In the Well with Tolstoy

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edvard munch - the scream  1893

edvard munch – the scream 1893 (Photo credit: oddsock)

My brother’s suicide left me feeling as if I had been pushed over an emotional cliff, arms flailing as my body hit the jagged edges of rock outcroppings on the way down. The suicide of my father felt like I had been tied to the front of a runaway train that broke away from the tracks and headed over the edge going 110 miles per hour.  I hit bottom and lay there, stunned, and unable to move.

Slowly, I rolled onto my back, exposing my belly like a trusting cat. But it wasn’t that I trusted, it was that I no longer cared.  Hurt me if you want to, kill me if you must, just get it over with.  The God I knew had broken me, but there was no supervisor above him to take him to task.  In a small, dark corner of my mind, I thought there may be a hell worse than the one I was in, so I got up and kept moving, and spoke to no one about how I really felt about any of it.

My father’s suicide coincided with a time when churches all over America were chatting it up big time about the end of the world.  Author Hal Lindsey was pushing his theory that the planet was headed for disaster very soon. He had written a best-selling book and a film, aptly titled The Late Great Planet Earth.  Another lovely end of the world scenario was published under the title, The Jupiter Effect, a best-selling book by John Gribbin, Ph.D, and Stephen Plagemann (1974) that predicted that an alignment of the planets of the solar system would create a number of catastrophes, including a great earthquake in my area of the country.  This was supposed to take place in eight years.  I was sitting on death row without the right to an appeal.

In response to all this, pastors hurriedly began studying and teaching the Book of Revelation, readying the flock for the Great Tribulation.  A conversation amongst believers hardly took place without the mention that time was short. The solid rock became shifting shale. I smiled as I sat in on a conversation about the fruitlessness of getting a living room re-carpeted (considering we were all about to die) but the tentacles of fear and sadness crept over and around me, squeezing the very breath from my lungs.  My therapist added “with psychotic features” to my major depression diagnosis.  I began “seeing” bushes dying, stairways crumbling, as if I could see the end of the world taking place before my very eyes.  God had pushed the “fast-forward” button.

The God I loved and trusted became the God I feared.  This God had some bizarre plan for mankind that culminated in the “rapture of the church” and the “Mark of the Beast.”  I observed those around me.  I could not figure out how those who knew that this horror was on our very doorstep could go on living as before.  Why weren’t they on their knees day and night, or snatching poor souls off street corners and away from death’s grip?  I literally could not figure it out.  It never occurred to me that they did not believe what they were saying.

I found myself a member of a club to which I no longer wanted to belong.  I tried to ignore the leader, become invisible in the crowd.  I had become afraid of Him.  I politely listened to the others, but one of us was crazy, and I was pretty sure it had to be me.

My pastor tried to help me.  He was the voice of reason.  I sequestered myself in my house, not daring to come out and face the zombie apocalypse.  I asked question after question but the thoughts in my mind were tangled, like a rubber band ball.  Trying to untangle them was exhausting, and I began to lose the ability to keep a thought in my mind for more than one or two seconds.

He had compelling reasons why I should not succumb to the hysteria of the moment, but his words were like vapor, slipping through my fingers and away.  So I made him write all the good thoughts down…the ones that gave me hope that the zombies out in the street had it wrong, had come out too soon.

I was coming to a crisis of faith.  I read My Confession, by Tolstoy, and I identified with his plight.  I was precariously close to releasing my grip on the branch in Tolstoy’s well.  I may as well let go of my grip and sacrifice myself to the dragons below than wait for the mice to gnaw through it.

Once in awhile I would have a thought, and to quote Tolstoy himself, “life rose within me.”  Then, like my hallucinations, the thought would melt away and I’d be left with nothing but a desire for death.  Over and over this happened.  I suffered from circuitry overload, and thoughts continued to disintegrate as fast as they would come.

