7 More Parenting Fails Accomplishments

If you didn’t see my last embarrassing post, I’ve started cataloging some of my parenting missteps. And since parenting is hard and I’m an optimist, I like to frame them as accomplishments.

Rafi sin pants
This is how we problem solve when Rafi wants his picture taken, but doesn’t want to wear pants or underwear

1.) When I came home from work the other day, Rafi greeted me with the news, “I pooped!” I responded with enthusiastic affirmation, of course. Then he said, “You poop, and Daddy poops and Lili poops!” After further affirmation, he went on to tell me, “And Grandmom poops and Poppop poops and Great-Grandmom poops and Great-Grandpop poops and Uncle John poops too!” So, Great-Grandpop has been gone for almost a year and therefore most likely does not poop. But aside from that, I’m raising a boy who knows his facts, and that’s an accomplishment.

2.)  I spontaneously broke out into singing an extremely spirited rendition of “Mmmbop” by Hanson in the car (I’m not ashamed that I still love that song) on the off chance that it would make my daughter stop crying. Mmhmm, it worked.


3.) Then I tried the same thing with someone else’s baby at a wedding, and it worked again.

how people look
How people look at you when you sing their baby Mmmbop
its working
And then realize it’s working


4.)  I heard about a study that says that talking to yourself in the third person can be helpful for motivation. But Emily doesn’t like referring to herself as Emily, because we all know that’s weird. So I started referring to myself as “Girlfriend” when I’m trying to wake up in the morning. Because that’s not weird at all.

This is how it goes:  Denial: “It’s OK, Girlfriend, if you keep your eyes closed he’ll stop poking your face and telling you he wants breakfast.”  Anger: “Girlfriend, get yourself outta this bed right now. What kind of mother let’s her kid ask for breakfast for 20 minutes? The kind that stays up way too late blogging. Moron.”  Bargaining: “Girlfriend, I know you’re tired, but if you just roll outta this bed, I’ll make you a nice cup of really strong coffee.”  Sadness: “Girlfriend, I know you want to enjoy every minute you can with your kids, except for this minute because it’s 4:30AM. It’s OK to cry.” Acceptance: “OK, Girlfriend.  Stop whining. Here we go.”

You may have noticed that me and Girlfriend, we walked through the five stages of grief during that conversation with one another.  That is because every morning, we grieve being able to sleep as much as we want to, because we’re sure it will never happen again for the rest of our lives. But we eventually get up, and that’s an accomplishment.

5.) This is sometimes what I eat for my bedtime snack. ⇒snack
Yes, those are Jalapeños with cream cheese and bacon. And no, that is not formula or breast milk.  I’m gross, but I’m not that gross. And feeding myself a delicious snack coupled with a bottle container of  leftover nutritious milk is an accomplishment.

gonna climb
Who, me? Nuthin.

6.) I sometimes allow my children to jump on our bed, and I try to always be on the side closest to Lili, to make sure that if she goes over, I can throw myself onto the hardwood floor to create a human cushion (in the unlikely scenario that I’m not fast or coordinated enough to catch her).  The lasso from our wedding hangs on the wall above our bed, and what with its cloth flowers and shiny gold thread, any baby would do their best to eat it. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the bed was not quite up against the wall – in fact there was about six inches of space between bed and wall.  You know where I’m going with this.


One minute she’s on her tip toes reaching for the lasso, and the next minute she’s completely disappeared into the baby canyon. But (thank you, Jesus), she went down feet first and was just kind of wedged there, looking like, “Umm, how did I get down here, and what’s with the panic face?” Obviously, the first thing I said after ascertaining that she was alive and well was, “Rafi, don’t tell Daddy.” Approximately one second later we hear the door open and what does Rafi do? He races down the hall shouting, “Lili fell off the bed with a bash and a crash and a bang of her head!!!” Where’s the accomplishment in that? I am raising a very honest child.  Then again, Mexican people have a saying that goes something like: “Only drunks and children tell the truth,” so it could have something to do with that (the child part, we don’t feed our kids liquor), but in any case, he’s an excellent story teller. Also, my girl is fearless.

7.) Today Rafi said something that really melted my heart: “Daddy, I like you, but I like Mommy better.”



Now that’s an accomplishment.


The Right-To-Die Effect

Brittany Maynard

I didn’t want to write about Brittany Maynard, because it’s hard to disagree with someone who is dying of cancer and not look (and feel) like a big jerk. But here I sit, trying to write about something else, and I just keep coming back to her story.

