No One Else Can Play Your Part

National Suicide Prevention Week is the Monday through Sunday surrounding World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, which is today.

Where do I go from there? Providing facts, figures, statistics–if these are things you want to know, the entire Internet is at your disposal. You can go to the American Association of Suicidology and learn so much about risk factors and support. To Write Love On Her Arms provides a wealth of ways of how we can raise awareness about suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is another outstanding resource.

All of those sites are helpful and important and can give you much better information than I can in this blog post.

What I’d most like to put in any vulnerable person’s head is this:


If you are depressed, lonely, frightened, thinking of self-harming, desperate to make the pain stop, there are people willing to listen to you and help you find the support you need. You are not weak. You are not a burden. You are not alone. You are not broken past hope. There is always hope. Always. There is always healing. Always. If the people you wish you could count on don’t want to hear you or don’t know how to help you, there are others who can help you believe what you need to know:


You matter so, so much. It’s hard sometimes to believe it’s true, but you have a unique place in the world that no one else can fill.

Of everyone I’ve ever known or met who knew my nephew Aaron, there is not one–NOT ONE–who would not have helped him had he described the anguish he was enduring. His particular darkness was depression, and there is no way to fathom how much energy it must have taken him to hide it from the people he loved. He wanted to protect us. He wanted to make us laugh. He wanted to be a part of all the good things that family and friendship offer. He was not perfect. He could act out. He could get angry. He could make mistakes. In other words, he was human just like every other person on the planet has ever been.

Except that depression lied to him and tormented him and ultimately convinced him that there was only one way to stop the pain he was in.

So this amazing person who was so full of compassion for others–for special needs kids, for the most damaged dogs in the shelter, for the friends who needed a shoulder to cry on, for anyone in the family who was sick or who was going through something challenging–in one terrible moment that can never be undone, he stopped being. His parents and everyone who loves him never saw him take his diploma. Never saw him drive his car to his first class as a college freshman. Will never see him marry the person he loves or hold his first child in his arms or fail at the endeavors that adults experience and rise above and go on to do extraordinary things. The world, such a better place because he was in it, can never fill the void of his absence.

We can never have him back. We can never undo that moment. We can never stop asking the questions and feeling the doubts of whether we could have helped create a different outcome.

All because depression made Aaron believe the most terrible lies of all. That he couldn’t talk to us. That he couldn’t reach for us. That he didn’t matter.

He mattered.

You all matter.

Please don’t go. If or when you find yourself at that point, if there is no one else to talk to, no one else to reach for, no one else who’ll tell you how much you matter, please call this number.

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

I love you, Aaron. We all do.

Aaron’s Garden

This is what Tom and I worked on Friday and Saturday, but I didn’t take pictures until Sunday because MOSQUITOS. Man, I can’t stand those things.

One time when Aaron was visiting, he asked where he’d be sleeping and I told him a sleeping bag under this tree, and the rats probably wouldn’t bother him much. First he acted like he thought I was serious, then he grinned at me. I like having his little garden in that spot and remembering his grin.

Tom created the raised bed with the stones and filled it with soil. I’m trying out a variety of flowers and ground covers to see how they’ll do. I’m hoping since this is a way to honor Aaron’s memory, I’ll try harder at making it thrive. But it’ll be trial and error until I see what works and what doesn’t. That’s all part of any process, right?

That little elephant planter was a gift from our niece Toni to Tom (she, the Auburn fan and future Auburn student, was kind enough to give him the Alabama mascot!). It has aloe in it, because if there’s one thing I can grow, it’s aloe. I have tons of it from a neighbor and my friend Pat, so anyone gets burned cooking or from too much sun, we’re good. His mom Lisa told me that Aaron loved elephants, so it’s a nice addition to his garden.

This little guy, who some say is a dachshund and some say a basset hound, was a gift from Lynne a few years ago. He has aloe, too. Aaron loved dogs, and he was a volunteer shelter dog walker when he was a youngster. So again, a good addition to his garden.

The plants include lantana, melampodium (a kind of sunflower), begonias, lavender, Irish moss, mondo grass, and my favorite Creeping Jenny, which I honestly wish could cover my whole yard–then I wouldn’t care that grass won’t grow. But I think it would probably want too much water, so I’m going to see if I can keep in under control in the flower bed. Same story on the Irish moss. Again, it’s a process of experimenting, failing, succeeding, more trying. Gardening is about hope–and mosquitos. To my way of thinking, we can use more of the first and way less of the other.

