Dear Sarah

Dear Sarah,

I laughed nervously while talking to the neighbour today, it sounded like your laugh. I said something and I can’t even remember what it was, because I was too busy thinking how much I sounded just like you. As I gave a half of a grin I could feel that my face was doing exactly what yours used to do. Upper lip raised on the right side, eyebrows doing that thing. Remember when people used to guess we were twins? I never got that. You were two inches shorter than me, two sizes smaller than me, two shades darker than me, twenty-two months older than me, twenty-two pounds lighter than me. I used to agree more with the people who said we couldn’t possibly be sisters. Yet, here I am thinking I’ve heard your voice coming out of my own mouth.

Remember when we used to draw pictures of floor plans and say that we were going to live in a duplex with a door that connected the two places? Yet there was that year when we didn’t speak to each other even once. You told me I was going to go to Yale someday, you thought I was really smart. But one whole year out of the only twenty I was going to get with you, wasted in silence, seems pretty dumb to me.

Remember how we used to sing together? We would pretend to be stars on a stage, singing Little Richard’s version of Itsy Bitsy Spider and the whole of Tracy Chapman’s self-titled album. We were always singing. Why didn’t we sing more when we grew up?

Remember how you taught me to ride a bicycle? You took my training wheels off my Strawberry Shortcake bike and said you wouldn’t let go. I turned around to see if you were still holding on and you weren’t. I got mad, but then you told me how I didn’t need you holding on anyway, I’d done it all by myself. I never forgot that. Your confidence in me always outweighed my own.

Remember all the trouble we used to get into? That night we were in Adam’s car racing Mom back to the house on the back roads, only Mom didn’t know it was a race. That was so funny at the time, but so reckless.

I remember going to homecoming with you and your friends. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have gone. Even though you said at the time I was only tagging along, and it hurt my feelings, I know now that you wouldn’t have taken me if you didn’t want me there.

There were times I hated you. And because I feel everything with such passion I remember once when I was fifteen swearing I wouldn’t care if you died. I’m so, so, so sorry I said that. I thought for sure you’d be there to welcome me into my twenties and thirties just like my teens, with your footprints always being two steps ahead of mine, but I didn’t know your timer didn’t have as much sand as mine. Yet that time I was sixteen and said I was going to kill myself (and thought I meant it) you stopped everything and called Dad in to yell at me until I got out of bed and kept going.

I let you down, Sarah. I was not as good as you. You might have been way more of a trouble maker than I was when we were kids, but when it really mattered, look who was the angel then. But me… I think I took you for granted.

I wish I had called more often. I wish I had spent more time with you. I look back now and I don’t know what I was doing wasting what time we had with so many people I don’t even speak to anymore.

I wish when I called home, your number could be one of the ones on the list. I wish you and I could get lost in daydreaming once more about how our futures would pan out, in juxtaposition because we’re sisters, and because of all the times we were all each other had.

I wish when friends talked about the day they just spent or the conversation they just had with their sister, I didn’t have to feel a blade of jealousy and sorrow piercing my chest.

I wish the new experiences I had with you weren’t confined to what happens when I’m asleep. But I don’t mean to be wishing those dreams away… I love them. I cherish them.

Like that dream where you were piloting a helicopter and you came and picked me up. You showed me the beauty of the city lights and the land and instead of taking it all in and laughing with you and your little half-grin with raised eyebrows, I turned to you and said, “Why did you leave me? Don’t you know I needed you?”

And all you did was look at me with that familiar facial expression that I knew was saying, Well, what do you want me to do about it? It’s happened now.

It’s happened now.

It’s…

happened. Past tense?

But don’t you know you’re not just something that happened?

You are part of me, Sarah. When my lip raises and my eyebrows do that thing, I can feel my face becomes yours. When I do that nervous laugh, that’s your laugh.

For all the times we played together, made trouble together, daydreamed together, laughed, fought, stood together… those were the things that made me.

I want you to come and hold this bicycle again. But even though I’ve been riding for the past six-and-a-half years on my own, and I know you think I can do it, I’m still mad. There’s no more of your footprints in front of mine.

But there are supposed to be two.

If you were here I’d sing with you. I’d do all the reckless tagging along you wanted. I’d do whatever it took to build that home we drew.

I’d appreciate you.

I’m smarter now. I don’t hate you, I just hate that you’re not here. Except for where you are. And I love that.

I love you. I miss you. You’ll forever be my star.

