Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Sometimes I think that I know what love's all about. And when I see the light I know I'll be all right...

Philly SOLO!
Dear friends,

Saturday night we walked 16.7 miles through Philadelphia in the Out of the Darkness Overnight walk, raising funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

This year I had so many names on my shirt. Each name was a loved one lost, or a loved one who struggles. I have people I worry about who I put on there.

So many generous people--so many of you--contributed to my walk without hesitation. In fact, gladly, with kind words, words of gratitude, when really, I'm the one who is grateful.
So many loved ones
I offered to carry names on my shirt and in my heart, and people gave them. People thanked me, but in truth, it was my privilege. It's no small thing to carry someone so dearly loved. I do not take it lightly.

My new and lovely friend Melissa lost her dad, Miguel, when she was young. She couldn't do the Philly walk, and gave me his name. Our two dads, with the same name.

I thought about people's brothers, boyfriends, parents, children, friends and relatives. The ache of the loss makes me cry, even now, as I type.

I would never compare my loss to someone else's, because all our losses are the worst. Losing loved ones is brutal.

But with suicide there is an extra layer of why. Of whether or not you could have done something. And, even now, of stigma.

I talked to people who kept quiet for decades. Who lied about what happened, because that was more acceptable than the truth. Who are asked why they're not yet over it. Who get chastised by family for being open about a decades-ago suicide loss, because there are adult children who still don't know, and family members want to perpetuate a fiction.

You might not think that a suicide event would be fun, but my teammates are high energy, passionate, hilarious. Cari, who I'd met along with her amazing mom Connie, organized everything for the Philly team. I'm so grateful to her for adding that to her super busy schedule.
Starting out strong
Jen carried the Philly SOLO sign most of the miles, until it got left next to a porta-potty.

I wove in and out as we walked, talking to new people, hearing new stories, or picking up on old tales. You know I'm not one for small talk, and I find the emotional intensity satisfying.

We share our stories, our burdens, our snacks.One even offered to split her Xanax with another.

This year the Philly team was called Philly SOLO, but it was the same incredible team I walked with last year. This year, though, I got to walk with lovely Tiffany, who contacted me before the NYC walk because she was an LG reader, and she's the reason I joined SOLOS. There were members I hadn't met on the DC walk last year, and new members.

Laurie was unable to make this year's walk, and I carried her son Nathaniel with me, and she was with me in spirit.

Nick had been planning on driving Jordan's camp trunk up to NJ, so I asked if he could do so last weekend, and drop Betty and me in Philly on the way. In theory, this was perfect. It didn't take them out of their way, and we'd leave in the morning and I'd be there in good time for the team lunch.

In actual fact, I-95 is Gehenna on wheels.I don't know why they don't have on-ramp signs that say, "Abandon all hope..."

Then we stopped at a rest stop, where India cheerfully announced, "This is where I puked on Jordan's foot!" In fact it wasn't, because the rest stop where she puked on Jordan's foot is much bigger, and has a poorly staffed Dunkin Donuts, whereas this one has a delightful Peet's Coffee.

In any case. We then had to eat. Jordan's bagel was too hot. He was thirsty. Why did it take so long to get water?

ETCETERA

I was growing increasingly agitated as the hours wore on and it was looking like I was barely going to arrive in time to drop bags at the hotel before the team lunch.

At some point Nick pointed out that I was overly anxious.

And in my head I was all, "Don't stab the driver, Lisa. Breathe. The number one rule of being a passenger is don't stab the driver."

Out loud I'm certain I was shrill and bitchy, as happens when I am anxious and someone suggests I need to calm down or dial it back, which just makes me DIAL IT UP TO A MILLION.

In any case, Nick and the kids very kindly deposited us at the hotel and Betty and I got to the lunch not terribly late, and I relayed my anxiety and everyone said, in different words, that it's such a high anxiety weekend and they get super stressed out beforehand as well.

One of my teammates also said she's not a lawyer, but the advice she'd like to give me is never to stab anyone. "Just think it quietly really hard," she said.

Not a single person thought I was making too big a deal of it. It is hard for all of us.

I am so open about mental illness, about losing family members to suicide, and about my own struggles with depression. And I'm comfortable talking about all those things.

But I'm usually the one leading the conversation.

Being in a big group of others who talk about the same things, who live and breathe these issues, who casually mention that running daily decreases their ainxiety, who have been told to "get over it" or made to feel aberrant by STILL being upset about the suicide of a loved one...being surrounded by these people feels like exhaling after holding your breath for a long time.