Remembering Aaron

Two years ago today, Aaron–son, brother, nephew, cousin, friend–took his life. We think of him every day. Our love for him is infinite and unwavering. The world was a better place with and because of him. We never stop missing him. His memory sustains us.

Tom and I began a project today in Aaron’s memory. There will be more photos as we finish it. I just wanted those who love him to know that we hold him, and each of you, in our hearts.

A little emotional

Back in September on World Suicide Prevention Day, it was suggested that we set a candle in the window to remember someone lost or show support for suicide prevention. I did that and put a photo of our nephew Aaron next to the candle. In the months since, I’ve left the photo there. It somehow makes him feel like a part of every day, including Christmas now that lights are strung on that same shelf.

Aaron would have been twenty today. I can’t believe he’s not with his parents, brothers, and sister to celebrate leaving his teen years. I know whatever he’d be doing, we’d all be proud of him. We’re still proud of the incredible person he was every day that we had him with us.

I’ve talked before about Aaron’s compassionate heart and how one thing he gave his time and energy to was dog rescue. I felt his spirit very much today as I took photos at Rescued Pets Movement’s transport this morning. I’m sure that was part of the reason that I felt near tears the entire time, but it was something else, too. Everyone remarked about how calm and quiet all the dogs were as they were being put into the van. I think it was because, among all the animals, there were three mama dogs with their puppies. The grateful, loving energy they put off was palpable. I believe they knew that the people there were literally saving their lives and their puppies’ lives. It was a very powerful thing, and when I drove away, I thanked Aaron because even though I can’t hug him and tell him happy birthday in person, I can feel his loving spirit near me whenever good things happen.

My favorite picture I took today was of Portia. Those are her puppies in the crate behind her.

Safe journey to all gentle souls.

World Suicide Prevention Day

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. From the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) web site:

Light a candle near a window at 8 PM to show your support for suicide prevention, to remember a lost loved one, and for the survivors of suicide.

Tonight, a candle burns in our window for our nephew Aaron, who died on April 25, 2012. We love you and miss you, Aaron.

Button Sunday

National Suicide Prevention Week begins September 8. This is the 39th annual dedication of a week to raise awareness of the issues around suicide: causes, prevention, warning signs, survivors, and grief.

People whose lives have been affected by suicide often find it difficult to talk about it. But the more we learn, the more open we are, the better chance we have of preventing suicide and the more we can foster healing for those affected by suicide.

If you want to learn more, or if you are a suicide attempt survivor or a suicide loss survivor, there’s a lot of information on the American Association of Suicidology site. If you are struggling, please check out the Suicide Prevention Lifeline site.

And please, please, if you are alone or scared, no matter what problems you’re dealing with, you can call 1-800-273-8255. This helpline has trained counselors available 24/7. Please make that call, because we need you here.

April Photo A Day: Life Is…

Life is beautiful. And fragile. And so fleeting.

On this date last year, a beautiful spring day like this one, my nephew Aaron’s struggle with depression–a struggle his family wasn’t aware of–led him to end his life. He was eighteen.

I’m sure everyone in his family and many of his friends could write entire books about how their last year has been shaped by the loss of Aaron. Daily struggles. Tears we felt would never end. Laughter brought by funny Aaron stories. Fragments of information that showed his compassion and sensitivity–acts he never shared because humility was part of his nature. The people who became for us, as Mr. Rogers would say, “the helpers,” and sustained us as we grieved. The people who drifted from our lives, perhaps because suicide is too raw, too real, too close. The unexpected gifts of dreams and signs and moments that make us feel Aaron’s still with us even if we can’t see him or hug him.

In other towns and cities, family members and friends who knew Aaron celebrated his life in their own ways. Some attached letters to balloons and released them. We didn’t write letters here, but Tim helped me pick out balloons.

We released seven of them from the rose garden at Hermann Park: from Tom and me, from Tim, from Aaron’s father David and Geri, from his Aunt Debby, from his brother Daniel and nephews Dave and Steven, from his Cochrane and Johnson cousins, and from other friends and family members–including the dogs–who met and cared for Aaron.

He is so deeply loved and will always be missed.

All I ever wanted was to know that you were dreaming

I have a passion for home, but I long ago accepted that I have no passion for house cleaning. One of the things I don’t mind doing, especially if I have a window, is washing dishes. This is why I rarely used a dishwasher, even when I had one. Debby and I used to argue over who had to do the dishes–I think that’s a natural teenage sibling thing. I remember those arguments best from the house we lived in just before she was married and moved out. (David and my father rarely did the dishes. Different times…)

After I became the only kid left at home, dishwashing was left mainly to Mother and me. I remember lots of evenings staring out the kitchen window of the last house I lived in with my parents, watching the street, the main road through our little town, and smiling when my friends or boyfriend drove by and blew their horns.

