Welcome to the heart and soul of The-Dream.us. We hope that by searching these pages, you can find those that help you to know you are not alone. By dwelling in the words and lives of those who have shared on these pages, we hope you will regain an appreciation for the ways in which life teaches us; even if so many are so very difficult.

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Hindsight At The Beginning

In the first weeks after becoming a young widow, with three young sons, I had many mornings, days and nights that I pondered how I was to make it alone. How in the world could I support these kids? How could I, their mother, teach them what it is to be a good man, a good husband, a good father? How could our lives be better going forward? How could I get over being left behind to raise them alone? How would I answer my children’s questions about their Dad’s suicide? How could I stay positive and endure through these trying times?

While pondering our family’s future I was reminded of another young widow in my family tree, my Nana. Nana was widowed at 42 years old. She also was left to raise three young sons. My memories of Nana were that she was grumpy and bitter. She never seemed satisfied. I don’t think I ever heard her speak a kindly word. So at this new phase in my life, I wondered how much of her attitude came from being a widow. I’m sure that before her husband died of a stroke, a widow’s lifestyle was not something she had envisioned for herself, and yet there she was, alone.

I decided then that I refused to be like Nana. I would choose to be different. Though I was in similar shoes I didn’t want to go through life complaining. I didn’t want to be bitter and angry at the world. I wanted to find joy in life and seek out those things for which I should be grateful. I wanted to find the blessings in the journey, and find how this life changing event could bless not only my family but others around us.

Little did I know how important that decision was nor did I understand the effect it would have on my life. To date, people I meet often comment on how happy I am, that I am always smiling. One of the greatest compliments given me was from a longtime friend, spoken to the man who would be my future husband. At the beginning of his vetting process my future husband asked my friend, “Is she as impressive long term as she is at first blush?” The response was, “Donna has been through Hell and come up smiling.”

I am grateful that my legacy is being happy verses being bitter. I am grateful that becoming a widow didn’t stop me from finding joy in life’s events. I am grateful for the experience of becoming a widow. It has not always been easy but it has made me a better, stronger person. I am thankful for my Nana who gave me hindsight at the beginning of my journey. Through life’s experiences our family has been able to brighten and lift others who have traveled down the same road.

I strongly believe, “that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” I have lived through life’s challenges with the expectation that with God all things are possible. With that belief I have endured to this end, with a smile on my face, not bitter but grateful and happy. Thank you Nana, for the hindsight at the beginning of my journey.

Donna Dietz

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Majesty & Radiance

Publisher’s Note: This post begins a bit intellectually, but the story at the end emerges from a very sweet conversation I had on the suicide hot line.

Funny, how the cost of a ball can lead me to thoughts of the value of life itself.

Several recent books (Antifragile, The Power of Habit and Thinking, Fast and Slow) reflect upon the human brain and the vast amount of sensory data with which it is barraged. Even at this moment, there is nearly infinite visual, auditory, olfactory, savory and corporeal information bombarding you, and you will absorb, consciously and subconsciously, a minuscule percent. What fascinates me is how the mind can take in—by the nature in which you choose to notice— data that are disparate, incongruent, and misleading, and create what we believe is a coherent picture of the world. The question is, how often are the decisions we make, and the conclusions we draw, based on a truly accurate picture.

If I tell you that, together, a bat and ball cost $1.10, and that the bat costs a dollar more than the ball, can you tell me the cost of the ball? 10¢? Excellent! I’ll sell it to you for 10¢ because it cost half that. If the ball cost 10¢, the bat costs a dollar, which is only 90¢ more than the ball.

If I tell you the redwoods of California are less than 1200 feet tall, and then ask their average height, what would you say? Your estimate is likely much taller than if I began by suggesting instead, they are taller than 150 feet. In replicated experiments, the human brain gets “anchored” to the number first suggested and moves from there; down a small number of feet from 1200 feet or up a few from 150, suggesting answers that are closer to the anchor than to reality.

Did you know that most people, you perhaps, turn right as they enter stores? It is no coincidence the fruits and vegetables are typically the first thing you encounter. Placing healthy items in your cart as you begin your shopping allows you to feel slightly less guilty when you tuck candy and less healthy food in beside it. School cafeterias can change youthful diets simply by the placement of the menu choices.

In experiments, people who sense money in their immediate environment, become less generous in the ensuing moments. It’s true, even if we are not sure why.

All this suggests that whenever we make a decision, or draw a conclusion about the world, we should remember that our view is built on a foundation of limited, disparate information. The human mind will use that incomplete, narrow and inadequate evidence in fickle and often misleading ways.

