Category Archives: Rainy Days

94 Lives.

94 Lives Lost. 94 Lives Matter.
94 Lives Lost. 94 Lives Matter.

I was recently moved by an interview with a police chief who lost his composure in what I felt was a most eloquent way. (Chief Flynn after Nov. 6 police commission meeting.) He said, “if some people here gave a good God damn about the victimization of people in this community by crime I’d take some of their invective more seriously… They know all about the last three people who’ve been killed by the Milwaukee police department over the course of the last several years but there’s not one of them can name one of the last three homicide victims we’ve had…”

His statement got me thinking. I can’t name any of them either. I began to wonder how many other deaths had there recently been? Besides the high profile ones? I recently held a gun for only the second time in my life. As I held it, all I could think was, “Wow. How can so many people be so cavalier about guns?”  This sent me down the rabbit hole where I learned there were 101 deaths in a 72-hour period between July 16 and July 18 at 3 pm. You can review any of the latest 72-hour statistics by visiting http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/last-72-hours. By the time I came up with the idea to give these statistics back their names, the data had shifted. Luckily, I suppose, a hot Monday yields less deaths than a hot Saturday. Between July 17 and July 19, 2016 we lost 94 lives due to gun violence. Even with fewer numbers, that still works out to over 1.3 lives lost per hour. There were an additional 255 people injured by gun violence in that same period or 3.5 injuries per hour.

I do not want this post to be about gun control. I don’t want this post to be about anti-gun control. I want it to be about potential. 94 lives lost. 94 lives gone forever. Someone’s child. Someone’s husband. Someone’s wife. Someone’s friend. Someone born full of hope and potential. Someone who could love and be loved. Some of these people were victims. Some of them were the perpetrators. I grappled with separating them out of respect for the survivor’s of the victims. In the end, I decided to list them in the order they died, often meaning a victim was listed next to the perpetrator. I did this because we have to be able to do more to stop this violence. And that has to take place before the violence occurs. We have to be able to stop the perpetrators from wanting to hurt others.

WE HAVE TO.

Oh, it is so very easy to turn it off. It’s too much. We feel powerless in the face of such enormous problems. We need to stop the poverty. We need to stop the alienation. We need to stop the humiliation. We need to stop the anger. We need to stop the hurt.

We need to love. We need to care. We need to help.

When my boys ask me why someone is being mean I often say, “Well, I just don’t think they got enough love today.” And if these perpetrators had received enough love in their lives, maybe, just maybe this list would be shorter. And maybe, if whole swathes of our society weren’t made to feel like second class citizens, this list would be shorter. And, maybe, if we just take a few minutes to read these names, every last one of them, we’ll stop focusing on the forest and start  noticing the people standing among its trees.

Forest and the Trees
Forest and the Trees

The youngest of these victims was a 4-year old boy. Another was a brand new father, accidentally shot by his brother. Another was a teen playing basketball on a community center play ground. Another was a mother of four. So many murder-suicide combinations. So many related to drugs. So many related to anger. So much pain. It will not be ignored. Like a festering wound, it just spreads until the body can ignore it no longer. If we want to heal, we must face the wounds.

I do not want these people to get lost in the shuffle. Let’s not forget their names. Let’s not forget there are people behind all the debates.

So here they are. Above, in an image format. Below, in a text format. There are a few where I have simply listed the gender and city as their names have not yet been released pending notification of next of kin. I have done as much research as possible to put names to the incidents. Where not possible, please know that I respect your loved one’s life. THEY MATTERED. YOU MATTER TOO.

