Wedding Rings

What’s the meaning behind a ring? Sometimes I wonder if I should sell them, pawn them, I don’t even know. I have two sets now. One from a late husband, the other from my fiancee. 

Loved. I was and am loved. It’s clear in the time and money spent picking and designing these rings. 

Both sets sparkle incredibly. They both mean so much to me. And so I hold tightly onto the ones from before. But sometimes I wonder if it’s not meant for me to hold. If perhaps they should go on and have a life of their own. 

Am I being presumptuous to think one of our children will want to use it? The rings their father chose for their mother… 

What else is there to do with such lovely and bittersweet gifts? 

Disturbing Statistics for Mental Health in the United States

U.S. Mental Health Facts

  • Mental disorders are common in the United States, as 1 in 2 Americans has a diagnosable mental disorder each year, including 44 million adults and 13.7 million children. 

    Diagnosable!! That’s the part that should stand out the most. It didn’t say that 1 in 2 Americans gets diagnosed with a mental disorder. Instead, it claims that that is how many could be diagnosed.

    What’s the difference?

    The difference is that means many people aren’t seeking out care. It means that the need for care is sometimes noticed after the fact. After they present in the ER. After they are arrested. After they die by suicide.

  • Mental Disorders are as disabling as cancer or heart disease in terms of premature death and lost productivity.

    This is important to note because many people do not realize that mental disorders cause as much damage as physical disorders. There is a distinct difference in how we treat our people when they admit that they have cancer versus when they admit they have depression or bipolar disorder.

    We do not tell people who have suffered a stroke to be more optimistic…maybe then they’d regain control to the damaged parts in their bodies. We do not roll our eyes when someone who has a broken leg can’t keep up with us, yet there are some who sigh when their friend or family member doesn’t want to get out of bed due to debilitating depression.

  • Research has improved our ability to recognize, diagnose, and treat conditions effectively.

    This is great news, but we need to make sure we remove all barriers from access to these treatments. It doesn’t matter if we can treat people successfully if they do not have a facility nearby to help them. It doesn’t matter if we have the best doctors in the world who will treat mental illnesses or disorders if the people who need it most are uninsured (or cannot afford the premiums). It doesn’t matter if there are great counseling groups if someone is too embarrassed to admit he or she has a problem. It doesn’t matter if there’s a website dedicated to educating the public if the people who need the website refuse to do more than just pray harder and put pressure on their loved ones to refuse help from doctors.

  • 80 to 90 percent of mental disorders are treatable using medication and other therapies.

    Again, the key word here is “treatable.” Medications help. The memes on Facebook that say sunshine and exercise are all someone needs for mental health are not helpful. I understand the gestures. Sunshine helps, yes. Exercise and eating healthy helps, yes. But for many, medications are the only way for them to reach the normal chemistry levels that are already happening inside the brains of those who are writing these memes.

    An example I’d love to give is this: 

    Sometimes I get a headache. Most people would remind me to drink some water. I’m probably dehydrated. I drink a glass and I feel great. From then on, this is my go-to answer. Headache: Water.

    Enter Mary. She has a migraine. Even the dimmest lights have her closing her eyes. She feels nauseous. Her head is killing her. She wants to lie in bed until this terrible thing passes. She’s frustrated and upset and in pain.

    Enter me. I tell her, “Don’t worry about it. Just drink a big glass or water or two and it’ll help!”

    I’m sure hydrating will help in a way, but if she had medication that would alleviate all that suffering, why not take it? Migraines interrupt her day, they interrupt her ability to work, and they interrupt her ability to interact well with her family. Some medications can alleviate all that and more importantly, some medications can suppress how often she gets them.

  • Of those with a diagnosable mental disorder, fewer than half of adults get help. Only one-third of children get help.

    This is appalling. The stigma of asking for help must end. The stigma of counseling, medication, and being diagnosed with a mental disorder must stop soon. It’s literally killing people. It’s killing our children.

  • Suicide is the 8th leading cause of death in the U.S. 81 Americans die by suicide each day. Since 1980, suicide has doubled among young black males in America. 80 to 90 percent of people who die by suicide are suffering from a diagnosable mental illness.

    81 Americans. 22 veterans.

    If we take the conservative estimates in account: 80 percent are suffering from a diagnosable mental illness and 80 percent of people diagnosed can be treated….that could potentially save over 50 lives a day.

    Imagine if we could start removing all of these barriers: access to mental health care, better insurance coverage for treatments and medication, ending the taboo of discussing mental illness, providing better access to people in rural areas, giving service members and veterans affordable and accessible mental health care before they ask for it and before it seems to be a need…imagine what could happen.

    References:

    Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Mental health fastats 2009.

        Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/mental.htm

Purpose: The Early Days

The human being is a remarkably resilient animal. We know that we can remove certain organs or parts of vial organs, and still live. We know that we can push our bodies towards limits that other animals can’t touch. We know that we can experience a complexity of emotions and of reactions. We can survive an amazing number of things.

And yet, it still amazes me how much hurt a heart can hold without dying.

In the beginning, death had me numb, aimlessly walking around the house, sometimes just landing on a couch cushion and unable to move from that spot. Well meaning people brought me food, which meant that I could warm it up and serve my children regular meals. I don’t remember eating much.

It was hard, those days. It felt as if I were under water, under a glass ceiling, watching the world go by around me, yet unable to participate. The pain of losing my husband would slam into me again and again. Stupidly, I’d wonder why he wasn’t home from work or expect to see him in the living room. Of course, he’d never come home from work, he’d never be in the living room. That realization would shock my system again and again.

Why was this happening to me? What did I do?

Most people don’t see suicide coming. I think that’s the nastiest shock of it all. There’s the hurt from losing a loved one, but also anger and guilt. Why didn’t I see this coming? Why didn’t I know that he felt this troubled?

Eventually, I think that I realized I would never step above the haze if I didn’t try. There was no time that would heal everything…that only would work if I began to treat time as a tool. I was still breathing, I was still alive, but I had stopped living. My children needed a functional mother and I needed to be a functional person.

I began with the gym. I needed an outside source. I needed people to see me and me to see them. And so the goal was set: go to the gym a few times a week. At first I barely went. I’d make excuses or just stay in bed. However, little by little, I started dressing for the gym. Then, I’d actually make it there, children in tow. Eventually, I became excited about working out. My children made friends at the small daycare corner they had set up, and I began telling my story.

At first I hated anything to do with my back story. I wanted to move to a place so far away, people would just assume I was a single mom with no baggage. But that’s not how life works. Nor is it a healthy way to deal with things.

Once, my youngest began tossing a ball back and forth between himself one of the trainers. The man laughed at my child’s giggles. “Hey, buddy! That’s quite an arm! Good job!” A wave of grief slammed into me and I felt like I was drowning again. He’d never have a father present to show him how to throw a football. He’d never play catch with his dad. He’d never receive praise from the man he was supposed to look up to. How was this fair to my children?

But eventually it became easier. I didn’t snooze my alarms as much. I could talk about my husband. I could tell my story. Bit by bit I started building a future. A future for myself. A future for my children.

In the beginning, the hardest part is finding purpose again. Sometimes you have to make it up. Sometimes it has to be the smallest thing: getting up and leaving the house, going to the store, or the gym, or the park. That’s how you shake the bitterness of the event off and begin building a new normal. That’s how you find purpose again.

What Suicide Stole on Fourth of July

We are veterans. Many holidays were missed, celebrated early, or celebrated late. Sometimes I would celebrate something without my husband and I’d send photographs of the event to him over email or cell phone. Sometimes he would do the same. We both served in the United States Navy and missing holidays were a given.

However, Fourth of July, unless we were deployed or on detachment, was an exception. This was a holiday we almost always celebrated with a four-day weekend.

I remember that every Independence Day, we’d invite someone over or be invited to someone’s place. We’d fire up the grill and he’d man the pit. He loved grilling lamb, steaks, and burgers.

He’d sit and drink a beer with his buddies. We’d watch the kids play together.

Those days are now long gone and I miss them. I miss the smells of meat grilling mixed with the taste of popsicles or cold beer. I miss his conversation mingling with the laughter of his sons. I miss his smile and relaxed posture sitting next to me. I miss his contentment in the summer heat.

Suicide robbed us of all of this. It didn’t take the memories, but it murdered the prospect of happier days on the horizon. It robbed my children of new memories, memories that will never be, will never happen. Instead, they get to reminisce about the few short years they had with their father. More often, they get to listen to second-hand accounts from me, because they were only gifted a few short years and were much too small to remember much of their father.

I wish I had thought to record every one of these events.

I’m Older Than My Husband Will Ever Be

It’s my birthday today. I have successfully completed 31 trips around the sun. I am older now and have been older for almost four years than my husband will ever be.

He was so young. He was so full of life.

He was at the beginning of what he hoped was a long naval career. He’d complete about six years in the Navy before he’d decide to take his life. And he was good at it! He went to work early and without complaint. I’m pretty sure he spiked his coffee with jet fuel just to enhance his experience. (Ok, not really.)

While I doubt anyone can appreciate long-term boat life, he didn’t mind it. He enjoyed getting grease on his forearms and dirt under his fingernails. He’d always come home with a perfume of day-old sweat, jet fuel, and mechanic’s grease. He hated the idea that with rank came desk work, but knew that he wanted to advance.

