Tears for Brian

 

Today, I wept for Brian.

He took his own life in March, 2015, the same month of the same year Steve left us.  I never met Brian, nor do I know his family.  However, I have connected with his Mom Norma through social media as a fellow suicide survivor.  Although Steve and Brian were from different parts of the country (Brian from rural Pacific Northwest, Steve from urban Long Island, NY) and Steve was about twice the age of Brian,  I believe they were kindred spirits and had they known each other, they would have fast become good friends.

Last night, I was having a Facebook chat with Norma.  She shared some stories and photos of Brian with me that truly touched my soul.  Norma could have been talking about Steve.

One time, Brian had rescued an owl with a broken wing that some juveniles had thrown into a lake and they were trying to drown it. He jumped in to rescue the owl and took care of it that night until he could get it to a veterinarian to check it out.  Then after the vet treated the broken wing, Brian took the owl to a nature preserve for rehabilitation.  This reminded me of the time when Steve and I found a featherless baby bird near death on the ground.  Steve gently placed the bird in a small box with some hay and climbed a telephone pole to put the box closer to the nest built in a transformer where it probably had fallen from.

Norma shared another sweet story about Brian with me.  One time while driving, he could not avoid hitting a rabbit that darted in front of his car. Brian stopped the car and picked up the barely alive rabbit  and held and comforted the poor bunny until it finally died.  Then he made a little grave for it  alongside the road and buried it there with a small cross he created.

Brian had several rescued pet rabbits, as did Steve and I.  Per his Mom, Brian hated all the horrible things that happen to animals and people. He couldn’t understand how some people could be so cruel.  Steve was much like that himself.  Brian and Steve, two gentle souls, apparently, both were too gentle for this earth.

This planet was a far better place with Brian and Steve in it.  To me, they were the epitome of strong men; not afraid to show their kindness, compassion or sensitivity.  As it has been said, you can always judge the character of a man by how he treats the weaker among us. The actions of Brian and Steve speak volumes about the type of men they were.

The photos in this blog are worth a thousand words.  Brian and Steve are holding the rabbits with such tenderness.  If prey animals like rabbits can be so at ease in a human’s arms, it says a lot about the trust worthiness of those people.    As a volunteer for a rabbit rescue organization, I know that rabbits do not give their trust lightly.

Brian and Steve represent the countless others among us who suffer silently.    Their lives had so much value and in their own ways, they each made positive impacts on the lives of others.   I tell their stories to inspire conversation about mental health with the hopes that there will be new, effective  treatments developed and so that others may someday come forward without shame and seek help.

This world so desperately needs people like Brian and Steve more than ever.  Their passing was such a great loss not just for their loved ones, but for humanity itself.  Even though they are no longer with us, I believe the legacies of Brian and Steve will endure and in some way, help others; something it seems they both did so well in life.

 

Are my hips getting tight?

yoga-balance1On March 15, 2017, it will be two years since Steve took his own life.  I went back to read the blog I had written a year ago on the first anniversary of Steve’s death.   Much of that blog talked about my grieving and my observations of how people re-act to those that grieve.  Some things have not changed in the past two years.   I still cry a lot over the loss of Steve and I miss him terribly.  On  the plus side, I have found out who my true friends are and I am learning not to lament the loss of individuals in my life who I thought were people that once cared about me.

I did have an interesting “aha moment”  this week.  It was precipitated by two experiences.  The first was a blog  I read called “Widowhood: The Glass House Of Grief”.  It was written by Michelle Steinke (One Fit Widow).  Michelle lost her husband several years ago in a tragic accident.  Here are some very interesting  excerpts from her blog:

“Regardless of your kind of loss people are going to tell you that you are doing it wrong, you should be doing it differently, and they know the way”

“You should not be judged as to how you process your pain – but you will be.”