You’ve probably heard of Brittany. She is the young lady who has a severe brain tumor, was given a prognosis of six months to live, and chose to move to Oregon where she could legally decide to take her own life via prescribed medication, rather than waiting for the cancer to kill her. The day she originally chose when she would most likely end her life is this Saturday, but her latest video suggested that she may wait longer.

My heart aches for Brittany, and I have wept for her.  Granted, I have also wept at country music videos, so the weeping may not be saying a lot, but my point is that I understand and feel that it is an incredibly tragic situation. Although I disagree with her stance on policy regarding assisted suicide, I have absolutely no desire or right to condemn her personal decision, as I have not walked in her shoes or been inside her mind or her heart. Plus I’m not the Judge.

Plus there’s always that teeny weeny little bittiest possibility that I might be wrong.


surprised face


Yup. But as someone who has worked for the last five years in suicide prevention, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very concerned about the messages on this topic that we, as a culture, are circulating. Messages like:

Some lives are more valuable than others.

I often facilitate a training called Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, during which we ask participants to examine their own values and attitudes relating to suicide. We ask them to mark on a chart where their feelings lie on a spectrum from Agree to Disagree for a number of statements. One of the statements is “People have a right to suicide.”

When discussing this particular item, someone always brings up the case of a person who is terminally ill and suffering, and says that unlike the general population, such a person has a right to end his or her life.  And the trainer Emily acknowledges the statement by nodding her head and saying, “Other thoughts?” while turning to the rest of the group with her objective robot face.

But the inner Emily really wants to say, “But isn’t everyone who is thinking about suicide experiencing great pain and suffering? Isn’t everyone who is considering ending their life moving towards their inevitable demise anyway, as we all are? Isn’t saying that people who are dying faster or sooner have more of a right to kill themselves, sort of implying that their lives are not as much worth living as those who are young and healthy, in other words that they are not as valuable?” I am convinced that this message is both very prevalent and very concerning. Here’s another:

Ending your life early only affects you.

This is a radically individualistic point of view, but then, America is a radically individualistic country. Sure, it’s your life, but none of us live in a vacuum. Every action that we make influences others around us, at the very minimum by sending an implicit message. What message are we sending about the value of life for the aged and/or sick when we give them special permission to die?

There is value in comfort, but no value in suffering.

Suffering can bring us closer to God and to one another. It can give us a stronger understanding and voice to help others. It can refine our character. It can cause us to seek, and to find meaning in life. But sometimes we can’t see the value. When we are in pain, our bodies are crumbling and our life is running out, I’m sure it can seem pretty meaningless. But just because it looks meaningless to us, does that mean that it must, indeed, be meaningless? We see our small part of the world, but we are not omniscient. And as we lean more and more towards the idea that suffering is meaningless and without value, suicide becomes a more and more logical option, even for the physically healthy. Why bother with it?

It is brave to die on your own terms, but undignified to spend the end of your life living.

I understand that having a forecast of just six months to live can surely cause a person to want to gain some bit of control over their situation. But can we not make a difference in the world in just six months? Can we not do something meaningful, touch someone’s life, give our loved ones the sweetness of our presence, in one day? Can we not glorify God in even one moment? Isn’t it brave and dignified to try?

Protecting liberty is more important than protecting life.

I don’t actually believe that sanctioning the right-to-die protects liberty (See Reason #23). But I do value protecting life more than protecting liberty in most cases. I do so for several reasons. One is that if someone is dead, they aren’t free to make any choices, and if we are giving liberty to one set of humans at the expense of another set of humans, we are not supporting liberty or life, and we are definitely not supporting justice. I also value human life because I’m religious.



surprised face

I know – you’ve likely picked that up by now. But what I mean is that I do actually think that life is ordained by God, and as such is precious, and worth protecting, even if that means not sanctioning by law something that over 100 Americans do every day anyway, without the direct assistance of a physician. So that brings me to the next message that I hear frequently:

Religious perspectives have no place in policy decisions.

Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that our system is meant to have a clear wall of separation between church and state. So let’s say that arguments need to be secular in order to be valid for policy making.

