Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tragedy Strikes Yet Again

Bad news isn't wine. It doesn't improve with age.-Colin Powell

Godfather 3 was unmemorable for many reasons.  Those of us that loved the first two movies and can discuss and quote them religiously were highly disappointed.  However, there is one line when family patriarch Michal Corleone says"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." That would have been me this past Monday night.

I was busy doing nothing when I received a text from one of the other coaches.  One of the cheerleaders at College Park High School, where I teach and coach, had attempted suicide, had been taken by Life Flight to the Texas Medical Center, and was listed in critical condition.  I was warned by others at the school based upon my past.  The last thing they wanted me to walk in on Tuesday morning was news of another attempted suicide.

I could have called in sick, taken the day off, and no one would have blamed me.  Before school started, counselors and administrators began to look for me to make sure I was ok.  Did I need my classes covered?  Is there anything they could do for me?  I asked them to read the principal's announcement to my 2nd period class, but that was it.  The rest of the day, I wanted to be there for my students.  I wanted to talk to them, to let them know that it was okay to be mad, scared, confused, or any of the myriad of other emotions that were over taking them at that moment.  I needed to tell then that it was nobody's fault, that based on percentages, the young lady most likely suffered from some type of mental illness, and that they could openly talk, cry, or scream.  I talked to them about Peyton and my experiences.  I told them to ignore rumors from people, and not believe what they hear floating around in the hall.  I told them to be patient, as news would be forthcoming eventually, but that it takes time.  I asked them to pray if they were religious, and send positive thoughts and wishes if they weren't. I told them what I had been told while Peyton lay in his hospital bed, that the next 72 hours were crucial.  Finally I told them to hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.

I tried my best to find reliable sources that would give me any information to help me process the events.  In my own way, I needed details.  By no means am I an expert, but I have an unfortunate knowledge of a similar situation.  As I mentioned before,  I had learned about the 72 hour window, the damage to the brain when deprived of oxygen, how it dies from the top down, how the brain stem controls the most basic functions such as breathing, heartbeat, swallowing, and reaction to pain.  How doctors will test this part of the brain for reactions to stimuli, and the news they give when when those tests produce no results.  I also knew that news would be slow in coming, that caution would prevail, that  doctors would be neutral and try not to give hope if there was none.

Several days have passed  since I began this entry, and I am once again the bearer of bad news.  The young lady I spoke of, Cassidy Hess, passed away on Sunday, December 20, 2015.  I hop that she has found the peace that eluded her in life.

In fact, and I sit here and write this, I have received word that a 2015 graduate may have taken his life last night.  Tragedy strikes yet again.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Onward Through the Fog

"Onward through the fog" -Oat Willie's Slogan

I never thought that this would apply to me.  See, #OatWillie's is a headshop (of which they are proud) in Austin, Texas.  They were around long before I attended the University of Texas, and are still there today.  If interpretation is based on your knowledge of their inventory, then it is pretty easy to apply meaning to their slogan.  However, in the year since Peyton's suicide. I have begun to se it differently.

The fog is what many of the survivors live in, especially for the first year after the suicide of a loved one.  The fog seems to envelop everything we do.  We forget things that happened recently as well as long ago, as well as names and faces.  Events that once held relevance, such as our own birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas, no longer do, On the other hand, new things such as the birthday of the lost soul and the monthly anniversary of their passing, develop great meaning.  We count off the number of days, weeks and months since they left us, much as one does with the birth of a new born child.  We begin to dread any day that marks a new milestone, such as their first birthday since their death, or what would have been the day they graduated. We tend to look at others, and try to understand how their lives can go on when ours have been tragically impacted.

As survivors, we are left behind to pick up the pieces of our lives.  Some of us become advocates for the dead.  Because of the pain we live with,  we vow to keep the same from happening to some one else.  Some of us withdraw from society, we become Boo Radley or Miss Havisham, shutting off contact to the outside world and locking the door behind us.  Others climb inside a bottle, bong or syringe.  We long to banish the incredible pain that we live with daily.  Others will follow in the steps of their loved ones and are driven to join them rather than live without them.  Regardless of which path we choose, we are surrounded on all sides by the fog.

Unfortunately, like any fog, the survivor's fog begins to burn off.  As it dissipates, we begin to truly see again.  What had once shielded us from painful reality, is gone, and we are left to deal with what is truly before our eyes.  The empty room we walked by is now a clear vision of what will never be, as we look at the trophies that whisper of the lost potential.  We see the last picture that we ever took, and realize there will be no more, that they are going to be, in my case, Forever 13.  We hear about the achievements of others and are left to wonder "what if?". The more fog that burns off, the greater the reality becomes.  The pain that we thought we had learned to cope with comes back in waves. Once again, we don't want to get out of bed, we break down at the songs on the radio, and we look for answers that will never come.

Now I am dealing with the pain all over again.  I find myself crying over little things such as Peyton's final school picture over the stairs .  I have a huge pit in my stomach as Christmas approaches.  I have even started to lose interest in things that once brought me comfort.  As we creep closer to the holidays, I am not looking forward to time with family, presents or good cheer, but the time to be alone and envelope myself in silence, and lose myself in a video game, movie or book.  Something that will make the hours pass while my mind is some where else other than the loss of my only son.