-Baby Sister

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A Bittersweet Goodbye

Warning: may trigger strong emotions toward cats or feelings of grief for lost/departed pets. An absolutely true and heart-wrenching story.

One summer when my eldest half-brother was visiting us at my childhood home, one of the greatest loves of my life wandered into the backyard suddenly and without warning.

He was young, jet black with a tuft of white hair on his chest and a roundish head, eyes that were an orangey-yellow and the moment they looked at me, I immediately loved him. He seemed to return the feeling as he came and rubbed against my leg and mewed with that voice my ears would come to adore.

He belonged to the woman who lived three doors down and was full of playfulness and zest. He climbed trees in the blink of an eye, hunted mice and birds in the neighbourhood, and gave the most exquisite hugs.

He would wrap his little cat arms around my neck, place his forehead against my chin, and purr as long as I would hold him. He soon decided I was his human and laid claim to his territory by intimidating any other feline who wandered onto the property. Growing tired of sitting outside, noisily waiting for one of us to come and open the door, he took it upon himself to rip holes in the front and back screen doors so he could jump up, wedge himself between the screen and solid door, and push until it opened. My home was now his, he decided. And I was more than happy to accommodate him.

On weekend mornings during a lie-in, if the doors were locked he’d sit on the air conditioning unit protruding from the window and with the sun shining behind him, his cat-sized silhouette would be there, giving shape to this persistent calling, telling me to wake up and let him in. If he stayed in for the night, he’d sleep curled around my head or the shelf just above, whether I wanted him to or not. I could stand in front of him and pat my chest and say “Here, Blackberry” and he’d jump up and give me his trademark hugs. If I patted my back he would jump up and sit with two legs on either side of my neck, lounging on my shoulders. There he would sit purring, hitching a ride with me as I meandered about the house. I’d feed him by hand and sometimes he would even do tricks for the food.

He would bring me gifts of various sizes. It started with the standard mice, but one day he brought me a bird. He sat there looking up at me and simply sounded, “Meow.” Being a girl of only eleven at the time, I freaked out and threw the bird out the door as quickly as I could. In my state of horror I threw him out, too. After his little time-out he wanted back in so I let him, at which point he sat in front of me once more and regurgitated the bird at my feet with a following look on his face that said, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise you wanted it chewed. Is this better?” Once again I freaked and threw him out.

When I was at school, he’d prance through the house at three o’clock every day calling for me. “She’s not here,” my mom would say and he’d jump out the door again. He’d come find me as I walked home, emerge from behind some house and walk with me the last few blocks back home. If I went away for a few days, he’d go back to his other house until I returned. As soon as I called his name he’d come sprinting, or he’d be waiting by the lilac bush already until he saw the car and tried to beat us to the door.

I was his and I loved it. He was the greatest companion I’d ever known and I’d come to rely on his company. He developed an immense sense of trust in me and would communicate in the most extraordinary of ways.

As he got in fights he would sometimes become rather injured; He would come to me and I’d clean his wounds and take him to the vet if necessary. I’d have to put him in a carrier which he hated so much he broke the door trying to get out, and once injured his own paw trying to do so. I hated seeing him hurt and felt awful for putting him in this confined space, but if let out in the car on the trip there he would become loud and difficult and dig his claws in my thighs with anxiety.

From his battles he earned a notch out of his ear and scars on his arms, but after a while I noticed his arms were getting injured in exactly the same way on a repeated basis. It was like they were swelling and bursting, not falling victim to the claws of another.

He never had a litter box as he always went outside, but one day he called at me until I looked at him and asked him what he wanted. On a large piece of cellophane on the floor, he urinated before me. There was blood in it. He looked at it, looked at me and mewed. He never messed inside, so I knew something was wrong, and after another trip to the vet he was given pills to clear up what they told us was a urinary tract infection. Another time, he showed me he had loose stool. I was nonplussed at having to dispose of it, but took him to the vet again with more crying and objecting from within the carrier.

He would have times of seemingly perfect health, but occasionally his behaviour would change and he would become withdrawn, finding a cosy place in my mom’s fabric stash to stay for days. He stopped responding to food and water as often and his once vibrant gaze became one of exhaustion. The vet said he had feline leukaemia and an upper respiratory disease. He administered a few treatments but told us it was terminal.

