Thursday, January 22, 2015

I hope you never need any of this information

Last night I got the kind of email that makes me cry, and the kind I get with some regularity. A friend wrote to say that a friend of his had died by suicide.

We all have a thing, I suppose. And suicide, it turns out, is mine. And actually, it was my thing before my dad died, because he took his life on his seventh attempt. And the six prior were no jokes. A number of you lived through the 2007 attempt with me. It was terrible.

His psychiatrist told us that the severity of my dad's attempts and the fact that he lived through them made him almost believe in God.

But although suicide was something I knew a lot about because of personal experience, I knew nothing about prevention. I knew nothing about healing. I knew nothing about the resources that were available that could've helped my family, even before my dad died. That could possibly have kept my brother from abandoning us.

I have some strong personal feelings here.

So my friend, he was wondering if I had thoughts on what to say to the spouse, who he doesn't know well. And if I could suggest any resources.

Resources first, because that is easy.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the organization to which many of you have contributed by supporting my overnight walks, has incredible resources. And by resources I mean both literature and people. Without exception, the staff and volunteers I've encountered have been incredibly kind and thoughtful and gentle.

On their website is a whole section called Coping With Suicide Loss. I told my friend to start there, and look at Where Do I Begin? And Find Support. Because support makes a tremendous difference.

Suicide is different kind of loss than diseases like cancer or ALS. These may be painful and senseless losses, but they are not stigmatized. And the person who died didn't deliberately end their own life. Didn't "want" to die. (I say "want" because to many people that's how suicide seems. A choice.)

Those left behind from other types of death are not left with the same sense of deliberate abandonment that can accompany suicide. How could you leave us? Didn't you love us enough?

With suicide, you are left with the feeling that there must have been something you could have done to change the outcome. You're left with guilt. You should have known. You had a feeling. You somehow let this happen. So many of my dad's friends and colleagues have said this to me.

Surely they could've done or said something that would've changed things, and he would still be here.

Magnify this by a million and this is how I felt.

And while I am saying this, it's important to mention prevention. There are warning signs. There are questions you can ask, things you can do if you are worried about someone. And it is always better to risk offending the person by asking.

If you are scared, for yourself or another person, and you don't know what to do, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Ask for help.

Now, what to say to the grieving friend? You do not have to say much, I said. Say something supportive. Something like, "I'm sorry for your loss, and if you would ever like to talk, or to get a drink or take a walk or anything, please know I'm here."

Too many people say nothing. Or they say, "I'm sorry for your loss." And then when they find out the cause of death, they avoid you. Because at that point, they do not know what to say.

You're alone and devastated because your loved one has died, and then you're even more alone because people don't know how to talk to you. Suicide is still so stigmatized that the ones left behind might feel ashamed, might be scared of being judged, scared of having their loved one judged.

Now, when I read about a death and see the words "died suddenly" with no explanation, I am almost certain it is suicide.

After my dad died I sent in an obituary to the Washington Post for their consideration. You know how they run a couple big obituaries with a picture? He was an interesting character with an international career, and you never know where they are in the news cycle.

The woman who called me said it sounded interesting but, "You didn't note the cause of death."

And I said, "It was suicide. But my mom doesn't want it in the paper."

And she said, "We have to say the cause of death."

So I said, "Then don't bother."

Now I believe I would say, "Then say suicide. We are devastated, but we are not ashamed."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cause in my head there’s a greyhound station where I send my thoughts to far off destinations

I remember years ago looking at my high school website. People had written in with updates on their lives: marriages, kids, accomplishments at work.

And I thought, what would I write? I'm not married, have no kids, and have no notable accomplishments. I'm just...living. Nothing notable.

So I wrote nothing.

This is exactly how I feel right now. Except that I'm married and I have two kids. But recently someone asked me what was new and I was all, uh? Um? We had fish sticks instead of chicken nuggets for dinner?

It's not negative, it's just not notable. So much of life isn't notable. Until it is.

Nick's grandfather died in the wee hours of the first day of the year. This year, he'd have been 100. He'd lived a big life, and it was past time.

One of the highlights of his life was being on a WWII minesweeper. He wound up as captain after all the officers above him had been killed. He said when the war was over, they were told to get rid of all their ammunition. So they drank liquor and exploded things all the way home. Most fun he'd ever had.

I don't suppose you could ever recreate that.

