Friday, May 4, 2012

May - It Isn't Always Merry

May is Suicide Prevention Month. Funny how I never knew that several years ago.  I was blissfully unaware of such a month.  Perhaps, I had my head in the sand and liked it that way.  Ignorance is bliss.  Or is it? 

For seventeen years, I had lived with the fear that my daughter Julie would take her life.  Her first attempt occurred when she was just a teenager.  I armed myself with information, or so I thought.  I tried to remain vigilant.  I tried to keep the lines of communication open.  I tried to ask the hard questions when I thought she wasn't doing well emotionally.  "Julie, are you thinking of hurting yourself?"  "Are you thinking of suicide?"  "Is there anything you need to talk about?"  "How can I help you with these feelings?"  "Do you need to go to the hospital?"  "Do you promise me you will call me if you are thinking of hurting yourself?"  She would always answer with a "no" to those questions that needed a no answer.  She promised me many times she would call if she couldn't handle life.  Many times she did call.  Many times, I got her up and out the door again.  Most times, she called her sister Amy.  She was more honest with her sisters I think.

Julie, Amy, Sally
Sally's birthday celebration in Denver
After the recent tragic death of Junior Seau, his mother's lament, “Junior, why you never telling me you were going?” just breaks my heart.  I know exactly how she feels because that is how I felt.  "Julie, why didn't you call?"  Or perhaps, even worse, I ask myself, "Why didn't I call?"  I had been up until nearly 2:00 in the morning that day because I was not feeling well.  She had been on mind.  Later though, I kept asking myself why I didn't know.  I questioned why I wasn't given a sense of her distress.  I questioned how my daughter could take her life without having some sort of premonition on my part.  Why do we as mothers think we have those kinds of powers?  Why do we think we have that kind of control?

Julie's beautiful curls
Photographed by her brother Jon

I was extremely naive for seventeen years.  Even today, if you ask me what I should have done to stop her suicide, I'm not sure I would have an answer.  And yet, on the other hand, I would say that we needed more information on how to get her the appropriate, affordable medical care that she needed for her illness.  Julie had a very good job.  She made good money.  She had health insurance.  Could she afford treatment for both her bi-polar disorder and/or her addictions to alcohol?  No, she could not.  She asked me to find a program for her.  I did.  It was an outpatient program.  She wondered how she could work and do the program.  She couldn't afford not to work.  I suggested once that she come home, seek treatment, then find a new job.  That just did not seem feasible.  I suggested she take medical leave.  She didn't seem to be able to make that leap.  Would that leave have been given by her employer?  Would she have been able to keep her job?  Would the program have been successful?  After her death, I read of a program that seemed to be just what she would have needed in Denver.  It was an inpatient program.  The cost would have been at least $25,000.  The irony of it all was that Julie had $25, 000 in life insurance, but her health insurance would not cover mental health care.

As a survivor of suicide, I now feel an urgency to make sure that there is more awareness of suicide prevention.  Did you know that I am a survivor?  Did you know that those who have lost a loved one to suicide are called survivors.  We are compared to those who have survived any other horrific life changing event.  I read the words "suicide survivor" and "death camp survivor" used in comparative ways in much of the literature.  I hope other families are spared the shock and grief that my family has suffered.  For that reason, I urge all of you to urge President Obama to make mental heath parity a reality. (Please click to read the full message.)

Basically, the  Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act would ensure that large group health insurance and Medicaid plans provide coverage for mental or substance-use disorders on par with coverage offered for physical ailments. Implementation of the final rule would make Mental Health Parity a reality.

My daughter Keicha wrote an editorial for her local newspaper urging others to contact the White House about the passage of this Act.  You can read her editorial here:  Keicha's editorial.

Mason, Grandma Sally,  Aunt Julie, Amy
Julie's College Graduation
BA in English
Thoughts about the month of May conjure up so many happy occasions:  Mother's Day, graduations, spring flowers, and beautiful trees leafing out.  May is also known to be the month with the highest rates of suicide.  This shocking statistic became a reality for my family on May 29th, 2010.  One of the first things I wrote in my journal after Julie's death was, "She was more that a statistic.  She was more than her final act."  I hope that you will think of her as a beautiful, bright, vivacious young woman.  I think of her as being valiant.  She fought for so many years against demons I will never know.  She also had a very serious life threatening disease which ultimately took her life.

