Sunday, July 26, 2015

Angels In New Jersey

Triggers.  For those of us that are combating grief, the term takes on a whole new meaning.  These are the things that set off yet another crying jag, an ache in the heart, or just completely deflate us.  We never know when they are going to come mainly because we have no idea what they will be.  Anything from a song on the radio, a smell, a sound, or even seeing some one that resembles our departed love one.

For me, the most recent trigger came this past Thursday morning.  I was in the living room scrolling through Facebook to kill time before I took Emmy to her swim lesson.  I came across a picture that Peyton's mom had posted for #TBT.  It was from one year ago while they were on vacation.  There was nothing special about the picture, just Peyton with his hat pulled down low grinning his goofy grin at the camera.  All of  sudden i felt my chest tighten and my eyes water.  Before I knew it, I was crying, and made no effort to stop.  I pulled Emmy up on the couch with me and held on tight, but just couldn't seem to stop the tears.  Finally after a few minutes, I was able to compose myself.  I still had that hollow feeling in my chest as I went into my bedroom to get my wallet and keys.  As I stood at my dresser, I looked on to the cedar chest sitting next to it.  On top of the chest was what I needed to turn my mood around.  It was an ordinary cardboard box, but it was what was inside of it that truly mattered.  Dozens of knitted hearts that had been sent to me by my Angel from Jersey, Jill Kubin.

I have never met Jill Kubin.  I have never talked on the phone with Jill or held any kind of conversation with her.  I don't know what her favorite flavor of ice cream is.  I don't know where or when she was born.  I don't know where she grew up or where she went to school.  In fact for some one that I call an angel, I know very little if anything about the woman, but it is what I do know about  Jill Kubin that allows me to call her an angel.

The first time I ever heard the name Jill Kubin was in February of 2015.  I had begun following a page on Facebook called The Sidewalk Smiles Campaign.  I was trying to expand the reach of Products for Peyton was attempting to get in touch with any group or organization that I thought would help.  The person behind Sidewalk Smiles is Julia Kubin, Jill's daughter.  This amazing child had a brilliant idea.  Her and her friends in the Town of Morristown, New Jersey would go and stand on street corners while holding signs with the simple sentence, "Your Are Beautiful" written on them.  They would take their signs with them wherever they went spreading this simple message to as many as they could with the goal of stopping bullying and harassment.    I introduced myself over Facebook and thanked her for what she was doing and told her about Peyton.  Shortly there after, I heard from Jill for the first time.  Jill messaged me and told me about her other daughter, Emily, and that Emily was involved with the Hats for Hope Initiative.  Jill told me that they wanted to do a hat drive in Peyton's honor in order to bring attention to the consequences of bullying.  I whole heartedly agreed, and over the course of the next few months, they began to collect knit hats for the homeless made by people from throughout the country.  It seemed that every time I would log on to Facebook, there was another picture Emily had posted showing more and more hats that she  had received.  For the first time, I knew Peyton's message was getting out there, and more importantly, people cared enough to do something about it.

Jill's next idea is the reason I am working on this entry.  It is called the #Peyton Heart Project.  Jill originally came up with the idea of giving a knit heart to each of the incoming freshmen at the local high school so that every student would know some one cared about them.  She asked me if she could name this after Peyton as well, and of course I agreed.  What was originally a good idea became a great idea when her daughter Julia began leaving the hearts, each containing a small message, in various public places for find.  The next thing I knew, people as far away as South Dakota and England were getting involved.  They were either passing out hearts or knitting them, and word began to spread.  Eventually, Jill sent me a box of these hearts to me so that I could leave them for people.  I began to leave a few here and there, from the local mall to bookstores and restaurants.  I never heard anything about any of the hearts I left, but was hoping they made it into the hands of someone that would truly love it.

As I said before, on Thursday, I was having a bad day.  As I left to take Emmy to her swim lesson, I saw the box, and loaded up the pockets of my cargo shorts.  I left a couple at the pool, and after her lesson, Emmy and I headed to the mall (July in Texas is indoor activity time) so Emmy could play on the play ground.  As we went into various stores, I left the hearts where I hoped they would be found.  That night, I had to run to the local Petsmart to get dog food.  I left a few here and there in the store, and had one more in my pocket as I headed to my truck.  Rather than take it home, I left it under the wiper of the car next to me.  The next morning, Lisa was looking at Facebook and came to show me.  The lady who had found the heart on her window had posted it on Facebook.  Joy flooded my heart, and I knew that some one had been reached.  She had actually hears about Peyton, and was now spreading the word.  Once again, when I needed a jolt of inspiration, Jill Kubin had been the mastermind.