He had declined greatly in recent years, to the point where he needed round-the-clock care just to stay alive. Which isn't living.

Because of him, and because it is the biggest number he can begin to grasp, Jordan is very preoccupied with 100.

"Mama, who is going to get to 100 first? You or me?"

I tell him I will get there 40 years before him. I do not tell him how unlikely this seems. I do not tell him how my nose prickles and I have to fight back tears when I think of not being able to be there for the entirety of his life. But this is what we hope, you know? That our kids live fully and outlive us.

In December, a first grader in his school died. The school sent an email home telling us, with guidelines for talking to kids about death.

We didn't think Jordan knew him, so we didn't mention it. We waited to see what he'd do. And he told us that one of the kids at his school had died. We talked about how he was sick, and how sometimes that happens, but not very often.

I was worried that Jordan would fret about dying, but that doesn't seem to have happened.

One day he said that one of his friends told him that John (not the real name of the child who passed) was up in outer space floating around. I didn't correct him, because it's kind of a nice thought, and I suppose it's someone's interpretation of Heaven.

In fact, I bet my dad wouldn't mind if he were up in outer space, floating around. He'd have liked to go.

Me, if I had the opportunity to take a rocket to space, I wouldn't do it. I know it's actually so full, but the dark emptiness of no oxygen, no light, these are what press on me. The darkness scares me. I've listened to Space Oddity too many times.

I don't want to leave the sun and the air, even for a grand adventure.

Years ago I had a boyfriend who was a submariner, and he took Betty and me on a tour of his submarine. It was extraordinary. And in the end, we got to look through the periscope.

And Betty said, "Oh! It's even better than the zoom on my camera!"

Pretty much.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Be my, be my baby (Be my little baby)

Much of the time being a mother feels like one task and one obligation after another.

You meet the needs of these relentless little humans, and you meet more needs, and still there are needs. And half the time it seems like these people you are trying so hard to care for are working against you.

"Can we go to the park, Mama?"

"You want to go to the park?"

"Oh, yes! The park the park the park!"

"OK! Then put your shoes on and we can go!"

And then they keep playing or rolling on the floor picking their noses or whatever it is they're doing and you ask them again and you bring their shoes over and then you remind them until finally you grab a foot and struggle to get shoes on so they can go have fun in the sandbox or slide or whatever.

If you are me, you want to say, "I'm not the one who wants to go to the park. I would much rather sit inside and read a book! A grown up book! But I am taking you to the park so you can run around like lunatics and have  great time! SO PUT ON YOUR DAMN SHOES!"

But the sandbox and the shoes are not the point of this. The point is that there are so many things about parenting that take effort, that are exhausting, that are enraging, that sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the privilege.

I often forget that parenthood is a privilege.

The other night I was curled around my daughter just after turning out the lights. We had struggled through bath and diapering and jammies, and we were finally in the sweet time before sleep. We were facing each other, and she was all tucked up tight, my arms around her, her feet on my thighs. We took turns kissing each other's cheeks, giggling and rubbing noses and holding hands.

When I asked her for a big hug, which I do just before I get up, she threw her little arms around my neck and clung tightly. "No! Don't go! I want you I want you I want you!"

And I thought, do I really need to go? She needs to go to sleep, but she will anyway. What's a little more time? So I said OK, five more minutes (which in actuality can be one or 17 or half an hour).

I lay back down and we snuggled back in and she beamed with such joy.

We grow up and we might, in early relationships, throw ourselves completely at someone and love them with wild abandon. And then at some point we get hurt, and we learn not to be so reckless. To be more cautious, more restrained. We can feel as much; we just can't show it. Or maybe we learn to feel less, so nothing can hurt as much.

Do we ever cling tightly to someone else and say exactly what is in our heart? Say "I want you I want you I want you!"? Maybe once we're married, but even then not really.

I want you I want you I want you.

As she had her whole small body tucked into mine, it struck me how profoundly lucky I am. She is fully my responsibility, and yes it is a constant job.

But how often is it that you are exactly what someone else wants, and your presence, and your display of affection, is all they're asking for? You - just you. Not your money, not how well you write or how fast you think or how attractive you might be. Just you and your hugs and kisses.

I want you I want you I want you.

It's such a privilege to be so important and so loved.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

But I see your true colors shining through...

