Year-End Ramble: 2017

This year: Pick your best cussword.

2017 has challenged us in so many ways. It has strained our rights as human beings, divided us from friends and family, tested faith, broken individuals seemingly past repair. It has taken my family down stressful paths. Although we have been blessed with quality time and other graces, others have suffered deeply, and often silently.

Some time during the summer someone from church asked me to help out with organizing potato dishes for funerals. Cheesy potatoes are important to any post-funeral luncheon. People gather after saying goodbye to their loved ones and find comfort in sharing food with those who also love the dearly and recently departed. Their emotional needs are met through one of their most primal needs, by eating something delicious, something made with love.

Cheesy potatoes are only one aspect of the meal, but it’s a favorite among mourners. Lots of starch, and lots of cheese. Those elements in that combination are meant to fire off certain neurons that translate to comfort, which tries to coexist with the burden of grief.

After receiving this assignment, a few months passed, and no funerals had been planned. The first half of the year had been replete with passings-away, but I was not yet part of the funeral meal committee. Then the last Sunday of October the lady who extended the assignment remarked how quiet it had been, and I thought to myself that this was a good thing. I wasn’t opposed to doing the work, but I was glad that people hadn’t experienced that kind of heartache in our ward, at least for a few months.

Go figure the moment someone mentions how a thing hasn’t happened, the thing happens shortly after that. Later that week our ward received an email about the passing of someone from our ward. I researched the person and found out that he had suffered from depression. His beautiful obituary profoundly saddened me. Usually during these times I feel the most helpless, but this time I could actually do something. Never had potatoes seemed more vital. If the other parts of the luncheon failed, cheesy potatoes had to prevail.

I had a list of sisters in the ward who were willing to make the cheesy potatoes. It was my job to call these ladies to see who would be available to provide the potatoes that weekend. I came up with a spreadsheet and kept track of responses and commitments, which would also help with future funerals. Here, I deleted names for privacy:

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 6.51.03 PM
GF=gluten-free; LM=left message; nr=no response

The sisters who were able to help that weekend were very kind. I had never really been an active part of this kind of effort, and their love and solemn treatment of this responsibility humbled me.

The ladies made their dishes and dropped them off at the church the morning of the funeral. It wasn’t until the following Sunday morning at church that I found out the funeral had gone well, that the food was delicious, that the family was grateful for all the help and support. I had imagined everyone eating and sharing stories and feeling a degree of unity that only comes with grief over a mutual friend and family member. Potatoes were all I could do—and I didn’t even cook them but just called people on a list—but for this moment, they mattered.

I have several close friends whose lives are entangled with depression and anxiety. They navigate their brain chemistry and the changing seasons and pollution and other circumstances with medication and therapy and exercise and hanging out with loved ones. It’s not easy for them, fighting the grey. But they are brilliant and creative and so passionate about the earth and humankind. They are the best readers and writers and experiencers of life; they are musical and endlessly curious and know all the best cusswords (and usages). I am so honored to know them.

Reilly’s mom has had every excuse to spiral into depression, yet she pushes through with such determination. And a smile. And enduring positivity. She’s coming up on her first full year of bi-weekly cycles of chemotherapy for stage IV metastatic colon cancer. It’s hard to imagine her daily hardship of increasing weakness and regular wooziness, but she has kept busy with work and doing as much as she can. She’s had excellent care with amazing doctors, and she knows she is surrounded by so many people who love her. Everyone faithing her well seems to be making a difference. Her strength amazes me.

She and her family have seen a pet cross the Rainbow Bridge this past month. A Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Maya was a boisterous and carefree and previously big dog, until diabetes caused drastic weight loss, blindness, then finally loss of use of her hind legs. No one likes to hear the vet say what the best course of action is to minimize suffering, even though it makes the most sense and really is the most humane for the dog. It’s painful saying goodbye to a pet, especially after almost ten years of companionship.

This year Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, and other ailments have ambushed or harrowed loved ones’ journeys.

My mom broke four toes when she slipped from an elliptical machine. But she hasn’t slowed down. This is both annoying and endearing at the same time. I love her for that.

Friends in Florida and in/near Texas or with family in Puerto Rico endured hurricanes and are trying to repair their lives.