Let’s look at one example of an argument that is widely considered secular, which is that if we allow assisted death in our profit-driven healthcare system, then people, particularly the elderly or those with disabilities, will be targeted for assisted suicide, which is much cheaper than treatment. Here’s an example of such an argument. But how do we determine that it would be wrong to pressure vulnerable people to choose assisted suicide over treatment? We determine it would be wrong because we value the lives and choices of people above the cost of healthcare. It is a moral decision based on a belief system that values life, even though the argument itself doesn’t refer directly to a deity, church or text.

Similarly, the very name of the agency advocating for assisted death (Compassion & Choices), evokes moral values that are also, believe it or not, Christian. They may also be part of other ethical codes of course, but my point is that they are based on our philosophical beliefs, not scientific study, not theory about what makes society function. Values. Right and wrong.

We can take out direct references to religion from our arguments, but that doesn’t change the foundation of the arguments, which are firmly rooted in our belief systems. So as hard as we try to relegate religion to the private sphere, we cannot remove our values from our policy arguments, and to say that an argument isn’t valid because it is based in a particular worldview is to say that no argument is valid.

And at this point I’m probably in way over my head, so let’s move on to the final message that concerns me:

Being unwavering in regards to religious values means that we are not compassionate.

Most of us hate to see people in pain, and so I completely understand why a lot of people support the right-to-die. And while suffering has meaning, we should still strive to alleviate it. That is often part of the meaning – we find in our suffering the kindness of strangers, the tenderness of loved ones, the goodness that exists when we are in our darkest moments. We try to meet each other’s needs, and show one another the love of God that way. And when suffering cannot be alleviated, we weep with those who weep.

But I don’t think that being compassionate means we have to sanction suicide. I think that it means loving people enough to consider their lives precious regardless of illness, age, life expectancy, class, creed or culture.


7 Embarrassing Accomplishments of an Overwhelmed Parent

Like most parents, I think my kids are pretty much the most awesome people in the world.  My husband is cool too, although it’s less cute when he babbles, drools or gets food all over himself. Anyway, I’m truly thankful for my family, home, job, church and friends.

But every now and then, I get overwhelmed. And by every now and then, I mean every day.  And by every day, I mean several times a day. So basically, I’m constantly overwhelmed, which leads me to constantly do things that cause me to think to myself, “that’s just embarrassing.” But since parenting is hard, I’ve decided that what I should really be saying is, “that’s an accomplishment.”

So naturally I thought it was about time to start recording some of these accomplishments for posterity, because future generations may want to know how to be awesomely embarrassing like me. I will probably continue to add to this list, but for now, here is one for every day of the week:

1.) I taught my son to pick his nose. I actually gave him candy as a reward for picking his nose.  In my defense: When I try to clean his nose, he behaves like a wild animal whose last meal is stored up in his nostrils. I’m talking about screaming, crying, kicking, pushing and sometimes growling.  And frankly, someone needed to create some vacancies in that crowded space. I mean you can’t just leave them hanging there, so teaching him to do it himself is an accomplishment.

 2.) When he did manage to extract something, he looked at it with mild interest, then proceeded to wipe it on the closest thing within reach, which happened to be the back of his dad’s neck. Now, the next thing that happened is that we both started laughing, and if you are at all familiar with young children, you know that when you laugh at something they do, they continue to do it over and over for a very long time (like up to and including middle school.) So yeah, laughing was a serious mistake. But it was also an ingenious way to make sure he keeps picking his nose, so that’s an accomplishment. Right? Oh. No? Hmm.

 3.)  I have alwaysRafi sleeps with donut wanted to be one of those people who can just fall asleep anywhere, like in the middle of the floor with a doughnut in my hand. Yes. That black thing beside Lamby’s head is a doughnut. I have never been able to be one of those people, but I think producing one is the next best thing. So that’s an accomplishment.

4.) My husband discovered my color-coded excel spreadsheet titled, “Weekly Life Schedule” on our laptop. As though the fact that I am dorky enough to have such a spreadsheet is not enough of an embarrassing accomplishment on its own, he pointed out that it only included two (yes, two) cells labeled “shower.”

5.) I continued to geek-out about my schedule and bought a new (and awesome) type of calendar (watch the video with me and wonder why this has never been patented before). I have high hopes that with the utilization of this calendar, I will streamline my life in such a way that I will manage to schedule more than two showers a week. In fact, I am hoping that the new and improved organized and better smelling me will not even need to include basic hygiene on her calendar at all. That is going to be a BIG accomplishment.

