Friday, January 9, 2015

Courage...

If it could only be as easy as a wish for courage like The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, we - like he - would all recognize our inner strength and latch onto it for dear life.

But it's not that simple, is it? For some of us, due to chronic illness, PTSD, depression, or other physical or mental ailments, finding the courage to go forward is a daily battle. For others, they choose to end their suffering by completing suicide.

This month, I am honored to be working with Scudder Intervention Services Foundation, Inc. (SISFI) on their Suicide Awareness and Prevention Tour in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County, NY. While I relied on SISFI for support myself after my brother's suicide almost a year-and-a-half ago, I was shocked to learn that during their September tour they interrupted 192 attempted suicides! That's something else!!

The difference with SISFI's 'troops' is that they are truly 'boots on the ground;' that is, they go to the person in crisis rather than referring them to an agency that may only be open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. At any hour of the day or night, SISFI volunteers are available to personally talk to and/or visit individuals in crisis.

As Mr. Brett A. Scudder, SISFI president says: "“It is imperative that our communities rally together to be educated and aware of the mindset of someone suffering with emotional distress and the early warning signs to intervene and prevent them from hurting themselves or taking their life because they feel alone."

And that, in my opinion, takes lots of courage. The suicidal person is in tremendous pain and Scudder's team will go to them and simply hold their hand or talk or listen or give them a hug and tell them they are not alone. Certified in suicide prevention, Scudder knows that traditional avenues available to those in crisis are highly clinical and limited. The goal is to train and deploy dozens of volunteer Mental Health First Aid Responders in communities across his service area and, in the future, beyond.

We must change the paradigm of how we respond to those in distress. We must go to them rather than making them come to us. We must not just be another faceless voice instructing the person what to do on Monday morning.

Hear, hear for SISFI and let's make their mission statement our own:

"TO PROVIDE AWARENESS, SERVICES, PROGRAMS, HEALING AND RESOURCES TO ADDRESS/ALLEVIATE HUMAN SUFFERING AND TO PROMOTE EMOTIONAL WELLNESS, MENTAL/BEHAVIORAL HEALTH AND LIFE SKILLS."

This, my friends, will take lots of courage.


SISFI TOURS



Monday, December 29, 2014

Beginning to end...

We begin so many times in our lives - at birth, first tooth, walking, school, college, career, marriage and so on. We also end equally as many times through changes in personal habits or work, residences, loves, friendships, health, diet and death - either ours or of those we love. Call it a metamorphosis or an analogy of life.

As a young girl I simply wanted to wander in wonder all the days of my life. I wanted to let life unfold and be an observer. I guess that's why I became a journalist as my first career. But stuff happened and plans went awry. And then I got really tired; exhausted by all the daily challenges and changes and hiccups. I (and you) ask ourselves if we can make it through another day.

And we do.

And we delight in the amazing, wonderful things that occur - even the tiniest of treasures, like a bite of a ripe banana.

We also mourn lost opportunities, friendships, or people who've passed away - especially the folks, places or things that held a piece of our soul.

Merriam-Webster's definition of soul is:

The spiritual part of a person that is believed to give life to the body and, in many religions, is believed to live forever; a person's deeply felt moral and emotional nature; the ability of a person to feel kindness and sympathy for others, to appreciate beauty and art, etc.

There are two instances in my life when I knew I truly connected with my soul. The first was when I had Stage IVB cancer and near death experiences and the second has been since my brother died in August 2013.

A sense of soulful, holy spirit is what we are supposed to feel during the holiday season and many of us do. This year, however, I feel I floated through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas - detached and alone even though I was surrounded by the love of others. I am thankful for the souls on 'the other side' who made themselves known to me either by images and scents or simply the awareness that they are nearby. Meditation is also a great tool that helps me reconnect my soul to those beyond my reach.

My soul remains raw yet intact. The pieces that have been lost to me will eventually return to fill me up more deeply but differently; like new, bold colors that stay within the lines.. At least that's how I envision it.

And because I know myself better than any other soul, I want to end this post with a humorous quote by children's activist, trumpet player, music producer, songwriter, and television producer Quincy Jones.

