If That Hadn’t Happened……


IF THAT HADN’T HAPPENED:

If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be sitting here feeling guilty because I was the last one to talk to you and I never had a clue.  I should have picked up something in the tone of your voice or in your  words that would have indicated what you were planning to do almost as soon as we got off the phone.

If that hadn’t happened, the rest of us wouldn’t be planning a trip to say goodbye.

If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be so pissed off at you for not talking to me and telling me what was going on and what you were planning, when that had to be the point of your call to me in the first place….why wouldn’t you talk to me? Why didn’t you let me get you help, you knew I would know what to do and would have moved heaven and earth to help you.  Why didn’t you trust me enough to tell me?

If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be missing you so much.  I wouldn’t be dreading every breath I had to take and praying that every one would be my last.

If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be staying away from everyone because I can only hide what’s going on inside me for very short periods of time, and to those who know me really well, I can’t hide it at all.

If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t regret having made the promise that I made to the one person who has helped me most through all of this, the one person who has always had my back, the one person I believe truly cares about me.

If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be feeling like this……I would not be thinking about jumping into the abyss.

One of the Most Amazing and Inspirational Women I Know


Today, I have the privilege of being able to share with you, my readers, part one of a two-part blog written by one of the most amazing, encouraging and inspirational women I know, Athena Moberg.  Though we do not have the same blood running through our veins, I call her mia sorrella (my sister in Italian).  We have known each other for almost 18 years and when my brother, Pete completed his suicide, she was there for me texting, emailing and lots of phone calls, just letting me rant or cry and then she would pick up the pieces and put me back together again, for that day…lol.  She is one of a few people who I need in my life, as much as I need water and breath.  I love her so much and I am so proud of everything she has accomplished since that day we were feeding ducks at a pond and she told me she was moving to Maui. She still has been an inspiration to many women, especially me.

Here is her bio from the website:

Athena went from being a full-time working single mom to coaching over a dozen local businesses & families in just over a year. As a professionally trained business & success coach who was a solo parent for 17 years, Athena now mentors and encourages women by giving them the practical tools necessary for healthy communication and work-life balance, all from a biblical perspective. Today {thanks to social media} Athena speaks to an International audience. Technology has afforded her the opportunity to spend more time with her husband & loved ones while reaching out to women who truly desire to rise above their circumstances and finally reach their goals. Athena focuses on those not-often-talked-about challenges in life.

So now, pull up a chair and enjoy part one.  Just click on this link and enjoy.  One of the Most Amazing and Inspirational Women I Know

World AIDS Day – December 1, 2013 – “And the Band Played On”


On September 11, 1993, HBO premiered the television film docudrama “And the Band Played On.”  I remember sitting in my mom’s living room, watching this movie with her and my husband, Kendall and thinking to myself “WOW, they really nailed this one!”  You see on October 18, 1990, my only son, MJ died from lung complications related to AIDS.  At the time of his death, he had just turned seven.  He contracted HIV through a blood transfusion in January 1984.  We were in a car accident and he needed surgery.  The hospital would not let me give blood because I had previously had mononucleosis and the virus stays in your system.  If it becomes active, the virus can be spread to others.  Therefore, my son had a transfusion with bank blood (It should be noted that the American Red Cross did not start testing newly donated blood for HIV until after the FDA licensed the first test to detect the antibody to HIV on  March 3, 1985).

The movie version of “And the Band Played On” was adapted from the book by Randy Shilts, which was released in 1987.  A review from Library Journal summed up the book this way.  “In one of the most important books of the year, Shilts, who has covered the AIDS crisis since 1981, sets a gripping narrative of human tragedy against a background of political and scientific controversy. His implication: the AIDS epidemic in the United States might have been averted had it not been for resistance from the government, scientists, the media, and the gay community. Shilts has the ability to draw the reader hypnotically into the personal lives of his characters. That, and his monumental investigative effort, would have made this a best-selling  novel if the contents weren’t so horribly true.”  Mr. Shilts worked for the San Francisco Chronicle and this book covers the first five years of AIDS almost day-by-day.

In 1985, President Reagan used the word ‘AIDS’ for the first time on September 17, 1985 in response to a reporters questions.  In 1990, President Reagan apologized for his neglect of the epidemic while he was president.  From 1980-1990 58, 250 people in the US ALONE, died from HIV/AIDS related causes, because the government, despite knowing as early as 1978 that gay men were starting to show signs of what would later be called AIDS.  Nothing was done to stop this until 1985.