One day, a spark of hope lasted longer than usual.  I realized that in all my railing against God, I had never felt his presence more sweetly.  In all my anger and confusion, I had not succeeded in pushing him away.  The opposite was true.  Instead of allowing me to turn my back and walk away, he seemed to be relentlessly pursuing me.  The hallucinations began to melt away along with the block of ice surrounding my heart.  A cloak had been gently placed around my shoulders, and it felt a lot like love.  My heart and mind began to heal. I had walked through the valley of the shadow and survived.  Now it was time to stop awhile and rest by the stream, and then pick up my pack and keep moving.

Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.

~ Leo Tolstoy

Truth Be Told ~ A Memoir of Success, by Lucinda Bassett

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English: Open book icon

English: Open book icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am in the midst of reading the pre-release of a book by Lucinda Bassett, and I must tell you…this is going to be one of those books I read in a couple of days…without sleep.  I didn’t want to put it down.

I have followed Lucinda’s career for decades, unbeknownst to her.  Lucinda and her husband David offered help for those suffering from stress and anxiety through their Midwest Center for Stress and Anxiety.  She is a nationally acclaimed motivational speaker, a bestselling author, and she has appeared on hundreds of national radio and television programs, including Oprah!, The View, Live with Regis and Kelly, and Robert Schuller’s Hour of Power.  Some major publications include Health, Family Circle, Cosmopolitan Magazine, and the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Imagine her distress and confusion when her husband and business partner, David, began his own descent into mental instability.  They both worked very hard at getting him back on his feet, so to speak, and trusted psychiatrists who ultimately prescribed medications that were not right for him.

Her story resonates with me for several reasons. I suffered enormous stress, anxiety, and depression at a time when there wasn’t a lot of understanding or help out there.  I was already progressing when I heard of Lucinda’s program, but was comforted by the fact that she was there helping others.  Also, I have a history of suicide in my family.  Those who have read my blog posts have been following that story.  My own brother’s suicide can be attributed to poor care and prescription medication (a lawsuit followed, and his widow won the suit).  I understand the shock, confusion, fear, regret, and the inability to control others’ reactions to a suicide.  It’s all here in Lucinda’s book.

Lucinda is a brave woman.  She always has been.  She has always written from deep emotional experiences of her own as a way to help others.  As soon as she was able to do so, she put herself back out there, turning her tragedy into  a way to help coach others who have been touched by tragedy themselves.  I believe this will be another hit out of the ballpark for Lucinda Bassett.

It’s Too Late – She’s Come Undone

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hI could say I didn’t see it coming.  Except that I did.  I worried and fretted and tried to talk to other family members about my fears.  I saw signs, and I especially tried to warn my mother.  She didn’t even have her name on their joint checking account.  What would she do if anything happened?

No one listened so I prayed.  I prayed every morning for six months straight. Please Lord, don’t let that horrible thing happen.

I had been attending the little white church for three years, and the sense of family and my relationship with God were wonderful additions to a life shaped by fear and sadness.   I had finally left Dr. Teemis and began seeing a young masters level student counselor doing his internship.  He continued to probe into all the dark places, the hurts that weren’t healed yet, the wounds that were still fresh.   I still didn’t understand my illness and hadn’t made a lot of progress.

My mother invited us over for dinner a few days after Thanksgiving.  My dad loved chocolate cream pie, so I decided to surprise him and bring one with me.  I was baking the crust when the phone rang.

“Linda, you need to come over here!”  I heard panic in my mother’s voice and got her to calm down long enough to tell me what happened.  My dad had put his shoes on and told her he was going to the garage.  When he didn’t return she went to see what he was up to.  She peeked in and saw him lying on the cement; she ran back into the apartment and called the paramedics, then me.

My chest felt hollow, and once again I found myself holding on to the dashboard of the car as we rushed over to the apartment.  My mind filled with memories of another emergency three years earlier, in August of 1975, when my brother committed suicide.  I tried to will the thoughts away, but they seemed to force the breath from my lungs.

