Friday, August 17, 2012

The elephant in the room

I've feeling a little sad today.  When Aria was a baby, I started keeping a journal for her.  I've been really bad about keeping it up to date lately, but today I started going through the old entries.  It reminded me why I had started the journal to begin with and I think I need to bring that poor journal back up to date.  In the particular entry stood out to me.  I debated sharing it with you; in fact, I never intended on sharing any of the journal entries as they are private letters to my daughter when she is old enough to understand the weight of the words written in them.  This particular entry is most certainly not full of light and cheer. Please forgive me if this is something you'd rather not see in a blog about dolls; I know that it is not an easy topic.  But its an important one.  People need to talk about it more.  Its the elephant in the room...nobody wants to talk about but talking is the only way to move through grief.  And tonight...I'm missing someone pretty bad.   Also, please excuse the inclusion of strong language in the letter.  I chose not to edit them out on purpose.

As a warning, in case someone has experienced this recently and is not ready to read about it right now.  This particular entry is about a friend who killed himself when I was 19.  Normally I include links throughout the text or at the bottom of the post.  But this time, I will provide links under this introduction.  Please...Please...Please if you or someone you know is considering suicide....reach out for help.  If you have experienced suicide in your life, reach out to family, friends, a support group...somebody, anybody... You don't have to go through this alone.  In the U.S. culture, we seem to value doing everything on our own, we view asking for help as a sign of weakness....but its not.  Being strong is knowing when you need help and being brave enough to ask for it. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
International Suicide Prevention Hotlines
Resources for those who've experienced suicide in their lives

The Elephant in the Room is a beautiful poem about the importance of letting those who are grieving the opportunity to talk about their loss, their emotions, and most importantly...the one they lost.

Aria Jae,

This letter is a revised version of one I wrote in the handwritten journal that didn't go very far. I think you are currently using said journal as a scribble pad.

Auntie Tina and I've talked about how a parent decides what and how much to divulge about their personal lives to their children. We haven't come to any conclusions as of yet but I think she would agree that this is an intensely individual decision that every parent must make on his/her own. I am leaning towards fairly full disclosure. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life and have experienced some pretty undesirable things. While I'd prefer if you could go your entire life believing that your momma has led a fairy tale life, I'd prefer it more if you could have a better journey through your own life. 

At the time I wrote the original letter you were 6 months old. I had just found out that Heather Hartley, a professor in my department had killed herself. I'd taken a sociology of women's class with her and had thoroughly enjoyed her instruction. She was witty and captivating as an instructor. And now she is the third person I know who has killed him/herself.

The first and probably most significant was Barry Kantner. On December 16, 1999, my life changed forever. Its funny how quickly that can happen. One moment you're going on with your life doing chores; mundane crap and the next you're being hurdled through a maze of emotional turmoil wondering if you'll make it through in one piece. That's how it is and I can't think of a better way to describe it.

I remember the first day that I met Barry. He seemed all confidence and cockiness with his Hank Williams Jr hat perched on his head and a pipe hanging from his mouth. I had no idea that night that we would become such close friends. Its funny how our lives are marked by incidents and events; the smallest memories; its funny how a person can point to an exact moment in his/her life and see where it took a turn.

Hearing about Heather's death brought up all the pain from losing Barry. To be honest, it never really went away. It was always just below the surface waiting to reappear. It always will be. But this time, this time...was different. This time I had a mother's worries to accompany the pain.

I could say some crap about how Barry's death taught me important lessons...about the fact that our lives are so fleeting. I could say that he taught me not to waste time being angry over stupid insignificant shit when I could be enjoying life and spending time with the ones I love. I could say that he taught me how much people love you even when you're not truly aware of it. I could say all of that and for the most would be true. There are lessons to be learned in every part of life from the mundane to the exciting; from the glorious to the tragic.

But mostly I just want him back for one single fucking day...that's it. Just one day so that I can wrap my arms around him and tell him how much I fucking miss him and that it hurts so fucking bad. I would trade all those life lessons for one day with my bear...and maybe these are not the words of a wise person, maybe as a mother I should find something more insightful to say to you about it. But the reality is that....I miss him.

That's it...I miss him.

How do I protect you from these tragedies? How do I protect you from life's bumps and bruises? What do I do if I think the answer to that question is I can't? It scares the crap out of me. I want to show you that life is full of opportunities for happiness and that dark clouds do pass. I don't want to have to tell you that suicide means hurting those you love the most or that choosing to end your life means you miss out on all wonderful possibilities that could have been because I don't want you to even know what suicide is. Right now, you are so full of spunk and fire. And despite all the challenges of raising a child full of such strong will, I hope you hold onto that fire. Because if there's anything that will help you hold on when life is tough and has lost its shine, its that.

Aria, I love you so much. Please remember that. Always.


If you've made it through the letter...thank you.  Thank you for letting me speak his name.  Thank you for not leaving me alone in a room with an elephant.  Like I said, tonight I'm missing him.  I've already dragged out old photos and letters. He left behind friends and family who loved him dearly.  He left behind a beautiful son, a son that wasn't even quite a month old and while I was never as angry with Barry as perhaps I should have been...that one point does infuriate me.  Barry missed out on seeing his son grow into a brilliant and admirable young man...a son that only knows his father through old photos and stories.  The rest of us are left with fleeting memories.  




  1. What a wonderful and inspiring letter/post. I am not sure who actually reads comments but I was Barry's girlfriend and the mother of his son. Barrys death has always been an elephant in the room, except when it came to us. Thank you for being my strength all those years ago, for being their for me and Aiden and for being the one person in my life that is still willing to talk about him, about what he did, how it made us feel and for always being honest and never trying to Sugarcoat it. I know first hand how difficult it can be to discuss this topic with a child and I have no doubt that you will approach the subject with strength and wise words. Thank you for writing this,you have no idea.

    1. No matter the distance or the time, you are my forever friend. And even if we live far apart...when I'm 80 I still plan on flying my butt out to Indiana or wherever you live to sit with you, drink some coffee, and just talk. Thank you for simply being in my life. While I wish Barry's death had never happened especially the way that it did...I am thankful that I had you by my side. You and Aiden were the reason I held it together as well I did. I love you both dearly.

  2. Beautiful, Robin. Thank you so much for sharing. For those of us that have lost someone,I think we all can relate that one of the hardest parts is the "walking on eggshells" everyone around you does. No one wants to talk about them - for fear of powerful emotions? I don't know. We need to be more comfortable with taking about death and loss so that we can offer comfort to our friends who need it so completely. So, anyway, thank you. For sharing and for opening up this dialogue. Lesley

  3. Robin, thank you for sharing your story and personal letter. In my experience suicide is something that many people feel uncomfortable discussing, not just because of the stigma of mental health or having mortality thrust upon us, but also because it means allowing the pain of losing someone you cared about come to the surface again. You are a strong woman and mother and I applaud you for writing candidly about this to Aria.

    You are pretty amazing.


    1. Thank you! Your words really do mean a lot to me. PS: Aria was just talking about her little bunting you made her the other day. She still loves it so! ;D