Over the last couple weeks I wanted to reach out to you good people of the Internet and say please! Please help me with color! Because help!

As I said yesterday, we've fixed a couple walls in our bedroom, and decided to paint. Nick said I could really splash out with color if I wanted. Try something bold. Because within the year, we will be fixing the whole room, so if we want to change the paint at that point, we can.
So I chose these colors. And I asked a friend who dropped by just at the right moment, who said, with the caveat that he is about to put up textured grey wallpaper, they seemed kind of Crayola bright. Which, you know, was kind of true. And also kind of why I liked them.

But I didn't want to paint and then be annoyed with the color. Would the cobalt be too dark and kind of oppressive? Would a fuchsia room feel like you were inside a vagina? (And if so, is that good or bad?)

I agonized. Choose one and try? Pick others entirely?

When I don't know what to do, I don't do anything. I get paralyzed. I work best when I have three choices of anything ever. Pick A, B, or C. I'd probably have been married long ago if that were the case. Also if I liked Will Ferrell.

Anyway.

Nick kept saying, "It's only paint! Just pick one! But not this one - too dark. And I don't like that one."

I didn't choose. Nick, who hates indecision and has a much lower tolerance for ambiguity than I, got impatient. He abhors loose ends.

And I wasn't about to let the color blind guy just pick a color.

He once bought a spendy ceiling lamp that he knew I disliked because he just couldn't stand the lack of ceiling lamp in the dining room. I gave in because it was easier than dealing with his agitation.

It's now in another room and he regularly mentions how nice it looks in there and waits for me to agree. And I agree that it looks better there. But I agree in such a way as to make clear that I still dislike the lamp.

It is the lighting of my discontent. 

So I went to Home Depot, got three more swatches of colors I liked, and he picked two and put them behind his back for me to choose. I did.

And then I hesitated, and when he asked why, I said, "Because this color feels predictable. It might be too subtle."

"Lisa," he said. "Predictable and subtle would be tan or cream. You are the only person in the world who thinks this color is either predictable or subtle."

So here is the wall color as it currently stands.
It is hard to tell with the darkness and the covered windows. Although I do think the sunlight through the shopping bag is reminiscent of stained glass, no? I mean in a very low-budget sort of way?

I like it, but I wonder if it's too masculine.

And then I stop and ask myself, am I the only person in the world who thinks that as well?

Yah. So I hate to tell you we're considering repainting our kitchen.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Fruit flies like a banana and other things

One day it's almost Christmas and the next thing you know it a whole new year has gotten underway.

Time flies!

I had a linguistics professor who liked to talk about the trickiness of language. He'd say, "Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana."

We had a lovely tree - I mean, we always have a lovely tree, the same lovely tree. Right now it's packed away under the stairs. But while it was up, it was a thing of beauty and joy. And a source of endless entertainment for the children.

And then suddenly Christmas was over and New Years was over and then we took all the decorations off. We don't acquire new decorations very often, so when you come across a new one, it is noteable.

Particularly if it's this one, which gave my mother pause.
Let me be clear: it arrived in the mail unannounced, unsolicited. I have my pretty-much confirmed suspicions on who sent it, however.

We also had blinds last year, and then they went away, as did the cracked and rotting trim around them. But since I am a princess and the pea sleeper with regard to light, it was a bit of a crisis.

Until I got out the tin foil and paper bags.

Behold! This is my DIY blind project, to which I am subjecting the neighbors for another couple weeks.
 Classy, I know. But so delightfully dark at night.

And since the window frames were getting fixed, we decided to have two walls of our room fixed as well. And then we needed a paint color. Nick gave me free reign.

I chose these.
Nick said I could have the fuchsia if I really reeeeeaaaaallly wanted it. But it seemed a kind of unfair thing to do to him. One day I will have a room of my own, and it will be fuchsia.

India may or may not have strep - still haven't gotten culture results.
I took her to urgent care on Friday, and as I was filling out the paperwork with her symptoms: fever, headache, nosebleed...she threw up all over the floor. So I added vomiting as a symptom.

When there is vomit involved, people move right quick. This bumped us up from two-hour wait to next, which was still 30 minutes, but I was very grateful.

Because she kept having a fever, we started her on antibiotics. She's much much better but still low key. And by now she's gotten very used to ringing her little bell and having the servants come running with juice and popsicles and such. 

Next thing you know, she'll be requesting a palanquin.