And Then There’s Suicide

There is no “worst” thing about suicide because it’s all the worst. Every aspect, every horror, every guilt, every wish for a do-over; the keening of every parent whose child has chosen it, the longing for a lifetime of every child whose parent followed that path. The permanent solution to a temporary awfulness that was being experienced. It’s just that in the moment, the suicide victim no longer holds hope that their predicament is temporary, will ever be even minutely better.

Maybe knowing that of a beloved is the “worst” for those left behind.

Among the long list of “worsts” is that suicide begets suicide.

Yup. You read it right. Suicide begets suicide.

Suicide introduced into a family, high school, community, society, culture begets another. Think the Hemingway family. Or Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and then and then, and then the thoughts by we mere mortals that if the sparkly people can’t make it in life, how will we?

A suicide enters a name on a Rolodex. Adds an app to your phone. It’s one more take-out menu in your kitchen junk drawer. Because it happened it’s in the index of potential solutions in crisis and rolls up as a possibility for resolution.

Beware of this. Talk about it. Reach out. Look into the eyes of your distressed loved ones and neighbors. Look into the face in the mirror.

Suicide begets suicide. You can’t un-introduce it in the master plan of options during a terrible time, but you can be on the lookout. You can listen for and hear your own self-talk and if you allow the suicide choice to flit through your mind and land on your brain for more than an instant, it’s time to talk to a professional. Let them help you make distinctions between the normally neurotic, needing a little help through a down time and needing a lot of help out of a black hole.

Do it.

Are you in crisis?

 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline



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Men Who Fix Things

I relied on men to fix things. I didn’t know appliances weren’t meant to last forever. My
dad fixed them. He kept everything working like new, and sometimes even better. Toys
fixing toasterand water heaters, washing machines and hair dryers. That’s just the way it was.

My dad taught my brother to do the same and I had no doubt if Dad was unavailable, my brother could do the job.

I believed all men were built like my dad. They barbecued, fixed things, and had the power to mend broken hearts.

Prime ribI’d known my dad for 40 years when Tom died. Dad was a good and decent man. He was stubbornly loyal with a generous spirit. Devoted to family, even-tempered, a sharp intellect and quick wit. His scruples were well-honed and consistent to the point of being boring. If he valued something yesterday, count on it today, and don’t bet on anything else tomorrow. He was a prime rib and Caesar salad guy mostly, unless it was once-in-awhile, then he was a rack of lamb and Caesar salad guy. Shifts were subtle.

I left home and married Tom and I noticed from the start that he fixed broken things, too. Different than Dad, he thought jury-rigging akin to innovation, and saved his refinish-furniture-heropatience and talents for renovation. Furniture, cars, homes. He could breathe life back into that which others had declared unsalvageable. Cars were not only restored but resurrected; finishes were applied to wood with bare palms to imbue warmth and renew spirit. He saw life and a story in most everything, thus making his suicide an even more tragic contradiction.

Years later I met two more men who fixed broken things. Cardiac surgeons, and I went to work for them. In my first weeks in their employ I watched bewildered as cards and gifts showed up at the office nearly every day. A deliveryman arrived at reception one morning pushing a hand truck stacked with crates of pineapples. The attached card described 20 years of frustration with chest pain and breathlessness that forced a patient to abandon what he loved most–walking, golfing and playing with his grandchildren. On his recent trip to Hawaii he did all three as a result of his surgery. The docs didn’t just fix his heart, they healed his life.operating room

My life, personal and professional, overflowed with men who fixed things.

When I found Tom’s body adrenaline and instinct kicked in. I called 9-1-1.

I called my dad.

Then I called my bosses. One was still in the operating room and the other at home having dinner with his family.

Three men quickly arrived to help with what couldn’t be fixed, couldn’t be unbroken.

Strangers combed our home looking for clues that might explain the lifeless body lying on the garage floor. Police. Fire. The coroner, who carefully lifted Tom onto a gurney. It was January dark at 5PM and the flashing lights bathed everything in red as a crowd of neighbors grew and gawked on the sidewalk in front of our home .