While all of this political stuff was going on, I remember trying to deal with the doctors (who originally thought that MJ had leukemia, but finally decided to test for HIV as a “last resort” with my husband’s permission and without my knowledge).  Once we got that diagnosis it felt like “all hell broke loose.”  Since it was such a new disease and very little was known about it yet, We had to deal with all kinds of different reactions from our “friends.”  Parents wanted my son, kicked out of cub scouts, school, church, and sports activities.  I spent most of the time in full blown “mama bear” mode, but MJ at all of 5 years old just kept saying “Mommy, it’s okay, they are just scared.”  I was terrified.  There wasn’t a lot to research about HIV/AIDS and the only words that kept popping out at me were ‘THERE IS NO CURE.”  I was going to lose my baby, no matter what, and try as I might, I couldn’t make sense of it.  Now just to get him any kind of treatment was a constant battle.  I fought the doctors, the hospital, the insurance company and every politician I could get a number or address for.  I got no where.  I sent so many letters to White House, that got angrier and angrier (to a point), that I’m surprised I was never visited by the Secret Service.  LOL.

Almost all the nurses who took care of MJ looked like they were part of a Hazmat crew…Not one of drop of anything was getting on them if they could help it.  Part of me understood that (I had cleaned up his scrapes, bandaged them, and came in direct contact with his blood since he could walk), but the mom in me hated that he was being treated differently.  There was one nurse, Annette, who wore goggles and gloves and that was it.  We REALLY liked her.  At one point, one of MJ’s doctors suggested that I get myself tested for HIV, but then I refused; I was having enough of a hard time fighting for what my son needed, I didn’t need to have to that added stress (secretly, I hoped I was positive, because then I wouldn’t have to live without my son for very long).  In retrospect, I completely understand the cruel actions of so many people in our lives, including some members of my family (the only family members who didn’t change anything about they way they interacted with MJ were my mom, my brother Pete and his wife, Angie.  Their oldest daughter, Alexandra was born in 1988 and interacted with MJ almost daily).  Not much was known yet and everyone was scared.  My son handled all of this so much better than I did.  He never got mad, never showed anyone how much the rejection hurt and never said anything mean.  Every night when he said his prayers, he would ask God to forgive them and to make them less scared.  At this point, I couldn’t even pray to God because I so full of anger at Him; after everything I survived during childhood, now He was taking the one person that meant the world to me.

MJ spent the last two weeks of his life in the hospital, in an out of consciousness.  By this time he couldn’t walk and could barely talk.  I was with the entire time, except when Kendall or my brother would make me leave to get a shower and some fresh air.  At the end, I was with him along with Kendall, my mom, my brother and sister-in-law.  He was able to tell everyone that he loved them and then, with his last breath, he made me promise that I would be OK and not to hold a grudge against anyone who may have acted cruelly because they were afraid.

World Aids Day is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV.  For more information, please check out this website:  www.aids.gov  Get information and GET TESTED!!  Send a text message with your zip code to 566948 to find a testing site near you or go to http://hivtest.cdc.gov

world_logo1

The Problem With Being Strong is That Nobody Bothers to Ask if You’re Okay


With Thanksgiving being tomorrow, I’m trolling my Facebook wall and everyone is making plans to spend the day with family and friends, eating, watching football, and celebrating.  My family plans to do all this as well, but there is a damper on this Thanksgiving, it will be our second one with my brother Pete took his life and the first since Alexandra and Stephanie took theirs in January and October of this year.  On top of having to get through Thanksgiving, Monday will be two months since we lost my sister.  Sometimes it really does feel like the hits just keep on coming.

One thing my family and I decided to do tomorrow is to make sure that we give thanks for the things that we have as well as saying something we are thankful for about the family members we have lost.  It’s funny how all of us in the past 16 months have had the same experience of people avoiding any conversation of Pete, Ali or Stephanie, as if mentioning their name, might somehow make us hurt again (I find it funny that all these people actually think that any of us have STOPPED hurting since they died).