Not long ago, I spoke with a woman who, the evening before, fell victim to a frail part of her humanity. She slipped into a very human pattern and subsequently said angry, hurtful things to her boyfriend. She knows him to be kind and loving; not at all deserving of the things she said. As a result she felt herself to be malicious and evil, and was tearfully questioning her value as a human being.

The two of us talked about what it means to be human; that everyone fails to live up to their ideals of perfection from time to time. Our brief conversation allowed us to build a relationship based on acceptance of our humanity, rather than judgment of occasional failure. When I asked her to peer more deeply into her world and see if she might find even a small bit of goodness and value, she paused and quietly admitted, “Maybe…just a little.” Then I asked if it’s possible the goodness within her is far larger than she was able to see at the moment, and the angry, worthless parts were much smaller. She paused again a bit longer this time and said “Yes, I think so.” Soon, she was eager to apologize to her boyfriend, work diligently to avoid future failures, knowing full-well that, being human nearly assures she will.

It matters little if we peer into the world, absorb limited, incongruent data, and conclude incorrectly that a ball is worth 10¢. But if we gaze into the world and find ourselves to be worth less than the majesty and radiance that existence itself bestows, it is time to reach out and find someone who can hold up a mirror that better reflects the beauty inherent in life.

Roger Breisch

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It Doesn’t Define Me

I was always happy with the way things were in my life. I was really close with my family, I had a handful of good friends, I did well in school, I had a strong faith, I was very involved in playing soccer, and I was in the marching band. I was also a part of Operation Snowball, a drug, alcohol and suicide prevention organization for teens.

A few weeks before my sophomore year began, things started to change. My twenty-one-year-old sister, Lisa, began dating Chad, a guy she had fallen head-over-heels for. Lisa glowed when she talked about him, and I absolutely loved seeing her so happy. Chad was struggling financially though, and relied a lot on Lisa to help. So, after a lot of having to persuade our parents, Chad moved into the basement of our house. It was just supposed to be a temporary place for him to stay until he was able to get back on his feet.

Tension grew pretty quickly at home. My mom, Tyler, my twenty-two-year-old brother, and Cece, my thirteen-year-old sister, really didn’t like Chad, and they all did their best to avoid him. My dad tolerated him though, and did what he could to help Chad get himself together.

Things got very stressful, very fast. Lisa and Chad fought constantly, and often my parents would get involved. It seemed like there was never a peaceful moment in the house anymore.

Often after a fight, Lisa would come into my bedroom and tell me everything. The vulgar names Chad called her, the awful things he accused her of. It devastated me to see how much Chad hurt her. I did my best to comfort Lisa, always trying to convince her everything would turn out okay.

I knew Lisa needed someone to talk to about everything that was going on, and I loved that it was me that she trusted. Hearing all that she had to say was too much for me to handle though, except I knew that I couldn’t tell her that because I didn’t want to lose the relationship that we had. Everything Lisa told me, ate at me. I felt like everything in my life that once seemed so perfect was now falling apart, and I didn’t have any control over it. I felt so broken and lonely, but I didn’t want to be a burden to my family and friends, so I kept what I was feeling to myself.

I wanted to be strong, for Lisa, for my family, but it was all too much for me. I didn’t ever admit it though, instead I just learned how to fake a smile.

I couldn’t focus in school anymore. I started losing interest in my classes and the few friends I had. I didn’t look forward to soccer or band practice the way that I used to. Each day became a struggle, and I hated every second of it. I began sleeping a lot. One, two, three hour naps almost daily. It was the only escape from the Hell that my life had become. It wasn’t long before my mom noticed how much I was sleeping. She asked me multiple times what was going on, but I didn’t want to stress her out with my problems because I knew how stressed she already was, so I lied and said nothing. It wasn’t just my mom I lied to though. I lied to my dad when he asked me everyday how I was doing. I lied to Lisa, Cece, and Tyler. I lied to my teachers, a few friends from school, friends from my soccer team, from Snowball. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I wasn’t the kind of person anyone expected to be feeling depressed. So I lied to everyone, and told them all that I was fine.

One day I saw that Lisa had bruises on her cheek and body. They weren’t too noticeable unless you were looking for them, but after I saw the first one, the rest were obvious. I tried to convince myself that it was nothing, but I couldn’t help but think that Chad was beating her. About a week later I finally got up the courage to ask her where they all came from. I cried so hard that I could barely get my words out to ask her if it was Chad that inflicted them upon her. Lisa looked at me and laughed, and then she cried. She told me that that was a ridiculous thought, and that she would never put up with a guy that treated her that way. She claimed that she and Chad were messing around, and she fell while he was tickling her. At first I wasn’t sure if she was telling me the truth, but she trusted me with so much that I knew there was no way she could be lying to me. So I believed her.