It feels like a strong hug. Like sliding into clean sheets after a hot shower. It's a relief. It's a pleasure to all be together.
Hard to get all our feet in!
And! I got to see my delightful friend Joy, who I met the night before my first walk in 2013, and walked with in DC and then four years ago in Philly.
Joy!
Joy's friends come out and cheer, and bring a dog to pet. They drive to different spots on the route. I think because of my neon pink tights, they always spotted me and encouraged me. This encouragement feels amazing.

We started walking at sundown. The first 10.5 miles were fine. And then around 1:00 am, we all sat down in a field and had midnight snack. We took off our shoes and changed our socks.

After that, the city was dark and quiet. Walkers spread out. The energy and excitement of starting out had dissipated.

I saw walkers I'd noticed earlier and wondered if they would make it, who were still walking when we approached the finish line. Honestly, at a certain point, I wondered if I would make it. Like me, they put one foot in front of the other and kept moving forward.

The team stayed together well into the walk, way past the halfway point.
Almost halfway!
I can't think of another event like this. There's something particular about walking through the night, pushing through the dark and the quiet, keeping going even when you're tired, and your feet hurt, and you'd rather lie down and sleep. I keep going because I committed, because it is important to me. And because I know that if I just continue to move forward, eventually, I'll get there.

The last several miles, I lost my team and walked alone, though I was never alone. And I don't mean that in a Jesus carried me kind of way. I mean, there were other walkers.

We walked into Sunday, Father's Day.

I crossed the finish line alone, and hobbled up the steps to find my luminaria. This year I found all three. I was so tired I was off balance, and nearly fell off the steps several times.
Walking toward hope
But I found them. They were glowing, surrounded by others, dearly loved and dearly missed.
Travis
I saw old friends, made new ones, and had a beautiful time. Next year I'm heading to wherever it is on Friday, so I can have a good sleep and eliminate the stress of rushing on a Saturday. Plus I want to spend more time with my people.

This is a club I never want you to join. But being a member, walking is helpful; it is healing. As my friend Joy said, "Walking doesn't fix grief. Nothing fixes grief. Walking together on the journey of life is all we can do."

I'm grateful to walk together, and to feel that we are never alone.

I'm thankful you're on this journey with me, and that you've so kindly and lovingly supported me in so many ways.

Including donations that have not yet been credited to me, I raised over $4,500. My team raised over $31,000. I feel proud of raising this for such a great organization, one whose mission resonates so strongly with me.

Thank you for all your support, in so many ways.

Big hugs and much love,

Lisa

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Morning smiles like the face of a newborn child

"Mama," my son said, as we lay side by side in his bed before sleep, "are you afraid of anything?"

The room was dark and quiet, and as I thought about my response, I said, "Am I afraid of anything? Hmm."

I'm terrified of somehow losing my kids, like in a car or plane crash, and having to face life without them. I'm scared something will happen to Nick. I know one day my mom will die and I worry about it. I'll be so devastated, I'll fall apart completely.

I'm scared to look in the mirror in the dark. I have been since second grade, when we played Bloody Mary at my house in Bangladesh. If I have to use the bathroom at night, I hurry in and out, looking straight ahead, making sure I don't glance in the mirror.

The other night it occurred to me vampires don't have a reflection. So looking in the mirror, you wouldn't even if know one were behind you.

Clowns, clowns frighten me, ever since Poltergeist. I read Steven King's It years and years ago, and that added to my clown terror. I couldn't watch the movie trailers.

I'm afraid of turbulence, I'm afraid my plane will crash. I worry about not having enough time with connections, and missing my next flight.

The idea of sink holes makes me anxious, although Nick has assured me that DC is built on rock.

I'm scared of accidentally backing into a geyser, although I've never yet been to Yellowstone. I'm scared of tsunamis and super volcanoes and being in the Pacific Northwest when that one giant tsunami earthquake liquefies the entire area.

At night, in the living room, when I'm the last one to bed, I fear a hand will reach out from under the couch as I walk by.

Also, rabies. Good lord, the rabies.

I'm afraid I'm not special. That actually, I'm just plain ordinary.

"Sharks," I said. I'm pretty scared of sharks. What about you?"

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Saab story

I can see paradise by the...
Several years ago, I inherited my father-in-law's Saab.

It's a terrific car. It has way more power than my Honda Civic, plus the windows are automatic. It has a lot of buttons for things I still have no idea about. It's a fancier car than I'd ever had.

However. It now also gets all quitty when it's hot out and it has to sit in traffic.

Maybe some of you remember how last year my car and I both broke down in hysteria on Rock Creek Parkway at rush hour?

One of the things that I managed to tell Nick, through my sobs and inability to breathe or articulate, was that there was an icon on the dashboard that looked like a yellow submarine. It is number five on this chart, which I got from a UK site called The Auto Agency.

I'm pretty sure my friend Steve referred to number three the "butt crack" light. This makes me feel better.

I mean, do you know what all those symbols mean?