Now both my sister and I are content to be in suds up to our elbows, as my mother always was (she also rarely used a dishwasher other than her kids). I do a lot of thinking at the kitchen sink, and looking at this photo, I realize why my thoughts so often turn to people I care about. Just the items on the shelf over the sink and on the fence seen through the window evoke reminiscences of Tom, Lynne, Lisa S, Timmy, Paul, James, Tim, Jeff, my parents, Debby, Jess, Laura, Lindsey, and Rhonda–and Margot and Guinness. It’s a place of friends and family, as homes should be.

Last year during this time, Aaron and I were trading texts about his coming to stay here a few days during spring break. Tom and I were so happy he wanted to spend time with us, Tim, and the dogs, and I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.

So many memories…

Today is Riley’s birthday. How I’d love to call him and wish him a happy one. He’s another of the people I think about and miss deeply. The year 1980 was one of the most significant in our long history of friendship. I can remember the house I was living in then, and all the time he spent there, and how Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” LP stayed on my turntable almost constantly. There are so many pieces of Stevie Nicks’s “Sara” that tell a story of Riley and me. I’m sure lots of people feel the same way about the song for many different reasons–true of all the best songs, I think.

For Riley…

Legacy Writing 365:365

“The Family Detectives,” from Austin Kleon‘s book Newspaper Blackout. Copyright Austin Kleon, 2010.

Look at the title of my post. I made it! I committed to doing this for 2012, and I finished it. I had no idea what I was taking on when I chose to delve into my own and my mother’s (and sometimes Lynne’s and other family members’) photo archives and write the memories the pictures inspired. Mostly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could write every day, because I haven’t written anything substantive since finishing A Coventry Wedding just after my mother died in 2008.

I did not write every day, though I did end up with a legacy writing post for every day.

First, I could never have imagined as the year began the blow that would strike my family in April with Aaron’s death. Aaron had always been fascinated by our family’s history–from the mysteries that he, his father before him, and my mother before them, could find by exploring genealogy–a study that is also a part of his Mormon roots. When Aaron visited The Compound in March, we talked about so many things. He persuaded me to sign up at so we could share information. I made him register for selective service, since I’d had no idea up until then that every male is supposed to when he turns eighteen, even though there’s no draft. That whole process cracked us up, and in a comment he left on some later post in this blog, he promised not to tell his mom I made him join the Army. (I didn’t, Lisa!)

Aaron also loved to listen to our family stories, even if he’d heard them before. So when I decided to do the legacy writing, I acknowledged that it was with hope that one day these stories and memories might mean something to my nephews and nieces, and to their children. I wasn’t worried that I might violate anyone’s privacy: I’ve long walked the line in this blog between talking about the people and events in my life and revealing too much. In some ways, that came back to bite me when some readers told me they couldn’t relate to my family because their own experiences were much sadder and seemed less worthy of recounting. My family and friends have never been exempt from pain and loss, but I don’t exploit those things here to get readers or attention. I try to provide a whole picture, and despite deaths and disappointments, I’m not an unhappy person. Even when I write about sad things, sad times, I feel so fortunate for the amazing journey this life has been and for the people who’ve been on that journey with me.

What to do, then, when catastrophe strikes, when a loss is as shocking and as painful as Aaron’s? My first impulse was to shut down this blog completely. I didn’t want to look back. I didn’t want to talk about my family. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted us to gather in a circle and fend off all comers and hurt and heal together. But for me, writing is how I cope. The love I share with my family and my friends is the source of much of my strength. These two things together–art and love–have always been part of how I heal and move forward.

After a few days to breathe, I began to write my way back. I tried very hard not to share anything that would cause any more grief to those who love and lost Aaron. And I continue(d) to try every day to celebrate him, and the wonderful people I know, both in my daily life and in the words I write.

Among the gifts that keep me balanced are the dogs, and Rex always, always made me laugh. His loss and how it would impact us all is another thing I never dreamed would be part of 2012. We also lost the friendship of someone we loved and valued, and that continues to be one of the challenges the year brought us.