I was stuck inside a world that I absolutely hated, and all I wanted was to be left alone. I was sick of everyone and everything. I started isolating myself as much as I possibly could. I sat by myself on the bus on the way to school, and got off six stops early on the way home so I could walk alone. I started writing about how much I hated my life, and how upset I felt all the time. I skipped lunch to be alone in the library  to write.  I cried several times a day, sometimes in the middle of class, or at night until I finally fell asleep. I stopped praying.  I stopped participating in school, and I rarely made an effort to talk to any of my friends.

It was the end of November when suicide first crossed my mind. I hated the idea of it, because I knew how much I was personally impacted by the suicides of my classmates Dylan and Quincee. Except with each passing day, suicide sounded better and better. The little things began to add up; from all the fights at home, to being picked last for a team in gym class.  A friend mentioning that I was having a bad hair day, being the last person in class without a partner, or being ignored by someone that I used to be so close with. These stupid things that never even used to phase me, were now becoming another reason why I didn’t need to be alive.

I became obsessed with the thought of killing myself, and I wrote about it every day. During lunch, in class, in the middle of the night, I wrote about how amazing it would be to finally end all of my pain. I didn’t want to be suicidal, but I felt so hopeless. A little part of me wanted to get help, but I was too scared. I was sure that if I told someone I was suicidal, they would tell me I was being selfish, that I shouldn’t feel that way.  I knew it was wrong, and I wanted more than anything for things to go back to the way that they used to be, but I couldn’t stop my mind from thinking everything it did. Everything that was wrong seemed so huge and consuming, and I couldn’t see past the moment I was stuck in.

By December I was sure I couldn’t go on much longer, and I knew suicide was the answer. I decided that I wanted to have the holidays to say goodbye to my family one last time, and I knew the excitement of Christmas and New Year’s would have worn off by early January. I chose the day after my grandma’s birthday, Thursday, January 6th, 2011. I knew I would be home alone after school for a good half-hour, which gave me plenty of time. It wasn’t a huge concern to me on how I died, I just wanted something sort of clean and easy, so I planned on swallowing a dangerous mix of pills. As disgusting as it sounds, I was so excited for the day to come that I could hardly wait that last month. I was scared that my parents would find out, so I made sure to take my notebook where I wrote about killing myself everywhere with me.

Chad moved to Lousianna in the middle of December, and things got a little better at home. I still hated everything else about my life, especially school. By the end of December I felt like I had nobody, and I was more than ready to be done with it all. A few days after Christmas, a friend I hadn’t talked to in a few months invited me over to her house. It was my first invitation out in a long time, so I accepted.  When I got there, she said she knew something was going on, and wanted to know what. I told her almost everything, and it felt so good to get it all out. I lied though, and said that I had suicidal feelings, but assured her that things were getting better, and I wasn’t going to kill myself.  When I returned to school though, things fell back into the usual routine, and I felt like she was ignoring me and didn’t really care. All of this added more confirmation to my thought that nobody would miss me if I was gone.

On January 6th, I went to school like a normal day. When I got there, a different girl that I hadn’t talked to in months asked if I was going to the Snowball meeting that night. I told her that I was busy, but she begged me to go with her to the meeting. I’m not really sure why I agreed to go with her t instead of going through with my plan to kill myself, but I did.

At the meeting, was Ms. Lewis, the mother of a boy who had committed suicide less than a week before. She spoke to us about suicide, and I cried at that meeting more than I’ve ever cried at once. I felt like she was talking directly to me, and I needed to hear every word she said.  Ms. Lewis gave me an ounce of something that I hadn’t had in months: hope.

I made a promise to myself that night that I would try and get help one more time before I made another suicide plan, but it was a long time before I actually did anything. For weeks, I fell back into the same routine of sleeping, writing, and just not caring about anything. I started cutting myself, I didn’t know how else to cope. I knew it was wrong to cut, but after the first time, I craved it. It’s disgusting, but I loved watching the way the blood ran out of my ankle and wrist.  I finally felt so in control of something. It didn’t matter to me what I used; a razor, scissors, or anything else sharp. It felt so good to forget about everything for a moment and be consumed in the physical pain. I wanted to hide it from my family and people at school, so I would cover my scars with make-up, jewelry band-aids, or clothing. The last thing I wanted was for someone to see my scars and think I was crazy.