In any case, my car stopped, and we had it towed to the Saab place in Virginia.

They fixed what they thought it was, and then I drove it to the Outer Banks to hang out with Wendy and her family, and lo, on 95 in Friday rush hour, my car started doing that thing where I press on the pedal and it does...nothing. I knew this was the precursor to it flashing the yellow submarine light and then just plain stopping.

So I pulled off into a small town that coincidentally had a garage that was about to close. There was nothing they could do for me. So I bought the kids ice cream, which they proceeded to drip on the floor because the temperature was approximately one million degrees.

Nick suggested we let the car cool down, and then get ourselves to Potomac Mills, which was about five miles away. We could have dinner while a storm was due to roll in and drop the temperature significantly, after which point we could drive home.

We did all these things, as well as buying Jordan a pair of maroon Chuck Taylor shoes at Off 5th, which he then referred to as his "designer fashion sneakers".

Once the car cooled down, I drove it home without issue. Nick took it to the Saab place, and they replaced something, or two somethings, plus the part that keeps the gears from suddenly snapping, because that was about to go, which sounded rather alarming.

It's an old car.

So we did all these things and all was fine all winter. Longer than all winter, because it stayed cold cold cold forever.

And then in April I drove India and some friends to a birthday party in Leesburg. It was a hot, sunny day. And on the way back, on 66, my car started doing that nothing thing that it does when I press the pedal.

I knew it was about to get quitty. I was trying not to freak out.

But traffic was moving. I got our friends home just as my car flashed a bunch of lights and then stopped.

I turned it off and got it started again, drove the mile home, and left it for three days. I didn't even want to look at it. I was pissed.

We dropped it off about three weeks ago. Nick asked them to keep it until they figured out what was wrong with it.

Yesterday they said they've run through two tanks of gas trying to get it to quit. They left it running for eight hours, and then drove it home.

No stalling. They can't make it fail.

They said they're stumped. One idea they proffered was that maybe, just maybe, Nick's wife, which would be ME, had perhaps filled it up with regular gas, rather than premium. The engine is old, and at this point, kind of picky.

Now. I may not know what the yellow submarine light's real name is. I may thing that one of those lights looks like loops of spaghetti. And I may have Nick talk to the garage because I genuinely don't know what I'm talking about with cars.

All these things are true.

But. What's also true is that I am a first-born rule follower. And. I happen to know that the octane rating has to do with the temperature at which your car burns gas. I learned this on NPR. You have to use the right number for your car's engine.

(Even if you think it's annoying, because your Honda used cheaper gas and also never quit on you. But you had to work up to that crazy left-side merge into the GW Parkway to Alexandria, because your Honda didn't actually have the power to merge in with anything approaching alacrity.)

The fact is that we have two cars, when one of us rarely drives. We have no car payment, because both our cars are old as god, and mine was free. There would be no reason to buy a new car if we got rid of this one.

And I actually love this car. Except for the quittiness, which makes me very resentful.

So.

This afternoon I'm picking up my car, crossing my fingers, and driving it back into the city. And then I'm basically never driving it to Virginia again.

What I really, really need is Car Talk. The Tappet Brothers would figure this business out.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

*hugs*

This morning I woke up to my annual text from my dear friend.

*hugs*

It's so simple, and so powerful it its simplicity.

---

Today marks nine years since I picked up the phone in my office knowing from the number that my dad was gone.

Now I can't remember the last time I spoke with him.

---

Birthdays and death days are the hardest.

Holidays are hard, too.

I don't know why I used to think it was just me.

---

This particular grief is so familiar, no longer frightening.

Even so, grief can catch you unawares, like your reflection in a store window, when you were really trying to get a glimpse of the cute shoes inside.

Grief can be tedious for those who aren't living through it.

Grief can be bewildering for those on the outside.

Grief can be bewildering on the inside.

Grief can settle in and open another bottle of wine just at the point in the evening where you think everyone is leaving and you're ready to go to bed. .

---

On Saturday I was walking with my kids and India said, "I wish your dad were still alive."

I said, "Me, too."

She said, "It's very sad, and we don't have to talk about it."

I said, "It's OK to talk about things that make us sad. My dad would've loved you so much."

And she replied, "Grandma Lillian and your dad are watching out for us."

I said, "I believe that. I like this idea."

---

On Sunday, I took my mom to the house of a trasured family friend from our Delhi days.

Bibi and I saw each other and started to cry.

She said she missed my dad. She misses his sense of humor. They would push each other to wicked funniness and scandalize others.

In her memories of me as a teenager, I would come in and graciously say hello and then leave. I always had places to be.

---

I can remember my dad's laugh, but not his voice.

Why didn't I save any voice mails? Now I always save voice mails.

It's not a safeguard, but it makes me feel better.