Tom’s body was held by the coroner pending a completed police investigation. So out of the ordinary was the method of suicide, homicide had to be ruled out. Suicide notes were confiscated. My garage was a crime scene.police-2167968_1280

An army of fixing men couldn’t fix this. What Tom had done with a knife could not be stitched back together. Not by surgeons, or my devoted dad. Life had blown up and even the pull of gravity wasn’t enough to drag the pieces down to Earth.

I would do the fixing. Make things right, and make things work. The men who fixed things watched Christopher and me. There would be no fix that made things as they had been, no forward motion without more pain and scars. But there could be healing. One day at a time, one bite at a time.

I went from my father’s house to my husband’s, and suddenly my own. One might say I was at a disadvantage. 40 years old and I had barely heard my own voice. I hadn’t made an important decision without a chorus of baritones nearby to approve, or not. But I did have the most remarkable role models, and access to their experiences, skills and decision-making criteria. For years I’d watched the men who fixed things as they considered complex issues, sorted boulders from pebbles, plotted courses, and tackled what mattered. I’d had the benefit of their care and protection.

I was a quick study and they a loud cheering section. My voice grew stronger until I became my own fixer. male-cheerleaders

My dad is gone now. He died in December of 2013. My son is now a fixer, too. Just ask his little boy… We remember his dad, and mine and all the men who have contributed to our growth and strength.

To the men who fix things, including the one who came much later with the special salve of his love – who married a woman, a boy, a ghost and a story, blessed Father’s Day to all. And deepest gratitude. Enjoy your special day and know you make a difference.

Dad 4th of July

For my dad, Donald Hester, the first man who fixed things for me.

Are you or someone you know in crisis?

 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Posted in Acknowlegement, Memoir, Suicide | Leave a comment

A Wonderful Life ~ Twice

I have a wonderful life. It’s rich with people I love and who love me. I’m safe. I have room to grow and make a difference. Most of all, there’s my husband, and my son, too. Both to whom I’m devoted. And indebted.

Fortunate does not adequately describe my station.

And some days, just for a little while, I wish I could turn back time.

Dad 4th of July


I would choose a summer afternoon. Independence Day, 1989. A barbecue in our yard. My 8 year-old son jumping around with excitement, fireworks to come. Our garden festooned and blooming in red, white and blue, my then husband alive and smiling — a man with a mission and a grill, and my parents. Well, happy, late middle-age, no hint of infirmity and devastation to come.

We said grace before the meal made for America’s celebration. Hot dogs, ribs, hamburgers, salads and cupcakes decorated with toothpick flags. We remembered those who fought for our freedom. We remembered those killed attempting to a scale a wall in Berlin that had finally come down. Last, we acknowledged the students killed a month before at Tiananmen Square wanting exactly what we had.

The right to choose a sun-shiny day in a little backyard oasis with friends and family, pursuing or not pursuing exactly what we wished. Whenever we wished. According to our whim.

A beautiful day. In another life. When I was a young, brunette mother and wife with a plethora of imaginings about my future and that of my family.

backyard bench daylight environment

Photo by Pixabay on

And now it’s all different. I am latter middle-age, new to old age, stepping into my 60s. My boy a grown man. I am bottle-blonde to cover burgeoning gray better managed with this color. Like life. Sometimes more gracefully handled by going with the flow and morphing a bit to make accommodations for the unexpected. When incredibly lucky the unexpected becomes beautiful. In time.

Brunette. Blonde. Both nice. Like my old life and present life.

woman looking at photo album

Photo by Studio 7042 on

But on certain days when I stop, am still and reflect, it is in an odd place I find myself. Owning  barely related lives. Picking through my past while detached from it. As though meandering through a lovely antique trove appreciating the relics. I feel pulled to them, admiring of them. A tugging to grab things and take them home. But I don’t have a place for them. In the end, they would collect dust. Distract and crowd me.    par-9cinzano.jpg


Yet these souvenirs are already mine. They are packed in my cosmic attic. Sometimes clutter. Other times cherished mementoes provoking an occasional longing I cannot deny even in my blessed life.

people-bbqAnd today I wish I were sitting at that picnic table, crowded together under the red Cinzano umbrella, laughing again with no inkling of what is in store. No sense of what will be lost. Or gained.

