Sunday, September 26, 2010


This morning I joined 700 other San Francisco survivors of suicide in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  Together we raised over $90,000 for suicide prevention research and education, and helped raise awareness about mental illness.

It was foggy and cold as we gathered around Lake Merced.  As we walked, the fog burned off, allowing the sun to shine through.  Someone asked me if I had participated in last year's Walk.  No, I said, I didn't have a reason to walk last year.

At one of the tables near the registration booth they were giving away Mardi Gras beads.  Each color symbolized a different type of loss:  orange for loss of a sibling, gold for loss of a parent, white for loss of a child, red for loss of a spouse or partner, purple for loss of a friend, green for someone who themselves struggles with suicidal thoughts, blue for someone who supports the cause.  Every time I went to the table, I cried.  I wore orange and blue beads on the walk, and they now hang on the rearview mirror of my car.

There were many speakers who talked about suicide as a public health crisis, suicide as the nation's most preventable cause of death, suicide as the day everything changed.  The common thread of these speeches, or at least what I took from it, is that it's all about connection.  We have a short time here on Earth.  The more we can connect with others, the more lives we can save, the more we can heal, the richer our lives will be.  Connection is what life is all about.  

I walked today with my saucy suicide survivor sisters.  I'm grateful that I don't have to  do this alone.  I know people don't want to hear about Mike's suicide as much as I think about it.  It's good to know there are others who are with me on this grief journey.  

When I sent out the fundraising emails, I was surprised how many people shared that they had also lost a sibling to suicide.  I walked today for their lost loved ones, too.  From last week's blog post to now, I was able to raise $1,200 for AFSP, which exceeded my goal.  I love my friends.

Apparently there is a gun club next to Lake Merced that graciously agreed to stay closed during the Walk.  I would have totally lost it if there had been gun shots firing while I was walking in remembrance of Mike.

Mike's birthday is on Tuesday.  He would have been 38.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


In July, before I got sick, Dolly, Duncan, and I spent two weeks in the Stanislaus National Forest outside of Yosemite. One day we hiked to a swimming hole in the Clavey River called God’s Bath, a beautiful spot in the river where a waterfall flows into a deep pool surrounded by tall cliffs.  The place is usually filled with local teens from Sonora, who go there to drink and jump off the cliffs.  This year we had the spot to ourselves.  There was a towel and someone’s socks on the flat part of the rock, but no one in sight. The water level was much higher due to all of the rain, and the current of the river was flowing much faster. There was a strange energy, too.  Duncan’s dog Bo refused to go in the water, even though he had been swimming downstream. 

After we went swimming, we walked up to the flat part of the rock to have lunch.  At the top, there is a hole through which we’ve seen people jump and then swim through an underwater tunnel to the main pool.  It was there we noticed that the towel we’d spotted earlier had been torn into strips and tied together into a makeshift rope.  Duncan pointed and told me to turn around.  On the cliff wall behind me, someone had spray-painted “R.I.P.”  Had someone jumped into the hole and not made it back out?  Did he jump into the main pool by the waterfall and get pulled under?  A few years ago we watched in terror as two guys jump off the highest spot of the cliff.  People probably drown there all the time, are here appeared to be the remnants of some stranger’s death.  We reported what we saw to a forest ranger later that day.  One of the forest workers told us there had been a search party looking for a missing person near God’s Bath just the week before.

The following week we hiked along a branch of the Tuolumne River to another swimming hole called Early Intake.  Coincidentally, this was also the day my meningitis symptoms began.  While the rest of the group hiked ahead to Early Intake, Duncan stayed behind to fish along the river.  At one point he walked into the river and stood on a big rock to get a better spot to fish.  All of a sudden the current swept him under the rock.  He struggled to get out but was stuck.  He took a breath, thinking he’d made it to the surface, but his mouth filled with water.  He said he was seconds away from the end.  I do not know what happened in those last seconds that made the difference, allowing him to be alive to tell us about it.  One of our friends with us that day summed it up by saying, “It wasn’t his time.”

Was it Mike’s time?  Was it time for the stranger who died at God’s Bath?  The obvious answer is yes, because otherwise they would still be here.  To say it was Mike’s time is to find relief in the idea that there is an order of things.  The idea that even though you don’t understand it, things are happening just as they should.

Where does suicide fit into this idea?  Was it Mike’s time on December 5, 2009 when his life ended, or was his time actually supposed to be in 2039 or 2059, but for the suicide? 

The closest I come to acceptance is to believe for just a moment that it was Mike’s time, and that nothing Mike or anyone else could have done differently would have prevented it.  Some people believe that our fates are predetermined.  Others believe that we control our own destinies by the choices we make.  I believe in a combination of the two, that our fates can change with our choices, and that although we sometimes control our choices, we do not control the outcome.  When we escape death, is that luck, or is that God?  And if we choose death, like Mike did, is it really a choice?  And when death finally comes for us, we have no more control.  Death is the ultimate surrender.

For the two weeks I was near Yosemite, a butterfly followed me everywhere I went.  I first saw it when we were camping by Cherry Lake, and it followed me on the hike to God’s Bath, and on our various hikes along the Tuolumne.  I felt Mike’s presence in this butterfly.  I felt like he was finally free.   

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Today I am celebrating my 40th birthday.  You know what I said to age 39?  "Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out."  Age 39 was the worst year of my life.  Even if nothing eventful happens at age 40, it will still be better than the suckiest suck suck 39.

I am so eloquent in my old age, aren't I?

Surviving 40 years on this planet is a triumph.  Many people I love didn't make it to 40.  Mike only made it to 37.  He's been gone for 40 weeks now.

And why am I still here when so many others are not?  It is pointless to ask why.  I can only say thank you, and there but for the grace of God go I.  After a year of death and illness, I am blessed to be here celebrating my birthday with people I love:  happy, healthy, and alive.

Since it's my birthday, I am making a birthday wish.  My wish is to help other people avoid terrible years like my age 39.  My wish is that other families will not have to experience the pain, confusion, and regret that Mike's suicide has caused me and my family.  My wish is that someone else's brother can get help before it's too late.

To help make my birthday wish come true, please consider supporting me in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Out of the Darkness Community Walk.  On September 26, 2010, I will join thousands of people nationwide to walk in AFSP's San Francisco Out of the Darkness Community Walk to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  I walk in memory of Mike, who I will love and cherish forever.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is at the forefront of research, education and prevention initiatives designed to reduce loss of life from suicide. With more than 33,000 lives lost each year in the U.S. and over one million worldwide, the importance of AFSP's mission has never been greater, nor our work more urgent.

I would appreciate any support that you could give for this worthwhile cause.