Friends who married their high school sweethearts nearly 20 years ago have gotten divorced.

Other friends are enduring similar trials and heartache.

Earthquakes. Fires. Volcanoes. Shootings. Tax cuts. Health insurance. Church. #metoo.

How do people find comfort? What helps them in their agony and despair?

Z’s diagnosis was not as much of a bombshell as the anticipation of her diagnosis. This expectancy involved asking myself (after wondering what I did wrong) how I would handle this situation, what our “new normal” would be, how we would teach our innocent, nonreader of emotions to defend herself against monsters and assholes, among a plethora of other questions. But once we obtained a diagnosis, a wealth of resources became available, I found out several families are in our ward who have children with autism, and Z’s ABA therapy has helped her little personality emerge in ways that that weren’t obvious even six months ago. We have received an outpouring of support and love from so many caring people. You know who you are, and we are infinitely grateful. Thank you for your acceptance, kindness, and generosity.

This past year I have looked forward to Sunday dinners in Payson and Saturday donuts with my family. Family visiting from Florida. It has been nice to go on occasional movie dates with my perfect husband. To travel, to take long breaks and relax in our home. It has been rejuvenating to hang out and eat pizza with friends and discuss actions for lessening the hate in this world. Like a good nap or fresh air.

I have enjoyed picking apples and peaches and trying to make pies and making toffee and brownies and other little goodies to share. But I have also found calmness in literally tearing down walls (maybe figuratively, too?) and building shelves and painting and caulking. I have nurtured new friendships. I have explored more good music, movies, books, and television. I have discovered Twin Peaks while rediscovering the treadmill. My heart pumping, blood flowing, and sweat dripping are sometimes all I want out of life. It feels so good.

I have marched.

Voted.

Contacted my senators and representatives.

We have also relished hosting a quarterly lecture series in our home, where we listened to speakers/friends talk about a variety of subjects: Satire (Reilly), the Poison Control Center (Reilly’s sister, Amber), Horror and the Family (Jon Smith), and Fan Studies (Melissa Beattie). What an exciting reason to gather with friends!

Yes, there’s a shload of darkness and nonsense in the world right now, and we make it through one day at a time. Probably more like an hour—or even a minute—at a time. Sometimes at the end of the day things don’t look brighter. We’re still sad or confused or hurt. It is ok to feel this way. And sometimes all we want to do is pull the covers over our heads and cry. It is ok to do this.

It is ok to bring this version of ourselves into 2018, because 2017 was ruthless. Pick your best cussword. You know: it’s complicated. I may spend the first part (or majority) of the New Year swimming in my covers, trying to find/push away sunlight and coming up for air/holding my breath.

This supply of oxygen, though, the most significant mercy that came out of 2017, was that many of us took the time to listen to each other. Even though we have disagreed on many fronts, a greater striving for understanding has risen from our immediate social circles, communities, and the world. This has sustained a hope I will always cling to.

I want to keep listening to you. I want to bolster the comfort and love of real friendship between us. I want to be there, to be the equivalent of cheesy potatoes for you. Something full of love.

Or I could just make cheesy potatoes. And hug you with them. In 2018, and in years to come.

You matter to me.

A Sequence con Sequence

1. I read this article and watched the video.

2. Then I read this article, which is part of this book.

3. Then Reilly and I watched this movie.

4. Then Reilly put the book on hold at the library. Then he checked out the book when it became available.

5. Today, I finished the book. I wrote this little review on Goodreads:

Conversational, thoughtful. Balanced; I forgive the author because she admits her biases. Covers and interweaves three main discussions: bullying, being a good parent/concerned adult/assertive innocent bystander, and mental illness. There’s also an exploration of solutions and encouragement of ongoing conversation, which I wholeheartedly support.

6. At 12:05pm, I decided to write the author of the book. Because that’s what I sometimes do.

Ms. Bazelon,

I finished Sticks and Stones about ten minutes ago, and I found it fascinating. And infuriating. And heartwrenching. And, at times, relieving. I appreciate your huge undertaking of a project such as this, your first, book. Yay!