We pulled up to the curb outside my parent’s apartment and I noticed a small crowd gathered across the street.  A paramedic was closing the back doors of the van and I saw there was no one on the gurney.  I looked over at the garage, hoping that my dad was chatting with a police officer nearby.  The garage door was partially closed, and my heart lurched as I turned away.  I went into the apartment and stood in the center of the living room, staring at my mom.  We didn’t speak.  There was a knock at the door.

A young police officer stood with a clipboard in his hand.  “I need to ask you some questions,” he said quietly.  “Was your father right-handed or left-handed?”

“Right-handed,” I answered.  What is he getting at?  I wasn’t about to ask any questions.  Maybe Dad will come walking in the door and we can all just go home and pretend this never happened.

“How old was your father?” he continued.

How old was he?  Was?  “Fifty-one.”  I am a robot.  My mind has become separated from my body.  I’m on another plane.  I may not be able to get back this time. 

It’s too late. She’s gone too far. She’s lost the sun. She’s come undone

~The Guess Who

Once the questions were over and the front door shut against the world, I walked past my mother sitting silently on the couch and went into the bathroom.  I shut the door and locked it.  And then I did what I thought any self-respecting believer in Christ who has any faith at all should do.  I stared in the mirror and whispered a prayer.  “Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Jesus, praise you, Jesus.”  But deep in the brain that had detached from the body, another phrase was repeating itself over and over again.  You’ve destroyed me, God.  I’m done.

But Allow Me to Start at the Beginning

Hi everyone!  This is a “memoir” blog, which means I am telling the story of my life.  I want this story to reach as many people as possible.  It is a story of neglect, pain, trauma, and mental illness.  It is also the story of hope, perseverance, and triumph.  In case you are just “tuning in,” it might be helpful to start at the beginning.  To that end, I am reposting my first post, “Family Legacy.”  Once you read that one and the ones following, it all becomes clear.  Thanks!  And if you know anyone who would find this story helpful, please feel free to Tweet or re-post.  Here’s the link…

http://lindalochridge.com/2012/05/15/family-legacy-5-2/

Another Think Coming

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Walking on Water Hajdudorog

Walking on Water Hajdudorog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my last post I wrote about how I expected that asking God to take over my life would lead to instant emotional healing.  I would love to be writing about how much better life got after I made a commitment to Christ.  In some ways, life got worse, at least at first.

The church was small, and about fifty to seventy-five members attended on any given Sunday.  The atmosphere was warm and intimate. It was like an incubator of sorts, and I truly do not think I would have survived in a large, mainline denominational church.  Even the pastor who recommended I start attending did not invite me to his own church!  I’m sure he pictured how difficult it would be for the proper ladies of his congregation to reach out to this poor, wretched, emotionally scarred scarecrow of a young woman.  They may have been tempted to simply ignore me, or tell me how badly I needed to clean up my act.   And it wouldn’t have taken much to push me over the edge, to make that break between me and life on planet Earth.

The people in this little congregation cared deeply about me.  Not one word was uttered about the state I found myself in.  I was legally married to my first husband, never having bothered to file divorce papers, even though he had abandoned us many years earlier.  I was living with my boyfriend, who was smoking dope from the moment he got up in the morning.  Looking back on this, I think it’s very unusual that no one proffered his or her opinion about all this.  It was almost like someone called a meeting and they agreed to allow God Himself to do what he does best when it comes to changing people’s lives.  Like I said, very unusual.

But this was a time of great confusion for me as well.  A well-meaning parishioner would throw a Scripture my way that was supposed to take all the fear out of my brain like a vacuum cleaner sucking up sand.  All those particles making noise and then silence.  Ahhh! But when quoting these Scriptures didn’t seem to work for me, I became sure that God saw me as an imposter, attempting to squeeze by unnoticed.  To me, that meant I was rejected.  My feelings of abandonment rested on a hair trigger.  It didn’t take much.  And if God abandoned me, that meant I was going to hell…no matter what.  And if I were going to hell no matter what, I might as well go ahead and make the trip rather then knowing about it for years ahead of time.  Who can deal with that knowledge?  Like a doctor telling you you have one to three years to live.  Yikes!

