Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Soliciting Against Suicide

I hate solicitations and I've never considered using my blog to solicit but this isn't for me. It's for my kid, Molly Sumner, who has decided to take it upon herself on June 4-5, 2011, to walk 18 miles through the night throughout New York City to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in their Out of the Darkness campaign. In order to take that walk, Molly had to raise $1,000.00 and, thanks to so many generous friends and neighbors (If you're one of them, Molly and I can't thank you enough!) she has far surpassed it! Her personal fundraising goal is $2,000.00 and, while she's edging closer by the day, she has a little bit further to go.

Molly shoveled walks in the big snowstorm all around New Jersey in return for donations. She was contacted by our area newspaper for a story which they wrote about her quest. So things seem to be gaining momentum. But times are tough for all of us right now and it isn't easy to support a cause when we have to budget every penny we get. It's even harder when the cause is one that no one wants to think or talk about.

Our government has a policy that, for every soldier that dies on active duty in a war zone whether killed in action, accident or illness, the President of the United States writes a letter to the family - except when that soldier dies by his or her own hand. There is such shame attached to suicide, I can't imagine what that must be like for the soldier's family to have such condemnation placed upon them on top of their loss.

For survivors of someone who kills his or herself, there is such tremendous guilt, the sense that they should have been able to do something, that somehow they were at fault. For the one who dies, often there is little sympathy, as if the person actually had a choice. People say it's the coward's way out or that it's the most selfish thing a person could do. They connect it with character. Or people just shake their heads and say they never saw it coming or there's nothing you can do to stop someone anyway.

The thing is suicide is the end result of a physical illness that is all too often fatal. For anyone who has suffered from depression, you know the kind of pain - actual physical pain - that you endure. Clinical depression is a biological condition that affects the body and the brain in many ways. Some sufferers can't even get out of bed. Often they see no hope for ever getting better. Add to that the invisibility. It's extremely difficult to go out and engage in the world when you have no energy, when everything hurts, especially to be met with suggestions such as "cheer up" or "smile and you'll feel better" as if such a simple remedy had never crossed the person's mind. Can you imagine how awful it would feel that people thought you were just not trying hard enough?

Of course nobody wants to hurt a friend. You simply don't know what to do when your friend seems to just want to give up. I mean, haven't we all heard that there's nothing you can do when someone is hell bent on killing themselves? Or that you'll put the idea of suicide into a person's mind if you mention it? So, even if you're worried your friend might be suicidal, you don't dare ask.

But you see, no one in their right mind is hell bent on killing themselves.

It's not about wanting to die. It's about needing to stop the pain.

It's about getting medical help for a physical illness that is so painful, if left untreated medically, it can be fatal. So do ask. Do talk about it.

It's time to bring the subject of suicide out of the darkness. It's time to take away the stigma that is so undeserved to both victims and survivors. You are fortunate, indeed, and a rare human being if you've never, even if just for a fleeting moment, thought of suicide. I will tell you that I have struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide for much of my life as have some closest to me. And I and those closest to me have lost loved ones to suicide - as have most people. And many of those lost to the disease were sensitive, bright, compassionate people who would have made great contributions to society.

The ones we lose are the ones we can least afford to.

So here's the thing. If each of us can try to begin to change their beliefs about suicide and make just their own neighborhoods feel like welcoming, nonjudgmental places, then neighbors that they don't even realize are struggling with this right now might begin to feel hope. That's all we need to start - to have hope. To have an open dialog.

And if you are able to contribute to Molly's journey Out of the Darkness (see the link below), that will spread the word beyond the neighborhood to a day when shame is no longer connected to a disease for which no one is immune. We need to start here.

Much love and thanks,

The fine print:
Thank you for considering this request for your support. Checks must be received by May 20th to be counted towards my goal. Credit cards donations by June 3rd. Please visit my Overnight fundraising page if you would like to donate or see how close I am to reaching my personal goal:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Columbia University's the Kathryn Faughey Fellowship

Amazing news: Columbia University has established the Dr. Kathryn Faughey Fellowship which is a post-doctoral research scientist position to evaluate the Care Monitoring Initiative and associated public mental health policies and programs hopefully to insure that those like Kathryn's attacker will be treated and monitored properly so as not to pose a safety risk.

I think Kathryn would be so touched by this. Imagine an end to people roaming the streets of New York City, homeless and tormented so that they end up striking out at others. Imagine that what happened to Kathryn might someday never happen again. This fellowship in Kathryn's name looks to appoint someone specifically to study and fix our broken public mental health system so that nobody again falls through the cracks.

What an honor to her memory! I have no doubt that Kathryn, before she knew she was in danger, tried to help the man who ended up killing her. I'm sure she cared about his welfare as she cared about everyone she ever met. This Fellowship will see to it that nobody is neglected and forgotten. That's truly carrying on the work that she devoted her life to.

On a personal note, when I went to Kathryn's funeral, after it was over I walked down the street past the little memorial of candles and mementos in front of her office and just then, a scruffy man in a tattered dirty raincoat stopped and put a Beanie Baby bear on the sidewalk there, patted it into place, and walked on. What a remarkable sight! There is no question - and no surprise - that Kathryn had reached out to him at some point. No one was invisible to Kathryn. And no one will be now. Bravo, Columbia University!

Kathryn Faughey Fellowship:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's been three years since Kathryn Faughey was brutally murdered and she is still all around me.

I had to hear about it on the local New York City 5 o'clock news as I crafted bookcases in my dining room. The board I dropped was on the floor for days.

The story broke with her name and I ran to my kitchen bulletin board where I had thumbtacked Kathryn's handwritten note listing her address. The summer before during Martinfest, Kathryn had offered to be a reader of my manuscript and I had sent it to her a few weeks later.

The address was the same.

By six o'clock they had a photo of her, the pavilion in the background, the beginning of the unbearably endless local broadcasts of her face staring out from the TV.

I'm writing here in that room, surrounded by those bookshelves. I remember which board I was cutting that day. My manuscript is on the next shelf where I placed it when I got it back. Kathryn's note is still on my bulletin board.

Besides her comments on my manuscript, a memoir of domestic violence, shortly after finishing the book she expressed in an email her initial reaction:

As I was reading it, I was so sorry this was happening to YOU! Amazing how the distance of the unknown author (in theory - I may read a memoir, seen the person on Booknotes, etc. - but never really KNOWN them) - well, how that distance can help handle whatever I may read. Here, the violence and cruelty and morass of being stuck in an impasse with bureaucracy is additionally difficult in that I know you. Amazing how you have triumphed over it all. (I was really touched by the scene when they audition you for voice class.) Incredible also that I was holding a manuscript that this young woman managed eventually to write. What a testament to you!

That's the thing, she knew I got out alive. It was a triumph because the odds were against me. What were the odds for the most gentle soul I have ever had the privilege of knowing? It is still so incomprehensible.

The violence and cruelty of this senseless act makes it forever impossible to process because I knew her.

Kathryn, I am so sorry this happened to YOU!