Your interview with Stephen Colbert (as featured in Slate–about time somebody made him cry 😉 ) piqued my interest in the book, but first I watched the 2012 Weinstein documentary you happened to mention, Bully. So many times people or media want to point a finger at something more concrete, more visible, such as bullying. But when I hear of suicide, I almost always think first of mental illness as a possible cause. I’m glad you explore this subject, and as I read Phoebe Prince’s case, I was disappointed that the right people didn’t consider her psychological issues. It’s always more complicated than people usually perceive.

On the other hand, the ones who were able to pull through–the ones who found new friends or went to new schools or where school administration implemented effective bullying prevention–those kids were became incredibly insightful, self-aware, and empathetic. The way they grew up really impressed me.

Anyway, I loved the book. There’s so much more I could mention! Congratulations on your success, and may we all continue in courage to have these important conversations for our families, society; humanity.

7. At 1:39, I received this reply:

What a lovely note–thank you so much! If you’re inspired to share your feelings on Facebook or via email, please do–I need ambassadors! And I am up for calling or Skyping into book groups, for parents or teachers or anyone.

All the best, thanks again,

Emily

Replies do not always happen, and I was thrilled when the message landed in my inbox.

Thing is, as I read the book, I couldn’t help thinking of the young man who took his life in front of his schoolmates just north of here. I wish there were greater awareness; I wish people weren’t too scared to acknowledge and address mental illness and to examine all the causes of bullying and not just label these kinds of events “bullycide.”

It would be great to have a constructive discussion about this. Because my husband is a school teacher, I would love to organize something to see what steps are in place in local schools to help reduce bullying. It would be so wonderful to set up a call with Emily and maybe some school administrators and some ladies at church to have a heartfelt conversation about safety for our community’s children.

I always feel drawn to the underdog. It’s getting harder just to stand by and do nothing, and feeling helpless is no longer an excuse.

8. – ∞

He Came Back on the Skybridge After Going Home

When I first saw this news report last night, the tears came suddenly. I watched footage of a grief counselor (or teacher, or maybe another parent) say that he was going to go home and hug his kids, and he assured the students that they are loved, that if they’re feeling depressed, there are people they can talk to. The grief counselor (or teacher or another parent) looked overwhelmed. His voice strained to control his own tears, sadness weighed in his face and on his shoulders and he seemed to hold his breath throughout the interview to keep his composure until the camera cut away.

The junior high in Taylorsville is about 40 minutes away. News reports say that the teenager went home with his mom after school and then he came back toward the school on the skybridge that crosses a main road. He pulled out a gun on that skybridge and shot himself. Other students watched it happen.

This morning I watched the footage of the candlelight vigil that other students and his friends held. Many of them said that their friend was bullied. Many of them were trying to understand why bullying happens, why their friend was gone, why their friend was sad. It’s hard to understand because it’s complicated and often can’t be explained.

The news report states that a friend talked with him yesterday, joked around with him, and he seemed happy. Students will ask grief counselors why this happened. They will wonder why he felt so lonely and depressed. Friends will cry and say they miss him. Some may be angry and hate themselves, and even curse God. The witnesses will have those few slow, helpless seconds replay in their memories over and over again. They’re probably going to wonder if there would have been a way to stop him.

His family will also cry and wonder. They may pray for comfort, for answers, for solace to their pain.

Pray for the family, for Bennion Junior High, for the Taylorsville community.

It’s hard to understand a sorrow so deep and engulfing, a grey so overcast that it swallows the horizon.

I can only cry.

It’s General Conference Weekend, and This Doesn’t “Feel” Contrary …

Life coasts along, life dazzles, life punches squarely in the stomach. What else should we really expect?

I know I keep saying I’ll post actual updates.

A lot is going on,

and I’ve found time to blog about it before, but

Yeah. No legitimate excuse.

Classes, really quick:

My religion class and I sometimes butt heads. But it’s been good for me.

History and Criticism of Rhetoric is fun. We’ve talked about Legally Blonde and My Cousin Vinny, and we’ve done homework based on Sunset Blvd and Law & Order. And this weekend we’re analyzing oratory style of any talk at General Conference, according to Saint Augustine.