So I would be on the verge…making the plan.  I wrestled with it, worrying about my children, but thinking they’d be better off without me.  I worried about the church members, feeling all guilty and everything.  And then, like clockwork, it seemed like the Lord Himself stepped in to keep me planted on this side of the veil.  Once in awhile he just stepped right in to the scene in a dream I was having during stage 4 REM.  Other times, I would be pretty close to ending things when the phone would ring and one of the church ladies asked how I was doing, or there would be a knock at the door.  I became more and more sure that God was the one doing the knocking.  “Hello!  I’ve got a plan, and it doesn’t include repeating “fear not” while pointing your finger in the air or pretending to stomp on ‘ol’ slewfoot’s’ head!”

Winter’s comin’ on and it’s twenty below. And the river’s froze over so where can he go. We’ll chase him up the gulley then we’ll run him in the well. We’ll shoot him in the bottom just to listen to him yell.

“Old Slewfoot,” by Johnny Horton – The Legend – 1975 Columbia House 2P-6418

And it was enough…enough to keep me coming back to the little white church with the mural of Jesus walking on the water…enough to hang in there and keep breathing long enough to live another day.  I was still grieving the death of my brother, still waking up and crying first thing.  I still couldn’t drive a car, go grocery shopping, and I was still lying on the floor all day long just trying to get my breath at least once a week.  And I was still seeing Dr. Teemis.  And Dr. Teemis was still royally screwing with my head.  But things were definitely looking up a little.

One day I was talking to the pastor about my fear-filled thoughts about the future.  “Linda,” he started, if we got a list of all the things that would happen to us at the beginning of each year, we would go crazy with fear.  But all those things take place one at a time, and God gives us the grace to handle each one as they come.”  That helped a little, alleviated some of the dread I felt inside when I had certain thoughts.  But there was one thought that produced so much adrenaline flowing through my veins that the thought of God’s grace coming in after the fact wasn’t comforting at all.  Turns out all that dread was justified.  If I thought I was done with trauma just because I had become a believer, I had another think coming.

Dazed and Confused

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Further Confusion

Further Confusion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was fifteen I had a couple of experiences that would shape my expectations of how God works in the lives of those who love and follow after him.  On a warm spring Sunday morning in 1967, I asked Jesus to come into my heart in the living room of a woman everybody called “Gifford.”  About ten of her followers were gathered around me, their arms lifted, their heads jerking and shaking, most of them moaning and praying in tongues.  Gifford, being the homeowner and leader of this band of exuberant worshipers, had come up with her own brand of Christianity, and to say it was a little “off” is an understatement.  In the Bible there is a little scripture that packs a powerful wallop.  Romans 3:4 proclaims “Let God be true and every man a liar.”  So, whatever Gifford’s belief system, she did love and trust God, and He tends to show up wherever he’s invited.

A little later that morning, I walked off of Gifford’s front porch and out into the California sunshine feeling light as air, as if some heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders.   I felt a deep sense of profound love for every person on the planet.  “How beautiful and wonderful people are!” I thought, wanting to hug strangers on the street.  It didn’t quite fit in with Gifford’s theology that everyone, except Catholics and African Americans, were worthy of this love, and so naturally I began to wonder about her belief that her church was one of the few that held the Truth.

A few months later I was going through a mandatory “foot check” in my physical education class at Morningside High School in Inglewood, California.  I was lucky enough to have a sore on the bottom of my foot that was alarming enough to get me sent home from school immediately.  Later, a podiatrist diagnosed it as a papilloma, and surgically cut it out.  He warned me that it could grow back, and if it did, I would have to have another surgery.

Sure enough, by my three-week post op appointment, the darn thing had reappeared.  I didn’t really care one way or the other.  It had gotten me out of school one time, and maybe it could get me out of school again.  But then Gifford got wind of it, and during a Wednesday night prayer meeting at her house church, I found myself once again in the midst of the group, rocking and rolling, shouting and moaning, and praying for my foot like my life hinged on the thing.  My foot was anointed with oil and hands touched and jerked back, fingers vibrated over my toes and one particularly fired up prayer warrior played the top of my foot like a flute.

