Becoming a Grown Up

Someone asked me several weeks ago, “when is it that you think you became a grown up?” Seems like an easy question, but I really had to think about it.

Growing up, my parents often reminded my sister and me what “being a grown-up” meant. What I gathered from most of these talks is that being a grown-up often meant making tough choices. Being a grown-up meant taking responsibility – admitting when you had done something wrong and letting people know you were sorry (and with action, my mother would say, not just words. “Sorry” doesn’t mean anything if your behavior doesn’t change. Wise woman, my mother). Being a grown-up meant standing up for what you believe in, no matter what, and knowing when to take up the good fight. It also meant knowing when to walk away.

Sometimes, being a grown-up meant putting other people’s needs in front of your own, but it also meant knowing when you, yourself, are the priority. It meant appreciating those in your life despite the flaws you perceive. It meant saying “I love you” often, even if love was hard. Most important, they told me, being a grown-up meant taking a truly honest look at yourself – all the positives, all the flaws. Basically, being a grown-up seemed like an awful lot of work.

So, instead of stating what made me a grown-up, I think it’s better to start with all the things that didn’t actually make me a grown-up, even though at the time I felt like a very worthy member of the “grown-up” class. Looking back, these events might have shown I was “a big girl” (like my mom and dad used to tell me whenever they wanted me to be brave, obedient, polite, and especially when they used to leave me with a babysitter, which I hated), or even that I was “growing up.” But, make me a grown-up, they did not. I would come to realize this years later.

I didn’t become a grown-up when I left for college in Texas, living away from my parents who lived in California. It wasn’t the first time I had sex (which, by the way, I am embarrassed to admit occurred before I left for college and like most “first times” was an incredibly disappointing experience). Not when I graduated college, not when I paid taxes for the first time and argued to my dad that the government should keep their greedy hands off my earnings, not when I entered law school, not even when I passed the California Bar Exam or took on my first client after I became licensed. It wasn’t even when I got married, left California, my family and my friends to move in with and start playing house with my husband in Colorado.

No, I became a grown-up in the early morning of May 20, 2002, when I answered my cell phone, during a stay at my parents’ house, and a detective on the other end of the phone asked if I was alone or if someone could stand near me while we talked. When I told him I wasn’t alone and that my mom was with me, the detective proceeded, rather bluntly, to tell me that my husband, Greg, had been found dead in our garage, outside his vehicle and surrounded by personal effects. The next slur of words were a blur in my brain: carbon monoxide poisoning – self inflicted – apparent suicide – letters left behind – I am terribly sorry – when do you think you will be able to catch a flight to Colorado and make the necessary arrangements? At this point, my own screaming and crying was making it impossible to hear any of it. At that very moment, I didn’t want to be a grown-up. But I was. I had to be. This life changing event made me a grown-up who would be forced to do very grown-up things.

Seven months earlier, I had been a bride, walking down the aisle in my Grace Kelly inspired gown surrounded by family and friends, stating the vows “till death do us part” to the man I loved more than anything else in the world. Dreams of happily ever after (despite the many warning signs that this would be difficult to achieve) filled my mind: a new life in Colorado, career changes, babies – so many things I wanted to think were possible.

In a sudden moment, by answering the phone, I had become a twenty-eight year old widow, trying my hardest to channel my own inner Jacqueline Kennedy, whose grace and dignity in times of grief and turmoil I always so admired. Tough times and tough choices were ahead of me. Grown-up arrived, hard and fast.

