that. It’s not that I don’t get it; I just don’t have patience for it right now.

I went on a rant (as I do) today about people not saying “thank you”.  It’s a pet peeve. I don’t get it.  How hard is it to say “thanks”? “Thank you for thinking of me.”  I always had to thank people growing up, and when my step-mom was added to the family, I learned to write actual “thank you” notes. In my family there’s the parable of the bad aunt – the one who received a guitar that her mother had scraped all of her money together to purchase.  It didn’t live up to this aunt’s expectations, apparently crying and door slamming ensued, and everyone involved was fairly unhappy. The lesson was, “do not be this aunt – say thank you even if it’s not something you wanted – be grateful someone thought of you – that someone may have tried really hard to please you.”  I did manage not to say, “I’m not a toy dispenser for ingrates” this go around, which I like to think of as “a win” in the rant department.  I just thought everyone needed a gentle reminder to be thankful.  Hey, if people can rant about their various relationships while screenshot-ing each painful text, then I can plop myself on social media and carry on about thankfulness.

But in doing so, I was reminded that I hadn’t properly said thanks for one of the best, and most touching gifts I received this year. Normally, I’m not the one to brag, because it seems rather tacky, “look what I got!!!” yet I’m going to make this one exception.

On Christmas Day 2016 at the traditional movie I received the following box:

Lunch Notes

250 envelopes containing quotes, questions to ponder, and notes from my friends and family. Notes for each work day of 2017 to put in my lunch and open each day. Each one has my name on it and a sticker sealing it in the back.  My good friend April coordinated this, and spent who knows how many countless hours putting it together. To say it’s amazing and touching is such an understatement; it blew me away.  I teared up once I understood what I was looking at. She didn’t tell me who all contributed, so I haven’t been able to thank you yet.  Until I know who all was involved, I hope you’ll accept this general note of appreciation in the meantime:

THANK YOU ALL! This was truly the most meaningful and beautiful of gifts. I am so very lucky to have you in my life.

I’ll share the first one (ok, so I may have cheated and not waited until the first of the year to open just one). It reads:

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” — Neil Gaiman

Thank you, April for thinking of something so magical, and for getting me away when my Paris trip fell through, leaving me a brief mess. Thank you to my beautiful friends and family.  I love you guys MORE!  I hope all of these wishes come true for me, and also for you.

A Babbling State of the Beth

I’m back, at least for a moment or two, and I’m going to write some general randomness, babble a bit, and there will probably be a tiny rant.  Hopefully in there will be a lot of love, because I do have that for a group of people who have been completely amazing.

Saturday we had a wake for Jay.  It was hands-down the best party I’ve been to in who knows how long.  If I could choose a recent moment to live in, it would be there in Darrell’s kitchen, talking to friends, laughing, drinking a margarita, or it would be on the couch announcing to my friend Jonathan that I was moments away from hugging everyone and declaring my absolute love for them.  In fact, there’s a ridiculous picture of me on that couch, and having never seen it, I feel it captures my goofiness and love.  (Let’s hope that pans out for me, and isn’t something I wince at.)

I’ve always had anthem songs. It’s just me.  Maybe it’s you, too, but in that moment I was returned to a song that is the most me when my world is right (and it’s usually more right than wrong), and it’s the me I haven’t been in a long while.

I managed to only have one moment where I started hyperventilating and tears trickled down my face, but I did it quietly in front of a group of people with a smile on my face and no one noticed. This may be a new skill  Although, I did have to fight down the urge to go for a long walk – not being able to escape folks in the front yard was the only thing that stopped me.  Damn you Johnny Cash.  The song wasn’t on, only an instrumental version, but I could sense him singing it and each word of the lyrics stung briefly.

Sunday was our anniversary.  Let me clarify a bit.  This wasn’t the anniversary of our marriage, but the anniversary of when we started dating 17 years ago.  While the nation mourns, I always remember that day as the one when we went to Magnolia Cafe, walked over to a park, and Jay told me he loved me for the first time.  On that day I made big, life-changing decisions – decisions that hurt some people unintentionally.  It was the day that kicked off what would be the happiest time of my life, and it was worth all of the anger I felt towards people for the years that followed (I’m just not cut from that “let it go” cloth – Elsa’s goofy little song would fall on my deaf ears. Girl, you let it go.  I got this.  I mean, just ask me about Jessica and the 3rd grade slumber party.  Mmm hmm. I’m not letting that go either) It was also worth the sadness of the last couple of months. That day kicked off a time when I learned the true meaning of friendship – that my closest friends would form a phalanx to shield me whenever I needed protection; they’re amazing.  It was the day I learned how wonderful love could be, and how strong (and in some cases weak) my friendships were.