But those griefs are not all of our year. We still have friends. We still have family. We still have dogs. There are still children laughing in our lives–and more children to come. There are weddings to be planned, birthdays to celebrate, anniversaries to recognize. There are jobs that make us grateful, our health to cherish. There are books left to edit and write and read. There will be more art.

Another thing that made the legacy writing project difficult is that any writing takes energy. Sometimes it was the act of writing. Sometimes it was looking at photos and just planning what to write. There were times when memories caused me such a sense of loss that I’d put my head on my desk and cry for the people I missed. I don’t live in the past–I never have–so a year of looking back could be draining. I’d skip a day or two and then catch up. It was also frustrating when writing the past seemed to steal my ability to talk about the here and now, which is where my mind and heart and soul actually do live.

I haven’t formulated a project for the coming year. I’m going to try to live as much in the moment as possible, and share whatever those moments compel me to write in my blog. I’ve received a lot of gifts and shared a lot of conversations that I believe will give me plenty to think and talk about. I hope you’ll stick around. I thank you very much for being with me for the past year. In memory of 2012, I’ve collected photos in the video below.

Happy new year to you all. I hope you receive all good things in abundance.

Legacy Writing 365:354

In mid May of 2008, I’d committed to go to the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, where I’d agreed to moderate a panel. As it has on so many years, S&S fell on Mother’s Day weekend, and that year in particular, I struggled about being away and was on the verge of canceling. There were no particular new developments with Mother’s health. I was seeing her every day, and she’d been getting increasingly frail, and her memory might come and go, but she’d entered a new phase, one I was familiar with from the trajectory of my father’s illness, in which she was less engaged, more docile, more resigned.

Everyone told me I should go to New Orleans; Mother wasn’t going to know that it was Mother’s Day anyway. But I still wavered. I talked to her home healthcare nurse and her hospice liaison. If I wanted to, I could consider my weekend away respite care, and she could be moved into hospice for those few days. But they felt like she was doing well in her residential care home and thought the move to and from the hospice facility might confuse her. I knew Tom would be in Houston to visit her and let me know if I needed to come home, but my decision was ultimately made when I received a call from Aaron’s mother, Lisa. Lisa said she’d bring Aaron to see his grandmother for Mother’s Day weekend.

That provided instant relaxation and made my decision for me. Not only did Mother and Lisa have a great relationship, but Lisa was especially sensitive to her health challenges, and seeing Aaron always delighted my mother. I knew I was leaving her in capable, loving hands with all of them.

After their visit, Lisa and I talked by phone. We discussed the changes from the last time they’d seen my mother, but mostly we talked about the special relationship between Aaron and his grandmother. Aaron was only fourteen then; I well remember what an awkward age that can be, and dealing with someone who’s in the last stages of her life must be particularly daunting. Not for Aaron, though. He was never shy about showing his grandmother affection, and Lisa said on that Mother’s Day, he climbed right into bed next to Mother and talked to her, laughed with her, and listened to her. The two of them had a great visit–I think it was probably their last one before she died on June 1.

At the beginning of this year, when I anticipated these legacy writing posts, I knew December 19 would be a special one. It’s Aaron’s birthday; he’d have been nineteen today. I had stories planned to tell about him, including that last Mother’s Day with his grandmother. I never imagined that he wouldn’t be with his family, that we wouldn’t be talking on the phone or texting or exchanging Tweets today. It’s been almost eight months since he died, and it still doesn’t seem real.

Mother was with Lisa and David the December day when Aaron was born. I wasn’t there, but they sent me lots of photos.

Mother holding her fifth grandchild.

Baby Aaron with his fingers wrapped around David’s finger.

A few days later, Aaron had his first Christmas.

David holding Bailey the dog, Mother holding Aaron’s older sister Heather, and Lisa holding Aaron. His big brother Daniel hadn’t moved to SLC with his family yet. His little brother Alex would be born a few years later.

Aaron the littlest baseball player.

These are the days I want to remember. That first birthday and every other day we were privileged to share with him. Aaron has always been given so much love, and he reflected it right back to everyone who knew him. I want to think of him laughing with his grandmother, teasing his mother, telling stories with his brothers and cousins, having conversations with his father, speaking with love of his sister, getting to know all of his extended family and our friends, especially Tim, Lynne, Lindsey, and Rhonda.

Tonight, Lindsey and Rhonda brought Starbucks, and we had a cookie feast, thanks to Marika and Puterbaugh, to celebrate Aaron’s birthday.

We miss you, Aaron, and we remember your beautiful spirit, your compassion, your humor, and your gentleness. We love you. Always.