My eight year relationship with Greg hadn’t been easy in the end. There were times when it hadn’t even been easy in the beginning or the middle. Throughout our relationship, Greg struggled first with alcohol and then with prescription drug addiction, after several car accidents and resulting back and neck surgeries left him dealing with chronic pain. He achieved periods of sobriety, only to relapse countless times. Three months before our wedding, he completed a thirty day residential treatment program. This time, we both held faith that sobriety would stick. Getting married at that time was perhaps not the smartest move, but it was something we both really wanted. Love conquers all and that sort of thing. Years prior, he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which explained so many things about him and his behavior, but also brought him a lot of shame. The best way he knew to live with the diagnosis was to pretend like it didn’t exist. He simply ignored it, denied it, and he asked that I ignore it too. Not an easy feat, any of it. So, in the end, things unraveled in a magnificent way under the pressure of all these various factors. I had actually been staying with my parents in California for several weeks before my husband’s suicide. We both needed some time and space to evaluate how we could, if at all, rectify some of the difficulties in our marriage. With his death, I was forced to look all these parts of our life straight in the eye, all the while answering the myriad questions being lobbed at me by friends, family and even strangers: How could this have happened? Why wasn’t I there for him? How would we all go on? Just to name a few.

In the days, months, and years that followed my Greg’s suicide, I became a grown-up with each decision I made. These included having to claim his body, planning three different memorial services so that all his friends and family could be accommodated, determining final disposition of his remains (which, for a time, caused friction between me and his mother), packing up our home in Colorado and moving belongings back to California, (and then determining the “right time” to finally let go of his clothes and other things), living daily without my partner, and going back to a job I didn’t enjoy because Greg had left me with a mountain of debt . Through all of this, I found my voice – a voice that had been hibernating for quite some time.

I became a grown-up when I started to say what I meant and meant what I said. When I forgave others for their inability to be there for me, I became a grown-up. When I grieved on my own terms and realized there wasn’t an end to grief, but instead an integration of grief into daily life, I became a grown-up.

While Greg’s suicide was a defining moment in my life, I wasn’t going to allow it to define my life. It would not destroy me. Sure, I felt sorry for myself many times, but generally, I tried to get up every morning, greet the world, and make my situation the best that it could be. Every time someone looked at me and said “Suicide is so selfish. But really, what did you expect, marrying a person with all those problems?” and I replied, “I expected we would make the best out of every day. I married him because I loved him, and I believed I could make a difference in his life, and all the good times and all the bad times made me who I am today. And that is a gift that he left me,” I became a grown-up.

Finally, when I forgave myself, I became a grown-up. When I realized that just like I wasn’t responsible for my husband’s troubled childhood, his addictions, his mental illness or the legal problems linked to all of it, and I wasn’t responsible for his final act of suicide, my heart and my soul were freed again. Once that occurred, I was able to fully be there for myself, and, in turn, for the ones that I love, and ones going through difficulties and experiencing similar losses and trying to survive. I kept my heart open, even when it hurt. Because in life, what matters most is the joy and love that we share. What matters is the kindness that we show.

That remains Greg’s lasting gift. And that is what this grown-up knows.

(This piece was written in 2011 but given life on July 10, 2014 when it was first run on http://www.projectunderblog. I’m sharing it here to provide just a little more background about me – so that hopefully as we continue this journey the newer pieces will have a context that makes a little sense.)

Sitting in Your Poopy Pants

Grief and poopy pants go together like Bogart and Bacall. Ice cream and Cake. Cookies and Milk. Spaghetti and Meatballs. You just naturally think of one when the other is mentioned. That makes sense, right? Stay with me; let me explain.

I have been babysitting babies and toddlers since I was 11. Before I went to law school and started my legal career, I nannied. My sister has three daughters who I have watched grow up. I now have two boys of my own. I have witnessed a lot of potty training in all my years of being around babies and toddlers. As I have now (hopefully!) closed the chapter on potty training my boys, this “story” is even more relevant.

I have often said that grief can often become like a poopy diaper. Yes, you read that right. Grief can become much like a poopy diaper. One of the hardest parts about potty training a toddler is that the child is often really attached to their diaper (and what is in it). I will never forget the response of one of the boys I nannied for, when we started the whole potty training process: I was telling him that he was a big boy and asking why would he want to sit in a diaper full of stinky poop when we could clean him up and make him feel better? His response? “It’s warm; it’s NOT stinky; it’s MINE.” He was stuck in a place of thinking that his poopy diaper was as good as it was gonna get. It was HIS. It belonged to HIM. And even though it was stinky, it was warm and made him feel at home. It was familiar.

