A Love Story and Gun Control

They were his coping mechanism, and they would be the death of her.
Caught in between it all was a little girl who feared them, yet was taught they were what kept her safe. Guns.
A 22. A Glock. A sawed-off shotgun.

My earliest memory of a gun is staring into the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun. I was too little to get into our jacked up 1974 Ford pickup from the passenger side. I needed the steering wheel to lift my little body into the cab. My five year old hand would stretch up and my little fingers would just manage to wrap around the wheel. With a tight grip, I would secure my saltwater sandal on the door frame, and just before I put all the effort my little body could muster to lift myself into the truck cab, I would come eye-to-eye with the barrel of the shotgun. Safely stashed under the seat with the barrel facing towards the door. I was at the perfect height to be eye to eye. I never told my parents the reason I would get in the truck so quickly, nor why I didn’t like sitting properly in the truck. I always wanted to sit cross-legged. I mean, in my five year old mind, what if we hit a bump and the gun accidentally went off? All I knew was that I really wanted my legs.

Luckily I was a girl, and a stereotypical one with friends just like me. I had no interest in the guns that lived among us. I was told not to touch them, so I didn’t. Growing up, guns were a part of my every day life. Loaded guns. My girlfriends and I would pile into that truck with the shotgun lurking under us, mom and I baked cookies with a 22 on top of the fridge, and I learned how to drive with a Glock in the glovebox. When we went anywhere with my dad, there was always one with us to protect us. As I got older, I was taught how the one on the fridge functioned. Just in case. Just in case of what? I quickly came up with my own answer. I discerned at a young age that if we were always making sure we were so well protected, then the world must be full of people trying to hurt me. In my father’s attempt to keep me safe, he created a very fearful little girl. As a parent myself, I know that in our attempts to do our best for our children, sometimes we can make mistakes. This was one of his.

My father should’ve never been allowed to have guns. His story, sadly, is not unique. My dad has PTSD. He lived, unknowingly coping, for 30 years. I remember hearing his nightmares rip through the house in the middle of the night, and when I was older, my mother sharing her fears of waking him from the nightmares he suffered next to her. The guns I lived with helped to keep my dad sane all those years, yet we never knew that, not until he finally "came home” 30 years later. He hit his low point when he decided to kill himself. A gun in one hand, the phone in the other. Fortunately, my father chose the phone and called the VA Suicide Hotline. At that point, my Dad entered the VA system for the first time. He went through psychiatric evaluation and counseling, yet the guns remained in our home, his concealed weapons license safely tucked in his wallet. Interestingly, guns were never a topic between my father and the VA. He called in as a suicide threat, they diagnosed him with PTSD, yet never considered he may not be the wisest person to have guns in his home environment.

In the most ironic twist I hope to ever occur in my lifetime, my mother woke up one morning and for reasons only she will ever truly know, took the 22 from the top of the fridge. The one that we were really to never touch, and she used it on herself. My Dad was home. Oh how I wish it had malfunctioned as he said it could do and blown up in her hand, but it didn’t. She died.

When I got the news she tried to kill herself, I was also told that my Dad wouldn’t be coming to the hospital to comfort me while the trauma unit fought to save her. He was being held pending what ended up being a brief homicide investigation. 

In the years following her suicide, my father fought a daily battle to live, yet the guns remained. After his first hospitalization on a suicide threat and subsequent mandatory mental health counseling, the guns remained. No one ever even mentioned that maybe his guns should be taken away from him except me. When I asked his VA mental health counselor to do something, I was just told it was his 2nd Amendment right to own a gun. That’s when I knew our forefathers didn’t have this situation in mind when they wrote the “right to bear arms” into our great country’s constitution. In the end, his fearful little girl ended up being the one to tear the guns away from him, one gun at a time.

I don’t have the answers to this very severe problem our country is facing, but I do know it’s the 21st century, not the 18th century. The way of American life changed drastically over the past 200 years. Our needs changed. Our beliefs changed. Our laws need to reflect this change as well.

Perfect mornings

Another perfect morning in Carmel-by-the-Sea. If you're a surfer, you may disagree because the ocean's been like glass for days. Look at the blues and how the ocean melts right into the sky. Hoping that marine layer stays away all day. Enjoy your day, and I hope you all find 5 minutes today to find your daily peace.

Transient

Life moves quickly, so don't blink.

Life happens at a rapid pace, and there is no better illustration than watching life fly past you in the heart of any city, let alone central London.

