Those birds. All their feet, pointing at navy blue crystal clear glass.
The deepest smartest you’ve seen. And today they are glittering with tears.
“I’m tired, sissy. I’m ready.”
But I don’t, I can’t.
25 years on dialysis, held captive by machines on the one hand and chemicals — from pharmacies or liquor stores — on the other. How could I know his struggle? Struggle, not upward, but struggle for stasis. Struggle to manage demons, to manage health, to manage money and family and love, rejection, every everyday affront.
We are stoic on the outside, but I toss and turn for weeks. His children are turning into men, not ready for fatherless lives. Who is ever ready, though?
One of those weeks a celebrity kills himself. The nation calls it a tragedy. I am icy, unmoved, somehow. At 62, he was an age where Hollywood began to turn away. His last project or two did not fit his or our ideas of a trajectory of success. Upward, always upward, and ageless. He had children. They say “Depression” but I find it unforgivable because of the children.
My tossing and turning are back. This moment recalls those moments as a kid I worried about a parent killing themselves. My powerlessness over my brother seems like a certain guilty freedom, compared to the powerlessness of a kid, feeling helpless and overwhelmed and frightened and still planning what to do in case….
Which brings me around to parenting. So far I have sheltered the Things (7 & 11) from both this big public and big private idea, suicide. It feels like teaching them about a private little bruise that I have to show them and poke at to get them to understand. I’ve left a little opening, “your uncle has been sick and tired a long time.” But I’m not sure where to start. As our house goes unsold and we start school Away, Again, I am not on top of my own emotions. But before the decisive moment, I need to talk to them about depression, about human agency, and about death with dignity. Also about handling their own emotions and how to take care of their own mental health.
This article, Cruising Toward Mellow gives excellent starting points for younger kids, but I’m coming to this late, I worry.
August 21, 2014: So I asked them each (separately) if they knew what suicide meant, and that it has been in the news because a celebrity committed suicide, and it turns out that he was depressed and nobody knew. I told them that I was committed to teaching them to deal with their feelings, that they were just feelings, and that they could always talk to Dad and I about how they were feeling, and they could get help or we could help them get help — we’ve been to a Talk Doc as a family, and it was kind of fun, so they aren’t afraid of professional help at this point. Tonight I ran across this article on depression and physical fitness, and I will talk to them each about it: “Depression in young adolescence can be prevented by physical fitness.” The article targets the sixth grade (Thing 1’s grade) as a crucial one for increased correlation between fitness and depression. I’ll keep updating with what I find. The hard part will be the turn I want to make to talk to them about death with dignity, about taking the situation into one’s own hands. We stoic New Englanders all seem to agree that years of pain at the hands of illness is undignified, and unnecessary…. Stay tuned!
I welcome any suggestions for handling this delicate topic here, or over on my Facebook page.