He started staying in the fabric stash permanently. I’d sit with him and stroke his fur and talk to him. At my young, weird age I’d learned to make the same meowing noises he’d made to me when he was content. He wouldn’t purr or give hugs anymore. He looked like he was in so much pain. Finally after speaking with the vet about his not eating or drinking anything for several days, he said we should put him to sleep or he would starve to death. I was heartbroken as I was going to lose this lovely creature who had been my only friend at times when I felt so alone and alienated. He was the one being I could count on to love me unconditionally and without fail.

As he was so lethargic I carried him to the car without the carrier he loathed so badly. For the first time he didn’t object. I walked into the vet’s office with him and was told I’d have to sit and wait for the vet to arrive. I don’t know if it was thirty minutes or three hours, but it seemed like an eternity.

While we were waiting, as if he’d saved all his strength for this one occasion, he was emphatically hugging, pawing, purring and kissing me for the first time in I didn’t know how long. I don’t know where all the energy came from, but I felt he knew what was happening. I was sobbing so much the receptionist started crying, and when she announced the vet had arrived, my heart sank. I didn’t want all the hugs to end.

As the vet prepared him for his passing I held his paw and stroked behind his ears with his forehead to mine. I said goodbye to my dearest and most cherished friend as he took his last breath and passed on.

The weeks after that, one of my teachers approached me asking, “What’s wrong with you? You used to smile sometimes.” I felt silly for saying “My cat died,” because to most people a cat is just a cat, but not Blackberry. He was so much more. A kindred spirit. A soul-mate, just not the same kind most people have.

I volunteered at homeless pet charities, paying special attention to the black cats. They were never like Blackberry. I decided I’d probably never meet a cat like him again.

But on one glorious, beautiful day, I took a new route home from school and the strangest thing happened. A black cat with orangey-yellow eyes and a roundish head came out from behind a house. I called to it, and it came to me, calling in what sounded like that same familiar voice. I patted my chest, and the cat jumped up. It hugged me, and purred, and put its forehead to my chin. I caressed its ears and noticed there was the same kind of notch in the same place as Blackberry’s. I noticed it had the same little tuft of white hair on its chest and the same scars on its arms. For ten minutes or more I stood there on the sidewalk hugging this cat, until I eventually put it down and resumed walking. It followed me a few paces. I looked away for a moment, and when I looked back it was gone.

Despite repeating that route from that day forward, I never saw that cat again.

112

The Hurricane

It’s all hitting at once.

Storm crashing, like tides against the beach

I’m okay, I will be okay, I have to be okay.

Everything I want, barely outside my reach

Everything I had, slipped through my fingers like sand.

Leaning on a rock, rushing toward a hard place.

Casting a net, the catch is a double deuce.

Buried to the neck amidst the sandcastles

I can, I will, I am! I was… I think.

Hurricane swept, swallowed me whole.

Staring blankly at the placid dangerous calm

Bracing for the second act.

Wind blowing, flattening shelters.

Whistling tunes of destruction and riot

Giving cause to rebuild, renew, re-live.

Rework. Rewind. Rethink.

It’s haunted in the sunshine.

Ready for exorcism.

-Kirsten Young

On Homesickness

I come from the land across the ocean. The land of the big skies, the Rocky Mountains, the majestic, sweeping landscapes and too much fast food. And I miss it. Right down to the Slim Jims and the late-night-one-stop-regret-shop that is Del Taco. It’s where I was born and raised and it runs in my veins. Not the Del Taco, I mean the essence of the America.

Now I’m in England. The place where I’ve accidentally offended people with my two fingers because I forgot it was a thing, where I’ve been mocked for saying pants and still don’t quite understand how to fit in properly. I’ve been here five years now, as of tomorrow. FIVE. That’s a long time to go without a hug from your family.

Sometimes it’s perfectly fine, because I’m busy doing stuff and I don’t notice anything. This is a place where hobbies are common, and I have plenty of those. Sometimes I wonder if I have those hobbies because I’m bored and trying to find something to do, or because I’m assimilating.

Speaking of assimilating, I’m losing my mother language. I use so many British-isms that I don’t even remember which things I used to say and which things are new. I insist on saying words like “folks” just to dig my heels into my American upbringing. But then I hear myself say “Mind the rubbish” and I have to stop to comprehend this foreign noise coming out of my mouth.

One of the hardest days I had was when I first stepped off the plane. Immediately I learned the meaning of “hayfever” as my sinuses filled up and I endured the non-stop dripping and sneezing and wheezing. I was pregnant, I’d been awake for a very long time, and hadn’t eaten for around the same. I had visions before landing of tasting real British fish and chips with the in-laws and having a generally nice experience. It was none of that.