New Jersey takes more abuse than most states.  It is a puncline, whipping boy and red headed step child all rolled into one.  Some of the abuse may be well deserved (they did elect Chris Christie after all), other times it comes at the expense of a network choosing the worst possible representatives of the state and highlighting their lives (Jersey Shore any one?). However, I will say that Jersey doesn't always deserve the punches it take, and in the case of three angels, Jill, Julia and Emily Kubin, I know there are some damn good reasons to love the state.

I know I have probably left things out, and no matter what I say, it will never do justice to Jill, Julia and Emily, but I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for all that they have done for me, my family, and most of all, the memory of Peyton.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Questionable Death

On Friday, July 10, 2015, a 28 year old woman was pulled over in Prarie View, Texas for failing to signal properly.  According to witnesses and news reports, she was asked to extinguish a cigarette but refused.  Words were exchanged, and the situation escalated.  She was then taken to the ground and arrested for assault on a public servant.  She was taken to the Waller county jail where she was working on posting her $500 bond.  According  to friends, she seemed to be in good spirits.  However, at 9:00 AM Monday, July 13, the same young woman was found in her cell not breathing and unresponsive.  Jail staff performed CPR, but it was too late, and she was pronounced dead.  The cause given was self inflicted asphyxiation.  According to a statement, a garbage bag was used by the woman and an autopsy by the Harris County Medical Examiner confirmed the cause of death. The woman's family is outraged saying that her death is suspicious.  They claim that there is no way this woman would have committed.   The Waller County District Attorney has begun an investigation and asked both the Texas Rangers and the FBI to investigate.  If the facts com out that there was foul play, then all parties involved should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but that is not why I am writing about this.

Over the course of the past week, this story has received a great deal of traction in the Houston area news, as well as national news and of course it has taken center stage on social media as well.  There are racial undertones to the story, but that is not my focus here.  Instead, I want to examine the reaction of the public to suicide, and how their actions showed how far we, as a society, must go in order to understand mental illness and the motivations of a person to complete suicide.

In March, this young woman posted a Youtube video saying that she had been dealing with some depression and PTSD.   I empathized with her.  I have dealt with the same thing after Peyton's suicide.  However, the reaction of people from her friends to people on social media showed how little others understand.  I have heard and read everything from "That was in March, she would have been better by now, " to "Depression goes away, so it couldn't have been that" to "She probably had a bad day and thought she was depressed."  My reactions to these statements ranged anywhere from bewilderment to wanting to climb into the TV, grab the person by the collar, slap them around while yelling, "You are part of the problem!!!!  Shut up and educate yourself. "  This is what is wrong when it comes to mental health, a total and complete misunderstanding, as well as a plethora of misinformation surrounding it.

Depression is not something you get over, nor does it go away like the common cold, and who knows better if they are depressed than the depressed person. As an adult, I knew that my depression was more than just a bad day, and I am sure this woman did as well.  Depression is an illness, much the same as cancer, and like many illnesses, it doesn't just "go away".  and just like you would never tell a cancer patient to get over it, or that it is all in their head, the same goes for some one suffering from depression.

The other aspect was the subject of her suicide, and the lack of understanding by the public.  Once aging, I cringed in horror at the statements people made.  Apparently the woman had moved from Chicago to Prairie View to begin a new job and start her life again, so people said there was no way she would have killed herself because she had a new job, or because she was a spiritual person, because she always seemed positive, the list is endless.  In the end, there is no telling what the trigger was, if in fact she did kill herself.  I can speculate, but I don't know.  I am sure that spending three days in any jail is not good for the psyche of any person.  Being charged with a felony can endanger a job, the looming court battles ahead, who knows?  Others have stated that she never said she was suicidal when they booked her into jail. Once again, three days lone in a jail cell for a person that is suffering from depression can change things.  In addition,  I spoke to a nurse that works in a hospital ER that receives more than it's fair share of patients that are brought in after an arrest.  She has had several lie to her about being suicidal in order to have the opportunity to attempt suicide.  Most people that plan on taking their own lives do not broadcast it.  Most won't tell people because they don't want to be stopped.  Some are even able to put on a smile and lie straight to your face right up until the point that they follow through on their plans.

If the death of this young woman was in fact a suicide, then let us hope that it turns into a teachable moment.  Perhaps her death will not be in vain if others can learn from it.  To the woman her self, I just want to say, Rest in Peace.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ignorance Is Fatal

On Tuesday, July 7th, 37 year old Dennis Clevenger jumped to his death from the top level of a parking garage in The Woodlands, TX.  There was a brief article in the community newspaper, some mention of it on local Facebook pages, but for the most part, it went unnoticed. No news crew from Houston made their way up I-45 to cover the story, even though several reporters from various stations call The Woodlands home.  There was little else said.  The only comment in the online version of the community paper was anger at the paper for posting s picture of the body covered by a sheet taken from above.  A Google search of Dennis Clevenger didn't reveal much, nor did a search on Facebook.  For the most part, the life of Dennis Clevenger was limited to a mere six paragraphs. We have no idea as to why Dennis was on that parking garage that day. It seems that the reporters from the paper ran a quick Google search themselves, and when they found nothing, moved on.