In March, I attended a retreat through Operation Snowball, and it was there that I finally broke down. I chose to get help for myself by telling an adult about what had been going on for the last eight months. Finally opening up was the hardest, best choice I have ever made. My parents and school counselor found out after the retreat ended. Ms. Stern contacted Suicide Prevention Services, and I went through depression screening. My parents and I decided it would be best for me to begin counseling with Suicide Prevention Services, and so I started seeing a counselor every week. My mom brought me on my first visit, but I found that I had a hard time being honest with her in the room. For the rest of my sessions, my mom or dad would wait for me while I talked to my counselor, and then the three of us would talk for a few minutes in the end. It was difficult to have to go back and work through everything that caused me to be so depressed, and it took a lot of time, but I slowly made progress.

I hit a few bumps in the road, the biggest happening in May. Lisa moved down to Louisiana to be with Chad, and having her gone was very overwhelming. A few weeks later, she came home with a black eye, bruised cheek and ear, after Chad was arrested for beating her. He was convicted with two felonies, and served time in prison.

I continued counseling for about a year. I still struggle with depression, but I’m able to manage my feelings and cope in healthier ways because of all the help I received in counseling. I still write about things that bother me, pray about them, or talk to my siblings and parents. I have an easier time taking a step back from a situation, and looking at how much whatever I’m stressed about really matters in the big picture. Some days are more of a struggle for me than others, but I have so many resources, most importantly my family, Suicide Prevention Services, and Operation Snowball, that I always find a way to make it through. I still get urges to cut myself, but I’m overcoming that awful desire. I’ve found that the most effective ways to ease my desire to cut are to go running, or watch a movie or simply spend time with the people who love me most.

It helps to set goals for yourself. Doing this gives me something to work towards, and remember that the pain I feel right now won’t always be here. I want to be a radiologist someday, and I keep that in mind. I keep myself busy, working two jobs, taking classes at Waubonsee, spending time with my family and boyfriend. I’ve learned that as much as I’d like to, I can’t take on all of my problems alone. I ask for help when I need it, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. I have depression, but that doesn’t define me. I have grown so much in the last two years, and that’s something that never would have happened if I didn’t get help. I know how blessed I am to be alive, and I am happy with myself. In my darkest, and weakest of moments, I always remember that I was given this life because I am strong enough to live it.


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Sometimes your answers to life aren’t as well hidden you might expect them to be. Indeed, these are the ones that you follow with your actions. That can be troubling to those who might expect something to be conjured where it’s lacking, or hope a shred of it there.

In 2010, I managed to meet somebody who changed who I would become as a person and who I was during the time radically from who I was before. I never met her before, and suffice it to say I managed to get to know her through talking about similar interests. During that time I was really into things technology related and it struck me as crazy to meet someone who had very similar interests in it. Well, a girl that does. So as I continued speaking with her, learning about her, and overall becoming a friend, it only seemed strange to try and hide what I was really keeping down inside me. I had an emotional connection to her, and really wouldn’t have minded going out of my way to help her with any hardship. Eventually this spilled out of me, and the reaction I got was of a similar interest. This was strange to me, as an upcoming sophomore in high school who didn’t think he would even come close to anyone of to the opposite gender.

There were many memorable events that led up to actually becoming romantically intimate, all of them now seem far off and obscure as if I’ve never actually had the chance to experience them. 8 months together, in what seemed to me as just becoming dumbstruck with love, our relationship then ended. This wasn’t a messy, anger filled one. This wasn’t out of spite or due to abuse; there was none of that there. The love just died down on her part. Was there fights? Yes, as any relationship would have them, but certainly nothing over the top. I remember bits of our conversation that, with the suggestion of just being friends. One of these bits, overflowing with what was a depressing irony, in retrospect, “The good thing is at least we’re not like those people who break up and never talk again.”

Was it true we tried to make a friendship work? Yes, and during the time there was points where it seemed as though it might. Except this closing of intimacy and romantic bonds wasn’t something I actually wished. After our conversation, although I was offered a ride home if need be, I insisted on walking. Perhaps best described as just wanting to walk and become lost and to be alone and continue to do so as you now are. That’s exactly how I felt.

I just didn’t understand though, and it never made sense to me. How we went from the highest of relations to absolutely nothing. How even after attempting to keep something there, I insisted on not letting go. It was obvious my feelings were still there, and it hindered the friendship in works. At the end of it all, my constant apologies, my destroyed sense of worth and trying to get her back somehow, worked against me. What I was trying to fix, only set me apart further until it was all empty. It was like it never happened; it really did feel like a dream.