In her memory, I hope you will also lend your voice to fight for parity in coverage for those who suffer from mental or substance-abuse, often forms of self-medicating that take on lives of their own.  Why isn't coverage for these illnesses comparable to coverage for other illnesses and/or physical ailments? 
Julie, my mother, Alberta, Keicha
Lunch with Grandma around her 92rd birthday time
If I could speak to Junior Seau's mother, I would tell her, "There are no answers."  We will never have answers for why our children chose this route to end their pain.  I am greatly comforted by the words of Barbara Johnson who lost two sons in death,  In a GriefShare devotion, she wrote in to response the unanswered questions surrounding death by suicide:   That is when you have to claim Deuteronomy 29:29, 'The secret things belong to the Lord.' And this is a secret thing. No one will ever know the reason why this thing happened, this side of heaven. As I counsel many parents who have lost children to suicide, that is the hardest one to deal with. They want to blame themselves. I try to tell them that their child went out to meet a just and a loving God. And God only knows the answers. You can't blame yourself for what your kids do or grab onto guilt.

The time to address mental illness and depression issues is when one is alive.  Arm yourself with information.  Know where help is available.  Seek it, or urge those in need to seek it.  Join others in helping to bring parity to the help that is available for all those in need.  Do it in memory of Julie.  Do it the memory of those loved ones that your friends have lost to suicide.  Bring suicide out of the shadows.  Do not silence its devastation any longer.  Work to bring about awareness, help, and hope.  Do it to save even one life.  That will make all the difference in the world to that person's family.  

Siblings being silly
Who has the biggest nose?
Amy, Jon, Julie, Keicha, Ryan
Sister - the last time together
Keicha, Julie, Amy
April 2010


laurie said...

I am truly at a loss for words, you dear sweet soul, the strength and intergrity you wrote this with, amazing.My heart aches for you, bravo for the strength to do what you are doing, I'm so sorry the answers didn't come in time for your beautiful daughter, thats heart breaking, she must have been in so much pain.You are a survivor for certain, your whole family,

Terra said...

God bless you for your courage in sharing here, about this heart breaking illness and event.

Olga said...

Honestly, I am ashamed to admit that I did not even know about May being suicide prevention month. My son has made two suicide attempts and I have to admit I freeze when he is going through depression. Your post was like a kick in the pants for me. Thank-you, Sally.

Linda Myers said...

Sally - this is a powerful, life-giving post for parents and families.

"I try to tell them their child went out to meet a just and loving God. And God only knows the answers."

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Oh Sweet Sally.... I have not been where you have--but if I could say something to you, I'd say that you did all you could do. Julie was sick. IF she had any idea how much pain she has caused the family since her suicide, she would never have done it. But--she was not herself. She was sick.

You can second guess yourself forever (and I'm sure I would be doing the same thing) --but she was an adult and made her own choices, whether good or bad. You had raised her and turned her loose into this ole world. The rest was up to her.

I worry so much about you since I think you still are carrying so much blame. AND--it's not your fault.

The best way you can help is by writing a book ---or doing some speaking engagements. You have a story to tell. You can help others. You have been there.

I'm still keeping you in my prayers...
Much Love and loads of HUGS,

Barb said...

So eloquent, Sally. Your post is life-affirming. I also read about your house being on the market. Good Luck! I'm on the way to Desert Pearl.

MerCyn said...

So beautifully stated from the heart.To honor Julie and all the others your passion will help raise awareness and supporters.

Chatty Crone said...

Oh what a bittersweet message. I saw that on the television yesterday. Her pain - your pain. I can't even imagine. All the questions you want to ask - how you blame yourself. Yes I would call you a survivor for sure. She must have seen no other way out.
Love and hugs, sandie

Jackie said...

I, too, am at a loss for words, but I want you to know that you are being hugged from a distance...from me to you, my friend...feel the hugs and the love from one Mother to another.
I cannot begin to fathom your pain.
With hugs and love,

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

This is a breath-taking message, straight from the heart and so very eloquent. Those of us who have not been touched by suicide have much to learn, and you and Keisha are contributing to that process. Hugs.

Anonymous said...

Sally, my friend, I love you! I can only promise to keep remembering you and your Julie with love.

Joanne said...