Introduction to French Literary Analysis is a lot of fun. I may have to dedicate a post just to how much I love French poetry. Because, SERIOUSLY.

Early American Auto/Biography blows me away. I’m reading excellent things by fascinating people, and I wish we could read more women. But if it’s any consolation to myself, reading what I have so far — Benjamin Franklin, PT Barnum, Ralph Waldo Emerson — makes me feel pretty outstanding. I have stories about this class, too.

My poetry writing class. Oh, my heart. I’m cultivating this profound appreciation and there’s only 11 students in the class, and the instructor is adorable and instructive and encouraging. She stood briefly on a soapbox the other day about how a lot of television these days is produced at a 5th-grade level and that Americans don’t know how to think anymore. I felt so much pride then. And, then it’s crazy how we workshop each other’s poems and how I’ve just had to simply get over or ignore being scared of sharing what I know to be mostly subpar poetry with my genius classmates. I wish you could read my classmates’ poems, because WOW.

Aside from classes, there’s church and dating and work. Visiting friends and maintaining friendships because I love my friends so very much.

OH and applying to grad schools and talking to professors about all my options after graduation.

Which will be in April.

Holy crap.

But my original reason for posting right now is that I want to reblog some useful things I came across this past week. Just two things, one each from a Utah couple I’ve been following for the past five years. I’ve mentioned them before. Winter’s on its way. People get sad in conjunction with or separately from the approaching and increasing darkness. Also, although I’m decently insulated in Provo, I try to remain aware of what’s happening around me. Bad things happen all the time, regardless, and we have to deal.  While we’ll be receiving counsel and encouragement from Church leaders this weekend, I think a few other resources are okay, especially for those square punches in the stomach. Please reblog if you feel the need.

From Jon Armstrong:

Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696

Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-8433

LifeLine: 1-800-273-8255

Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

Sexuality Support: 1-800-246-7743

Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-847-831-3438

Rape and Sexual Assault: 1-800-656-4673

Grief Support: 1-650-321-5272

Runaway: 1-800-843-5200, 1-800-843-5678, 1-800-621-4000

Exhale: After Abortion Hotline/Pro-Voice: 1-866-4394253

And, Heather Armstrong (click the quote for the entire post):

What is worse? Being sad because something tragic has happened, or being sad because that is all your brain knows how to do?

Enjoy Conference, y’all.

I Might Skip A Little Bit of Work for This

It’s sort of crazy that Heather Armstrong and I live in the same state. I’ve been following her for quite a few years now. I met her and got her autograph when she came to New York to promote a compilation of essays from different bloggers about fathers.

But she’s the keynote speaker for a ribbon cutting of a new wing of the Neuropsychiatric Institute in Salt Lake City on Tuesday morning.

When I first started reading her blog, I found out about her Mormon upbringing, her graduation from BYU, and her politics. And I kept reading because everything was so well-written and her life after college was very interesting. I’ve truly enjoyed being able to see into parts of her life.

And instead of seeing her in person as just a famous blogger, it would be a great opportunity to hear her speak about mental health, which is a big reason why she’s a famous blogger.

Because mental health is important. And I’m interested in what she has to say.

Come along if you want to.

I Took A 5-hour Nap Yesterday

friend: how is my friend May?
me
: i’m sleeping a lot
friend
: hmmm
why is that?
me
: i guess i’d rather sleep sometimes than be awake
life is easier
friend
: ugh
I’ve been there
but I hate that that’s where you are right now
me
: i get up for work and class
just not much more than that
friend
: oh no
I really hate to hear that
anything in particular weighing on you, or is it just life in general feeling like a slog?
me
: just general
friend
: yeah, I hate to hear that
I mean, I understand
I wish I could help….but you know things will turn around and look brighter soon
me
: yeah
thanks
friend
: I know that’s not encouraging
me
: i don’t really expect it. you’re fine, really

I think I’m still okay. I can have fun chats with friends, and I can be social sometimes.

My dreams are crazy, though.  I told someone I dreamt that Prince died, and I spent much of last week consciously believing he was dead. And I have bizarre French dreams.

I wonder if this semester ending will help at all. There are still a few weeks left.

The sunshine should help. I hope it does.

But for now, it’s bedtime.