After years of working through my own grief and supporting those in groups struggling with theirs, I have seen that many people (myself included), preferred to sit in their own poopy pants, rather than see what other options are out there. Maybe because even though it was grief, it was familiar. It was what we knew. Maybe we identify with the grief. Maybe we forgot what it was like to NOT sit in poopy pants every day.
We often prefer to sit in our own poop, rather than face the unknown and unfamiliar, the scary because the poop IS familiar. It may be poop, but it is OUR poop. Sure it stinks, but it is OUR stink. We fear moving on from the poopy diaper – we fear cleaning up because it seems like something might get lost along the way. If we allow ourselves to release the deep burdens of grief, we fear that we are releasing our loved one. We fear forgetting our loved one. We fear we won’t remember the physical attributes, the sound of a voice, the feeling of a hand on our lower back. If we decide to finally throw the stinky diaper away, we fear our loved one will end up in the trash with it.

I am here to say that you will never forget your loved ones. They will always be with you. Someday, whether it is next week, or next month, or next year or 10 or 20 years from now, whatever YOUR process is, you will decide that you are sick and tired of sitting in a poopy diaper. You will know that you can throw the poopy diaper away without losing your love, your attachment and your connection to your loved one. You will basically be able to take the good to keep and throw the bad out. You won’t “get over” the loss, but you will learn to integrate it so that the grief (poopy pants) is not so all consuming all the time. You will find joy again. You will laugh again. You will honor the journey that was your loved one’s and is now yours. You will get up, and change out of those stinky pants, and see the world that your loved ones wanted you to continue enjoying. You will start the things you need to start. You will finish the things you need to finish. You will know that your loved ones wished for you more than just sitting in a stinky, hot mess of a poopy diaper every day. And, you will honor them by living the best life you can from the moment you decide to throw the poopy diaper out.

No one should ever continue to sit in their own shit unnecessarily. Not when there is living to do.

(Special thanks to Project Underblog, http://www.projectunderblog.com, for first running this piece on July 24, 2014. Looking for more mamalawmadingdong? Follow me on Facebook – https://m.facebook.com/mamalawmadingdong)

12 Years

(This originally ran as a Facebook status update. Then, my dear friend from college, Amy, ran it as a feature piece on her blog, Using Our Words, http://www.usingourwords.com. Shortly thereafter, Christina at Project Underblog, http://www.projectunderblog.com, graciously ran it there as well. Both of these women have been instrumental in giving me the push and confidence I needed – and I am so grateful.)

On May 18, 2002, I had what, at the time I did not realize would be, my last phone conversation with my first husband, Greg. I am forever grateful that despite it being a difficult call, as we were dealing with some very, very difficult circumstances, the call ended with both of us telling each other “I love you.” Later that evening, Greg sent me the last email I would ever receive from him. On the morning of May 20, 2002, I received the phone call that dropped me to my knees screaming and changed my life forever. Greg was gone.

And so began the clusterfuck of grief and recovery. The painful, oftentimes periods of blackout, poor decisions, never getting out of bed, crying 24/7 process of grief and recovery. Making decisions I didn’t want to make; having conversations I didn’t want to have; writing obituaries and eulogies I couldn’t believe I had to write; facing a life that was completely and utterly not anything I had planned. Answering questions I didn’t want to or couldn’t answer. The one that was asked at least 100 times (and that I asked myself at least a million) – do you think he would have done it if I had been home with him? I tortured myself with that one. The truth is, and something it took me a long time to be honest about, he had attempted before. More than once. Before he was sober, when his bipolar was really out of control, he had attempted but denied at the time they were attempts. In fact, in the month leading up to his suicide, he had lost two friends to suicide. We had talked about it – how devastating it was to the family and friends left behind. He swore to me he would never do that to me – that it wasn’t even on his radar. So, the answer I have, is that I do think he waited for me to be out of our house because he didn’t want me finding him. Maybe my absence made it easier to complete what he set out to do. But, even if I was there, I think it would have just postponed what likely would eventually happen. It all breaks my heart. Still.