Yes, more help more money and more understanding of this horrible horrible desease that robs us of so many beautiful loving friends, sisters, brothers, fathers, moms, sons, and daughters. I saw the clip of Junior Seau's Mother and my heart broke for her...Her pain is so raw. My heart breaks for you and your whole family. I am so sorry to read that Julie suffered for 17 years. You have posted many pictures of her and she seemed like she was a such a sweet loving girl. We need to do so much more to find the causes and to find better ways for people who are suffering to get help. It should be obvious to these law makers, but it's they need to be reminded over and over again. This was a powerful post. I know you are spreading the word and empowering so many survivors.
God Bless you Sally!
Blessings, Joanne
P.S. The link "mental heath parity a reality" did't work for me when I clicked on it.

Thisisme. said...

God bless you dear Sally, that's all I can say really. This post touched my heart so much, and none of us can imagine just what you have been,and are going through. You are so right to get this message out there though, as I am sure there are so many young people suffering from illnesses like Julie did. 17 years is a long time to have lived with the fear that Julie might harm herself. At least she is at peace now, but I think that one of the worse things is all those unanswered questions that they leave behind. The what-ifs, and the if-onlys. Hugs to you my friend. Such a powerful post.

Jeanie said...

I so admire your ability to express these thoughts in such a strong and eloquent way. You did all you possibly could for your beautiful Julie and now you are helping others to learn and have a greater awareness. Hugs to you, Sally.

"Auntie" sezzzzzz... said...

To me, what is the most sad, is that any parent should have guilt, after a child's suicide.

This probably isn't the "right" comment. Or the "proper" comment. But............

Gentle hugs...

DJan said...

There are no words. It is affirming to me to read about your journey back to wholeness, along with Keicha's blog. It is inspiring. Your pain and desire to help are everywhere in your words, and those of us who care about you cannot help but be moved. Sending you plenty of cyber hugs and thanks for your ability to educate those of us who have not walked in your shoes.

Linda said...

A very touching and beautiful post. I am at a loss for words. Sending you love and hugs across the miles.

Linda Reeder said...

Suicide and mental health issues have touched our family too. Your political action for mental health coverage is a good way to honor Julie. I agree with you on that.

rosaria williams said...

It's such a difficult journey, for you, for her siblings. I was stunned by your feelings that you should have had a premonition or sorts. This is a huge thing for us, the idea that we know our children, well enough to predict their future!

This is a great post, a wake-up call for the rest of the nation to stand up and get some action on a big scale to help us all prevent this type of pain and suffering.

Yes, indeed, let's all post this on Facebook and ask our friends to spread this message.

Arkansas Patti said...

What a powerful post Sally. The only good thing is that you have shown me a way I can help and I will by contacting my congressmen and women.
I can't imagine your pain nor that of your family. I pray you find some peace and perhaps action such as this post will help.

Grandmother said...

It seems so basic, doesn't it? Health care should be comprehensive- physical and mental health. Treatment works. Those that need it should have access to it. Thank you for the education your sharing provides. It takes courage to share on this difficult topic of suicide. I would add one thing- if you or your loved one has both mental illness and addiction, get treatment for both at the same time for the best outcome. A heartfelt hug to you!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful and sad reflection. Parents always worry about their children, no matter their age. I have learned that every parent I know does the very best they can do. We have no control over adult children and no control over their health care. I worry every day for my daughter who suffers from depression. She has just been left by her longtime boy friend who is bipolar. Sadness all around. Life is hard and mental illness makes it harder. We must all work for affordable mental health care for all.

Tracy said...

Where to begin? First off, thank you for your honesty and our-pouring of your heart's contents. As a suicide survivor, having attempted suicide 3 times I am here to tell you that you can only do something to prevent it if the person wants it to be prevented. Otherwise, there's not a darn thing you can do. Those who really want to end their life will find a way, others be damned so while it's fruitless to to try and convince you, someday in your heart of hearts you will know you did all you could for your daughter.
Yes, April is Eating Disorder Awareness Month; one near and dear to my heart followed by Suicide Month-how ironic?
I continue to be infuriated by our health care system giving little funds and many cuts to our mental health care issues. I teach school and two of my 5th graders were placed in hospital this year due to attempts made on their own lives-where is the sense in that? Their parents had to take them home because lack of insurance....Again, thank you for speaking out!

Sandi said...

Thank you, Sally, for these brave and honest words of hope and encouragement. I wasn't aware that May is suicide prevention month, thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Ever since Chris took his life, I have clung to a belief similar to the words you shared, "I try to tell them their child went out to meet a just and loving God. And God only knows the answers."