When it was time to get myself off to the podiatrist that next Monday, my mother was, shall we say, “unavailable” to take me to the appointment, so I walked, which caused me to show up very late.  By the time I arrived, the podiatrist was irritable but I had a hard time feeling any remorse.  The guy just did not know what I dealt with.

Hurriedly, he pulled my foot up onto the stool, ready to inject Novocain into the area of concern.  He seemed puzzled as he carefully studied the bottom of my foot and glanced at my chart.  He picked up my other foot, took off my shoe and sock, and stared at that foot.  I watched as he looked from one foot to the other, several times.  Finally, he looked up at me, both feet in his hands.

“It’s gone!” he said.  He seemed stunned.

“Oh!  Well, I had my foot prayed over last Wednesday night!” I said, as if that should explain everything.

He continued to stare at me for a moment longer, and then told me he had just felt the hair on his arms rise up as if in protest.  I couldn’t wait to tell my mom.  She didn’t like me going to that “Bible thumper” group, so now I had solid proof that my participation had actually saved her some money on medical bills.

A lot happened in the eight years following my encounter with Christ within Gifford’s faithful group of followers; a lot of terrible things.  I ended up dazed, and confused, but I had not forgotten those experiences at her house church.  Because of them, I believed Jesus could do ANYTHING!  So it was not out of the realm of possibility in my mind that since I had come crawling, broken and contrite, back into the fold, I would be healed again toot sweet.  All fear, all sadness, all grief, all pain; it would all be lifted out of my brain as quickly and easily as the papilloma had disappeared from the bottom of my foot.

I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.

~ Jack Korouac

I had a plan, and that was to escape hell, both now and in the world to come, as quickly and easily as possible.  The Lord had a plan too, and upon reflection, his made a lot more sense.  He wanted healing for me more than I wanted it for myself.  But he knew an instant healing would have been a temporary fix.  I would have just “thought” myself back into the same set of symptoms.  And besides…I had more trauma and heartache coming.  Being God, he knew this, and he got very busy preparing me for what would come next.

His Eye is on the Sparrow

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SPARROW

I had been pacing around the apartment for days.  Once again I walked to the window and peered through the glass, hoping I would see Robert, walking up the sidewalk.  I told myself that it was possible a mistake had been made, and that my brother, as soon as he woke from a coma in the body bag, would slip out of the morgue at the hospital, and just to be funny, come knocking on my front door.  I seriously thought this was possible.

At other moments during the long days at home alone, I sat on the floor, arms curled over my head, just rocking back and forth.  If I denied the truth of my brother’s death long enough, maybe I could somehow undo the last two months.  I felt myself losing ground, though.  My precarious handle on reality was slipping away and a part of me wanted to let it go completely.

Later that week, I sat across from the pastor who had performed the service for Robert.  “Is God real?”  I asked.  “I believe He is very real,” he answered.  “Do you think Robert is in heaven?” I ventured.  I was afraid of this question, more afraid of the answer.  My stomach was at a roiling boil, and I knew the wrong answer would feel like a blow to the gut.

“I think God cares very much about people who are mentally ill,” Wilber answered tentatively.  I didn’t push it.  Just a glimmer of hope was enough for one day.  “I need to find God,” I told him.  “I don’t know how.”  I knew instinctively, for me, in that moment of my life, that if there was no God, I was dead.  I was laying it all on this one man to guide me to Him.

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he’s watching me.

-Martin and Gabriel

“Linda, there is a pastor of a church here in town that I think you would like.  I want to talk to him before I send you over there.  Give me a week, ok?”  Fear of rejection filled me as I left his office.  This was unknown territory.