Only the moment. On the 4th of July, 1989.

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Red Light, Green Light, In Between Light

Posted in Death & Dying, Grief, Loss, Memoir, Suicide | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

“Extreme Forgiveness” by Joyce Wycoff

I have a story telling blog called Is It Really All Random? I read a wonderful story on a colleague’s blog, so it found a natural home on Random where I reblogged it.

But it’s a story about forgiveness. “Extreme Forgiveness“, as the piece is called. And here on Bite there’s much learning about that topic. Forgiving our loved ones for leaving us, sometimes with no warning at all.

Forgiving abandonment. Forgiving the nearly unbearable pain of letting go and living on without them when on some days we dream of closing our eyes and joining them instead.

We learn forgiveness of the clock that ticks on, the days that roll by, the months that march without abatement, the turning of one calendar year to the next when our hearts feel as though shredded yesterday.

And then we must say, he died last year

The world will expect something more of us because of those words, right when we have less. We’re left to forgive what the world doesn’t understand.

I had to learn to forgive myself for sleeping on the job, for not knowing a suicide was in the making. Then I had to learn it was never my job to keep someone else alive.

The learning and the forgiving seem to go on and on, all these years later.

For these reasons maybe this beautiful blog piece on forgiveness resonates even more here than on my story telling blog so I reblog it here as well.

The author is convergent media artist, Joyce Wycoff. She has a wonderful website at http:// where you can read her work and see her photography and artwork.

I hope this story will touch you as it did me and if so, please let her know and explore her other writing. A link to “Extreme Forgiveness” is below this piece of her work.

“Crack in the World”

 “Extreme Forgiveness”

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Telling Tales “After School”

This is a long piece, written a while ago. I’ve edited it but the truth is it covers 19 years and I’m not a good enough editor to distill it further.

I place it here now for a couple of reasons. This is a tender time of year when accessing support is critical. The holidays are upon us and with them can come much pain and rumination. I notice in others and myself two things; a reticence to ask for help for fear of burdening at a busy time, and awkwardness in extending it as though the help given must be extraordinary to be worthy.

I offer this story of life-altering support in the context of two women who did a little something extra over a period of many years, and how lives were changed because of them.

I originally penned these thoughts upon reflection in Spring of 2005.

May 2005

From age five my son’s ritual summers were divided into three activities. Time at home with his father or me in unscheduled hours, a trip to Iowa to see grandparents, and a day camp where kids were tightly scheduled with delightful trips, crafts, games, sand, dirt, and swimming. There Chris’s days involved vast amounts of picnicking, water and supervision by all too fun college students.    childs-play

Nothing about the program was more important to him than the two women who owned and directed it. Best friends, Diane and Terri, two mom-like ladies with a personality mix equal parts goofy and savvy, ruled with a magical combination of affection and no-nonsense, we-all-follow-the-rules-here attitude. Summer didn’t officially start until my boy could run up the path to this special getaway, into their waiting embraces and broad smiles. He never looked back except to make sure I’d quickly left.

In order to maintain sanity and order, age 12 was the cut-off for their program. My husband died a few months before Chris’s 12th birthday and summer without a plan was looming. Paramount on my mind was locating a safe place where he could find fun and comfort. Too old for his favorite day camp and too insecure to be with strangers, funds in short supply, options were few.

As I stewed about the situation an unexpected phone call came. It was Diane. She told me that each summer they extended an invitation to one child to attend “on scholarship” and this year they wanted that child to be mine. She explained that the 12-year-old rule wasn’t cast in concrete and added that because of his age he was particularly well suited to keeping an eye on younger children who might be unsure with the college aged camp counselors. Therefore he would be known as a recreational assistant and have small jobs helping with shepherding younger attendees.