"I've always thought that a big laugh is a really loud noise from the soul saying, "Ain't that the truth."
Quincy Jones, Victory of the Spirit

T'is true, indeed. Happy, healthy New Year to all.




Tuesday, December 9, 2014

At a loss for words...

It's criminal when a writer loses the ability to write. I suspect it is because this blog is so very personal that I have been silent for so long.

You see, as we've slowly slid into the holiday season and I, like many survivors of suicide (the correct term for those who have lost a loved one to a completed suicide), find myself in the depths of grief and longing once again, it didn't help that we finally closed out my "brudder's" storage unit, giving away the last of the items it contained - a shelving unit.

For a year I've been going back and forth to that space - a little haven where I was surrounded by his art, his personal belongings, his essence. Of course, many large and small bits of his 'stuff' are now in my home but it was like going to his grave (where I have yet to go since his headstone was placed) and it made me feel close.

I was his "Twisted Sister" and he was my "Brudder from Anudder Mudder" but that was what made it all so special. He was truly my best friend (even though we fought in recent years) and with our father gone as well, the convoluted combination of holidays we celebrated are no longer as cheery, silly, or fun.

This is when sadness turns into nostalgia, I guess, and that's a good thing.

I've thrown myself into Suicide Awareness and Prevention efforts, helping a wonderful, gentle man launch tours and workshops and conferences in Westchester County, New York. See www.sisfi.org. At times, I don't know if I am the organizer or the participant but my involvement helps in large and small bits, just like my brother's stuff.

I'd be lying if I said I haven't had some very dark days. I have. I want to crawl into that heavenly space where he now lives and feel his embrace, hear his deep, penetrating guffaw, and see his twinkling eyes. Kind of like searching for Santa Claus who is so real but so difficult to catch. He always slips through my fingers.

For those of you suffering physically or emotionally through this holiday season, I send you all the strength of love and prayer that I can possibly muster. In turn, please do the same for me.

Love always,
Amy
My brudder and I nearly 20 years ago. 


Monday, November 3, 2014

Death with Dignity - Brittany Maynard


Coming to terms with anyone's choice to end one's life is a difficult process and I have an unusual perspective from three points of view:
  • A recovered Stage 4B cancer patient who was told three times I would die during my harsh, year-long treatment.
  • A suicide survivor - the term used when a loved one completes suicide as my brother, Steve Crohn, did a year ago August. 
  • A compassionate, health-challenged woman who is contemplating my own choices when and if I get critically ill again.
As 29-year-old Brittany Maynard said: "It's not a decision you make one day and you snap your fingers." 

No, it's not. Seventeen years ago, at age 36 and married with two young children, I had to fight the urge to let go - to surrender to the disease and end the outright pain it inflicted. I was determined to live because of my children. However, when it was all over, I said I would never, ever do it again; that is, I decided then and there that if I was ever re-stricken with cancer, I would not fight it and I would let nature take its course. Now I'm not so sure. 

My brother chose to die with his dignity intact. Suffering from life's challenges, personal trauma and mental illness, he selected the date, time and place and how he would end his life. Found with a smile on his face I 'see' him that way today; joyous and in Heaven dancing with friends and family. As much as I railed against his actions for months, I have come to realize it was his decision and he felt it was best. I accept it but I will always miss him. I just don't question his decision anymore. 

Finally, here I am today with news just last week that my white and red blood cells are, for the first time since 1997, in the normal range. I am no longer immuno-compromised. It is truly amazing what the human body can do - in time. I still suffer from Lupus, fibromyalgia, gastroparesis, severe osteoporosis, depression and anxiety but I manage day-to-day with no thoughts of ending my life. 

If time is only going to make you suffer more, I do believe we should have the right to our own life-ending decision. Maynard, who had terminal brain cancer with just months to live, had to move to Oregon to have that option. Other states are beginning to craft legislation that will allow assisted death in cases such as Maynard's.

Yesterday, surrounded by family and friends, Maynard wrote:

"Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more. The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type … Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!" 

May we all have the option to die with dignity and grace. 

Britanny Maynard in People magazine