I got the “go-ahead” from Wilber and entered the sanctuary of the small church in El Segundo, California on a beautiful October day in 1975.  I had brought my brother’s widow along for moral support.  Even so, I felt alone.  I grabbed onto her arm and felt myself shaking.  I was sure that the pastor was going to know whom I was and ask me to leave the building.

Everyone looked so nice in his or her Sunday best.  I knew I stuck out like a sore thumb.  At five feet, five inches tall, my eighty-two pounds barely covered my skeleton.  My hair was long and stringy, and my clothes were patched.  The Jesus Movement was going strong in this area of the country but this church was obviously not used to those like me, with my hippie garb and vacant stare.  As the pastor began to speak, my mind raced ahead.  I looked around for the exits.

The pastor was young, close to my age, I thought.  He had looked right at me a couple of times, and I quickly glanced away.  He finally closed his sermon and asked us to bow our heads and close our eyes.  I wanted to be part of this group, this faith.  I didn’t know how to begin and I really didn’t think I would be allowed to belong.  As the last hymn was being sung, the pastor walked down the center aisle and opened the front doors, letting in ocean breeze on shafts of light.  Turning, he waited to greet each parishioner, hugging each one as they said goodbye.  I made it to the door, looking for an escape route through the crowd.  Pastor Don was not about to let that happen.  He grabbed me by the shoulders, gave me a big hug and said, “We’re so happy you are here with us, Linda!”  I forced myself to look up at his face.  I saw compassion and concern. My legs felt funny, and I swallowed hard, nodding at him.

That next week I ruminated.  I feared that once Pastor Don knew more about me, he would regret being so welcoming.  I wrote him a letter.  I told him about how mentally ill I was, how messed up my life was, how I was living with my boyfriend, too ill to live on my own.  I told him about my brother, and about my broken heart. I told him I didn’t think I could come back to his church, but I wanted to.   I slipped the letter under the church doors and ran home. I wanted to get the rejection over with.

Later that afternoon, I got a phone call from Pastor Don.  He told me that he had spent the morning making phone calls and gathering the people of his little church together to fast and pray for me the following Tuesday.  He invited me to be there but told me he understood if I didn’t feel I could make it.  They would be praying for me anyway.

I felt as if someone had handed me a life raft.  I could only cling to the side right now, and attempt to hang on to the ropes.  I had no strength to climb in.   The sea was too rough, and I would be tossed about for a very long time.  But there were others now, grabbing my hands, lifting me up every time I was about to sink.  And sometimes, when I came closer to drowning than He would like, God Himself would step in and take it from there.

Shades of Grey

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I recently found that the link to my guest blog post on Lucinda Bassett’s website was broken.  It turns out that she designed a new website to go with the theme of her upcoming book, “Truth Be Told.”  I am a featured guest blogger on her site.  Here is the fixed link to my original post about the suicides of my brother and father, Shades of Grey:

http://lucindabassett-truthbetold.blogspot.com/2012/10/shades-of-grey-from-guest-caller-linda.html

And her website address is now:

http://lucindabassett-truthbetold.blogspot.com

Potted Mums and Forget Me Nots

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PURPLE MUMS

PURPLE MUMS (Photo credit: JAMART Art Photography)

A few days after my brother killed himself, I went to the apartment he had shared with his wife and two-year-old daughter.  I was attempting to help his widow, who was also one of my closest girlfriends, pack up the apartment.  She was moving back home with her mother.  I was moving through my own days as if I were walking through black ooze.  Emotions of hurricane strength made my experience of life feel one dimensional, as if part of me, the thinking part, had died along with my brother.  All I could do is “feel.”  I couldn’t respond to the questions of others.  I stared at them and quietly wondered what it was they expected from me.  The only sounds I seemed to be able to make were sounds of groaning or weeping.  My eyes seemed to have lost their ability to see colors.  The view from where I sat was dark and made up of varying shades of grey.

I walked into my brother’s closet and spotted a pair of man’s brown wool socks lying on the floor.  They were my brother’s socks.  I picked them up and brought them up to my nose.  My brother!  The smell of my brother when he was alive!  Desperately, I wondered how could I hold on to that pungent smell of dirty socks.  Longing sat like a weight on my chest.  My sister-in-law gently pried my fingers loose and threw the socks in a sack.