Most of the time after Greg died, I simply just wondered how I would survive. If you had asked me in the days and weeks and months after, what I would be doing in 2014, I probably would have answered, I don’t expect to live that long. Because the pain was so intense and day to day survival was too much. I had amazing friends and family around me, and I always put on a good show, but I could not see past the pain. In all of it’s manifestations – physical, emotional, spiritual. I had no faith. I hated God, who at one time had provided me great comfort. I had bills I could not pay; I was living with my parents; I was trying to earn a living so I wouldn’t be living with my parents forever. If I survived, I certainly didn’t think I would find long term love again. Have children? I gave up on that dream. For a period of time I was extremely self destructive. I drank too much; I medicated too much; I spent time with people I had no business spending time with (loneliness does that to you), and I felt sorry for myself. A lot.

So the fact that I have remarried, have two beautiful sons, a family who has stood by me through it all and amazing friends who have let me go through this process without judgment, speaks volumes to the fact that what I say to every member of every Survivors After Suicide Loss group I co-facilitate is true: You will survive this. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not always going to be fun. Sometimes it’s by the skin of your teeth and sometimes it’s after swimming upstream for miles and miles, but you will survive this. On your own timetable, in your own way, you will survive this. You will lose friends and gain others. You will clean house. You will scream at people; you will act like a crazy person at times; you will sleep your life away at times; you will cry more than you thought humanly possible, but you will survive. For yourself, but also because your loved one wants that for you. Truly. It’s why we are called Survivors. There is no other way to describe this type of loss. To get to the other side is to survive.

I have often said that rocking in the corner in the fetal position would have been preferred to some of the things I have had to go through since Greg’s death. However; that isn’t the legacy I want to leave for him. I wanted his death to have meaning. To serve a purpose. To help others. In sharing his story, my story, our story, I hope that if one person can relate, if one person seeks help, this is not in vain. It’s why I continue to do what I can to raise awareness regarding mental health issues, and why I continue to volunteer with SAS.

Greg blessed me by leaving me beautiful letters with instructions on what he wanted for me. They included, in his words,

1. Continue to smile that smile of yours.
2. Be happy.
3. Love. Love the way you do and don’t let this change that.

I have tried my best to do all three of those on a daily basis. My process, as difficult as it was at times, brought me to my husband and to our boys. And I cannot imagine life without them. That is sometimes odd to even speak or write, because it means that Greg is not here. And that is something that is so hard to imagine – a life where I didn’t know Greg or a life where Greg doesn’t exist. Many people don’t understand why I continue to speak about, write about or honor Greg as I do. It’s simple. The me that you know, well, that me wouldn’t be here if not for Greg. His death was a defining moment in my life. I do not let it define me, but it is a part of me. And I can honor the love we shared while still giving all my love to my husband and our boys. Some people just don’t get it. But they haven’t walked in my shoes.

Twelve years ago, my life came crashing down around me. I survived.

What’s a Mamalawmadingdong Anyway?

After I hit “publish” and became “official” a few days ago, a bit of panic set in.

What if no one reads what I write?
What if people read it, and they hate it?
What if nobody likes it? Likes me?

It was sort of like the night before freshman year of high school all over again. Except this time I had two marriages, two kids, an aging dog, experience with suicide, post partum depression, addiction, mental illness and grief, as well as a bladder that sometimes caused me to pee a little when I coughed or sneezed to go along with my high anxiety. I was also lacking an abundance of Wet n Wild cosmetics, and as we all know, nothing makes you feel more confident than circa 1988 electric blue eye liner.

So, here goes, a little about me.

I was born and raised in Southern California by East Coast parents – my father a Jersey boy born and bred and my mother from Connecticut. I’m a bit more East Coast than West Coast, and while I haven’t flipped any tables during dinner, most will tell you there is a bit of Jersey Girl temper in my blood. And in my vocabulary.