Just returning from traveling to London on my own with my two boys, ages 8 and 11, I am thankful for the perspective and clarity I received while on our holiday. Before going to London, I knew it would be a special time for us. We are at a crossroads. One of many coming at an even pace like mile post signs you drive past along a highway. My eldest enters middle school this year, and my youngest enters third grade, the middle point of elementary school.

I've already visited Independence with both boys, and Adulthood is now viewable on the horizon for my eldest. As a woman who loves "Mommyhood" more than I ever could have imagined, I see it beginning to blur into the passing scenery just as we approach Motherhood, where my name will permanently be "Mom," and the needs of a "Mommy" are seen less and less.

Traveling internationally alone with two children makes you stretch as a mother. Not only did I watch my boys mature and age overnight, but I felt myself growing too. Previous fears were washed away by new found confidences and trust in myself, which translated to the ever elusive action many of us mothers struggle to take with our children. The act of "letting go."

The moment I realized my boys and I were at this midpoint was in the middle of rushing to grab a tube at the Westminister tube station. Travelcards in hand. My boys were in the lead. I watched as each of them so deftly inserted their ticket and quickly snatched it back, in turn releasing the gates of the turnstile for each of them to move forward. The symbolism didn't go unnoticed. This was only our second ride on the tube and they already adopted the body language, walking speed and flick of the wrist of a Londoner who rides the tube daily. As we approached the crossroads of which tube line to take, I had taken the lead. Ever so suddenly, my eldest yells, "Hey Mom! You're going the wrong way. It's this way. Follow me." That was the moment. I am their mother. I will forever be their coach, teacher and when needed most, their Mommy, but now it's time for me to let them lead.

I spent the rest of the trip watching their backs as they marched along in front of me. Occasionally they would wander off course and I would yell a direction from behind to get them back on track. I imagine this is how the next years will be spent. Letting them lead, yet being close behind to help them when they take that occasional wrong turn.

Our last day was spent riding the tube into London to take in the show Stomp in London's West End. Just me and my boys. Sitting on a crowded train with my arms draped over their shoulders and feeling the gentle rocking of the train, I knew that these moments would become rarer once we returned home.

After the show, we walked the streets of London one last time before leaving and ended up in Leicester Square. Rather than being a tourist taking in the sights of a crowded city square, I found myself taking in the sights of my boys. Watching them absorb life as it moved before them with the awe and curiosity you only see in children. I memorized every feature, and for a quick nostalgic moment, wished I could stop time. Tears filled my eyes. I grabbed them both, breathed in their sweet scent while kissing their heads and said a quiet thank you for all that they were and all that they are becoming.

Then in a blink, they were off again and leading me home.

Transient

It's not just "crazy" people....

I wrote the below entry one year after my mom killed herself. This November it will be six years since she died and when my world was turned upside and shaken. Suicide is preventable. Educate yourself. Know the signs. We can help others who are suffering in silence, but only if we collectively stop avoiding the discussion because it makes us uncomfortable.  Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Please read this, share it and then take one minute to read the warning signs at http://tinyurl.com/mrgtcuw.

 

The following was written December 30, 2008

"Crazy drivers," "crazy neighbors"... I used to use the word crazy in my every day language...until my mom killed herself. 

Of course no one ever used that term when describing her to me, but I know that's what some people were thinking. Seriously, someone would have to be "crazy" to kill themselves. At least that's what we tell ourselves to keep us safe and sane. As long as we are "normal," then we are protected from one of life's greatest threats.

This is why so many people were deeply and forever effected by my mom's death. She was one of the "normal" ones. She didn't have a label that would help us explain it all away after it happened. She wasn't manic, bipolar, schizophrenic, alcoholic, drug-addicted, depressed...

Oh, there you go. That last one. Depressed. A word used so loosely in American society. It can mean everything from having a bad day to an illness that robs you of yourself and causes you to lose your life metaphorically or realistically.

She was never ill. She didn't drink more than the occasional glass of wine while making dinner or a cold beer on a hot day. She exercised. She had tons of friends. She had a daughter who was a best friend and a husband whom she loved endlessly. There were two grandsons who loved her and one who considered her a best friend. She was thin, beautiful and smart... all the things women are told that if they posses, then life will be good, should be good. There was little she wanted for. She was a woman admired by many, but of course, too modest to ever notice the admiration. And, if you pointed it out to her, she would argue that you were mistaken.

So, how could someone like this, choose to die?