6.) During one of my two weekly showers, I had an 11 month old audience. My daughter stood against the side of the bathtub, fascinated by my pasty white body for at least 15 minutes. When she did crawl away, all I could think about was her consuming the crumpled corpse of a large spider I had killed the night before and left in my trash can on the floor (oops), or whether or not she could reach any of my jewelry, and gleefully throw it behind one of the baseboard heat covers. But neither of those things happened (as far as I know) and she returned in one piece to gaze rapturously at me while I dried off. So I think that’s an accomplishment. But I guess we’ll never really know…

7.) Sometimes when my son is coloring with markers, and there’s no paper within easy reach, I let him use the baby’s face. KIDDING. Who do you people think I am? But yeah, there’s really just no way to look at this one as an accomplishment. That’s just embarrassing.

baby with marker



I Married an Undocumented Immigrant – Update


Many of you read my story on CNN iReport about how I Married an Undocumented Immigrant, and have expressed a lot of support and concern.  So I wanted to update you…

At the end of August our lawyer contacted us saying that a limited number of visas had become available and needed to be disbursed by September 10, and that Rafael needed to get his biometrics (which basically means fingerprints) updated in order to receive the decision from the judge (and then a green card, if the decision was in our favor.)  The attorney made us an appointment at a biometrics field office in Philadelphia for September 4th.

Rafael and my dad went to the 9AM appointment and spent the entire day there because the biometrics unit of Homeland Security insisted that they could not do Rafael’s fingerprints because he did not have a pending court date with Immigration court.  Immigration court contacted Biometrics to explain that he had already had his court date, but Biometrics wouldn’t budge.

So Immigration court was like, “the judge said to take this guy’s fingerprints.”  And then Biometrics was like, “No! You’re not the boss of me.”  So Immigration court was like, “You’re a pain in the butt.”  And Biometrics was like, “Well at least my head doesn’t look like a butt.  STILL NOT GONNA DO IT!” So Immigration court was like, “Fine, I’ll play by your rules, because MOM SAID TO DISBURSE THESE VISAS BY 9/10!” So Immigration court created a made-up court date notification for Rafael and sent it to Biometrics so that they would take his fingerprints, which they finally did. (I know – our immigration system is cray cray.)

So, on September 15th we received a letter from our lawyer stating that the judge had released her decision to cancel Rafael’s order for deportation.  So if you skipped all the boring preceding paragraphs about how it’s hard to maneuver through the immigration system, here is the news.  On September 15th, the judge gave us her decision to allow Rafael to legally stay in the United States.

We told a few of our close friends that night and the next day.  And I must admit that I thought to myself, “Why don’t I feel more excited?”  All my friends were rejoicing, because they love us, and that was wonderful.  I just had expected to be overjoyed, and maybe cry a little. But when I read the letter, it didn’t feel momentous, just kind of surreal. It felt sort of like going into labor (minus the excruciating pain and all) – at first you think it’s practice contractions and then it slowly dawns on you, this is really happening!

I called Rafa at work and we just kind of sat on the phone and didn’t know what to say.  It kind of sounded like this:  “So that means you get to stay, and we just need to get your passport stamped…. <chirp chirp>… and then we’ll get the green card in the mail…  <chirp chirp>….Uh… Duh… <little bit of drool>…. Ok?  <chirp chirp>”

Then I went to go feed the kids and clean the kitchen.

So, I guess our life will remain normal, which is really awesome news. It feels kind of like being in a really noisy room with a lot of flashing lights for a long time (like a night club, minus the fun), and then stepping into a silent, softly lit room.  Peaceful, but I don’t know quite what to do with myself.  Don’t get me wrong, we are immensely blessed and absolutely grateful.  I think it’s just going to take a little while to get used to the quiet.

When we packed up the kids and went to the local field office to get the passport stamped on 9/24, I started to get all excited.  We talked on the way down about seeing his family (him for the first time in over a decade and me for the first time, ever).  It’s about an hour drive, which meant a day off work, and then when we got there they told us that they couldn’t do anything for us, and that we needed to go to the field office in Philadelphia (where we might have to deal with our favorite biometrics guy again). We were pretty disappointed that day.

But really, it was just a little bump along what has been a pretty bumpy road, and we were able to go to the Philadelphia office on 9/26 and Rafael got his passport stamped. And wouldn’t you know it, it was the same guy who wouldn’t take his fingerprints. So while Rafael had previously kind of wanted to punch him, this time he told him he wanted to kiss him.  So that was awkward.  Anyway, here we are, legal residents of the United States. Can you believe it??!!