Now I am faced with the task of dealing with all the obstacles that I blindly ran into during the first few weeks and months after Peyton's death, only this time, they are vivid reminders of what happened, "“So [I] beat on, boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Dear H, I Heard About Your Death

Dear H,

I heard about your death this past Sunday.  Needless to say I was saddened to hear that you had chosen to end your life.  I didn't know you personally, but in a way, I know who you are.  You are the 13 year old boy from Georgetown, Texas with red hair, freckles, and striking blue eyes.  You are the beautiful blond cheer leader from Trumbull, Connecticut.  You are the gifted Academy Award winning actor/comedian.  You are the brilliant writer and leader of the Modernist movement in literature.  You are the musician from Seattle that created a new sound for a generation.

Your death was hard for me to take.  When I was informed of your death, I looked you up on social media.  I read the posts that your friends, classmates, and strangers, had left for you.  You are loved by your friends.  You were the one that made them laugh.  You were the star that shone so brightly for them.    Your classmates wish they had known you better, had gotten to know you better, or talk to you more.  They liked your sense of humor and ever present smile.  Total strangers expressed their sympathy for you and your family.

In a school of more than 4,000 students, there were many students who didn't know you, but your death has had a profound effect on them.  For many, you were the first person they know who died. Even more profound, was how you died, at your own hands.  You made them think about their own mortality, their own frailty.

You also left many asking, "why?" If some one that seemed to have it all would take her life, then what hope do they have?  The "why?" is simpler than it seems, at least to people who understand.  The desire to end your pain was greater than your will to live, and you are not alone.  Although the pain wasn't physical, it was equally as painful and just as debilitating. Judging by your friends' responses and posting, they didn't know you were in pain.  Like so many who suffer from this pain, you kept it hidden.  Perhaps you were afraid to speak out because you thought you were the only one that felt that way, or that no one would understand. Maybe you did say something, and you were told it was a phase you were going through, or that you will get over it.  There's even a chance your friends knew, but did nothing because, as a society, we aren't old how to help people that are hurting like you, and as a community, we are led to believe that everything is perfect, and that problems like yours only exist in "other" places.   If you did seek help, there is always that chance that no matter what you tried, it didn't seem to work, or you didn't click with the counselor. Regardless of the reason, people need to know that it wasn't their fault, which is something that took me so long to understand after Peyton's death.

Now parents, siblings, relatives, friends, and total strangers are left behind to pick up the pieces of their lives.  They must learn to adjust to life without you.  All the people you thought would be better off  without you will never get over you or stop thinking about you.  Instead, they will have a void that will never be filled.  They will go about with their everyday lives, but not a day will pass without thinking about you.  Perhaps a song on the radio, a smell from the kitchen, or a glimpse of a total stranger in public will some how trigger a memory of you.  They will have to sit down and collect themselves, catch their breath, or even cry, and that's okay.  Eventually they may be able to deal with the gaping hole in their lives, but they will never be the same.
Perhaps they will even come to realize that if you had known the pain your death would cause, you never would have taken your life.

In closing, allow me to say that I hope you found the peace you were looking for, and to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, I hope that where you are, everything is beautiful, and nothing hurts.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Rest in Peace Young Lady

 "Things just seemed to go too wrong too many times"- Tony Hancock

it happened again. Another young person in our "perfect" community has taken their life.  

I received the news last night about this tragic loss, and have processing the news in my head over and over again.  I even went so far as to look up the young lady on social media, in part to leave a message of condolence, in part to see if there was a clue as to why, and in part to see "who" this young lady was.  I read the posts left by others.  They all seemed to say the same thing, that she was the person that went out of their way to make sure others were happy, to comfort others in a time of need, and to be there for her friends when they needed it.  

All of this sounds painfully familiar to me.  At the tree planting in Peyton's honor at his old school, I heard many of the same things.  Kids told about how Peyton had befriended them when they were new, how he had made them laugh when they were sad, or how he had been the only one to stop and help a total stranger in the hallway when she had dropped her books.  

Now the community is left to wonder "why?"  This is not something that is supposed to happen here. This is something that happens to "other" people.  Our community is consistently voted one of the the tops in Texas.  We have great schools, parks, greenbelts, stores, shops, restaurants, a waterway, hell, we even have a mall.  We are totally self sustaining,  Our kids graduate from high school and go off the Ivy league and other top colleges.  They come back and get high paying jobs, get married, have kids, and raise the next generation of people that nothing bad ever happens to.  How could this happen to "us"?

The answer is actually quite easy, it happens all the time to people around the world.  People that are in such gut wrenching emotional pain that the thought of taking their life outweighs their fear of dying. People that are afraid of speaking up about their thoughts and feelings of sadness, anger, and worthlessness because things like that only happen to "other" people in "other" places.  People that suffer in silence because they are supposed to project an image of happiness because that is what expected of them.  

it made me think of Robin Williams when he said,  “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”  We realize now, that this was how he felt.  Was this how Peyton and this young lady had felt?  How many other kids find themselves feeling the same way as they sit in class looking at all the others who have it all together, whose futures are bright and rosy.  How many of these people sit in their corner office with the spectacular view wondering where they went wrong.  How many of them have lunch with their friends as they talk about their perfect children, and ponder why they don't feel the way they are supposed to.  

To the family members that  are left behind to wonder, it is not your fault, she didn't do this to hurt you. It will take time, a lot of it, to get over this, and you will never get over it, but you will learn to live with it.  

To those that knew her, and those that wish they had, she is at peace, and you need to go on living.  It hurts, it sucks, and it will take a while to get over.  Cry for her, mourn her, grieve for her, but go on living.  

As for the young lady who took her life, I am sorry that you felt that way.  I hope that you have found the peace you were looking for.  I hope that the pain you lived with is gone.  Rest in Peace young lady.