To this day it still does, and despite only recently getting over it all after over a year, it doesn’t surprise me as to why it didn’t take so long. To me: “Love is an emotion of a strong sympathy and care towards another human being. It’s when no matter what the circumstance you still care for that person and want them to be happy above yourself. Although it’s still a mystery to most people and shut down by the arrogance of others, it’s something that you know you experience when you feel it and something that through only your own heart guided feelings can one follow a path that maybe you can be that source of happiness or to have it be returned.”

That was written a few months after a breakup in a journal which was difficult to recall from memory. Indeed, even that seems like something from the clouds. It’s still the way I view love, and despite being told that it didn’t sound realistic to multiple people- I wouldn’t have expected much without being a bit of an idealist now or even meeting her. Growing as a person and gaining understanding is what made me more stable and accepting of these events, and if it wasn’t for tragedy, however, I wouldn’t have any of my friends I hold dear now. I figured maybe it isn’t so bad to be broken.


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What They Mean to the World

Two years ago on new year’s day, I was getting ready in my room when my friend texted me and told me that one of my friends, who I hadn’t seen or talked to for a while, even though I felt that I had a strong bond with him, had killed himself the night before. I didn’t know what to say or what to do. This was something that I had never expected to happen. I was totally unprepared, stunned, and confused. For a few minutes, I just didn’t feel anything and I didn’t understand why. My dad came down to my room after a while and I couldn’t even tell him. I just started crying on his shoulders before I could tell him what happened. I called some of my mutual friends as soon as I could, they had already found out. I went to the home of one of my mentors and my friend that night and some of our other friends were there. Seeing them and making cookies with friends helped me out a lot. Just doing something and keeping myself moving and doing something when I had no idea what to do and could barely think. The next week at his wake, walking up to the casket and seeing his body was horrible. I wanted to pray. To say something meaningful and try to express what I was feeling, but again there was that feeling of nothing. Introducing myself to his mom, I wanted to say something to her to make it better. I learned that there are no words that can do this. A week later, she came to a meeting of a youth group that I was involved in to speak to us as we all tried to grieve together and make some sense of what had happened. In my head, there was no sense in it and I couldn’t understand. It was just something horrible and unbelievable that had happened.

About two weeks later, the morning we went back to school after Martin Luther King Day, my whole high school learned together that one of our classmates had killed himself. I felt the same things as I had before. I couldn’t speak, I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what to do, and I was totally unprepared. That day was miserable, but I am so proud to be a member of my class. We supported each other, as totally stunned as we might have been. Our teachers were there and our school as a whole supported each other. We had a mass that afternoon with our sister school for him and tearfully sang amazing grace together. Still there were absolutely no words, no action that gave this a meaning or a resolution. That night, our youth group met again to grieve together. Our leadership tried to help us keep moving, but there is a helplessness that could not be overlooked. At his wake, the line was out the door and around the corner. Most people stood in line for at least three hours to meet his family and see his body. If he had known, would it have changed his mind? My friends and I made our way through the funeral home over the course of a few hours, and as I tried to introduce myself to his dad, I could barely whisper. In front of his body, I tried again to say a prayer and to find something meaningful in my mind. At his funeral, I think I wanted to find some conclusion, but what I was grasping for wasn’t there.

These two points in my life are the most helpless I have ever felt. It took a long time for the sadness to stop totally occupying my mind, and I felt guilty for not talking to my friend for 6 months, and for not seeing it coming in my other friend. I had seen him just a few days before and talked to him. Learning that I would not see my friends again, that my classmate would not graduate with us that spring, was incredibly difficult.

Through my experiences I learned that when someone kills themselves, there are no words that will make it better and we are powerless to change what has happened.  I also learned that if these people knew the effects that their lives had on others, how much they were loved, how much we miss them still, and that these feelings and their effects will always remain with us, they may have had a very different outlook on life. Because of this, I try to love more openly and show people support more openly in hopes that I can be just a glimpse to my friends of what they mean to the world.


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Broken Windows

Sociologist have discovered when something looks clean and taken care of then people will leave it alone.  But if it looks neglected and ignored, then people will take advantage of it.

I lost my father when I was in fifth grade.  The divorce and the searching had set-off a biological trigger in him. His mother had committed suicide when he was seven-years-old. When my brother and I had been ripped from him he lived to find us—he didn’t want to feel abandoned again.  Once he found us he let his depression take over.  He started drinking heavily and doing drugs.  He stopped working—he stopped talking.  He would see us on his assigned times and live for those moments—and then would be lost for the next week or two weeks.  He had no job and no money, he wasn’t able to pay child support.  The modicum of civility between my parents was lost.