Unfortunately, an opportunity to educate the public, to bring to light to the far reaching effects of suicide, or to talk about the stigma of mental illness went away.  This seems to be par for the course, not only in communities such as The Woodlands, but communities throughout the country.

I went back through the comments on Facebook to see if any one had comment.  Perhaps some one would have talked about how Dennis had suffered a series of setbacks recently, or had battled depression, or been recently divorced and lost his kids in a heated custody battle.  Nope.  No such luck.  The comments were heavy on the "oh my", "such a tragedy", and "prayers for the family" to the "I had to find a different jogging route", "this made me late for work", and even one ignoramus who referred to Dennis as "cowardly" because he "took the easy way out".  I could let this jackhole get off easy.  After I explained that his view was one of pure, unadulterated ignorance, I asked if he suffered from mental illness,  if he had ever suffered from emotional pain so crippling that it physically hurt, and if by saying that suicide was cowardly, would he be willing to come and debate his views to my survivors group.  I even told him when and where we met.  The next thing I knew, the jackhole's comments disappeared.  It was jackhole's ignorance that led me to thinking about one of my favorite quotes from literature, "Ignorance is fatal."

The quote itself is from Usher II in Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles.  In this story, our protagonist Mr. Stendhal plots revenge on the Moral Climates people.  These are the people on Earth that had deemed science fiction and fantasy inappropriate and ordered all of these books destroyed, including Stendhal's (see Farenhiet 451).  Now the same group had come to Mars and set about telling others what they could read and believe.  The head of this group was Mr. Garrett.  Garrett arrived at Stendal's house, and watched as other members of Moral Climates were killed off one by one in methods directly from Stendahl's (and my) beloved Edgar Allan Poe.  Finally, Garrett, the last one left alive, was led into the catacombs and was in the process of being walled up alive by Stendhal in much the same fashion as Montresor had walled up the unfortunate Fortunato in The Cask of Amotillado.  Stendhal lectured Garrett about how his ignorance and arrogance had led him down there.  Garrett had never read Poe or he would have realized what was about to happen.  Instead Garrett had allowed others to tell him what was bad and not acceptable rather than deciding for himself.  As Stendahl places the last few bricks into place. he reminds Garrett that "Ignorance is fatal" as he places the last brick into place.

I see the jackhole on Facebook as a modern day Garrett.  Based upon what he had said, he subscribed to some very outdated and erroneous information.  Had he bothered to do even the most rudimentary research into suicide and the causes behind it, he might not have sounded like such a jack hole.  I think that for the most part, people who suffer from mental illness battle it for as long as they can.  I tried to use the analogy of a terminal cancer patient choosing to end their life on their own terms rather than live with excruciating and debilitating pain, but then I got to thinking about the analogy itself.  People with cancer aren't afraid to come forward and discuss their illness.  If some one in the community has cancer, others will rally around that person, they hold fundraisers, open Fund Me pages, and  bring casseroles.  On the other hand, if some one in the community suffered from mental illness, no one holds a bake sale, probably because no one knows.  The family will keep it to themselves, that is if they even admit that it is happening.  And why does this happen? Because people choose to be ignorant about it.  Instead of, "That Timmy is a fighter.  I hope he beats this," we get "Stay away from Timmy.  Kid's got a screw loose.  Best thing they can do is ship the little nut job out to an asylum.  God I hope he didn't give it to our kids."  Little do they know, mental illness, like cancer is not contagious, but, it can be just as deadly.

It is this ignorance that is truly fatal.  It is ignorance that keeps parents from admitting that their child night have a problem.  It is ignorance that keeps schools from openly addressing the topic of mental illness and suicide with students even though a student is much more likely to die of suicide than a fire or shooter in the school (both of which they are required to have multiple drills for).  It is ignorance that perpetuates the stereotype of the mentally ill as writing fan letters to Jodie Foster or planning the next Columbine.  It is ignorance that makes jackholes on Facebook say that some one who dies of suicide is a coward rather than saying that the person's desire to end their pain outweighed their desire to live.  

So tonight, I want to tell Dennis Clevenger that I hope he is at peace.  That where ever he is, the pain is over and cannot hurt him any more, "Requiescat in Pace".  And for those that choose not to fully educate themselves, or regurgitate what they have been told without verifying what they are saying,  "Ignorance is fatal."