Personally, one of the things that I’m most grateful for is the shower, silly as it sounds, because it truly is the one place in the house where I can go and be completely alone.  I take REALLY long showers, almost to the point of cold, because it is one of the few places that I go and cry as loudly as I want and no one hears me.  I know there have been full days and even one full week, that I can remember where I didn’t cry at all and at first I felt guilty about that, but eventually my therapist managed to finally get me to believe that smiling, being happy or not crying does not mean I have forgotten or that I’m “over it.”  It simply means that I’m starting to make peace with it and moving on a bit.  Once I decided to go back to school and have a specific goal in mind (wanting to use my tragedies to help others either avoid the same tragedy or help them get through it).  The people who know me the best say they haven’t seen me so focused and driven.  I think one of the main reasons for this is because I do not, under any circumstances, want my brother, niece and sister’s deaths to be in vain.  I am going to have something positive come out of this.  I’m moving in that direction as I get more and more involved in groups such as With Hope, the Amber Craig Memorial Foundation (www.withhopefoundation.org) and the AFSP (www.afsp.org) by becoming a policy advocate on the Federal and state levels.  I will be contacting my representatives in the Federal and State branches of government, advocating for the AFSP to get policies added and/or changed to make mental health illness and suicide prevention more public to save lives.

People that I know often tell me how strong I am my family thinks I’m the “rock” that’s holding us together.  The problem with having those “labels” makes it hard for me to publicly show or tell anyone how I’m really feeling.  I do have one friend who will listen to me over and over and over, will spend time with me even if I turn into a bawling lunatic and prays for me everyday.  Now I know there are many, many people in my church family who pray for me often.  But occasionally it strikes me, without any feelings of malice or contempt, that people really don’t ask me anymore how I’m doing?  They may say it in passing because that’s what you ask people, but I never get the impression or feeling that they really want to take the time to stand there and have me tell them exactly how I’m feeling.  I get that it makes people uncomfortable, which is why I’m grateful for my grief support group.

I found this picture last night and it completely summed up what I’ve felt now for a while.  I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Image

When Looking for a Therapist, Find One That Specializes in Your Particular Need – PART TWO


Yesterday, I gave you all the first part of my interview with Suzette Spence, M.A, L.M.F.T along with her contact information (phone 714-801-6850)  If you need therapy for grief, complicated grief, loss, dealing with the suicide of a loved one, she comes highly recommended by With Hope, the Amber Craig Memorial Foundation (www.withhopefoundation.org).  For more information on With Hope, check out this cool video that we did about two months ago here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avd0dwtL6LQ

Now that the plugs are done….let’s get back to the real point of this post….the second part of the interview with Suzette Spence.  NOTE:  Any websites posted here were found by the writer and not endorsed in any way by Suzette.

Q:  Do you feel that a Christian therapist would be a better option for a family survivor over a secular therapist or does it even matter?

A:  I do not think that being a “Christian” counselor per se is important as much as having a strong spiritual believe and being open to whatever faith your clients believe in to help guide them through their grief.  Some research indicated that if a client has a spiritual belief (any religion, not just Christianity), their grieving appears to resolve sooner and the client tends to have a more positive and philosophical outlook on life.  I usually ask about a client’s spiritual beliefs (again, it is not important with religion or faith) and we work on that strength.  Often there is community support in their beliefs, rituals, beliefs about life, death and suicide are closely held on to.  I have counseled clients from all religious backgrounds, asking them about their beliefs, honoring their rituals and learning from them.

Q:  After a loved one take their own life (writer’s note:  I hate the term “committed suicide” because it makes it sound like a crime, thus adding to the stigma for the survivors), where should those left behind look for help first?

A:  Again, if there is a spiritual community that the client is affiliated with, then finding support in that community (writer’s note again – I can attest to that, my church family have literally been life savers for me).  Also friends and family.  Finding a Survivors of Suicide support group and personal counseling.  If PTSD is involved, considering EMDR (http://www.emdria.org).

Q:  What type of education needs to get to the public to try to prevent suicide?  Is there enough being done to educate people in schools? At the city level? County level? State level? Federal level? (writer leaves no stone unturned) What more do feel can or should be done?  If you were the one making the policies on suicide education and prevention, what would you want to see done? (writer needs a campaign manager, please contact me if interested….ha!)