When I was 19, I met the man who would become my first husband, Greg. We had a relationship of highs and lows, peppered with his addictions and mental illness, making the love we shared both the most wonderful, and, at times, the most unhealthy thing for us. At 28 I was a widow, having lost Greg to suicide, and thus began the long, hard road of putting my life back together.

Three years after Greg died, I met my current husband (still working on that whole “what to name him in the age of the internet and no privacy when he didn’t sign up to have his wife share every detail of their life online” thing) through a work colleague/friend. He just happened to be this colleague/friend’s brother. After a few months of emailing, finally meeting in person and sharing an eight hour first date, we began dating. I knew he was the one when he didn’t ask me to hide my past from his friends or family. He didn’t ask me to not mention my previous marriage. He didn’t expect me to just forget about the life I had before him. He accepted it. He embraced it. In all its messiness. He proposed a year later, while I was in Amsterdam teaching a summer course on Family Building Using Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Oh yes, minor detail – career wise, I’m an attorney, specializing in assisted reproductive law. Basically, what that means is that I assist those building families using alternative means – egg donation, sperm donation, embryo donation, and/or gestational surrogacy. I’ve been in private practice as a sole practitioner since 2002.

In 2007, the current husband (!!) and I were married with just our parents as witnesses in Hana, Hawaii. In 2011, we welcomed twin sons into our fold. We became a family of five, as they joined their older, four legged sister Roxy, now dubbed the Nanny Dog.

What can you expect to find here at mamalawmadingdong? A little bit of this and a little bit of that. Truly, it is going to follow what is rambling through my brain at any given time. It might be something going on with work (think Sherri Shepherd wanting to deny maternity to her surrogate born child). Or it might be something funny going on with the boys. Or, as you have seen, it could very well be about my journey so far. Where I have been and where I hope to go from here.

I readily admit, I am doing this mostly for me. I needed to write again. More than just an extended Facebook status update. More than just a letter to an editor or comment on a news article. I needed to write. So, selfishly, this blog is about giving me an outlet. And preserving my sense of purpose. As well as my sanity. However, I want you to take this journey with me. I hope that sometimes what I write will resonate with you. I hope you will give me your feedback and tell me what you like and don’t like. I hope to make you laugh sometimes. I hope we can laugh together. And cry together. Feel and be together.

So, what’s a mamalawmadingdong?

A mother. A lawyer. A wife. Scattered. Scheduled. Routinely 5-10 minutes behind schedule. Confident. Full of self doubt. Prone to dropping the F bomb. Often when she really shouldn’t. But trying to do her best at this crazy thing called life.

In other words, me.
You can also find Mamalawdingdong on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/mamalawmadingdong

My Husband’s Suicide

(Piece originally written in 2004; updated in 2006 &  2014. Since I am new to this whole “blogging” thing, I wanted to give my new readers some more background as to who I am, where I have been, and where I am going.  It’s been a journey.  As it continues, I hope you enjoy taking it with me, here.)

There have been many times over the last 2 years that I have thought about what Greg, my husband, was thinking as he went downstairs to the garage, carrying our hope chest, knowing that in a short while he would be dead. I have thought about what must have been racing through his head as he took the duct tape and sealed the vent on the common wall of our town home, obviously concerned that he might poison our neighbors as the carbon monoxide filled the garage. I’ve considered the thoughts that he had as he took the garden hose and taped it to the exhaust pipe, ran it in through the back passenger window, and then sealed all of the windows of his beloved BMW.

I have wondered if he was angry. Maybe he was sad. Maybe he was so emotionally spent that the whole thing took on that sick humor that sometimes infects many tragedies. That everything is so fucked up that you can’t help but laugh. I hope and pray that he just felt peace – a peace that comes with knowing that you are about to end an incomprehensible burden of physical and emotional pain.

I try to find my own peace when I remember what he had with him when he died. After he died, and he was no longer in the garage, I had to go through the car. It was a task I insisted on doing alone. I did it as my two girlfriends were upstairs and packing up my life with Greg. It took me almost 3 days. I sat in the car and sobbed. I sat on the concrete where they found his body and sobbed. I cried and yelled and wailed until I couldn’t even remember what it was like to not cry and yell and wail. I still have days like that.