Without work—without support—he fell further down the spiral.  He became homeless and started sleeping in his run down truck.   I became ashamed of him.  I didn’t want my friends to see my drunk-homeless father.  In my middle school years he would disappear for months at a time.  When he would show up he wasn’t the same person.  He began to become dependent upon me to help him.  I was less than twelve-years-old when our roles reversed.

During the winter of ’94 there was a terrible snow storm.  I got home from school and saw a skeleton of the man I once called Dad.

“I need somewhere to stay.”  He begged as he shivered in front of me.  I walked him up to my bedroom.  Like most sophomore high school boys, my closet had become a catch-all for the things I didn’t need.  It was piled knee high with old clothes and toys.  I cleaned a spot out for my dad and put a blanket and a pillow in it for him.

My mother worked eighty hours a week  to provide my brother and I with a good life.  Each night when she got home, she would bring whatever fast food we wanted.  I started sneaking food up to my father who was hiding in my closet.  He became reliant on me to provide for him the necessities of life.  He hid in my room and under my care for two months—I snuck him food, I snuck him to the bathroom; it became so bad that I even gave him a bottle to urinate in and then I emptied it for him.  My mom—to this day—does not know he was in there.  As the weather warmed, my father hugged me and walked back onto the streets.  In that moment I hated him for what he had done to me.

My father is manic depressive/bipolar.  The doctors helped my addict father begin his sober life—they taught him that what he was really using the drugs for was self-medicating—he was trying to fill that lonely emptiness he felt due to his mental illness with drugs and alcohol.   He is an addict and will always be an addict.   His half-sister continued to help, she gave him a place to stay, helped him to find a job, brought him to a dentist to fix his toothless mouth so he looked presentable again—so that society wouldn’t see this man shattered on the floor.  He was a broken window.  That first crack when his mother killed herself allowed for other cracks—it allowed for others to shatter the man he was.  People walked by him seeing a broken man and would take further advantage of him.  Assume he was dumb and a drain on society—a man who can’t keep a job or have enough willpower to stay off drugs is no better than a dog.  Those cracks in his window become shattered glass and shards on the ground.  His windows are part of my windows. Some in my position might have used the pain and shame to let their cracks grow.  To let the negative forces shatter their windows and leave them broken on the floor.  And that might have happened to me except. . .

I was lucky.  These pains are my success.  My window has many cracks—but I have friends come and tape it up.  I have positive adults to repair my foundation.  And I have myself—to be aware when I feel a crack—and ask for help when I need it.  Through these things my window becomes larger with each success.

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I Wish I Could Help More

Publisher’s Note: The Author of this beautiful piece lost his son to suicide just over two years ago. I am inspired by he and his wife. They are healing, albeit slowly. They remain strong…they are supportive of one another…and they have always been, and remain, amazing parents. The most healing part of his story is his understanding that he is not at fault in his son’s death.

A man whose brother lost his teenage son to suicide asked me 6 months ago for advice on how to help his brother.  I have changed names to protect his privacy.

Dear Sam,

Perhaps I can help you by letting you understand a little bit of what your brother is going through.  I will only preface this by saying that I did not have a great relationship with my son for quite a few years.  I am lucky that in the last few years before his suicide we had a much better relationship.

I think the first thing you have to understand is how physically brutal this is.  At times, it physically hurts more than I can describe. It is also exhausting to get through the day because you have to make a mental effort not to let the loss overtake everything. I will tell you that I have not slept more than 3 hours in the past year and a half (yes, I have seen a doctor, and no, pills don’t help). I am sure everyone who goes through this has their issue(s), I tell you mine as an example.

As a dad, I think we tend to take overall responsibility. Here is the way I thought about this (and sometimes still do): “Ben is dead and it is my fault. For what I did or what I failed to do. No matter what, I failed to catch this and I was paying attention. I just failed.” I don’t know that there is anything you can do except to try to help the person remember all the good things they did as a father and encourage them to forgive themselves. After 18 months, I know now in my heart that Ben killed himself, not me, not God. Ben had free will and, on a very bad night, he made a very bad decision. I also believe that he was sick with some kind of physical depression.

There is the difference between understanding why and accepting that this happened. We can only help ourselves by accepting this. It is much harder than it sounds. For a while after Ben died I was still trying to bargain with God for his life back. Next, I tried to bargain with my wife (who has always been the spiritual leader of our family).  It went something like this “If God needed someone, why couldn’t he take me in Ben’s place, I have had a life, a chance, but Ben hasn’t. I would be fine with that deal.” I am sure this greatly upset my wife.  I went from “this cannot be true” to “why do others get to have a life and not Ben” to “I cannot believe this is how it turned out” (every time I see a little boy with his family I think this).  I guess that is some sort of progress.