So I just want to say thanks to everybody for all the words of encouragement, prayers, support and friendship, and for sharing my story, which I think helps people understand immigration issues a little bit better.

my man with a baby on his head
Rafael with a baby on his head

And thank you to the local police officer who saw some Mexican guys swimming at the beach early one morning in 2011 in their boxers (I know, I know, who goes swimming in their boxers?  Guys who drove down to the beach after working at a hot, stinky restaurant for most of the night and didn’t stop to get their bathing suits, that’s who) and decided to run their names and arrest the one who had an unpaid traffic ticket on his record.

So thank you, Officer, for deciding not to let my husband put on a shirt or shoes and taking him before a judge in his underwear. Because humiliation is funny, especially when it involves such a dangerous criminal.  (Note: I am not one of those people who dislikes police officers; I know of many officers who are kind, professional, and helpful. You, sir, are just not one of them.) But really, we couldn’t have done it without you, so I guess we got the last laugh, if you want to look at it that way.

And thank you to the federal agent who told me to go pay bail and drive two hours to get my husband but forgot to tell me that, oh yeah, immigration put a hold on him and is transferring him to federal prison, so you won’t actually be able to pick him up after all. But thank you for telling me the real story when I burst into tears and told you I was about to have a baby.

And thank you to the several Corrections “professionals” who advised me not to pay bail because, “he’ll just run.”  Because you know my husband and his situation so much better than I do.

I guess I’m still a little bit angry.

Yup, every now and then I realize that I have rage in my heart, and I try to let it go.  But, then I remember that it’s not really about the police officer, or the federal agent, or the people who make ignorant comments about things that are very personal to me, it’s just the injustice of the world, and there are much bigger injustices happening every day. So I guess it’s about recognizing it, and doing what you can to correct it, starting with ourselves.

But to go back to the not-sarcastic thank you’s:  Mom and Dad – I love you.  Thanks for all of your unconditional love and support.  And I just want to close with the words that every parent hopes to hear from their daughter: I hope now you can get your bail money back.


for now

Thanks again for reading.

On Marriage, Mexicans, and Misunderstandings: I’m not a freaking bird

First, let me state for the record that I love my husband and have never regretted our marriage, although it’s been a rough road at times.  He is compassionate, sweet, intuitive, a great dad, brave, and smart in all the ways that I am not smart.  But we fight a lot. Like really, a lot.  So for those of you who are viewing this through Facebook, that magical land of rainbows and unicorns and my-life-is-oh-so-perfect-all-the-time, and sweetheart-you-are-my-sun-moon-and-stars-and-our-marriage-is-pure-heaven, let me just get real for a minute:


The thing is, my husband and I don’t speak the same language.  No, really, I’m being literal.  He’s Mexican.  Like Celia Cruz, his English is not very good-looking, and like most of my gringo friends, my Spanish sounds like el crap-o.

When we were dating it was sweet.  Like OMG, I’m learning SPANISH!!!  He would cook me fajitas and qCAM00471 (1)uesadillas and margaritas (mostly margaritas) and we went out salsa dancing every weekend and we would fight and break up and get back together and it was dramatic and blissful.  When he would text me things like “you get done work hourly today?” I thought it was cute and endearing.

But, as it turns out, when you have to manage a household and babies and full time jobs, constant miscommunication can actually be quite frustrating. (Shocking, I know.)  So now when I get a text that says something like “the baby made a mas on the carpet,” I want to scream, “Learn to spell in English!  And by the way, are you talking about poop, or food?”

Needless to say, we get frustrated with one another.  We blame the other person, for everything.  Somehow it becomes my fault that there’s a bottle of what was once milk under the couch that is now full of cheese and smells like dirty diapers.  Or maybe that smell is actually coming from dirty diapers.  Or maybe it’s the trash, or the dirty dishes.  Who knows, our house always smells like that.

And clearly it’s his fault that our three year old screams “I WILL NEVER LISTEN TO YOU!” in the church narthex, or that he hit his sister in the cornea with a toy stethoscope the other day.

Then there are the “cultural” misunderstandings.  I’m usually a pretty laid-back person but in the context of our marriage, I find myself obsessing over plans and goals in a very American way.  And I find him always saying these very Mexican things that boil down to “let’s just go with the flow,” or “it’ll happen when it happens,” or “I’ll be home in a while,” which could mean anything from 20 minutes to 46 days and it makes me think my head is going to explode.