After a lot of messing around and encountering absolutely everything being different, from the door handles to the blinds to the sidewalks, sinks, refrigerators, street signs, EVERYTHING, I was really hungry. I asked for some food, confused as to what happened to the agreement that we were going to have some fish and chips.

My mother-in-law, whom I am extremely relieved to not know any longer, asked if I wanted a cheese sandwich. In my head I assumed she meant grilled cheese sandwich, because that’s the only kind I knew. Nope. She gave me two thick slices of partially stale wheat bread, margarine spread all over, and cold cheese in between. She brought it to me, and in my state of shock I didn’t know what to say but, Uh…What?

What was this thing she put before me? Cold cheese with nothing else in there but margarine? I don’t ever eat margarine, let alone in a sandwich. Butter doesn’t go in a sandwich, either. She asked if I wanted some Marmite. What? Ketchup? Again, what? No! Brown Sauce? Stop!

At this point I wanted to cry. I had no idea what she was trying to do to me. Now that I’ve been here for this long and seen what they do with sandwiches, I understand she was just doing what seemed normal. That, and she’s not a cook. In the slightest. But it was a stiff wake-up call. Nothing is going to be the same here.

These days I’ve found my way around the cuisine, for the most part. Still very little proper Mexican food, which I love and miss dearly. American food is poorly replicated here also. But food isn’t the only problem.

Navigating my way through the unspoken societal rules and boundaries is a challenge. It’s not until after you make the mistake, then repeat it, then have a cry because you don’t know what you did wrong, that someone says, “Oh yes. You can’t do that here. They’ll think you’re nuts.” Ohh okay. I get it. I’ve been parading around like a jester. Cool. That’s just awesome!

I have days where I am so upset about one thing or another that while the pendulum is swinging I romance about how different life would be if I could just go back home. Then I realise it’s not that simple. I don’t have those funds, so I’m essentially stuck. That gets me even more worked up. But the other day, I realised something.

My homesickness is grief. Part of my anxiety is grief. Every household item I buy, every friend I make, all feel like they’re rooting me to this place where I feel I’m not on solid ground and not sure whether to stay or go, or if I’ll ever belong. Another thing I might have to sell. Another goodbye I’ll have to say. To think I’ll never move back home (still have no idea) hurts me quite a bit, like a knife in the heart. But I need to come to terms with the fact that a lot of what I’m grieving no longer exists.

Five years is a long time to be gone. Everyone I knew has moved on, got married, had kids or more kids, scattered themselves across the country. There was no one place I could decide to be before, and now the thought is even more confusing. Where is home? I’m not sure it’s here, but is it in Montana? Washington? Utah? I don’t know if my friends would still have time for me, if the people I care about are going to be able to make room in their lives for me again.

This idea of home I have is a figment of my imagination. I’m wasting my energy fretting about something imaginary. I would love to have the answer (and the means to accomplish it), but I don’t. I’m here now. I only have today. I only have right now.

Might as well do something with it. Let tomorrow take care of itself.

Keep Going (My Conversation With the Un-Dead Part 2)

He said he’d left me a note. He was going to leave me his car. He thought the world would be better off without him and he would be doing at least a bit of good this way.

I told him I didn’t want his car. What am I going to do with that? Look at it every day and think of you? Think of how angry I am that you did this?

Because yeah, I was angry. For as much as he claimed he loved his mother he was about to do the unthinkable and I could see in my mind how she would react. She’s a good woman. She’s been hurt by so many people in her life. She doesn’t need it from her son, her last remaining child. Heck, I didn’t need it either. He shared a birthdate with my other friend whom I mentioned in My Conversation With the Un-Dead who did succeed in taking his life. Both of them had a special role in my life for a time. Both I cared about. I’m tired of grieving one thing or another.

I explained to him that the car wouldn’t be helpful to me at all, it would be like salt in the wounds. Either it would be a constant reminder of pain, or it would be a chore and a load of paperwork to get rid of it, which I hate. In my angst I said he could take his car and shove it, I’d rather see him alive and driving the thing himself.

It was late November. He didn’t want to live anymore, he said. He was mid-thirties, no wife, no kids, no real accomplishments. He missed his sister who he’d lost to a terminal illness. They used to spend loads of time together. Now his Christmases were empty reminders of how they used to have fun together, but she was gone and that part of life was over. His grief left him in depressive states frequently. My hunch is that he was also bipolar, given his manic, Hyena personality and reclusive, Mole personality.