In spite of the calm and convincing tenor of our conversation I was certain this was the inaugural year for the Diane and Terri scholarship program; same could be said of the title recreational assistant and the we’ve done it before attendance of a 12-year-old.

In the midst of the worst of times, the best of these two ladies sang out. With that phone call they established a tradition that lasted through high school. Each summer brought a new title, new responsibilities, new challenges, and his dear friends and guardians. The summer after his 13th birthday he became a paid employee. His first paycheck arrived with a touching note (which I still have) that concluded with a P.S. “You’re an official staff member, now!” He remained so every summer and Christmas break until after his freshman year in college.

College was a long process of both work and study and after five years of rare contact, I couldn’t help but think of Diane and Terri as I addressed graduation announcements. By then Chris was 24 and they had been in our lives for almost all of his. I sent an announcement to them and included my gratitude for all they had contributed.

Again my phone rang.

Coincidentally they would be in the graduation city for a professional conference on graduation weekend. They had a scheme in mind.

We decided on an ambush at a pub close to school where a party was already planned. True to the plan, among a crowd of college buddies and fraternity brothers ready for celebration, sequestered unknown in a corner sat Terri and Diane.

To a backdrop of low lights, smoke, pool tables, beer, hip-hop, tank-tops, denims and bar noise, Chris and family entered the crowded night spot following the ceremony. He was greeted by whistles and cheers as he walked threw the door.  We snaked our way through the line of friends; hugging, high-fiving, and shaking hands, he stopped to greet each guest. Sitting at the back of the crowded room, hidden from view, Diane and Terri waited for him to work his way toward them.

I knew exactly what happened when mid-conversation I heard his astonished, disbelieving yelp. “Holy crap!”  He surged through the swarm to the corner where the ladies now stood waiting. Chris, in stunned disbelief, hugged his old friends. They huddled as three as I’d seen many times before. The women cried and he hung onto them both, happily wearing the remnants of their lipstick kisses on his cheeks. Once the small one they protected, he towered over them, two partners-in-crime who had invented the unexpected to nurture, support and surprise him.  They did so one more time.

I looked back on the years our lives had been entwined, sometimes closely, other times at a distance. I thought of the initial year when his father had researched every summer program to find the right one for his beloved little boy.  The right amount of fun, the right amount of supervision and safety, the right amount of love.

He found it. And it lasted 19 years.

So here we are, nearing the end of October, 2012, on the cusp of Halloween costumes, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukah. I sometimes wonder how we made it through, then I remember. People like this made it possible.

Remember when I started this blog with The First Bite? I told you I’d capture stories of the people who helped make our journey a success, albeit a painful one. These ladies are on that list and I remember them now because support is so vital especially at this time of year.

If you need support, ask for it. If you are or could be support, as athletes say, play within yourself. You need not act outside of who you are and what you know. If I’ve learned anything from Diane and Terri it’s to leverage who I am when rendering support. They didn’t do things outside their area of core expertise; they did what they always did (and do today) as loving and enterprising guides to children. But they did it in a broader way, made their circle larger and tossed in a dose of creativity. They changed the life of a child, now a man who will never forget them.

And neither will I.

Are you in crisis?

 1-800-273-TALK (8255)


For more information about San Carlos-Belmont After School, click here.

Posted in Acknowlegement, Back to Life, Grief, Memoir, Support | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Body Surf

Remember when I mentioned that sometimes I bulldoze my way in with thoughts and recommendations? Yeah? Today I share some of those because they’ve been important to me. Maybe for you, too. You’ll know.

So, here is something I learned about loss and grieving.

Body surf.

Yes, that’s what I said. Body surf. There’s no win in standing on the shore cursing the ocean for its rising tide or crashing waves. The ocean doesn’t care. Maybe it would if it knew you were there, but it doesn’t. It has its own imperatives. Your approval or disapproval has no consequences. For the ocean.