Part of what held him back from seeking the help he needed was financial, the other was pride in being determined to "take care of himself."

No amount of guilt, grief, anger or fear will bring our children back - but we are survivors, truly we are. I can't thank you enough for reminding me to not only survive, but to share with others through survival.

Love and hugs to you this May.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Sally, this post is so important, and I thank you so much for putting it together.

In February, my son-in-law took his own life, leaving behind our 11-year-old grandson, a lot of family and many, many friends. It was the most heartbreaking thing to ever happen. He and my daughter had been divorced for years, but actively co-parented. I had just became his FB friend and we were enjoying talking back and forth as he had taken a new job truck driving in Alaska.

We will never know why he chose to do what he did, but when looking at this phone logs, it seems that the 6.5 hours a day allotted for sleeping were spent on phone calls and texting. It appears that he didn't sleep for over a week!

Without going into more details, I was thinking of you and what you have been through with Julie. My prayers are with you and your family today.

God bless,

Kathy M.

Terri Tiffany said...

I am so glad you are speaking out this way! You will make a difference for others. I dealt with many people who contemplated suicide during my years as a counselor. I always wanted them to see that there is a way out.
But when my husband and I went through some very hard times these past years, we did talk about and think about how we might just let go of this life since it was too hard. It's awful to say those words but the thoughts and actions can hit anyone--they surprised me who always thought nothing would drive me to such a decision but yet many times I would sit at a red light and think about which truck I should pull out in front of. If it wasn't that I didn't want to hurt anyone else it would have been easy...maybe. I thank the Lord that both my husband and I shared our fears and kept each other accountable.

I guess my point is that no matter what we think, we are all vulnerable to such decisions no matter who we are and what we do.

Your daughter was blessed to have such a caring family.

Cape Cod Kitty said...

Your voice carries a powerful, poignant and heartwrenching message to many. I will urge the president to action, and carry you close in my heart this month. Your honesty about losing Julie is a comfort to many, I am sure. A beautiful person, and obviously very loved by your beautiful family.

Linda said...

Bless your heart, Sally! My heart goes out to you. What a wonderful thing you are doing sharing this with others! It isn't easy to open up and share our griefs, but here you are doing just that. I really think that your post will help others and I hope that by sharing this you feel a sense of comfort. Reaching out to you across the miles with much love and hugs.

Linda said...

Hi Sally,

I just wanted to add to my previous comment...I think it is a very unselfish thing you are doing to share this, and I applaud you. I am sure that you will help others. Thank you so much for sharing.

Rose said...

My heart goes out to you, Sally. But what a wonderfully written post! You may have helped someone else today without ever knowing it, one of the few good things that can come out of an experience like yours. A few months ago, a former student of mine also took her own life, and when I saw her family and friends later, they all said, "If I'd only known..." I think we all vowed to be more aware of those in similar need after that, but it sadly was too late for Stephanie.

Thanks, too, for bringing our attention to the Mental Health Act. It's certainly time that something like this is passed.

troutbirder said...

Our eldest son suffered from both bi-polar and ultimately schizophrenia. He had married a beautiful girl, had an important job and was a caretaker. He couldn't, however, take care of himself. Ignorance on our part turned out not to be bliss...

Jeanie said...

Sally, this is a beautiful and honest post and one I think can do much to help people. Thinking of you with love.

Claudia said...

This post was beautifully written from the heart. I am so sorry for your loss. Losing a child is heartbreaking and losing one to suicide especially so. I thank you for the information you have provided us with. There should be help available for those in need.

I've lost a friend and a neighbor to suicide. It's impossible to understand. And so heartbreaking for those left behind.


Grandma Yellow Hair said...

Honey I am so very sorry to have read this about your daughter. I can't begin to imagine the courage it took for you write this but thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing it with me.
I too have worried so many times about my daughter. Prayers to you and your family and God Bless You for writing this.

LC said...

Good words; hard truths. I still ask myself those guilt-ridden questions about a former classmate who I visited with briefly at church one Sunday many years ago. Later that week she took the lives of her two young sons then her own life. Thank you for this post.

Kay said...

You are continuing to teach us so much, Sally. We're dealing with Art's friend right now who is having difficulties. It's not like Julie's... but it's still of the spirit and mind. It's another reason why I've been so busy besides the fact that my daughter and her family are here.