He had tried to seek counselling, but the systems can be slow and he was still waiting for an appointment. Every day he woke up alone, went to work alone, came home alone, ate his dinner alone, went to bed alone. That’s difficult when spirits are high, even more so when they’re low. He was dissatisfied with the general status quo of his life.

It seems to me that this failed attempt is a pretty good opportunity.

“For what?”

To do a one-eighty and change all the things you hate.

One way to look at it is this: When the world around you has you tearing your hair out, crying your eyes out, feeling powerless and worthless, that is the moment you can put your big-kid boots on and say, I’M NOT HAVING THIS ANY LONGER. But rather than a destructive way, how about a transformative way?

Where I grew up we had a saying: “Either sh** or get off the pot.” To me, this means that if I’m going to sit there complaining about something, I’m wasting my time. Instead of sitting there, lamenting over this or that, I have to get up and do something about it, or it’s never going to change. And would I rather give happiness a go than death? Yes. It’s worth a shot if I can get there and finally begin to thrive.

Our sadness is a symptom of a problem. It intensifies the more we stare at it. The key is to shift the focus, and start working on the things you can change. If everything around you has you dissatisfied, maybe you’ve outgrown it. Start a list, and one by one change the things you can.

Don’t set up camp where you don’t want to live.

If your current state of mind is sad all the time, don’t set up camp there. Don’t say to yourself, “Well, this is it. This is where it ends.” Don’t unpack all your hopes and dreams and set them to permanently rest on the shelves of your current state of despair. Because it’s there that they will die. And in one way or another, so will parts of you.

Consider the AA prayer, regardless of your belief in a deity:

God,

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Amen.

Some things can’t be changed. He could never bring his sister back from the dead. (And I totally understand that, because I wish I could bring my sister back, too.) But he felt his existence held no value. So, I suggested he give it value. He was always saying he wanted to volunteer for the homeless. Why not start there?

Once, I set myself a challenge of losing a bunch of weight. But the more I stared at the scale and what it said to me, the less it moved in the direction I wanted. It kept going up instead. So I changed my approach. I realised I couldn’t focus on the weight I lost, because that’s not where I have control. The only real way to change my problem was to start doing some work. I learned that by doing the work, the numbers took care of themselves. I had to constantly remind myself “It’s not about the weight you lose, it’s about the work you do.”

Similarly, we don’t own magic wands where we can suddenly change everything. We have to take it one step at a time, one day at a time, one brick at a time, one word at a time, whatever. It takes time, but it’s always more worth it to try than to give up.

What is in your power? Do that. Do as much as you can every day, and in three months see if you feel the same as you do today. Then do it for three months longer. Then six months. Keep going until this day is a distant memory.

He didn’t like his job, either. I told him to look for another one. In threatening to write a book about him, I told him that if he didn’t at least try to fix the things he didn’t like first, I’d tell the world how he gave up before he even started trying. I’d say he was a quitter. A coward. Is that what you want the world to remember of you? The legacy you want to leave behind? No? Then do something about it.

I don’t mean to tell people considering suicide that they’re cowards and quitters. This one situation is not every situation and I’m not judging you, readers. But as I said here, I was grasping at straws with him. And I do know what it feels like to not want to keep going. But I also know there is a lot of value in picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, taking a big breath, and putting one foot in front of the other in the direction of a better life. You can learn a lot about yourself, amaze yourself, and find strength you didn’t know you had.

Keep going.

If you’re struggling, please remember that if you reach out, your call is likely to be answered. If nothing else, there are hotlines to help. In the UK, the Samaritans are there on the end of the line to be an ear (08457 90 90 90 fees apply). In the US, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “We are here for people struggling through any sort of situation – you do not have to be feeling suicidal to call. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7/365.”

“Try to remember, that you can’t forget
Down with history, up with your head
For sweet tomorrow, she never fell from grace
We might still know sorrow but we got better days”

-Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Better Days

My Conversation With the Un-Dead

I didn’t even like him all that much. He was obnoxious. Purposely obnoxious. But there was something childish and endearing about him. He was obnoxious because he was always trying to be funny. He played the devil’s advocate just to wind people up. He wanted to be laughed at, laughed with if you prefer, because he was always giggling like a hyena. Except when he wasn’t.

Through knowing him I observed two distinct sides of him: The Hyena, and The Mole.