That's the question all survivors of suicide are left asking. That's why those labels make it easier for us to process. If someone is "depressed," and dies by suicide, then we can say to ourselves that we're safe because we're not depressed.

I mean, we would never do anything crazy like that.

That's what my mom used to say. She was a "normal" healthy woman until her own mother died and she turned 60 all in the same year. Her depression moved in without warning, just like the thick fog that envelops the coast when the valley is too sunny. She always wondered if her depression was like the fog. Had her life been too sunny? Like the fog, was her depression here to balance all the sunny days she already had in her life? 

Hindsight is 20/20. I would like to say that we all missed how seriously ill she was, but we knew. We just never thought it could possibly end this way. Her depression wasn't lifelong. It snuck up, grabbed on and wouldn't let go. We've all had those days where we don't want to get out of bed for whatever reason. That's all it started with, and eventually she was feeling that way everyday. This is when she would acknowledge all she had in life because she was trying to make sense of her depression.

"Why am I like this?"

"Why can't I be happy?"

"I have everything I want."

"What is wrong with me?"

I was the first person to utter the word "depression." She didn't want to hear it. Oh, how she fought it. It had to be a post-menopausal thing. Lack of sleep. A vitamin D deficiency. Anything other than depression because then she would be labeled different, abnormal... crazy. Maybe not by others, but by herself. Like many, mental health was always something she thought one could control. Therapists and the like were as questionable as chiropractors were forty years ago. A hope that the therapists could help, but the belief that the only one that can get a person out of a dark day is oneself.

All tragedies are a series of small events that cumulate into one gigantic and horribly wrong event. My mom's suicide is the same. From being raised to think you only go to doctor's in the most dire of circumstances to refusing to admit some people will need medication for life. From always wanting everyone to know she's fine, even when she isn't, to reaching out to a therapist who in turn caused her more pain. From an uneducated family when it came to mental health to poor warnings on drug labels. From fearing she would cause her family anguish by helping her find a those sunny days again to having handguns in the house that were there to ease the pain her husband suffered from PTSD caused by war.

The small events go on. Like a snowball. Even if you manage to remove a single snowflake, the size and destructive power of that snowball once in motion doesn't diminish.

Suicide happens. It's the devastatingly sad and destructive loss of a person with mental illness. My mom shot herself in the head one year ago, and I still have a hard time admitting it to people. I still feel like I need to give an answer. To explain away the unexplainable.

I was her daughter. How could I not know? 

Whenever I tell her story, I hesitate on mentioning she was falling back into the depression she overcame and feared so greatly. I don't want to give people a reason to think it can't happen to them.

Because if it can happen to her, we are all at risk... including me.

In the Name of Love

Tonight is the eve of the first time I will do anything publicly to honor my mother. Five and a half years ago she killed herself. I've vowed since that day to fight to save others and help society remove the social stigma against mental health and suicide. Many times these past five years I thought I found the courage to step up and put myself out there. Raise my hand. Use my voice, and tell my story. Each time, fear and pain ate away the strength I so desperately fought to build. 

Tomorrow is a small step, but it's a step. I will run in memory of my mother in a race called "Run In the Name of Love." The sole purpose of this run is to bring people together who've all lost someone they love deeply to honor and celebrate them. Rarely do you hear that someone died because they lost their hard fought battle with depression. I'm hear to tell the world that fighting depression is like fighting cancer. If you lose the battle, the result is the same. 

It may seem extreme to have my "In Honor of…" placard say "In memory of my mother. She lost her battle with depression and died by suicide." Maybe it is, but maybe that's what all of us who've survived someone's suicide need to start doing in order to help save others from the horrors we've experienced.

Writing all of this does not come easily. I type this with cuticles chewed to the quick and a stomach that won't quit doing flips regardless of the bottle of Tums I've furiously chewed as I try and breathe through my anxiety. This is my first entry in what will be an attempt to tell my story. After all, this is how we learn, through stories. Mine is neither unique nor fascinating, but it is one known to many and spoken by the few, and if my little voice can help  even one person, then I know this was right and true.

I am simply a motherless daughter trying to mother my own two sons after surviving many things that are still considered taboo to talk about. Divorce. Foreclosure. Suicide. Bankruptcy. Depression. As painful and scary as it may be for me to write publicly about these things, there is that intuition glowing deep inside me telling me this is what needs to be done.

Some days you just need to stop ignoring the pain that lives inside. Let yourself feel the pain because this is where strength and beauty are found.

Tomorrow I will be seeking beauty.