As Greg made the decision to end his life, he decided to focus on the things that meant the most to him. How lucky I am that those things included me. Inside the car were the contents of our hope chest: pictures he loved most – of our wedding, my first fly-fishing lesson, our nieces. Then there were all the things that we collected over more than 8 years together – movie stubs, old plane tickets from places we had gone, match boxes from restaurants or hotels, a dress of mine that he loved (and I didn’t wear often enough), my perfume. I like to think that the last thought he had before he slipped away is the same one that I focus on – the moment he stood on the banks of the Roaring Fork River in Aspen, where we had spent so much time together, with a gorgeous ring and tears in his eyes and the most romantic and perfect proposal I could ask for. It was perhaps our most perfect memory, before the madness and pain and unpredictable behavior made life unbearable.

Greg’s suicide really took on the flavor of his life. It was a dichotomy of simplicity in execution and complexity of effect. It was both tidy and a mess all at the same time. It was gentle and destructive simultaneously. Just like Greg. What he left behind provided the time line of how he planned his death. Letters he had written were neatly lined up on the dining room table. The dishwasher had been loaded. The laundry was piled in the hamper. Money was placed in envelopes. Instructions left for the police, the detectives, the friends that might find him. A sealed box in the middle, a simple note on his personalized stationery taped on top, gave an almost complete picture of what he prioritized: “For my wife. Please make sure that Kate gets this box. Thank you. Greg.” Inside the box were two letters, cash, some pictures and all his chips from AA. A little more than three cumulative years of sobriety in a little wood box. Letters, their contents too precious to share verbatim in full, which stated that the best gift I could give to him was to move on, be strong and find happiness. How hard I have tried and how difficult that has been.

We had a fight the night before he took his life. I had told him that he really needed to look into himself and figure out how we were going to put our life back together. Our home was in Colorado, and I was with my parents in California for an undetermined length of stay. I had been really ill, and Greg couldn’t take care of me because he couldn’t take care of himself. He was slipping away, pushing me away, and I hit my limit. A car accident had left him in constant physical pain. Four back and neck surgeries over three years did nothing to help the situation; in fact, they made it worse. Tack that on to unresolved family issues, a personal history of alcoholism,  and possible (probable)bipolar disorder, and the slip into madness was perhaps inevitable. He, so therefore, we, were having business, financial and legal problems. “I love you, Greg. I want this to work. But I need a husband that I can depend on. I need you to make an effort to get better – to help make this better. I need you to make a choice.” And the choice he made will always affect me. It will be the voice inside my head for the rest of my life.

The simplicity of his suicide is found in the way that he died. He had several bases covered. Helium, to most people’s surprise, can be fatal if inhaled in large quantities. Usually you pass out before you die. Sometimes you pass out and all you are left with is brain damage. But add a running car and carbon monoxide to the mix and death is guaranteed.

The complexity of his death is seen in how much work it has taken to get my own life back on track. Death is hard. Suicide is perhaps the most difficult of deaths. The word alone will clear a room. People that I expected to be supportive disappeared. Strangers embraced me. Almost everyone had a pious platitude or opinion to offer, none that were of any help. If Greg’s death has done anything for me, it has taught me to stand up for myself. Cut the crap out of my life. Not that I have ever tolerated a lot of crap, but I tolerate less now. I am more vocal. I tell you what I think – good, bad, or indifferent. That alone has cost me friendships. I have been accused of changing. Well, yes. My life was ripped out from under me. Be worried if I didn’t change.

I desperately miss Greg, my best friend and sounding board. I miss having him as a partner- that one person that I am supposed to come home to every night for the rest of my life. I miss having his hand to hold when I walk down the street. I miss having that perfect someone to share a code word with – the code word that signals it’s time to leave the boring dinner party and go home and order pizza (and we did that, on more than one occasion). I hate that I have entered the dating world again, a most confusing and emotional place. I still find that I want to call Greg and ask his advice. I hate that I very much want to find love again but am scared to death of finding it and having it ripped away from me all over again.