A:  Educate young people, early on, in health classes about depression, mental illness, and addictions (writer’s note:  The fastest growing group of potential suicide is the 10-14 age group – http://sperling.site.aplus.net/defiantloveistheofficialwebsiteofdavidjsperling/id43.html).  Provide them with strategies they can use if they feel depressed and/or suicidal (i.e. tell them where they can get help).  Unfortunately today, most young people have parents that invest a lot of money and time in their children’s academic education but little time in helping them to learn social skills, coping mechanisms for life and just plain reality.  Our society is teaching our children that life is fair, everyone can win and no one should fail at anything (writer’s note – talk about setting your kids up for a fall).  This social belief system is ill preparing out children for the real world.

Q:  Is there anything that you would like to add to this based on your personal and professional experiences?

A:  Life is a struggle.  Once you accept that, it is much easier to cope, find daily gratitude  when things go well and have and having coping mechanisms when they do not go so well.  Also everything that has a beginning also has an end.  That is true about all of our problems and most of our “struggles.”  If young people understood this, and depressed people could hold on to that, they would work through the struggle and allow it to develop their life path with compassion and love (writer throws in empathy as a well).  Most of the reasons why people give up and end their lives, are temporary and could have been worked through with time and patience.

Suzette also gave me an article of things to NOT say to a suicide survivor.  When I read this my first thought was “I have heard each one of them in the days/weeks/months following my brother’s death.  Here goes:

Please consider your words carefully.  Do not ask us:

If we are “over it”

If we “feel better”

Please do not say or ask things like:

It is God’s will

Something good will come out of it

At least you have other children

They are in a better place

Time heals all wounds

Were they saved when they died?

Do you think they went to Heaven?

Did you have an argument with them?

Did you they were going to do this?

How did they do it?

Where did they do it?

Can I come in and see?

These are all real things that have been said to survivors.

I had to resist making my typical comments after some of these, but ashumo anyone who actually knows me, or those who have read all or most of my posts, when things get too heavy for me, I have to inject some sarcasm as a coping mechanism.  Yes my therapist taught me a thing or two (didn’t get the part about what to do when you’re done with therapy though).  So my personal “favorites” (read, the ones that ticked me off the most) were:

Did you have an argument with them?  Yeah, because I’m so freaking powerful and influential on my loved one, that one nasty word from me would totally throw them over the edge…..

Did you know they were going to do this?  Hello??!!  If I knew do you not think I would have done EVERYTHING within my power to move heaven and earth to stop it?

Time heals all wounds.  Yeah…wait until the single most important person in your life dies and then come and talk to me.

Something good will come out of it (otherwise known as Romans 8:28)  Because now what I really need to hear is that God wanted it this way because it’s part of  His master plan…okay well, at the time that really PISSED me off….now farther removed and knowing the path that I have chosen because of this, I am starting to see it a bit more clearly now…but the SAME DAY….Not so much.

To go back to more of the positive side of things…These are things that help us heal and that you can say…..

What are you needing?

Is there anything I can do for you?

What was your loved one like? (Writer could not resist:  We don’t want to forget them and most times, talking about them can make us smile)

May I bring you a meal?

Call me if you would like to talk? (writer again – okay, but could you actually answer the phone?  I had several people who said call me anytime and then never answered the phone….really helpful)

It’s OK to cry (me again, Thanks for permission to do something I can’t control)

You are not going crazy (I sure thought I was for a while)

I care about and what you and what you are going through.

So there you have it…I know it’s a lot of information all at once, but the day after my brother died, I was all over the internet looking for every possible bit of information I could find.  For at least the first week, I could quote statistics like no one else.  Finally one of my friends jokingly asked me if this was my new goal in life….I stopped quoting, but never stopped researching.

That’s all for now.  I promise my next post ….hmmmm….Sorry I just can’t promise anything about my next post, except that there will be a next post.  Take it easy until then.

When Looking for a Therapist, Find One That Specializes in Your Particular Need


After my brother, Pete, took his own life I had to start seeing a therapist.  Not because I wanted to make sense of this, which I did, I just eventually realized that it was never going to make sense to me.  That realization really threw me for a while.  I needed to seek therapy because I now had to figure out how to live without the one person, that I had literally spoken to every day since we both old enough to communicate.  My sister-in-law never disconnected his phone, but I have stopped myself from calling it 100 or more times a day.  Only slightly exaggerated.  Luckily I had a friend, who had a friend, who had a friend, who happened to be the founder of With Hope, the Amber Craig Memorial Foundation.  She got me in with a therapist for an assessment five days after the incident and then got grant approval for me to see the therapist twice a week starting August 23, 2012.  This was actually pretty fast, even for an emergency grant proposal.  I saw her twice a week for what seemed like forever, then once every other week or every week as my financed allowed.  One week ago, I discharged myself because I could no longer afford it, (even at more than 1/2 off) since I did not have a job and I was going to school.  This past week I have been pretty busy with school and assignments, but when I have had down time, it’s been REALLY DOWN….I’m hoping that this gets better, because I don’t want to think about it getting worse.  