This brings me to the second part of my “aha moment” experience.  It came in the form of a communication from someone that was connected to Steve and myself.  This is someone I no longer have a relationship with.   To give you some background, I did not attend Steve’s funeral.  It would not surprise me if some that read this may be judging me right now.  How could I NOT attend the funeral of the love of my life for over 33 years?  I have my reasons which I will not go into and given the circumstances, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have done anything differently.  Regardless, it does not matter what my reasons were, it was part of my grief journey and I did what I had to do to survive one of the most painful and life altering experiences of my life.   Also, how I acted while grieving does not justify some of the cruel actions that a few have taken after Steve died, some which have occurred  as recently as February of this year.

In the communication I received this week, I was told that all of Steve’ relatives and friends supported the family and I chose not to be at the services during that painful time.  That brought me back to what  Michelle Steinke’s said about being judged.  It is starting to become clearer to me now as to why many may have reacted the way they did to me.  Previously, I chalked up the unkind words or actions and avoidance of me to my being public about the cause of Steve’s suicide or perhaps I was blamed for his death or even because people just did not know what to say.  Now, I am thinking I may have been  unfairly judged.

Steve and I were cognizant of the fact that it is human nature to be judgmental at times and we tried to help each other to refrain from doing so. We never forgot about a yoga class we took in California where the instructor said judging people makes our hips tight.  From that point on, when either one of us would start to judge someone, the other would ask “are your hips getting tight?” This would make us smile and we would try to have a little empathy for the person instead of judging them.

We both realized, as hard as it may be not to judge others, no one has the right to do so unless one has walked a mile in someone else’s shoes (which is virtually impossible).  In my situation, no one could possibly know what I experienced in the years leading up to Steve’s death, or the aftermath I struggled through after he died.  No one was ever in the room with us when we talked about our life together or what we wanted done should one of us die before the other one.

Judging a person for how they handle their grief is a place no one should ever go.  At some point in our lives, we will all experience the horrific agony of the loss of a loved one and we do not need the additional pain of being judged by others as to what we should or should not do on our grief journey.

I think now would be a good time for me to go practice some yoga.  Notice I say practice, as it is something that I must do every day to become proficient at keeping my hips loose.

www.SlippedAway.org

 

 

I am not alone…

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As I have published in recent blogs, I am entering another phase of my life and trying to find a new balance in more ways than one.  What prompted me to write today is to express gratitude, something I need to do more often.

My heart was filled with thanks today, so much so, it brought tears to my eyes.  This was precipitated by my experiences  that occurred over the past week or so.  The common theme with these occurrences is that they are all random acts of kindness by some people who I consider to be very close friends.  It is these good deeds that make me realize how lucky I am to have these people in my life.  Having them to lean on gives me great comfort in facing some of the obstacles I encounter, obstacles, that in the past, I would have relied on Steve  to be there for me.

Last week, my friend Mike and his wife Ramona, attended a Project9line benefit dinner with me. I knew it was going to be an emotional night for me and Mike and Ramona stood by my side and supported me through my tears.  Mike is also a constant figure at my house after every snow storm, shoveling my driveway.  I was not alone at the dinner, nor am I ever alone after a snow storm.

My cousin Terry and her husband Allan who live more than an hour away from me drove over 150 miles one day to get me some vegan ice cream and bring me some homemade soup.  Since I am on a strict plant based diet, I have lost a lot of weight.  As such, Terry wants to make sure I put on a few pounds to reach a healthier weight.  I am not alone.

This week, my friend Judy went with me to my future home to help me choose paint , carpet and tile colors.  I have been in such a daze lately, I was pretty much useless in making my choices.  However, Judy is so good at asking questions and taking notes, I knew I didn’t have to worry about remembering what I decided, plus I was lucky to have her expert opinion on color selections.   I was not alone.

Yesterday, my rabbit chewed through my computer power cord, rendering the PC useless when the battery wore down.  Since I am so dependent on my computer and I knew it would take days for me to get a new power adapter, I reached out to my friend Bob, a former co-worker of mine from IBM.  He offered to strip and tape the chewed cable to make it functional again.  Once again, I was not alone.