The funny thing is, as more of my friends get married and have children I find them making the same complaints as I am.  So I’m starting to think that some of this stuff is actually pretty universal.  A couple of our main struggles include going the extra foot to put your clothes in the hamper instead of on the floor, and of course, the correct way to load the dishwasher (my lack of spatial intelligence apparently makes this difficult).

We also have a hard time with the division of labor, and the amount of time we spend together (or don’t spend together), and whose fault that is.  These are not things that are going to drive us to a divorce, but they are things that cause real hurt.  And that is where I would like to introduce my words of wisdom:

Don’t marry a Mexican.

Just kidding.  I love being married to a Mexican man, mostly for the music and food, but also because Mexican culture stresses love for family, and church, and other things that I like.  And all joking aside, being married to someone from a different world has forced us to learn how to see the other side of the story, understand the viewpoint of someone very different from ourselves, and learn how to find common ground and peace and most of all love when we are frustrated and perplexed.  And it has been challenging, and often joyful, and really, don’t all couples have to do this to some extent?  That’s the beauty of marriage – how it teaches us on an intimate level how to relate to someone outside of ourselves.

So back to the words of wisdom:

No matter how compatible you are, there will always be things that bother you about your spouse, and that’s partly because we are all different and partly because none of us is perfect.  So I will dedicate this post to someone very special to me.  No, not my husband obviously, I just spent the last 6 paragraphs talking about how he makes our house smell like diapers. But I will dedicate it to one of my best friends whose big day is swiftly approaching – the day when she will walk down the aisle to wed the love of her life.

There will come a day, my sweet friend, when he lets you down; When one of you says something thoughtless and hurts the other’s heart; When he, even he, will make you cry.  Heck, you might even make him cry.  And there may be a little seed that drills deep doFunny-Birds-03wn into your gut telling you that maybe, just maybe, you married the wrong guy.  But you just tell that little seed before it germinates that HEY THIS IS MY GUT, NOW GET OUTTA MY GUT, WHAT IS A SEED DOING IN THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE, I’M NOT A FREAKING BIRD.

Stop judging me, it’s late.

So what you might actually tell yourself is: this too shall pass, and nobody’s perfect. Though it may not always seem like it, there is a plan in place, and I can show him love even when I don’t feel like it.  I can show him compassion when really I just want to slap him across the face.  And when you do choose to show him love instead of annoyance, you’ll find that compassion breeds compassion.  (It does – it’s science – I saw it on BRAIN GAMES).

And you’ll find that it does pass, and that you will both come out understanding grace, and true love, and peace that passes understanding much better than you ever imagined.  So don’t expect it to always be a fairy tale.  Don’t expect it to be Facebook-perfect.  But do expect it to be something much better: a living, breathing picture of God’s grace in a flawed person showing unconditional, intimate love to another flawed person.  And free yourself to experience the joy that comes from that powerful, lifelong love.

And I promise, no matter how much I complain about my husband’s less-than-awesome English and lack of housekeeping skills, I will do the same.

For Those Left Behind

Last week I watched some of the Simpsons Marathon (that’s right, they aired every episode EVER on Fxx) in memory of my brother, Jesse, who died a few years ago.  Yes, I have to close my eyes when the Itchy and Scratchy Show comes on, and I am aware that some Christians feel personally attacked by the show’s portrayal of Ned Flanders, but what the hay, neighbor, let’s get past all that, since it’s not what I’m writing about.

Jess and Charlie

When he was depressed, Jesse would spend a lot of time on my parents’ couch in the den, watching reruns of his favorite shows (The Simpsons, Boy Meets World, Seinfeld) and whatever films were being aired on TV.  I can picture him snuggled under an afghan, with our cat Charlie.  He wasn’t a lay-around kind of person, but sometimes that’s what depression looks like – a head full of turmoil and tension hidden under a layer of lethargy.  I think it was his way of trying to comfort himself.  This is not a tribute to TV and films, but there is something comforting about them, especially the old, familiar ones. They engage you while allowing you to be completely relaxed. In that way, they are like old friends, but they don’t expect anything back.