When I started this project for school, I had to do five postings, have five things (websites, etc) that were not generated by me and then five things that were generated by me.  For the crown jewel of my 5, please see my post titled “Boy Did I Get a Rude Awakening…”  For a first time directing a video, I think it turned out really well.  

One of the other things that I did for this project was interview a therapist, Suzette Spence, M.A., LMFT, who specializes in working with issues of depression and grieving.  Her therapy focuses on working with family survivors of suicide, unexpected and traumatic death and the passing away of a loved one.   Suzette understands at a very deep and personal level herself, the immense energy and courage it takes to get through the grieving journey especially of a traumatic death of a loved one.  We sat down in her office one afternoon and she answered my questions in a very thoughtful and caring manner.  Here is the transcript of the first part of that interview:  

Q:  Why do you focus on family survivors of Suicide and how long have you been doing this? 

A;  I have been seeing survivors for approximately eight years.  I focus on this population because there is such a need for therapists who specialize in this area and who have real life experience to match the situation.  

Q:  Are there any other areas that could be focused on relating to sucide?

A:  Yes, one can pursue a certificate in Thanatology or a fellowship in Thanatology.  (writer’s note:  Thanatology investigates the mechanisms and forensic aspects of death, such as bodily changes that accompany death and the post-mortem period, as well as wider social aspects related to death.  See http://www.suicidology.org/home)

Q:  Survivors have a hard time telling people how their loved one died because of feelings of shame, guilty, etc.  What do you feel needs to be done in order to change this? 

A:  I believe that, socially, things are starting to change in a very positive way.  The general public is now starting to become more educated in mental health issues and people are now starting to understand that suicide is largely related to depression and mental illness (writer’s note:  This depression and/or other mental health illnesses may or may not have been diagnosed and/or treated) The stigma socially and religiously that survivors used to feel is lessening. 

Q:  Some people feel that is a person talks about suicide, they are just trying to get attention.  There is evidence that proves this is not true (see http://suicide.org/suicide-myths.html). In general, how do know if a person who talks about suicide is serious about doing it?  

A:  I start by asking if the person believes they have a future.  I also ask if they feel hopeful about their future.  Then, depending on their answer, I then ask if they are talking about suicide because they want an “escape from the pain” or if they truly want to end their life.  If it is escape from the pain that they respond with, we then focus on behavorial strategies to deal with the pain and depression.  However, if the person continues to talk about ending their life, I ask if they have a means and a plan.  I also ask about prior attempts and of course would need to have a complete mental history in their file.  If there is intent, a means and a plan, then hospitalization is usually required.  

Tomorrow, I will give you part two of this interview, as well as some other insights that Suzette shared with me regarding suicide.  

In the meantime if you, or anyone you know, is in need of a therapist who specializes in grief and/or family survivors of suicide, you can reach Suzette by calling (714) 801-6850.  Her office is located at 228 W Main Street, Tustin, CA  92780.  

In the meantime, take good care of you and those you love.  

I Need a Job so I want to be an Alcohol and Drug Counselor – Not a Paperback Writer


My title is my homage to the Beatles and also reflects the silliness of my day so far.  But seriously, as I’m working toward getting my degree, at some point, I am going to have to have a job to pay for all of this schooling.  Since I want to go into social work, I thought starting out as a drug and alcohol counselor would be a great way of getting my foot in the door.  Cypress College apparently had the certification program, but I cannot take that there unless I want to mess up my financial aid.  So I have been searching for other ways to get the required classes for certification.  I started out with CAADE (California Association for Alcohol/Drug Educators), as they are one of the biggest in California and are also approved by the DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services).  This is their website: 

http://www.caade.org 

While looking around for information, I was led to another site that enables you to take unlimited  continuing education courses for one year for $74.99.  Their website is:  ce4less.com  

Now all I have to do is find an online course that will give me the necessary hours/training to become and A/D counselor.  It’s a process, but it’s a process, I’m definitely going to take.  Anything worth having is worth fighting for.