The Hyena was hyperactive to the point he was hard for me to take at times. It could be entertaining and we did have a lot of fun times, but then it would cross that line and it couldn’t be shut off on request. The Hyena wanted attention constantly. The Mole wanted next to none.

The Mole would hide in his bed for days, barely eating or interacting. Sometimes going through Facebook post binges of sharing nostalgic songs he thought described his depressive mood and inner self. It was hard to know whether he was trying to garner sympathy (being the attention-seeker I knew him to be) or simply be alone comforting himself while trying to hint that he needed someone to give him a form of a hug.

We all need hugs sometimes.

At one point my intuition would not leave me alone. Something was wrong. He wasn’t posting his heart on Facebook, he wasn’t calling for a cup of coffee, he had basically fallen off the face of the Earth. It had been over three days since I’d heard any echo of his existence.

I texted; no reply. I called about five times; no reply. I messaged a mutual friend asking if he’d been seen; no he hadn’t. I called again.

Finally I got a text back saying he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to talk. Upon pressing he said he would tell me something he hadn’t told anyone else: He’d just attempted suicide.

He’d tried to hang himself. With his makeshift noose screwed to his doorway, he gave it a go, but it gave out. He woke up passed out on the floor, bruises all around his neck. His voice was messed up. He felt ashamed of himself. Not for trying, but for failing. I invited him for coffee.

He came around, and we had a lengthy conversation. He didn’t appear to want to stop at this attempt. He was pretty sure he was going to try again. I asked him what was going through his head. What did he think would happen when his mother found out. What compelled him to do such a thing.

“It’s not about anyone else, it’s about me. My choice. My life.”

But what about your mum?

“I left a note for her. I told her it wasn’t her fault.”

But do you really think it’s going to be nice for her to have survived her children before her time? As a mother I can tell you that’s got to be the absolute worst thing in the world.

He looked pensive for a moment. “But it isn’t about her.”

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect her. She’ll be sat at home minding her business after going to lunch and doing a bit of knitting and the police will come knocking on the door. Then who will comfort her? Your father? Is that what you really want?

“When Jenny died I was the one who had to go tell her.”

And what happened?

“She absolutely fell to pieces. That was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I never want to see her like that again.”

Right. So that was one child. It is so unnatural for a mother to survive their child. Now imagine that it wasn’t just one of your children but both. The grief doesn’t just double, it increases exponentially. That could kill her.

I realise this may not sound like the most sensitive way to go about this conversation. But at the time, he was basically saying his goodbyes to me. He was almost certainly going to try again. And possibly succeed. I was not only grasping at straws trying to talk some sense into him, but I realised I had a rare opportunity here.

Do you realise that this conversation I’m having with you now is the one that every single person wishes they could have with the person they’re grieving due to suicide? I’m now asking you all the questions the bereaved have no way of getting to ask.

So what about your friends? What do you think they would feel?

“It isn’t about them. It’s about me. I’m being selfish. I know that. But I can’t take this any longer.”

Don’t you realise how many lives you would affect? What about me? With all the s*** I’m going through, the last thing I need is to be grieving your ass right now.

I should note we had a special relationship. He was always taking the piss out of me. I saw nothing wrong in returning the favour.

“Well I left you a note, too.”

I don’t want your damn note, I want you to not break your poor mother’s heart. Don’t for one second underestimate how much this would destroy her. The least you could do is wait until she’s passed.

At some point I threatened to write a book about him. I told him that because I’ve got to ask all these questions, if he’s dead he can’t stop me. I’ll even use his real name and talk about all the twat things he’s confessed to me. He didn’t seem to like that. Too bad.

He knew it was a selfish decision. He wasn’t in denial about that. But he felt he had the right to make that decision and to a certain extent, he’s right. He can make whatever decision he wants. But timing is priceless. When you’re suddenly gone, it affects everyone who knows you. Whatever struggles people are facing, the passing of their friend or loved one adds to the pile. A lot of times it adds not only grief, but guilt.

Questions like, What could I have done differently to prevent this?

“Nothing. I chose to do this because I selfishly wanted to end it. It had nothing to do with you.”

Why didn’t you reach out for help?

“I didn’t want help. I’d given up.”

Were you mad at me?

“No, and I don’t want you to feel badly.”

But I will feel badly. I’ll feel terrible.

“That wasn’t my intention. I wasn’t thinking about that.”

In the end, I don’t believe he tried again. I told him that no matter what dynamic lies between himself and his parents, I promise they would rather take time out of their busy schedule to go and visit him in his hour of need than to lose him forever. From what I’ve seen, he has reached out to them since.