Plenty of consequence to you. You need all your strength and energy to heal. No sense using precious resources damning what’s already happened. It’s like telling the ocean to stop coming on shore.

But unlike the ocean, for which we have a tidal calendar, it’s difficult to know exactly when a rising tide of grief will threaten to drag us under with a powerful rip current, or overcome us with a wall of water.

I learned this, too.

It’s good to have a life jacket. And to alert the lifeguards that you’re on the beach. To put a buoy on the water so others know you’re there. This is where good planning comes in.

I found it helpful to make plans. Lots of them. If an anniversary date was approaching that was likely to cause upset, a birthday, holiday, Father’s Day, or even Valentine’s Day (because my husband had always been a bit extreme about that day), I made plans for my son and me.

Multiple plans with multiple people all of whom were amenable to being stood up. Maybe we’ll be there, maybe we won’t. I won’t know what we’ll want till we get there. That way we had options with people we loved. Sometimes we exercised one or more, took a road trip, or did nothing but watch a Cheers marathon on television.

But we weren’t backed into a corner. We used our support system to help ourselves out and we helped others by making explicit requests so they didn’t have to dance around wondering what to do for us. I recommend this approach. Alert your lifeguards.

This is what I also learned.

It’s not always the big days on the calendar that hurt the most. Sometimes it’s an errant, long cancelled newspaper accidentally delivered to someone who can’t read it and when alive didn’t miss a day. There it sits, rolled nicely with a rubber band around it, untouchable in the driveway.

It’s a piece of junk mail shoved through a mail slot that lands at your feet. An advertiser’s occupant. Your heartbreak.

A vacant space at the dinner table that unexpectedly speaks from another time. A silent chair that once creaked with its owner’s rhythmic rock; suddenly it’s your world rocking.

A song on the radio, a phone that doesn’t ring at the usual hour, an awareness of a familiar fragrance without its familiar source. Any of these can transport to another place before abruptly catapulting to a painful present.

For these instances of doubling pain there is no preparation. No planning. No girding. No steeling. It’s easy to think there’s something wrong with you because you’re so upset by a seemingly little thing.

They aren’t little. They’re a brush against a body without skin.

Don’t squelch your feelings, or hide or curse the wave. Body surf. Don’t wail against the wave. It will only serve to wear you out when you’re already exhausted. Nod in acknowledgement of  grief and pain. Ride the wave.

Body surf. Let tears mingle with the tide.

This too I learned, even when I didn’t want to.

There’s a scent to autumn that I discovered long ago with the sound of my footfall clicking its cadence against pavement as I walked home from school. New shoes, new pencils, new books with new book covers. I loved fall. It had a special smell. A fresh and good one.

Then my daughter died in October amongst the blooming yellow, brown and plum chrysanthemums, the orange front porch pumpkins and the sound of scrunching leaves. In the midst of that luscious smell something horrible happened.

Now fall still comes. And the best and saddest of memories come along with it. When people say it gets better with time, I think they’re absolutely right.

Except when they’re not.

There is a time of day when the sun shines in the house at a certain angle and spreads across my kitchen table that is so perfectly after school, when homework should be done and every chair should be occupied with chatter and dinner expectation, and they are not. They will not be.

I learned no passage of time will still the hand that holds the pin that pricks my heart.

And no one wants to say that. No one wants to say out loud that time does not heal all wounds completely.

I body surf. I say hello to a rich past of both joy and sorrow. I body surf my powerful, dangerous aquamarine sea of sorrows.

I learned not to judge myself or the quality of my sanity because I’m this many years removed from painful loss events and they’re still painful. No railing. No misuse of my treasured self to say I should be better than this by now or that life should have been better to me.

Thank you,

Tears stream as I say, I know you, Ocean. I respect your strength, but I rely on mine.

Body surf. Be one with the water.

These are things I have learned.

Are you in crisis?

 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Posted in Back to Life, Death & Dying, Grief, Loss, Support | Tagged , , | 12 Comments