Friday, June 23, 2017

The club you don't want anyone to join

The finish line!
Shortly before dawn last Sunday morning, I finished my fourth Out of the Darkness Overnight walk.

Some of you have loved and supported me through nearly losing my dad in 2007, and his death in 2009. You've been with me through my first, second, and third Overnight walks.

The back of the shirt says, "I'll be up all night for" and then you fill in the space below.

Before last weekend, of course I was acutely aware of who I'd lost, and the importance, in my mind, of keeping this from happening to others. But I wasn't focused on the simplicity and gravity of walking dusk to dawn in memory of someone.

It is hard both emotionally and physically. I always cry at the opening ceremony, where people share experiences and talk about who they are honoring with their walk.

Second Lieutenant USAF, Travis Michael Jordan
This spring I asked my cousin Mike and his wife if I could dedicate my walk to their first-born son, Travis, who passed away on May 5, 2016. I felt so humble asking, because it struck me what a tremendous privilege that it is to walk in someone's honor.

My father was mine, as was my uncle, who left no one but us behind. I tell you that my uncle believed he was alone in the world, and his funeral was standing room only.

But I never had to ask anyone about them. And I didn't contemplate the gravity of it.

This year, I also offered for people to give me a name to put on my shirt. If you wanted to add a loved one--or, in some cases, more--I would be honored to carry them with me all through the night, on my shirt and in my heart.

(In previous years, I wrote names on pieces of beautiful paper. I don't know why I didn't think to open up my shirt. Which sounds like I was flashing people. Which I most certainly was not.)

This year, on my shirt, I had an awful lot of names. Mothers, fathers, teenage boyfriends, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, friends...

People gave me what felt best. Initials, first names, full names. One friend gave me initials but emailed me the full names, so I would know them in my heart. This felt right to her.

One long, long-time friend, who supported us through very hard times with my dad, and was very private about her dad, gave me his full name for the shirt. The import of this struck me hard, and upon reading, I burst into tears.

It still crushes me now, all the names, all those we love and miss.

This year, I raised a shocking (to me) $8,425 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I felt proud to do this in my cousin's name.

When, at the walk, they talked about the millions raised for research, I felt hopeful. My kids are half me, after all, and depression and suicide are on both sides of my family.
This year, I also joined Team SOLOS. I will walk with them again next year, and the year after. I will always be grateful.

Many SOLOS teammates have been walking together for years. They've formed friendships through walks and volunteer efforts. Our teammate Connie walked the halls of the Capitol doing advocacy work the week of the walk.

The long-time teammates know each other really well. These walks are a reunion, and odd as it may sound, something to look forward to annually.

They're kind and loving and supportive. They welcomed those, like me, new to the team. They were immensely supportive of first-time walkers.

They hug. They're funny. They bake for the walk. One of them made these muesli chocolate balls. They are dense, heavy balls. There was some worry of them becoming moist in all the humidity. Stacie's balls became a running joke.

This year, with this team, I really felt connected to the walk, in a way that I hadn't before.

In April I told my acupuncturist that I cry a lot while fundraising for the walk, because it keeps the topic of suicide and loss at the forefront of my mind.

She asked why I do it. And she didn't buy my answer of raising money for research and outreach. She said, "You have some reason you do this for yourself. This is hard and upsetting. You need to figure out why."

In April, I didn't have an answer.

Now, after last weekend with this team, I do.

Because the walk is healing. Because I need to feel like I am doing something positive. Because I want to honor my loved ones. Because I like being with others who understand the crushing terribleness of losing someone you love to suicide.

Because it is a relief to talk about some terrible details and know you are not describing the unimaginable, because we've all, in one way or another, lived through the unimaginable.

Because it makes me feel less alone.

My lovely friend Laurie, who I met when we both performed in This Is My Brave in 2015, joined the team as well. This was her first walk, and I was so glad to walk together.

Laurie and I met up with our friend Jenn, the founder of TIMB, who volunteered at the walk.
Mini Brave reunion
I don't know about the aftermath of other types of loss, but for me, my dad's death by suicide felt very isolating. I wanted to talk about it all the time, but didn't feel like I could.

I wrote about it. Weird as it sounds in this public space, that felt safe. But I didn't discuss it with most people. Some people I knew for a fact knew about didn't ask or offer condolences.

I knew why. I wasn't mad, but I knew it was different.

After some time the hurt became manageable, so I wasn't just a giant walking wound. But with time you just have to wait, and wait, and wait.

It turns out that time really is the longest distance between two places.

(It also turns out that if you wear a flashing safety bracelet in a port-a-potty, it's like being in a tiny disco in hell.)

Three years ago, Nick asked me very gently if I thought maybe there was something wrong with me, or if I needed some extra help. Because my dad's death was still a near-daily topic for me, and it had been five years. He worried that I was unusually upset.

He didn't say this unkindly. But the implication was that five years was long enough. I should be done.

Five, as it turns out, was the year that I finally realized that I couldn't save my dad. That I hadn't failed him. That helped more than anything.

It was also the year I also understood that there is no "long enough" for your grief. There is no particular point where you should be "over it" and moving on.

When I was small, five was the biggest number I could imagine. I would say to my mom, "I love you five!" Because there was nothing more vast.

Five was big for me. Eight, where I am now, is an even better place to be. A man I met, who'd lost his 26-year-old son, told me he's in a much better place now that it's been 12 years.

Grief is not linear. It loops and doubles back, and just when you think you're fine, it punches you in the stomach.

Birthdays hurt. Death days hurt. Every single year.