I am so grateful for having these people in my life.  They may consider their help to be no big deal.  However,  what they all have done for me is HUGE.  As I have said many times before, I will always be lonely without Steve, but I will never be alone.

www.SlippedAway.org

 

Balance

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“The Beauty is in the Balance”.

These were words Steve so firmly believed in and he tried his best to find balance throughout his life.  Steve taught so many others to find their own balance, both in their sport and in their lives.   We now know, not unlike as it is in the “shoemaker’s children” proverb,  Steve struggled greatly  in his final years before he died by suicide, trying to find his own equilibrium.

On a daily basis, I too still grapple with finding my footing in life, both from a physical as well as an emotional perspective.   For many years, as a dancer, I took my good physical balance for granted, never realizing that someday it would be taken away from me by a progressive, incurable disease.  Although I am thankful for what I still have, I will always miss what I had worked on for so many years, which is now another loss I grieve.

From an emotional and mental balance perspective, even though I have recently made some decisions to try and help me bring back stability to my life, every day is still a struggle for me.  However,  I am encouraged when people tell me they think I am strong or I inspire them.   Little do they know, I am so afraid I will never find a new “normal” and that the rest of my life will be filled with instability and unevenness.

Steve was a wise man and he taught me so much.  I can almost hear him whispering in my ear, telling me to keep searching  for that beauty in the balance, and by doing so, everything will turn out to be okay.

www.SlippedAway.org

The Next Chapter….

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The time has come for me to start a new chapter in my life.

I am just plodding through every day now, always waking up in a life that is so routine to me.  What is obviously missing is Steve, my best friend and soul mate of over 33 years, who died by suicide on 3/15/2015.  For those 33 years, I was blessed to share my  life with the most amazing man and I was immersed in Steve’s life,  loving everything it had to offer.  He showed me so many wonderful things and we had a loving, fun filled life for so many years.   Of course, things were not always perfect, however, as I reflect, I realize that we had an incredible foundation of love and respect for one another that was apparent to anyone who knew us.

Now, I must carve my own path alone.  For the past 22 months, I have been trying to find purpose and make sense of the sad circumstances of Steve’s death.  I am now finally coming to accept that Steve is never again going to walk through the  front door of our house and we will never grow old together and share the same pillow. Of course, this tears my heart apart every time I think about it.  I know the pain of his loss will be with me for the rest of my life.  But, staying in the same house with so many memories of our life together, is not allowing me to grow as a person, rather, it feels like I am just waiting to die so I can see Steve again in the afterlife.  It is time for me to move on and chart my own course here on earth.  Steve’s world and the world we shared together  is no longer my world.

Being a creature of habit, I was never a big fan of change.  However, change is inevitable, whether we like it or not.   Rather than wait for change to force itself upon me, I plan to make a change in my life on my own terms while I still have my mental faculties and I am physically able to do so.   My health is slowly failing, whether caused by grief or just getting old, I don’t know.  So that I do not become a burden to my friends, it is important that I plan for my future.  As such, I am researching some alternate living options.  Taking care of a house on my own is becoming too much for me to handle.  Although Steve and I together used to joke that we had no business owning a house since neither of us were handy, together, we would always figure out how to solve problems.  Now it is just me.

The  sad chapter of the last few years of my life has ended  and I as I begin my next chapter, I look forward to change, probably for the first time in my life.

This post is also featured on www.OurSideofSuicide.com, a blog offering hope,comfort and support to those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

WTF?

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Just when you think you are making headway in your life, something will always manage to come along and smack you in the face.

Recently, someone (a non verified purchaser) posted an anonymous  “review” on amazon.com for Slipped Away.   Then the same exact words were posted by a name I never heard of as a comment to a 5 star review.     It was not a review, but rather a personal attack on me.  The words that were used bear the signature and tone of someone who has tried to malign me in social media in the past about Slipped Away, so I have a good idea as to who may have done this “review”.  What was said was so cruel and heartless, it makes me pity the person who wrote it as he/she is still filled with so much hatred and misery, that it will eventually destroy them.   How a human being can be so insensitive and vicious to another human being, especially the life partner and soul mate  of someone who took their own life  is beyond me.  I can only conclude they too must suffer from mental illness.  Unlike Steve, who turned his mental anguish against himself, this person seems to externalize their mental pain by attacking others and attempting to defame others  with baseless lies.