In the early days, my wife was almost inconsolable at times; especially when we were going somewhere (out of the house) or late at night. I will tell you that the only thing I could tell her that helped were these two things: “We are the luckiest people in the room tonight. For over 17 years we were Ben’s parents. We got more time with him than anyone else. We knew him better than anyone else. We were blessed” and “If God had come to me on the day Ben was born and said that I could have this baby boy but he was not going to survive past 18 or you can pass; I would take Ben and that deal any day of the week.” I am sure your nephew’s mom and dad feel the same way. I was so lucky to have been his dad, I still wish I had done a better job with it.

Lastly, I would say that things are slowly getting better. We talk about Ben, often like he was still around, and sometimes it’s funny (like the day that my wife, my daughter and I all realized at the same time how little laundry there was each week without Ben; gallows humor but at least we could joke about it!) He was not perfect and we try to remember the good and the bad. In our house, it is okay to say you’re missing Ben, it is okay to make a joke about Ben (even at his expense) or just talk about something he would have liked or would be proud of.

I read somewhere that the mourning period for parents who have lost a child is 10-12 years. I used to think “I hope not” but now I think “probably true”.

I wish I could help more. This seems like so little.



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Life is Like a Big River

Publisher’s Note: Below is an amazing story of survival, hope and strength. It comes from a student I taught in the late 1970s. It shows how lives that are very difficult can turn out beautiful…and points to the importance of seeking help in the darkness.

When I was in my second year of college I tried to commit suicide. I was clinically depressed from the age of 13 on, I still have my diaries where I discuss trying to commit suicide, but I it snowballed in college…..I was lucky to find an amazing therapist, who saved me. We became friends after I left St. Louis and I stayed in touch with her up until her death five years ago. I actually flew out to see her just weeks before she passed away from lung cancer. She was a wonderful friend and I still miss her.

I know now, that having absentee parents truly contributed to my spiral and I was pretty much alone growing up. My parents divorced in 1968 and my father re-married and then sort of disappeared from my life. My mother was and is an alcoholic. She re-married when I was 17. She married a man who is a bully and just a mean hateful person, and very controlling. When I was young, I remember seeing a glass of vodka in her medicine cabinet every morning. I just thought that was normal.

On one hand I am glad my meltdown happened when I was in college because it re-shaped my life and made me a fighter. I have been very blessed to have a successful career, a solid marriage to a man who is my best friend, and two amazing daughters who think I am the bomb! They are both my best friends as well….and we have an amazing relationship. So in the end, my experience, the lows and the climbing back up from the darkness to venture out in the world, made me who I am today and made me a better parent, mother, wife….person.

I always say, that life is like a big river….the water in the river is constantly moving. Some times you get caught in an eddy, or hit some rapids, fly over a waterfall….but then you get to a smooth calm bend in the river and the journey is all bliss….but no matter what the river keeps moving and you never know what will be around the next turn.


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Does Love Ever Die?

By James A. Autry

Publisher’s Note: It is a blessing to know Jim Autry, having spent time with him a number of years ago recording a beautiful interview. Jim has written extensively; articles, books and poetry. He has given permission to reprint this heartfelt piece from his most recent book, “Choosing Gratitude; Learning To Love The Life You Have”

My first wife, the mother of my two older sons, died recently. We were divorced over 40 years ago, but I was profoundly grieved by her passing. I was sad, of course, for my sons who had lost their mother, but beyond that, I was sad for myself.

I know there are those who’d question why I would grieve the death of someone from whom I was divorced. The answer, I believe, is found somewhere within the nature of love.

We’ve all heard the expression, “Love never dies.” But doesn’t it? Maybe we should add, “But love changes.” I don’t mean changes from one person to another, but changes in the particular power that gives people the comfort and support and intense connection they need to stay married. Perhaps it’s that change that loosens the bonds.

I don’t know. I do know that divorce is no less complicated than marriage. It is, at the same time, an ending and a beginning, and having been through it, I can’t believe that anybody makes that transition without suffering some sense of loss, regardless of the next phase of their lives.

So, back to the question of why I grieved the passing of someone from whom I am divorced: The better question is how could I not be saddened by the death of someone I loved and with whom I had children, someone who left her last year of college to go with me into the world, someone who’d endured the harrowing experience of being a jet fighter pilot’s wife and seeing other young wives become young widows, someone who’d worried and prayed with me when our son was stricken with epilepsy?