He and I are no longer friends. The Hyena personality could be really hurtful sometimes. I deal with a lot of personal issues of my own, and having him in my life was adding to a lot of issues that I couldn’t handle any longer. But I don’t wish ill on him, or anyone else. I sincerely hope he gets all the help he needs and begins to thrive at some point, which is the same I hope for myself and the rest of humanity.

However, I have learned one very important lesson through this. I will never take the passing of anyone personally. At the end of 2013 I lost someone to suicide who was at one point a very dear friend of mine. I felt awful. I felt as though I should have known, I should have spoken to him more often, I should have done this or done that. But I’ve realised I can’t hold myself responsible for anyone’s decisions. I have had to divorce myself from the mindset that I could have saved someone who was insistent on departing from this waking life.

If someone chooses to take their own life, that’s up to them. I am no stranger to these urges, but sometimes we have our reasons for either continuing to fight or giving up the fight. I get that. Life is hard. Lonely.

I don’t know if my conversation with him was the right thing to do, but I was there for him. I listened. I cared. I tried. I made myself available and proved to him that when I said “I give a s*** about you,” I meant it. From my experience, that seemed better than to ignore it, disregard his feelings, or shrug the whole thing off.

If you’re struggling, please remember that if you reach out, your call is likely to be answered. If nothing else, there are hotlines to help. In the UK, the Samaritans are there on the end of the line to be an ear (08457 90 90 90). In the US, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “We are here for people struggling through any sort of situation – you do not have to be feeling suicidal to call. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7/365.”

If you have heard someone say they are thinking heavily about attempting suicide, they are not always bluffing. If in doubt and you have no other options, call the authorities. My un-dead friend insisted he didn’t want me to, but in hindsight I probably should have. At the time, I was scared of losing him as a friend for “betraying” him. Funny how our minds work in a crisis. But sometimes that’s the best thing we can do for them.

Read the rest of the story here.

Where I’m Going With This

This is the follow-up post promised here.

After The Accident, my niece and nephew were left behind suddenly, without their mother.

My niece, Ezri, was two-and-a-half years old, my nephew Lucian was two months old. Ezri had been seated in the centre of the backseat of the car at the time, and had escaped with merely a scratch on her foot. Lucian, however, was on the same side as my sister when the car was hit. Miraculously he was barely injured, with only a concussion and a bruised liver resulting from the impact. The car was so badly damaged they didn’t even know he was still in there, at first. If it weren’t for him suddenly crying, they wouldn’t have heard him and he would have been carried away, alive, with the wreckage.

These thoughts continuously haunt me. I cannot imagine what they must have seen or heard, or how they must have felt. But I love them to pieces, which is difficult because I’ve been an entire ocean away from them for the past five years. That’s beside the point.

The point is, it hurts me to think of how they felt after all this. How do you explain to a child that their parent isn’t coming back? How do you convey their love and legacy to the innocent? I know my family isn’t alone in this; there are children across the world who are struggling or about to struggle with this concept. Not even just kids, but people of all ages. Grief is a difficult thing.

So I wrote a story. Just something simple, about a family of bunnies with Ezri as the main character. In the story, Mama Bunny disappears and Ezri goes to find her after she sees her dad’s reaction when she asks where her mama is. I wrote it for her and Lucian, initially, but I think this is bigger than that.

When we were at the hospital, nobody gave us any materials to help talk to the kids. They just kind of leave you to it. My vision is that this book will be published with illustrations and distributed for free to families who are about to lose a parent of children. I want it to be available for purchase so that people everywhere can enjoy it and take a bit of comfort from it.

BUT I DON’T QUITE KNOW HOW TO ACCOMPLISH THIS.

This is where you come in, friends. I want to hear from people who would be able to offer advice or time and skills on editing a video so I can create a Kickstarter page to raise the funds to get this done. I need ideas. Artists. Programmers. I’m thinking maybe an app where the kids can flip the pages and play with Ezri Bunny. Or some animated illustrations.

I myself am an amateur artist but for some reason I have a mental block when it comes to doing artwork for this particular project. I’m thinking stuff like this:

Painting by Kirsten Young

Painting by Kirsten Young

I would like to post the story free for anyone to read, however I am afraid of copyright issues and the work being stolen. So maybe I could read the story on video to upload to YouTube. But I don’t know how to edit video.

If you or someone you know would like to help, please give a shout. I’d love to see this accomplished in 2015.