---

India asked when my dad died, and I said a few months before Jordan was born.

She said, "I wish he was alive longer so he got to meet us."

Me, too, baby. Me, too.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Try to remember when life was so tender that no one wept except the willow

This year, I'm trying to be more mindful. To notice but not judge. To sit with feelings rather than trying to change them.

I do this with varying degrees of success. But I am trying.

In May, everything makes me cry. Everything. I know this.

Yesterday I clicked on a story in the Post about an adopted son reuniting with his birth mother in Japan, and sobbed even before they reconnected. I mean, the guy was sitting at his desk at the Pentagon and got a phone call about his mom and I was just a wreck.

The fact is I cry at my desk no fewer than three times a day. I also have allergies, so I can always blame them if anyone notices my red eyes.

It's inconvenient, but I'm not dysfunctional. Just teary.

Now, I am trying to recognize and embrace these feelings rather than push them aside to get on with things. It is not my natural inclination.

Last year right around now, I went to see Deb, my acupuncturist (who I am linking because I love her, and am so happy to recommend). My allergies were walloping me, and I was afraid they were going to turn into a sinus infection.

I couldn't breathe through my nose, and I couldn't get a break from the congestion, no matter what I did. I used the Neti pot. I took hot showers. I steamed my head. I took Zyrtec, Allegra, Claritin, Xyzal.

I doubled them up and used them in combination, which Nick found rather alarming and asked me to stop.

But it didn't matter. Nothing helped.

When I saw Deb, she told me that grief resides in the lungs and this affects your sinuses. It was May. Pat's health was rapidly declining. We had recently lost our dear friend John. I was gearing up for my annual Overnight walk.

And it was May.

The period leading up to the Overnight--which I am walking again in June in Philadelphia, if you would like and are able to contribute--takes a toll. Because I am fundraising and telling my story, I think about suicide and loss every single day.

People send me their own stories. People give me names. Every one of these feels personal. Every one of these makes me cry.

And in fact, if you have names of loved ones you have lost or who struggle, please, feel free to send them to me. I do not connect my willingness to walk for people to donations.

But in this period, I have a hard time. It's not depression. It's just sadness. Lots and lots of sadness.

Now, going back to Deb, I cried to her for a while, and then she said, "People like you operate in high energy mode, and you like to stay up." At this she reached her hands in the air. She grief brings us low, and people like me, we are afraid to be pulled down, because we're scared we won't get up again.

Really, the exact opposite of that Chumbawamba song.

This made sense. It makes sense. I fear the devastation of grief, because what if I get stuck?

I don't think of myself as a high energy person, but according to my husband (who I asked because sometimes things I think about myself are not what other people see, like how I think I'm crunchy and every time I say this, my friend Sophie laughs really hard) I radiate energy and intensity.

Honestly, I am often tired. We know how tired I am and my hell it is so boring. But I think it's true that I am high intensity. (I mean, if you know me, what do you think?)

Anyway, Deb said I needed to recognize this about myself. Grief will pull me down, but I will not stay down. I could let it pass, knowing I'd recover.

She also said I needed to figure out why I walk the Overnight walk. I needed to dig down into the real reasons for me, and address this need.

And so I have given it a lot of thought. This year I delayed fundraising until about six weeks out, because it costs me too much personally to be that sad for months.

Now I'm trying to just let myself feel the sadness and sit with the grief. Not avoid or fight them, but see them for what they are and honor them in a way that recognizes that loss hurts, and the spaces left behind by the most important people in your life are huge.

You know I recently reconnected with my cousin Patti Jo. She's an artist, like her mom. I sent her the photo of my daughter wading in a tide pool last weekend, and she juxtaposed it with Aunt Jo's painting of me at about that age, and added the text of my thank you message to her.

We've been sharing family memories, and they feel good.

She and her brothers were born years before my brother and me, so when we were kids, we knew them as glamorous teens. My dad, to my cousins, was Uncle Mickey. He was hilarious, he was fun. He and my mom would come back from overseas with great stories.

They were right there in Duluth, so saw our grandparents regularly, and knew them when they were younger, before my grandmother was in chronic pain.

I don't know why it's so powerful, but I find it healing to connect with and to hear about our family. We have different memories and vantage points of the same people across time and place. We share genes. We all share a particular sense of humor. This might strike me the most.

The emotional space loved ones occupy is theirs, and theirs alone. It's not like wet sand on the beach, where when you scoop out a bucket full, more immediately slides in.

Some spaces never fill in. Your time might get filled, but the space doesn't. Weeks and months and years pass, and it hurts less. Or, maybe more accurately, hurts differently.

People leave us, but energy doesn't go away. I find that idea comforting.

I wonder, what you do to live with grief and feelings of loss?