Yet, each day I find that I do what Greg asked me to do. In his exact words, from his last letter, “[I] put one foot in front of the other and smile as big as [I] can. Because life goes on. It’s as simple as that.”

Afterword: Since writing this piece in 2004, I have been blessed with finding my new “partner in life.”  We met in 2005 and after a year together he asked me to be his wife, and we were married in September, 2007. We welcomed beautiful twin sons into our life in 2011. He is truly a gift, in that he accepts me for who I am and what I have been through. He knows that Greg is an indelible part of my life, and he doesn’t ask me to shut that out. I love him with all that I have, and I look forward to our life together. It’s bittersweet, in that I would never have met him if Greg had not died by suicide. People get nervous when I say how lucky I am—how can a woman whose husband died by suicide be lucky? I’m lucky in that I have been able to love two amazing men in my life. And they have loved me back -totally, utterly and completely. Love and respect and honesty and acceptance—well, those are the things that make us whole.

My Angel at LAX

Last Monday, August 11, I was sitting with my kids outside playing. They were in a wagon singing So Long, Farewell and pretending they were sailing to Ireland to pick up trash on their next expedition. And a text from a dear friend came in. And then another and then a news alert. And it was absolutely heartbreaking and unbelievable news. Robin Williams
was dead.

And before the sideline commentary starts about this being just another spoiled Hollywood star with a list of addictions who couldn’t get his shit together, let me share a little story I haven’t told anyone. Not my husband, not my best friend, not my parents, not my sister, not anyone. Because it is too precious to me. But now is the time. And now is the place.

After my first husband Greg died by suicide, I went on a travel quest of sorts, scattering his ashes where he requested and trying to piece my life and my soul back together as best I could. I spent quite a bit of time flying between LAX and Oakland, as I was living in West Hollywood but contemplating a move to San Francisco or Marin and visiting my best friend monthly at a minimum. Post 9/11 it wasn’t always easy to get a Tupperware of your late husband’s ashes through TSA security, and at LAX one afternoon I found myself on the receiving end of an agent with a power trip like no other. After several threats telling me I was going to have to toss the ashes, and me going ballistic and falling into hysterics and finally having a real cop come in and look at the death certificate I always carried with me, I made it to the airport bar still crying and clutching my little container. I sat in a corner table facing the wall so no one could see how hysterical I was, with my whiskey on the rocks providing support, and I felt a hand on my shoulder. And a soft voice stated “miss, I just want to be sure you are ok. I see you are traveling alone, and I saw what happened, and I just really want to be sure you are ok.” And through my tears I could place the voice but couldn’t actually believe that Robin Williams was just casually strolling through LAX and would actually take the time to stop to see if I was ok.

I was still crying that ugly cry where you are trying to catch your breath, and I gave him the Cliff Notes version of circumstances. And his eyes got a little glossy. And his voice got softer. And he said to me “Addiction is a real bitch. Mental illness and depression are the mother of all bitches. I am so sorry for all the pain your husband was in. I’m so sorry for the pain you are in now. But it sounds like you have family and friends and love. And that tips the scale a bit, right?” And he walked me to the gate as we were on the same commercial flight.

He was a gentle soul. He made us laugh, and he made us cry. He made us feel with his craft. He was honest about his demons. He was open about his mistakes and his faults. He was obviously in pain.

Mental illness and severe depression are the mother of all bitches. Damn straight.

He was always there for our veterans, always there for our service men, children in hospitals, his own friends and family in need, and even a hysterical stranger in the airport. And, what I haven’t yet shared was that during our walk to the gate he got me laughing. Impersonating people we passed by. Making fun of the TSA agents, especially the one who gave me such a hard time. In a playful way though. Not insulting (even though the guy totally deserved to be insulted). He told me I had a wonderful laugh. A beautiful smile. And when we parted ways, he hugged me. With his famously hairy arms that didn’t even gross me out even though I have a weird phobia of anything hairy, he gave me a huge, warm, bear hug and it sustained me. It was a moment I think about all the time. How that moment saved me. And sustained me. How HE sustained me during one of the most difficult moments of my life.