I helped to plan his memorial service carefully.  I bought a long blue dress with pictures of angels all over it.  I hoped there were angels there, wherever he was.  I asked a minister my brother and I knew to perform the service, and I picked out my brother’s favorite music, “Time in a Bottle,” by Jim Croce, and “So Sad,” by Alvin Lee and Mylon LeFevre.  That last song tore me to shreds.  I had played it for my brother many times, and now wondered if this helped to fuel his desire for death.

One by one, the small group of people entered the borrowed church.  The music played, the minister spoke.  A few people stood to pay tribute.  Too soon, it seemed to me, the service was ending and the last friend of my brother’s had stood to talk about what his friendship had meant to him.  No one else had anything to say, so the minister dismissed the small band of mourners.  As everyone filed out, all I could think was, “it can’t be over!!”  I screamed, and fell against the person sitting next to me.  Everyone hurried out, including my parents, leaving only the minister to try to deal with my hysteria.  He handed me a pot of mums that someone had brought to the service and patted my back, helpless to know how to help me.

A couple of days later, I took those potted mums and brought them to the Parks and Recreation Department in the small suburb of Los Angeles where we lived.  “Can you plant these in one of the parks?” I asked.  “They are from my brother’s funeral.  He died a week ago.”  I sensed his compassion for the broken, sorrow-filled young woman standing before him; he took the mums I held out to him.  “Sure,” he said.  A week later I tried to find them.  I drove to every park in town.  I pictured them languishing in the back of the landscaper’s pick-up truck and my heart broke for those mums, experiencing death all alone.  A second death in two weeks. My brother dying all over again.

The next day I went with his widow and my boyfriend up to the hills of Malibu, California.  We took a shovel, his ashes, and a packet of “Forget Me Not” seeds. It was sunny and warm near the beach that day.  I felt angry at the sun and felt the day should be shrouded in fog.  We buried him there in the hard, dry ground, and scratched the dirt enough to cover the seeds.  I would not know how to find that spot today, and I later regretted I did not make a map.

I cried for my brother every morning as soon as I woke up for two straight years.  I cried out to God during those dark, lonely days as well. When my father killed himself three years later, I knew the drill.  But eventually, step-by-step, day-by-day, I healed.  The colors of life not only returned, they became brighter than they had ever been.

A lot has happened since then.  It’s a pretty amazing, hope-filled story that continues to take twists and turns to this day.  I hope you’ll continue on with me as I weave this multi-colored tapestry.  People are amazed when they read about some of the things that happened, and frankly, I’m always surprised at that.  To me it just seems like “my life.”  I’m too busy just living it to stop and be amazed.  And yet a part of me understands their reactions, and that’s why I’m writing this story.  Please post any comments or ask any questions you would like.

The Beginning of Sorrows

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Me and my brother, Robert.

The thing about tragedies is that they can catch you by surprise.  You get up in the morning and lazily eat breakfast as if you have all the time in the world.  You pick out something to wear (as if it mattered), and lackadaisically wander through the routine of a morning.  You think your meaningless thoughts, none of them giving you any warning as to what’s about to come.  All the while a tragedy, is secretly unfolding, sneaking up behind you, changing your life forever.

As far as my part in it, it began with a phone call from my mother, but it had been put into motion hours before.  If only I had known…

My older brother Robert and I were extremely close.  So close, even his wife was envious of our relationship.  We could be in a crowd of friends, look across the room at each other, and nod, as if to say, “yeah…I get it, I am thinking the same thing as you.”  As my psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis told me once, my brother and I had to keep close to each other just to survive our childhood.  We remained close even after I had gotten married at sixteen and was pregnant with my first-born son and he was a world away, fighting for his country and his life in Vietnam.  He was eighteen-years-old.  I tried not to let my worry consume me, but I kept a good luck charm for him on a shelf in my living room.  Some days I would take it off the shelf and hold it in my hands, hoping it was working its magic and keeping him safe.  But fear still gathered in my stomach and buzzed in my ears when I thought of him there, alone, without me to watch over him.