If you have read Slipped Away,  my blog, Facebook page or website, you will see that Steve and I had a loving relationship that endured for over 33 years, in spite of his illness.  The intent of the book is to carry on Steve’s legacy, inspire conversation about mental health and since all of the proceeds are donated to a veterans nonprofit, it helps to provide outlets for veterans suffering from PTSD and depression. Why this person would write something in such a way that they think it will deter book sales serves no purpose.  So many people have reached out to me and thanked me as my writings have helped them in different ways, whether it is finally feeling empowered to talk about the suicide of their loved one or letting people feel like they are not alone with what they are experiencing when dealing with mental illness and suicide.

This person implied that they knew Steve, but, anyone who TRULY knew and understood Steve, would NEVER do what this person has done as Steve would be devastated by the hateful  comments and accusations uttered by this misguided soul.

www.SlippedAway.org

Chipping away at the mental illness and suicide stigma

My journey to raising awareness for mental health issues and suicide began when I published the memoir (Slipped Away) of my soulmate and best friend, Steve Tarpinian.  Steve took his own life on March 15, 2015 and I published Slipped Away in October of that year.

Since then, I have started a blog, created a website and Facebook page and penned several essays about Steve, including articles in Newsday, Lava Magazine and trihistory.com; all done to inspire conversation about mental health.  Only until we as a society can freely talk about suicide and mental illness without shame or embarrassment, will we be able to make greater strides in helping those who are afflicted.   Many of you who are old enough may remember that there was a time no one would talk about cancer or HIV/AIDS.  Since so much has been done to raise awareness for those diseases, there are now more treatment options and people that suffer need not feel shamed or embarrassed if they have one of these illnesses.

Removing the stigma associated with suicide was talked about over 70 years ago.  Norman Farberow is acknowledged to be one of the founding fathers of suicide prevention. In the 1940’s, while pursuing his doctoral studies, Farberow started to recognize an urgent need to look more deeply into the causes of suicide, and to think about better ways to prevent it.   In 2017, many still refuse to talk about suicide as a cause of death and shy away from conversations about mental illness.   Since many celebrities such as Carrie Fischer, Lady GaGa and Sarah Silverman have gone public with their struggles, we are starting to gain momentum, but much work still needs to be done and it is a slow, arduous process.

Today was a turning point for me in the telling of Steve’ story.  I was humbled to be interviewed by Bob Salter of WFAN (a CBS radio station) to talk about Slipped Away and  mental health issues.  Patrick Donohue of Project9line.org (beneficiary of Slipped Away proceeds)  joined me, and he was representing our veterans, a population that  has even higher suicide rates than civilians.  This interview gave me the opportunity to tell Steve’s story to an even larger audience.

It is no coincidence (Steve was a firm believer in this saying) that I was interviewed by Bob.  Last year, Robert Cohen, who was the last finisher at the 2010 Mighty Hamptons Triathlon (produced by Steve’s event company)  reached out to me when he had heard Steve had passed away.  He never forgot how good Steve made him feel  after he crossed that finish line in 2010.  Steve would always try to personally  cheer in the final finishers at his events  and also gathered event staff and remaining spectators to do so as well.  Robert offered to do a review of Slipped Away in his column.  Robert had also been interviewed by Bob Salter on other subjects and he was the one who suggested I contact Bob.  The rest is history and now having been  on Bob’s show, I believe it gave me a great platform to spread such a desperately needed message.

I don’t know where my next stop will be on my awareness raising path , however, I am on a mission and like a former client of mine would always say, I am like “gum in the hair” .  And so, my journey to inspire conversations about mental health issues will continue….

www.SlippedAway.org