Thanks for reading.

The Accident (And How Money Changes Everything)

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This is a story I originally posted on a thread on Amanda Palmer’s Facebook page. If you don’t know who Amanda Palmer is, I’d encourage you to have a look. She is one of my favourite artists, who does things like this:

Amanda Palmer was sharing a fundraising page for a woman who was in a terrible car accident. They needed money for her recovery process. This struck a chord with me because I have a similar experience and something to say about it.

Here we go:

My sister was in an awful accident about six years ago. The twelfth of October, 2008 to be precise. I was expecting her to come to Montana from Utah that day. The weather reports were unusually bad in Montana and I’d urged her to wait another day. She’d insisted the roads were clear. She left around 2pm.

At 10pm her partner (whom I refer to as my brother-in-law), who’d not travelled with her, was on her cell phone calling me. I picked up the phone expecting to hear her voice.

“Kirsten.” says Jim. She must not have made it out of Utah.

“Uh… what are you doing on Sarah’s phone?” A feeling of deep dread fills my soul before he utters another word.

“There’s been an accident.” Her two young children were in the car with her. Where are they? They were doing fine in the hospital the next town over. Sarah had been life-flighted to Ogden Hospital.

As the nurse listed her injuries I kept waiting for the part where they would say, “But she’s going to be okay.” It didn’t come. Six broken vertebrae in her neck. Skull fracture. Broken pelvis. Lacerated spleen. And the list kept going… Ten days on machines and the only family reunion in her life later and it was over.

She was gone.

There are no words for the dread you feel, learning of a human injured so badly. It is a hard thing to witness their loved ones fall to pieces. I remember seeing Jim standing against the wall outside her hospital room, slowly sliding down with his head in his hands and sobbing. Sobbing. If there had been a guarantee of money available for support, the machines probably would have stayed on. She was a half a point above brain-dead on the neurosurgeon’s scale. The surgeon refused to say there was no hope, indeed there might be. The determining factor was that each day on the machines was so expensive and for this family that was already struggling, (she was making the trip for a job opportunity) whose insurance was about to run out, they could likely become homeless very soon. If she did survive, but was paralysed forever, they would be unable to afford what she would need.

So many arguments. So much pain. She was only twenty-two. My big sister.

I hold onto the comfort that two blind people were given the gift of sight from her eyes, and her bone marrow helped someone recover from something. Her skin helped burn victims heal.

But her children are motherless. And there’s always the “What if ____?”

Is money really what stood between my niece and nephew knowing their mother and not?

People shouldn’t have to make these decisions. Money during a time like this is all the difference.

The unspoken part of people recovering from injuries is the extensive damage that trickles through to their family and friends. Fissures in familial relationships, wounds which never heal. I saw some true colours through this ordeal I’d prefer to have not seen. Almost every aspect of it was a tragedy.

Am I to believe it was a blessing my sister didn’t survive because the social security claim might not have been successful anyway? Is the system really counting on us dying so they won’t have to pay out?

One of the most hurtful parts was when we were all gathered around to say our goodbyes, a lawyer called who was representing the people in the car behind Sarah’s who had t-boned her on the black ice. They had escaped with a collarbone injury and a broken leg, collectively.

They were suing.

I had to take the phone off Jim who was clearly troubled by this injury claim lawyer.

“Excuse me, you do realise Sarah’s not going to make it, right?” was my first response to his aggravating remarks.

“Uh, um, uhhhh… I’m so sorry. Have a nice day.”

Indeed.

Hers was the twenty-sixth accident that day on a five-mile stretch of road along Willard Bay. Where was the responsibility of Utah Highway, shutting the road down after the fifth slide-off, perhaps? Third roll-over? No? A sign of warning on their multi-million dollar digital display installations to SLOW DOWN, BLACK ICE?

They waited until there was a helicopter rescue necessary to act.

Twenty-six accidents, involving ten slide-offs, eight roll-overs, and several collisions.

By the way, her birthday would have been on the twelfth of this month. She would have been turning twenty-nine.

Now I know why injury-claim law practices are so lucrative; they’d rather we harass one another in times like this than take care of us in our hour of need, despite the taxes we pay.

Without helping one another, there is no hope.

By sharing this story I hope that it gives perspective on a subject that many don’t, or won’t, discuss.

I also share this story to provide a background on another subject close to my heart.

Post to follow expanding on that.

Take care, everyone, and if there’s bad snow or crazy weather around you and someone says to stay home, please think about staying home.