Thursday, April 16, 2015

To those who have lost a loved one to suicide

I am writing to you, the living. You who have experienced the suicide of a loved one, family member, partner or friend.

Last year, I attended a suicide walk in Nashville’s Music Row area, a time for those affected by suicide to gather and grieve together, and to raise money to help prevent suicide. We were given necklaces in a variety of colors connected to how we were related to those who had died, whether a friend, family member, partner, or child. It was upsetting to see so many people with not one necklace but several of different colors.

Recently, family and friends were shocked and stunned to find out that Kevin Watts had killed himself. What many people go through following a suicide includes much grief, sadness and also sometimes anger about the suicide. I want you to know that any feelings or thoughts that you are having about Kevin and his death are normal reactions to a tragic and horrifying situation. No one knows how they will react to a loved one’s death, especially not to a suicide.

One way some people handle such a tragedy is by questioning themselves, wondering what they missed, blaming themselves for not having seen the signs and not being able to prevent the suicide. I do not know Kevin or his family and friends although I have read a friend’s tribute to him as well as a piece written by the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network highlighting his death and how we need not stigmatize suicide nor keep it secret or silent. People need to know more and talk more about suicide in order to prevent it.

I am focusing on how the living can go on living, mourn and grieve death, and cope with such a tragedy. Family members and friends often beat themselves up about a suicide. They think they should have known it was going to happen and that they somehow could have prevented it.

But, none of us are mind readers, we can’t always know what goes on inside even our closest loved ones. Depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness come in all sorts of flavors. We sometimes tend to notice those who are depressed when their symptoms include withdrawing, isolating, missing work, using too much alcohol or drugs, and/or having visible physical pain. We can see those symptoms.

We can also try to understand the reasons why someone has killed themselves and usually there are many important factors. Still, however, we may never really know why, because we can’t fully know any human being like they know themselves.

It is far harder to understand suicide when a person has seemed to be doing well, has seemed to handle life with a smile, and has continued to be engaged with family and friends. This type of person isn’t usually trying to lie about how they are feeling (although some are excellent actors and don’t want anyone to know the severity of their pain, or their plans). Some act out externally but others implode, directing harsh and negative feelings toward themselves, not others. The nature of depression itself can prevent people from reaching out, crying loudly in distress for others to see.

In fact, sometimes we witness a person seeming to feel better and we feel better in return. Even though we have given them close and careful attention when life seemed worse, we may back off a little.

The unfortunate truth is that sometimes people, who have fully decided to kill themselves, may go through a period of time feeling more peaceful and calm, knowing they will be ending their lives soon. The pain may even slip away as they plan the suicide. They are not trying to fool us, but they may honestly feel better temporarily.

Do not blame yourselves. Yes, we can help people enter treatment programs or find trained professionals hoping that they will benefit from such help. But, sometimes even then, suicide can occur.

What we can do is to offer ourselves to them, giving them all the support or assistance that they may need, but knowing that we are not in control of their decisions. If they push us away and refuse or resist such help, there is little we can do except to love them anyway, feeling compassion for them and concern about their suffering. Hoping that they can find new ways to decrease their pain and suffering while still living among us. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Voting for a new Mayor in Nashville

Last week, a news report claimed that women in this country only make on average 77 cents for every dollar that men make.  And, women may not reach equal pay until 2058.  How tragic and strange.

Americans can create all kinds of technological feats but we also spend much of the U.S. budget on defense, building tanks and military equipment that are never used.  Why can’t we make better decisions about women’s equality, as well as about civil and human rights?

The U.S. views itself as the world’s number 1 country, and Nashville is the new “It” city.  But there continues to be much discrimination and inequality throughout.  Surely we can do better than this.

I attended an event for Megan Barry on March 29th, and the room was packed with supporters who want Ms. Barry to be Nashville’s next mayor.  Nashvillians Emmylou Harris, country music artist, and Connie Britton from Nashville on TV, both spoke on behalf of Megan, cheers rippling through the crowd. Nashville can design for itself a bright future, and we believe that Megan Barry can lead us there.

Ms. Barry has been a Metro Nashville and Davidson County Council Member since 2007, and she is the only mayoral candidate who has both business and government experience.
I will vote for Megan because she believes in improving the public education of our children, and wants to fully fund pre-K education in Nashville. She is also the only candidate who spoke out about voting “No” on Amendment 1 last year because she believes that women’s medical decisions should be left to women and their doctors instead of those decisions being made by politicians. And, she says it doesn’t matter who you love.

Megan also believes that “a city that thrives is a city that moves,” dedicating herself to a Transit vision that includes all modalities from bicycles to buses and more.  If Nashville is truly the “It” city then we need to pay attention to all of our citizens and not just to the wealthy and powerful.  Megan sponsored and passed a bill keeping guns out of parks, illustrating her strength and dedication to protecting our citizens from harm.  She has also participated in setting up the Affordable Housing fund and the budget for it.

Megan is a smart, enthusiastic leader for us all.  She closed this campaign event with something that she heard at church.  “Be grateful for the people who do things for you, not because they have to, but because they want to.”  I couldn’t agree more.  

Don’t let just 20% of our citizens select our leaders.  We all have the power in our hands to elect those who will serve us well, who will listen to us, and work for us. I urge you to vote in every election in Tennessee and in the nation after educating yourself as best you can about the candidates and their values.