Of course I was sad.

This whole process has brought clarity to my feelings about the divorce and has given me some perspective. I realize that it’s okay for me to look back at the good years and the shared experiences and to be grateful for them without regretting the divorce itself. I do regret what it put my sons through, and that’s a pain I’ll just have to continue to deal with.

But I am also the most fortunate of men in that my wife of thirty years, Sally, not only understood but supported me as well her step-sons. It is she who arranged the planting of a tree on the statehouse grounds to honor the memory of their mother.

When we gather at the planting, I know I’ll be sad again, but standing there with my sons and with Sally, I think I’ll understand at last the truth that “Love never dies.”

Reprinted from “Choosing Gratitude; Learning To Love The Life You Have,” (Smyth & Helwys, 2012), by permission of the author.

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An Angel in Disguise

When my daughter Ashley was born in 1980, I was one proud father—for about an hour. That’s when the doctor who delivered her walked up to me as I was admiring Ashley. The doctor said “Al, I think we have a problem here; I’m quite sure that Ashley has Down syndrome.” In that moment, I went from the height of ecstasy to the depth of despair–the only time in my life I’ve experienced anything like that. I thought my life and my wife Barbara’s life had essentially been ruined. We were heartbroken.

Over the next few days, weeks and months, we received wise counsel from many nurses at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois and visits to our home by several parents of children with Down syndrome. They assured us that our despair, while understandable, was probably unwarranted. The encouraged us to shift our outlook from despair to hope. And, with the support of these wonderful people, that’s what we did, although quite slowly over the next several years. As Ashley grew older we noticed that, although learning was a challenge for her, she was an unlikely but surprisingly good teacher. We all know that we can learn a great deal from children, but the paradox here is the notion that even children with disabilities, like Ashley, can teach us a great deal too. For example, I’m naturally impatient. I like to move fast and get things done. Ashley, on the other hand, is all about being in the moment, enjoying herself and others–“smelling the roses” as it were. Observing Ashley makes me more conscious of my sometimes frenetic pace. She has taught me to monitor my behavior, exercise patience and exhibit greater tolerance.

Ashley is now a grown woman. In some ways our worst fears came true–she has an IQ of only 36, speaks very little and can’t perform even simple tasks without extensive prompting. But in other, more important ways, Ashley has been an angel in disguise. She is gentle, full of love and unconditionally accepting of others. Her spirit rubs off on others, including my wife Barbara and our other daughter Andrea, and me. In fact, we often say that Ashley teaches us a great deal more than we teach her.

In 2002, we placed Ashley in Mount St. Joseph, a residential facility for women with disabilities in Lake Zurich, Illinois. About a month later we were called to a parent-staff conference. As we walked into the room, one of the staff said, “You must be very proud of Ashley.” We assured her that we were, and asked what prompted that comment. “Oh, it’s a wonderful thing to see,” she replied. “Ashley has such a sweet and giving spirit, and she has already positively influenced many of the other residents. We are so glad she is here with us.” Is that music to a parents ears or what? What parent wouldn’t want to hear words like that  spoken about their child?

A friend of mine once noted that Ashley doesn’t let her head get in the way of her heart. Another friend, who happens to be a pastor, overheard that remark. About 6 months later, the pastor came up to me with a mile-wide grin and said “Ashley has changed my life”. I replied with surprise, “Pastor, you’ve never even met Ashley!” The Pastor reminded me that he had heard my friend’s comment about ‘Ashley never letting her head get in the way of her heart’ and based on that comment had transformed his relationship with other people, significantly enhancing and expanding his ability to effectively pastor to others by depending more on his heart. He then went on to say that for him Ashley was a “true angel in disguise”.

Ashley has been the prime catalyst in my life to help me achieve a healthier head/heart balance. She maintains calm in the face of adversity, is kind and gracious to those she meets, and remains content regardless of the circumstances. She is a trooper when the going gets tough and is completely non-judgmental in her assessment of others. She’s a good sport when things don’t go her way. Overall, she serves as a role model fo all of us.

Do I wish that Ashley had been born without Down syndrome? Of course. She can’ t do simple math. She can’ t talk very well. She can’t hold eye contact very well. She can’t do many of the routine tasks you and I take for granted. Yet, Ashley’s love is completely pure; it is unconditional and directly from her heart. She never seems to let life’s problems interfere with her love for anyone or anything. I have come to realize that maybe, just maybe, Ashley is the best thing that ever happened to me–a true angel in disguise.

Al Ritter

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