It doesn't matter how many years go by. It hurts to lose your dad, your twin brother, your baby sister, your husband, your son...It hurts and hurts and hurts.

Other people, even close friends and family members, get tired of your grief. One woman voiced this. Another shared her similar experience. And another.

I hadn't heard this from others before. It resonated.

The walk itself was physically hard, my hardest one yet. I think mainly because the humidity was at approximately 100 million percent.

And I am a person who embraces heat and humidity.
So tired, so sweaty, so ready to stop walking
By mile 16, which turned out to be close to the end, I was desperate to stop walking. My legs were tired. My feet were sore. I was exhausted.

Our team all started out together, then we lost each other for three or four miles, and then grouped back together.

One of the members was in his military camouflage. This made him easy to spot in the sea of blue, although, even with his boots and 50 pound pack, he was generally way ahead of us.

My dear friend Amanda dropped in to walk for a couple hours, just as she'd done on my first walk. And then, when we were on Capitol Hill, Kris and Megan texted to say they'd seen some walkers at a rest stop, and where was I?
Lovely friends! And gelato!
Turned out I was just down the block.

Kris treated me to Pitango gelato. I got the cardamom flavor and it was basically a cup of magic.

You walk through the night, and arrive in the dark before dawn. Your path, and in this case the steps of the Lincoln memorial, is lit with luminaria, which are paper bags that participants decorate to honor their loved ones.

While you walk, volunteers fill them with tiny lights, so they glow from within.
I made two: one for Travis and one for my dad. Laurie made one for her son, Nathanial, who had just turned 24 when he passed away. When we got back, Laurie and I looked and looked. But we couldn't find Travis's or Nathanial's.

The bottoms of some of the bags had disintegrated in the humidity, and they'd blown away in the breeze. We wondered if ours had.

After about half an hour searching, we sat down, exhausted and disappointed. And then Laurie said, "I hope the two of them floated off together and are having a great time."

That comforted us both.

On Friday night, the man I mentioned who had lost his son said, "This is a great group of people. But it's not a club you want anyone to join."

This will forever be true.

If you have lost someone to suicide, the walk, and being immersed in a group that really understands, is immensely healing.

I never want you to join my club. I really, really don't.

But if it happens that you do, we will embrace you with arms and heart wide open.


  1. Oh Lisa. Your words made me cry and I am sorry you are a member of that club

    1. Thank you for the kind words. I'm sorry I am, too. But I'm doing OK. Big hugs, Nicole.

  2. I just managed to read this, Lisa. I am so sad. Glad that you have met such kindred spirits but so sad that it has to be so heartbreaking. Eight years. My friends celebrate their sons suicide date by making it his heaven birthday. In November it was his fifth heavenly birthday. And, even though I don't really believe much in heaven I do believe in something and if it helps even for one minute to ease the heartache, well thats tantamount to walking with friends in a club no one wants to join. I wish you peace as always my dear internet friend. xoxo - Lynn

    1. I love the idea of a heavenly birthday, Lynn. I also believe in something, although I'm not sure what. And anything that helps ease the heartache is right. Big hugs and much love to you.

  3. I've read your blog since way back... pre-Nick, when it was about hilarious dates. I am not a member of your club, but a year ago sometime on June 17th or 18th, my 85 year old grandmother was murdered by her caregiver. She hit her in the head with a hammer, dismembered her body and placed it in trash bags. Put the bags in the back of her car and then waited until the middle of the night to drive across state lines, dump the body and try to burn it along with some of my grandmother's belongings. Although this scenario is very different from your family's scenario, much of what you say resonates with me. There is a certain level of guilt about how we could have trusted someone who could do something like this with caring for my grandmother (honestly my mom has struggled more with it than I have, but trying to convince her that there's nothing she could have done to stop what happened is an ongoing struggle). There is the same feeling of wanting to talk about it, thinking about it all the time, but knowing that it makes others uncomfortable (or sometimes worse - incredibly interested in every detail in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable). We just passed the one year anniversary and it was very hard. It's hard when all you can think about is your murdered grandmother and everything and everyone around you is continuing like normal. Your message gives me hope though - it will be better when I reach 5 or 8 or 10. So I guess I'm a member of a different, yet also undesirable club.

    Please keep writing. I have always loved reading your writing, even when it didn't resonate as personally.

    1. Oh, Megan. I burst into tears reading your message. I wish I could give you a huge hug. I am so terribly sorry. What a terrible loss, compounded by the fact that she was murdered. What a devastating thing to happen. And what a heinous betrayal by someone you trusted with your grandmother. I don't even know what to say besides I'm so sorry. It is not the kind of thing anyone would imagine ever happening, and what you describe is devastating. You've lived through significant trauma.

      Personally, if I could go back and do something over in the aftermath of my dad's death, it would be to find a therapist who specialized in my kind of trauma. I don't know if you can do this, but I wish it for you. I also wish I'd known about the AFSP back then, so I could talk to people who really got it. I so understanding thinking about it all the time and wanting to talk about it all the time and not having it be the kind of conversation topic others expect or have any comfort with. I don't know if there is a support group for people who have lost a loved one to murder, but if so, I bet it would be helpful in the way that this group has been to me.

      For me, time has helped a lot. Some days are still awful (anniversaries and birthdays for sure--and everyone I know says this), but at this point, eight years later, I'm way better that I was.

      Thank you for the kind words on the writing, and thank you for sticking with me! Please email me (link is on side bar below picture) if you ever want to chat or just vent. I mean that sincerely. Big hugs.


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