“You think I should do it?” he asked me.

“I mean, it’d be a pay raise. It’d be awesome for your career. I think you work hard enough to do it. And I think it’s a great step. I don’t see why not,” I answered.

“Yeah, but then I have to be behind a desk more than not,” he complained.

I smiled.

His supervisor (well, his LPO, leading petty officer) recommended trying for the LDO program (a program in which he could become an officer).

He’d never get the chance to see how a switch from enlisted life to officer would treat him.

He was 27-years-old when he pulled that trigger. Twenty. Seven. That’s it. He didn’t even get to 30. He lived long enough to have a rough childhood, to pull himself up out of the pit that everyone thought he would suffocate in, to get married and have two beautiful children…and then it was over. He snuffed out a bright light in this world.

Suicide didn’t just rob him of the rest of his life. Suicide robbed his children of a father. Suicide robbed me of a husband. Suicide robbed his friends of a wonderful person. Suicide robbed the Navy of a very good sailor. Suicide robbed everyone.

The Risk of Suicide in Children Who Lose a Parent to Suicide

As I sat on the couch staring at the floorboards in my living room, my chest burning with grief, and my eyes red from crying, I wondered how I was going to tell my children. Their father was in one of our cars in the driveway; dried blood soaked his t-shirt and the gun laid limply in his hand.

My children were excited about the amount of visitors we had in the house. Cartoons blared loudly from the television, stealing their attention from time to time. Policemen wandered the house, asking questions periodically, but mostly avoiding me. My commanding officer, master chief, and a few shipmates spoke about next steps, gathered the rest of our guns, and cleaned my house.

It was a strange feeling. I remember wondering if I should offer people water or tea.

My children were only 2 and 4-years-old. As they grow older, their understanding of their father’s mental health and suicide grows clearer. Well, as clearly as suicide and depression can be to children (or even adults, for that matter).

There’s a scary statistic that uncovers that children whose parent dies by suicide are more likely to die by suicide themselves. In fact, children whose parents die before they reach adulthood are 50% more likely to die within the next forty years than their peers. The big jump in this statistic is blamed on the higher risk of suicide for these children.

Additionally, children who lose their parents to suicide are also at risk for developing psychiatric disorders.

These statistics scare me, but I know that there are things I can do to lessen the risk.

  • Open and honest communication.

    Keeping an open door for communication works wonders. Children will be confused, scared, and feel all the complex emotions you are after the death of their parent. However, they may be too young to really put what they are felling into words. Keeping an open dialogue can help.

    Do not stop any conversations that they start. Usually children want to speak briefly about their parent. This doesn’t imply apathy, but rather reflects the style in which children grieve. For example, do not be surprised if your child starts crying or get angry about the death, and then skips off to play with friends five minutes later. That is very normal and expected.

  • Suicide is not a bad word.

    Don’t be afraid to explain exactly what happened. Call it by name: suicide. Explain what mental illness is the best way you can. Turn to the internet for better explanations. Find books that may be able to help you and your children.

  • Ask them.

    Do not be afraid to ask your child if he or she is feeling suicidal. Most people do not actually want to die. Rather, they want the pain and suffering they are feeling to go away.

    Know the warning signs. If they are withdrawn, overeating, not eating, not wanting to go to school, angry all the time, anxious all the time, sad all the time, or not wanting to play with their friends or do the same activities that they used to…ask them about it. Let them know that you see them.

  • Join a Support Group

    Get outside help. You are only one person. Talk to your healthcare provider and find local resources.

  • Speak of your own grief.

    Don’t be afraid to cry in front of your children. Let them see you grieving in a healthy manner. This will show them what is normal and that you are hurting as well. Discuss it all.

    Explain that it’s normal to feel lost, confused, or guilty. And emphasize that nothing they did caused or was the reason for the suicide. Explain that suicide is an irrational act and so it has not good answers.

The statistics don’t look good, but they do highlight that children need support and sometimes professional help. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

Religion, Mental Illness, and Suicide

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Religion can help or hinder the person suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts. On one hand, beliefs in what happens in the afterlife, how suicide is viewed (sin or not), and other beliefs, may stay someone’s hand. However, some religions, churches, or well-meaning individuals can cause even more damage by insinuating that one needs only to pray, rather than seek help from a doctor or needed medication.

Recently, I was speaking with someone close to me–who really felt this was helpful–and was told that my husband’s path down depression and addiction was rooted in our inability to pray enough. Jesus would have saved him. Doctors would not have…and this was clear, because obviously he was able to fall by suicide.

I really wish I had had the time and energy to explain how wrong this type of thinking is in our society. More than that, I wished that I could have explained that even if we had prayed and gone to church, he would have probably met the same end.

