Join Me in Supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

On July 9, 2016, while waiting to disembark from my plane, I turned off the “airplane mode” setting on my phone, and a text came through, “I won’t be able to pick you up today.” It was from my husband. I wasn’t alarmed; sometimes the world could be too much. Sometimes he couldn’t handle the cars darting about, the crowds of people; it could make him extremely anxious. It could be paralyzing. To me that text only meant I would have to take a taxi home. It’s just what it was. Then I walked onto the concourse, and my world started turning upside down. A voice over a loudspeaker summoned me to a white courtesy phone. From there I was met by a police officer who told me another officer, from the city where we lived, was en route to talk to me. That officer arrived, and I was informed that Jay had passed away. Impossible. He had just sent me a text. I was taken home to find my house surrounded in crime tape, and people from victim’s services waiting for me on my driveway. My husband, the person I had been with for 17 years, was now gone, and my home was a crime scene.

Not only had I lost my husband, my best-friend, my co-conspirator, and my favorite person; I had lost my identity. I was no longer a wife, a best-friend, the other half of the best part of us. I had lost purpose. The house had fallen silent.

It’s still silent…

There is a stigma associated with mental illness. A belief that if a person just tried harder, manned-up, not been a baby, they’d have been fine. A belief that a person is actively choosing to be miserable.

So, let me set the record straight. Jay didn’t die because he was weak. He didn’t die because he couldn’t “fake it till he made it;” a regimen of “more smiling” wasn’t the cure for his depression. Jay died because he felt hopeless. Jay died because he felt that seeing one more doctor to adjust his medication was pointless, and that it ultimately wouldn’t change how worthless he felt inside. He felt another appointment with an ENT still wouldn’t fix his untreated sleep apnea. He felt like a disappointment. And the depression combined with extreme fatigue made him feel like he was going insane. I cannot begin to imagine how his last day ultimately unfolded, but I do imagine he felt that he’d finally get some relief. I imagine he felt like he’d no longer disappoint everyone in his life. He would no longer disappoint me.

Let me say here what I had told him on many occasions: he was never a disappointment. He was beautiful.

There is a stigma associated with suicide. After a week of being gone, I returned to work braced to read the condolence cards that were doubtlessly waiting for me on my desk. There weren’t any. My desk was exactly the same as it had been before I’d left. No cards, no flowers, no acknowledgment. In fact, some people who knew Jay had died avoided me. We thrive in our communities, and to be denied this thing that is almost a given was traumatizing. No one did it to hurt me; for the most part they love me. It was that no one was quite sure what to do given the circumstances. Those who didn’t know would innocently drop by to cheerfully ask how my vacation went, and I got the unenviable task of explaining, “Jay died.” I finally had to ask people to spread that news, because I couldn’t cope with telling one more person and watching their faces fall.

If Jay had died of anything else, there would have been a card. I would have been embraced by my community. People would know what to say. They would know what to do.

And because of that same stigma, I wouldn’t tell people either, because I knew I’d be judged. I hadn’t kept my house in order. I hadn’t stopped him. What was so broken in our lives that my husband would choose suicide? What had Beth done to drive someone to make that choice? I kept silent to avoid whispers.

That stops now.

Next Saturday, on November 10th, I will walk in the Out of Darkness walk – a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I will walk for my husband. I walk for my best friend. I walk for my favorite person. I will walk for me.

On November 10th, my team will walk for a lost brother, son, uncle, and friend. A few will walk for me – to hold my hand, to peer into my face and see if I’m ok, and they will keep me strong as they continue on this endless vigil – my protective vanguard.

Together we will walk to support the other survivors out there, the people who need strength, who need a reminder that despite the tragedy, they’re still here, and they’re still ok. We walk in the hopes that the funds we raise, the awareness this walk brings may prevent another family from joining us. We walk to help remove the stigma that surrounds depression and suicide.

So I ask you one final time: Won’t you please join us? Whether it’s by spending a couple of hours walking beside us on November 10th to walk around the state’s capitol, or through a gift to this organization? I strongly believe that what this organization is doing for survivors, and for those who struggle is important, and it is vital.

If you’re unable to give at this time, that’s ok. Share  a kind word, a show of support, a story, something about your love for Jay, for me, for this amazingly strong and resilient family; it means the world to us.

I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we love and appreciate each of you.

To make a donation, please click the link below:
Support the Out of Darkness Walk – For Jay

The Withered Leaf: An Ancestry Story

I met my mother’s father once. I was very small, he was very quiet and together we sat on a piano bench as he played a tune. I was told he was rather brilliant and could play multiple instruments. When we parted, I went back to my home where my parents watched over me and he went back to his home, where attendants and orderlies and case workers watched over him. He was institutionalized most of his adult life.