He was as kind as he was funny.

His death is so terribly, terribly tragic. That someone who brought so much light and joy to others felt so much darkness inside.

Rest in peace, Mr. Williams. May you find the peace that eluded you here and may you keep the angels laughing.

Thanks for being there that day for me. You were the angel I needed. And I know you spoke from experience, and I appreciated that.

It was tough news for me to hear last Monday. It continues to be tough news for me to process.

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Enough

The word enough has been bouncing around my head a lot this week. All day long it dances in and out in various forms. I see it in articles, in posts and in comments. It punches me in the gut every time I see it.

Didn’t Robin Williams love his kids enough to stay alive? Why would he take his life if he loved them enough? Clearly, he didn’t love them ENOUGH.

Didn’t his wife love him? She must not have loved him enough if she left him alone knowing he was depressed.

If his friends knew he was suffering , didn’t they care about him enough to organize a 24/7 watch to make sure he was ok?

Why wasn’t anyone doing ENOUGH?

When my own husband died by suicide, the word enough was lobbed at me more times than a tennis ball is lobbed across a net during Wimbledon.

You must not have loved your husband enough if you knew he was suffering and you didn’t stay with him. You flew a thousand miles away when he was on a downward spiral – why didn’t you care enough to stay? You must not have cared enough since you left him alone knowing he was having difficulty. Clearly, you weren’t doing ENOUGH.

He must not have loved you enough to have put you through all of this. He must not have been strong enough to handle life since he took the easy way out. He must not have been smart enough to find a solution. He must not have cared ENOUGH about his family and friends if this is what he chose to do to them (forget about what he did to himself – that night and all the years prior).

Enough. Forget about sorry. Enough seems to be the hardest word.

What does it even mean, enough? And even if we can decide what is enough, will it ever change the outcome?

What if the answer is that Robin Williams loved himself enough as a father that he wanted to leave this Earth when he and his children were sharing a space of peace and understanding and love. And not illness and sadness and the torment of a long goodbye? What if he loved his children enough that he didn’t want to put them through the devastation that an illness such as Parkinson’s Disease can bring? That the illness of addiction had brought? That the shadows of depression cast?

What if I were to say to you that I know that my husband loved me enough to send me away, by and through his behavior, because he didn’t want me to witness what he knew was going to happen a short time after I left. What if he knew that his quality of life was going to be so poor that the only way to make sure that I had enough of a chance at a happy life was to let me go. To make me go. To make sure I had had enough.

What if I were to tell you that I loved myself enough and my husband enough to know that I had to leave for my own health reasons. That if I stayed, I would not be healthy enough to face anything in front of us, including my husband’s mental health issues. I left because I felt like it gave both of us the best fighting chance at any type of future. Because I was close to saying enough. No more. I can’t do this anymore. If only to preserve what little remained of my own sanity.

What if I were to say it would not matter if I organized a 24/7 plan to make sure that my husband was being watched and monitored and accompanied – that at some point it’s possible that he would find a way to slip away and do what he had planned to do? That’s a tough pill to swallow, because I do believe in intervention and prevention, and I do believe lives and loves can be saved. But not always, sadly. Sadly, there sometimes just isn’t enough time. There is that pesky word again.

As for being smart enough or strong enough, well, I can assure you that anyone suffering from depression so severe that contemplating the ending of one’s life seems to be the only option, is stronger than any of us can imagine. And likely more exhausted than any of us can ever comprehend.

What is enough?

Enough pain. Enough despair. Enough loneliness. Enough confusion. Enough sadness. Enough of staring down a dark tunnel and not being able to see the light. Enough of being surrounded by laughter and not being able to hear joy.

38,0000 a year dead to suicide in the U.S. alone.
750,000 people in the U.S. attempt to end their lives each year.

Each of those individuals has at least one person who loves them. At least one person doing all they can. At least one person wondering how this ever could have happened.

At least one person saying enough.

Enough.
Enough. A thousand times over.
Enough.

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