He needed help and he didn’t do well seeking it. He didn’t trust counselors, because of how the ones who he had been forced to see as a child abused his trust. He didn’t trust others, because of how he was treated growing up. I’m not going to air his dirty laundry, even after death, but he did not have the best of childhoods…and that’s putting it lightly.

It’s no wonder he battled the demons he did.

He did go to the doctor and he was prescribed antidepressants, but he would drink with them. And he would get scary. He seemed “better” off of them and so I didn’t nag him much on it. The alternative seemed worse.

What killed my husband?

Depression.

The stigma that comes from mental health and mental illness.

The demons that he fought through his teenage years and beyond that.

The inability to ask for help, because he trust no one.

The stigma has to stop. The fear of being judged has to go away. The “Christian” response of “pray and be saved” from whatever darkness needs to stop as well. If nothing else, advise them to pray and go see a doctor. Stopping people from seeking help will only harm them. There are too many stories out there of people dying from lack of care. I know you all care. I know you all want to say the right thing. But that is not the right thing.

Prayer only helps with professional help.

If you’re not judged for taking Tylenol for a headache or antibiotics for a stomach bug, then why would you be judged for taking antidepressants or anti-psychotics to balance your brain chemistry? Conversely, why would you judge someone for the same?

Mental illness is not a spiritual battle any more than the flu. Mental illness is a chemical imbalance that is as concrete as a virus. People with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and the like need help as much as someone with a broken leg. The difference is, even if someone prays for his or her recovery, no one is surprised that that person goes to a doctor to help set the broken leg. That is how we must view mental illness.

Father’s Day is Coming Soon

I always wonder if I should do something special with my boys regarding their father. We do speak of him often, but I wonder if they need something tangible for certain days. I know they miss him, especially his oldest.

What do you do for Father’s Day when their father is gone?

I have a few ideas:

  1. Write him a postcard or letter.
    They are old enough to know that we can’t literally mail anything to their father. But perhaps writing their feelings and thoughts down will help. Plus, I think I can get them mailed to his grave site.
  2. Go through old photos and memories.
    Maybe I should write these down, get them on paper so when they are older, they can remember these as well.
  3. Buy them presents.
    I have thought about getting a few photos of their father printed on a canvas or something similar.
  4. Nothing.
    I also wonder if this necessary. Perhaps I should just wait for their cues and react after the fact. I’m always wondering if I should bring the subject up or wait for them to start talking about him. Which is better? I never want them to forget their father. Nor do I want them to feel like the subject is taboo. However, if they don’t feel like discussing him, I don’t want them to feel like it’s mandatory, either.

Either way, I have a little time. I think that number 3 is my favorite approach. Out of everything that we do, they love photos of him the best. I wish I would have taken and saved more.

Wondering

It’s an awful road to go down, but let’s do it anyway.

Do you ever wonder what would have happened had you arrived home a little earlier? Said a more supportive thing? Maybe forced your loved one to get help?

So many what if’s. I wonder why he chose that day. I wonder why he used the gun I bought him. I wonder why he couldn’t have stopped to think about us, if not his children, before he pulled that trigger.

I wonder what decided that decision. He had bought cigarettes and energy drinks for work the next day. Between his plan for the following day and the moments between, he decided to end his life.

It’s not a rational action and so there are no rational answers. Even so….I wish I knew.

What Does Grief Feel Like?

I was asked, in not so many words, what grief feels like by a person who had never been impacted by the loss of someone so close to him or her. I’m not really sure if I have the description right. Nor do I feel I can speak on the behalf of everyone who has lost a loved one, whether suddenly or expected. Even so, I can try.

The death of my husband by suicide was the most painful thing in my life thus far. Nothing else has touched it. If you have never been impacted by something similar, then you have no idea how hard it is to go through. Imagining or hypothesizing pales in comparison.

How accurately can I describe grief?

Grief is an assault on your body and your mind. Grief is like a bat being slammed into your ribs. Grief is hitting the ground so hard you feel you should have died, but somehow didn’t.

It hurts when you move or think. Time heals it, but goodness does it take a while. And sometimes you move the wrong way and you’re back on your knees, clutching your side. You wonder why someone didn’t put you out of your misery.

Memories and triggers are the small jabs that don’t seem like a big deal, except your body still aches, so every extra touch feels like a dagger. One day you’ll be able to look back and smile at some things or be able to talk about that person without feeling like crying, but not right away.

Death is not a one-time event. It’s a pivoting point and grief is the after math. For better or worse, you are different because of it. Life is not the same. There is no continuation. It creates a line in your timeline. There is only ever before and after. There is the old times and the new normal.

Grief is a harsh wound that is slow to heal. It’s the scar left by the death of someone you love.

In fact, I bet if you were to cut me open, you’d find evidence of its existence on my heart.