No one talked about him. No one really knew him.

I went looking for him.

On my journey I discovered his mother, her name was Ruth or maybe it was Katie Ruth or Catherine, but my guess is she was more commonly known as Ruth. I had always believed she died in North Carolina an elderly woman. In fact, I believed my grandfather and his siblings had moved to Dallas while their parents remained back in their home, several states away. I had it all wrong. Through a small amount of research, it turns out she was born in Texas, as were all her children, and she actually died a building or two away from a building I once worked in. I never had any idea she was in Austin. It was strange to think about. She spent her remaining 5 years here in an institution and died at the age of 49. Recently, I was on that campus for a meeting and my stomach flipped as I looked up at the windows wondering if she had ever looked down on the spot I stood on. In the 1930’s, was she ever allowed to walk where I walked?

I had been told no one in the family liked to talk about her. Not even her other children, so I know no stories other than what I can glean from a census or two.

I found her father’s, my great-great-grandfather’s, death certificate – also institutionalized. He died of exhaustion after a manic bout. Our history unfolds.

I grasped at the names of Ruth’s siblings and landed on Winnie. Oh dear Winnie! The newspaper articles my co-worker found chronicled her singing in the town’s glee club. She was an auditor at a hotel. Not a teacher or a secretary, which I would expect to find. Winnie. Doubtlessly smart and clearly talented. Finally, someone in this family was ok. Unfortunately, she died at 38, her death certificate said, a head injury sustained “in public”. A young divorcee dying “in public” had to be news worthy. I went searching for an article about it. This was 1935 when the paper seemed to think “Mrs. Miller was visited by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Patterson” made for an interesting piece. Sadly, I couldn’t find one. This was probably a cold case! Before I could even begin to spin-up an amazing tale of murder, betrayal and likely choral glee jealousy, my co-worker came across her obituary. It said she had died in a sanitarium. My face fell when I heard the news. My only rational thought on the matter is that perhaps the head trauma lead to her being briefly in a hospital before she passed away, because it was the 1930’s, maybe it was just called a sanitarium.

(Around this time Jay asked me to see if he was related to Seco Smith. You know, good ol’ Seco. A pioneer’s pioneer. A real Texan whose adventures were chronicled repeatedly in the Frontier Times. I looked, and of course he’s a great-great-more greats nephew of this larger-than-life feller. I gave him the stink-eye. Ancestries are clearly not fair.)

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this awful legacy. These people we don’t talk about.

In this ancestry search, the kind they don’t show on the commercials, I’ve chatted with some of my third cousins on this side. They’re very polite and very curious. “We don’t know about your side, please share what you can.” To which I’ve honestly replied, “neither do I, but when I do I’ll be glad to pass on the information” knowing there’s some I never will.

So, last night, inspired by one of these third-ish cousins, I reached out to my second cousin – my grandfather’s sister’s granddaughter. I awkwardly explained who I was and told her I was researching our family. I asked if she’d be willing to share information. (I would just like to know what our great-grandmother’s full name was or even have a picture of my grandfather’s siblings.)

The only photo I have of this side of the family. Taken around 1900. The gentleman in the middle row, third from the right is my great-great-great grandfather, Daniel. His second wife sits before him and in front of her my great half aunts and uncles. His brothers, my great uncles are the two men that stand next to him.

I can’t possibly convey how that simple request has my stomach in knots knowing that my grandfather’s siblings, including her grandmother, did not like talking about my grandfather. His illness was an embarrassment to the family. And despite being cordial, they never had much to do with my mother or her sister. How do you bridge the shame? Do you say, “Hi, I’m Beth – Jim’s granddaughter, you know “that” Jim. So far I’m asymptomatic for crazy and am allowed to roam “mostly” unattended outside of the house. I even hold down a job! Please be nice to me and tell me what my great-grandmother’s full name is. Do you like hugs? I don’t. I was just curious. Is this weird for you? XXOO Beth”? (Ok, I may not have put it quite like that since I do actually want information.)

You see, I’m the family they don’t talk about trying to ask the “good” side if they’re willing to have a conversation. My pedigree, as it were, from the other sides of the family doesn’t matter. What apparently matters is that I’m descended from a crazy man, who was born to a crazy woman, who was born to a crazy father and because of a chemical imbalance, there are stories of how they damaged their families – stories I played no part in.

Each hour that she doesn’t respond heightens the anxiety. I want to know these people (within reason and that doesn’t involve a BBQ or slumber party), I want to see these people (a picture or two?), but I know I’m marked by this terrible stigma of insanity and it weighs heavily on me.