When he got back to the states, he had seen too much, done too much, to ever regain the innocence of youth.  He self-medicated with drugs, and got kicked out of the Army with a “bad conduct” discharge after getting caught stealing pills out of the pharmacy at the Presidio.  By the time he got back to Los Angeles, he was suffering from major depression and the after effects of malaria.  I watched him sometimes, while he slept with his eyes open.  I worried more about him now that he was home then I did when he was in Vietnam.

Several years went by; Robert had married and I had finally gotten away from Michael the Archangel.  Both of us were suffering the horrible effects of our childhood and our own choices.  His depression was as bad as my anxiety.  He was living with my parents, and I was frantic, trying to get him help.  I took him out to the Veteran’s Hospital, but he was turned away (bad conduct discharge).  I took him to the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department.  Before we went for his appointment, I called and made sure they understood the problem in case he wasn’t exactly open about it.  I told them that he had tried to kill himself by swallowing pills and that I was really worried about him.  A week later, he left the appointment with a 30-day supply of Elavil.  (His estranged widow later won a lawsuit involving this incident).

The call came at noon.  “Linda, I can’t wake up Robert!  I’ve tried all morning long.”

“All morning long?  I’ll be right there,” I said.  My legs turned to jelly.  I got my boyfriend to drive me to the apartment, about five minutes from my place.  I ran into the bedroom and shook him.  “Robert,” I yelled.  He was lying on his side with one arm over his head.  He looked peaceful, as if he had just fallen asleep. When I shook him and yelled his name again, he grimaced, and the word “seizure” entered my mind for the first time.

I ran into the living room and grabbed the phone.  I called for a paramedics and waited for what seemed like a half hour.  Once they got there, they took over.  I waited in the living room with my mother and tried to listen to what was going on in the other room.  My fear kept me frozen to the chair.  I kept waiting for one of the paramedics to come out and tell me that he was sitting up and talking, but all I heard was the beeping of some machine they had taken into the room.

“Seizing! Seizing!” I heard one paramedic shout. The two young paramedics burst out of the bedroom, and wheeled him quickly through the living room and out the door.  He looked gray.  One young paramedic attempted to reassure me as he passed by, but even he looked scared.  By that time my father was home and we all jumped into his car and followed the ambulance to the hospital.

As we got about halfway there, the paramedics suddenly pulled over and tried to wave us on.  My father pulled up behind them and stopped anyway.  I was sitting in the middle of the front seat, hanging on to the dashboard, unable to sit back into the seat.  I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and my breath caught in my throat.

One paramedic jumped out of the van and threw open the back doors.  I watched as he frantically pumped on my brother’s chest.  The other paramedic shut the doors behind him and jumped back in the driver’s seat, turning on lights and siren as he screeched away from the curb.

Once at the hospital, I did not see Robert again.  By the time we parked and got through the emergency room doors they had taken him away.  We gathered together in the waiting room.  No one said a word.  Finally, a doctor came in and shook his head.  “I’m so sorry,” he said.

For some reason, all I could think was that I had to call someone, a pastor who had been counseling both my brother and me for free through the Salvation Army.  I had called him as soon as we arrived and asked him to pray.  I stumbled over to the pay phone and placed my quarter in the slot at the top. I needed him.  I needed him right that second. He answered on the first ring.  “Wilber?” I started.  I heard myself start to scream.  “No!!!!” I wailed.  I screamed again.  My knees buckled and the receiver flew out of my hand.  A young woman, sitting by the pay phone, jumped up and ran out of the room.  A doctor hurried in and told us it would be best if we went home.  There would be nothing left for us to do there.  We had to leave my brother in that cold, unfamiliar place, all alone.  Robert.  Robert Bruce Amthor: March 27, 1950-August 24, 1975.