It also kicked off our “Monthaversary” tradition, and not an 11th passed in the past 16+ years without the declaration of “Happy Monthaversary!!”  In turn, it makes every 11th that has followed varying degrees of painful with yesterday having the potential to wreck me.  My brother-in-law gets a big gigantic shout out here for heading that off by getting me outside, walking around, and then watching impossibly goofy movies.  He is amazing and a truly great and kind guy (yes, you are).

Here’s where I meander over to my ranty bit.  Feel free to hop off at this stop.

What happened with Jay was absolutely horrible; it’s the nature of death. Unfortunately, something I’ve learned from this experience is that people do not understand you if you’re not in a downward spiral.  So, I’m going to be blunt.

  1. Some facts – I get out of the house.  I started work a week later.  I went back to the gym
  2. I don’t need meds.  I don’t have the desire to hole up in a dark corner. Thank you for suggesting that, but I don’t need to not feel.  Maybe that’s you.  Feel free to get meds if so.
  3. Death is sad. It’s ok to be sad.  I don’t choose to wallow in this feeling although I might tear up on occasion. You see I lost my best friend who also happened to be my husband. I lost someone I talked to daily.  I lost someone who thought I was ok despite a list of flaws.
  4. Don’t tell me it’s not my fault.  I know that. See, I learned a long time ago that I can’t actually control other people.  It’s nice of you to say.  It’s annoying when it gets re-emphasized over and over again when I’m not actually claiming responsibility.
  5. Don’t tell me I need to see a therapist or go to group therapy, because you feel like that’s what all people who suffered a loss must need.  No, I don’t – at least not right now.  Sweeping into my life during a tragedy when you don’t know me well doesn’t qualify you to judge my mental state.  There are exactly five people I’d listen to on this subject.  If you just paused and wondered “Is that me?” It’s not. Two of them are my family (blood or otherwise), two of them live together, and the last is a surprise – well, probably not to them.  The day they put together an intervention is the day I’ll go, but right now they’re telling me I’m fine, and well… remember that phalanx?  Don’t push it. They’re fierce.  Also, they’re about to get punchy if they hear me say one more time, “yeah, she told me she didn’t think I had anyone to talk to, made the sad face, and got upset I wasn’t in therapy”.
  6. I was raised by a social worker and a big portion of our family friends were social workers.  Plus, I’m lucky in that I naturally come with a pretty large tool kit for coping.  Don’t assume I have no tools to work through grief.
  7. Do not ever tell me someone is not Jay.  I am keenly aware of this, and I need exactly zero reminders. Also a fun couple of facts –  therapists are not Jay.  You are not Jay.  So, if the point is to to suggest I’m trying to find a replacement, I can’t. No one can replace anyone else. Each friendship I have is unique. If the point is to suggest you or a therapist would be a better choice, well we’ll have to agree to disagree. My not sharing with you doesn’t mean I’m not talking to someone, I am.  It doesn’t mean I don’t love or value your friendship, I do, but the fact of the matter is that different friends have different abilities.  My phalanx was chosen for their unique skills. Thankfully the world is a big enough place that all types of friends are welcome, but don’t keep shoving your resume in my face when you can’t lift a shield, and don’t be jealous of those that can.  They’re a highly specialized and elite group.  They have their own standard they fly. (Well, they will now. Hey guys, can we work on that? You know who I’m asking. Maybe get the kids on it? They’re crazy creative. Maybe think of some theme music?) There can be a huge difference between empathizing and sympathizing.  Thank you for thinking of me.  Don’t push it.
  8. Don’t tell me that Jay’s choice had to be a relief or that he got to “leave the bullshit” behind. I am that bullshit. His family is that bullshit. Sam is that bullshit. Mind your face and the words that just dribbled out, and realize that the times I’ve needed to be in therapy have never been for sadness, but for anger. Also, there’s a short distance between me counting from 1-10 and breathing.  Hope I chose to count to 100.

The non-ranty bit (a list):

  1. There are not enough numbers to enumerate all the great things individuals have done or said.  You’re all part of my incredible tool kit that get me through each day. Your thoughts and kind words have been helpful.  Thank you for thinking of me.

Now I suppose I should wrap this up.  Did I mention this is babble? It’s kind of hard to put a neat bow on babble.  Maybe pretend I said something here that ties it all together, and I’ll pretend I had a lot of margaritas, am giving you a big hug, and saying I love you guys.  I LOVE YOU GUYS!

To My Bestfriend on Our Anniversary

It’s our anniversary and since I control this blog, I think it’s only right that I dedicate a song on this day to Jay, my best friend, husband and favorite person – the guy that loves me despite my insanity – the guy that laughs at my bad jokes and endures my corny dedications.  (The guy who is doubtlessly groaning as he sees this song appear yet again in his honor.)  My one regret is that I couldn’t grab up a DJ and dedicate this while at a roller skating rink or over the airwaves through the local pop station just to make it a little more cheesy.  (He loves me for my cheesiness, I’m sure.  That’s what I tell myself.)

Happy Anniversary, Jay!  I love you very much!  Home is whenever I’m with you.