I think that is one of the reasons why the death of Robin Williams strikes at the heart of America.  A lot of us grew up with his movies and thought of him as an old friend.  For me it was Aladdin, Jumanji and Hook; movies I loved when I was young, as only a child can do.  After watching one of these, I would spend days imagining that I lived in the world created by the film, that I was part of the story.

Anotherrobin williams reason that it strikes at our hearts is that our old friend didn’t just die, but he took his own life.  It reminds us that someone who made a living by bringing laughter to people could be so sad that he could not hope to feel joy himself, that he had reached a point of pain that felt unbearable.

Like Robin Williams, my brother struggled with depression. He, too, was a creative and sensitive person, who was very good at making people laugh (and sometimes cry.) And like Robin Williams, he took his own life.   And that is how I know that as Robin Williams’ death fades quickly from the news and from most of our minds, those who knew and loved him personally are only beginning their season of sorrow.

They will continue to be crushed by imagining what was going on in his mind at the end of his life, jarred by the images of his death so graphically and publicly described, and distressed by the common and constant plague of survivors of suicide loss – the what ifs.  What if I had been more in-tune with his emotions? What if I had called him that night like I’d meant to? What if I’d said something differently? What if I had been a better… sibling/parent/child/friend? Would he still have felt the need to go?

I understand and have experienced the desire to blame someone when we are in pain, whether it’s ourselves, or someone else.  I spoke to a woman recently who had just lost her father to suicide.  She said, several times, that he always was a selfish bastard.  I have heard professionals blame parents and parents blame professionals.  I’ve heard people pin it on medication, malpractice, substance abuse, bullying.  But the truth is, suicide is complex, and rarely the result of one factor.  And when it comes down to it, the human condition is to blame.  We live in a broken world, and we desperately desire hope and freedom from the tears we that we cry and the pain that we feel.  I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who has never thought about it all being over for a moment.

Three strikingly good-looking individuals

But in the midst of all that, life is beautiful, and hope exists.  And that’s why for most of us, that fleeting thought doesn’t lead us to consider killing ourselves.  So after losing a loved one to suicide, most of us eventually come to a place where we can begin to be comforted, and can reach out to others, for help or to offer hope. SOS (Survivors of Suicide) support groups meet around the country where people are able to share their stories, and talk about what has helped them begin to heal. For me, this is my faith.  Warning: this is where my proselytizey-ness comes out.

I have great hope because I believe in a God whose grace is sufficient to cover my lack of love and unwillingness to reach out to the wounded; whose grace is sufficient to cover a person’s decision to give up because they feel their pain is too much to bear; whose grace is sufficient for those (like myself) working in a mental health system that sometimes fails to prevent such decisions.  I believe in a God who ordains our days and has a sovereign plan, even through the worst of tragedies.  In other words, I am finally humble enough to believe in a God who knows better than me.

Through my work, I have also spoken to ministers who have told me that suicide is the unforgivable sin, because you can’t repent of it.  Now friends, if I haven’t remembered to repent (or even noticed) every time I’ve had an unkind thought or broken a traffic law, I guess my soul could be in jeopardy.  But I tend to believe otherwise.  God is personal (Luke 12:7), wants the best for his children (Romans 8:28), and nothing can separate us from God’s love.  “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35.  Nor suicide, guys.  It may be a sin, it may even be an awful sin, but it is not an unforgivable sin.

My faith is what has allowed me to heal, and to let go of the “what if’s” and start considering the “what now’s?” It has allowed me to work in my field and believe that it matters. My work has been a source of healing in my life, so here is my spiel on ways you can get involved if your life has been touched by suicide, and you want to do something positive:

You can participate in a walk or other fundraiser for your local chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or one of the other reputable organizations that work to end stigma and research evidence-based ways of preventing suicide.  (For example, you can raise money for the STARTLINGLY excellent MHA in Delaware, by joining the team “Jesse’s Joggers” at eracingtheblues.com).  You can attend a gatekeeper training on suicide prevention, or become an educator yourself (which would take a bit more time and work, but opportunities are there). If you’re really ready to be challenged and make a difference, you can volunteer at your local chapter of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

But whether or not you get involved in those ways, I hope that you are able to find something that comforts you, whether that’s through something profound (and I hope it is), like connecting with God; something proactive, like reaching out to a friend you think might be depressed (or having the courage to reach out for help if you think you might be depressed yourself); or something simple, like spending some time remembering your loved one (and that’s important, too), snuggled on the couch watching a few too many episodes of The Simpsons.