If you wish to add a name to this list, please feel free to contact me and know that you are in my heart and prayers. ♥

EMILIO FLORES ~ DONZIE TAYLOR ~ LARRY STEWART ~ CAPTAIN ROBERT MELTON ~ DAYRON STATEN ~ TYRONE JOHNSON ~ HENRY VARNADO ~ KENT FRANKLIN ~ ALFRED MATTHEWS ~ JERRY BRIMER ~ SHERIC ANDERSON ~ NAME WITHHELD, KANSAS CITY, MO ~ SUZANNA PEREZ ~ EBONY SMITH ~ BRAHEEM QUEEN ~ MIKHAL DELOVE BAILEY ~ KEVIN DAVID POWELL ~ LUKE SMITH ~ RON EASTERLING ~ JOVANNI SIMS ~ BRANDON HANSFORD ~ FERNANDO MONTANO ~ ANNASTASIA MACKIN ~ ADDISON “HOLLYWOOD” SHEARIN ~ SETH MARTIN ~ ANGELICA FISCHER ~ EMMANUEL COACH ~ NAME WITHHELD, MALE, CHICAGO, IL ~ JERMAINE SMITH ~ DERRELL PEDEN ~ MICHAEL BROWN ~ MARK CUMMINGS ~ MARK FLETCHER ~ NAME WITHHELD, MALE, GARDEN GROVE, CA ~ JOHN STOWERS ~ NAME WITHHELD, MALE, BALTIMORE, MD ~ SHANE MCCORMICK ~ JESSICA ARRENDALE ~ ANTOINE DAVIS ~ CHUEMO GATEWOOD ~ KRISTI MAXWELL ~ RICHARD MAXWELL ~ KEVIN WHITE ~ KEVIN VILLEGA MELENDEZ ~ RAYMOND GONZALES ORTIZ ~ FRANCISCO ORTEGA MARTINEZ ~ EDWARD LONG ~ TOMAS URIEGAS ~ PHILLIP BANK ~ JESSIE GARCIA ~ MICHAEL RAY RAMSEY ~ NAME WITHHELD, FEMALE, ROCHESTER, MI ~ JACOB COMSTOCK ~ LOUIS TATE ~ JASON AQUINO ~ CYNTHIA ZINGSHEIM ~ CARRIE ROUZER ~ NAME WITHHELD, MALE, CARROLLTON, GA ~ TYISHA AUSTIN ~ LAQUITA ROBINSON ~ SHERIDAN THOMPSON ~ NAME WITHHELD, MALE BROOKLYN, NY ~ JERMAINE JOHNSON ~ PATRICK DEWAYNE DECKER ~ JOSEPH BROWN ~ 4-YEAR OLD BOY, SULPHUR, LA ~ KENNETH BACQUE ~ MARQUES ADDISON ~ MAURICE BROWN ~ MICHAEL REED ~ KEVIN HIGGINS ~ JULIUS SMITH ~ MICHAEL LEON KING, JR ~ ATHENA NICHOLAS ~ DENZEL OLAJUWON MORTON ~ OTAVIOUS BROWN ~ CARLOS HARDING ~ ARTIVIS GLADNEY ~ SADIE ROBINSON ~ BRANDON BERNARD BOWMAN ~ NAME WITHHELD, MALE, CHICAGO, IL ~ COURTNEY TURRELL GUY ~ ATRAYU RAMAL DAVIS ~ OFFICER MATTHEW GERALD ~ OFFICER MONTRELL JACKSON ~ DEPUTY BRAD GARAFOLA ~ DEPUTY NICHOLAS TULLIER ~ GAVIN EUGENE LONG ~ CHEYENNE STEWART ~ NAME WITHHELD, MALE, LOUISVILLE, KY ~ BRANDON HANSFORD ~ HASSAN MCALLISTER ~ HASSAN AL-WATAN ~ NAME WITHHELD, MALE, SAN FRANCISCO, CA

Important Things

My Dusty Old Name Plate
My Dusty Old Name Plate

I believe the Universe works very hard to maintain balance. This past week was my family’s turn to be in the wringer. We’ve been sick, never healthy for more than a few days, since Thanksgiving. The past week though, wow! We ended up in the ER for stridor, followed by vomiting, croup, ear infections, ruptured ear drums and a flat tire. A new special something for each day of the week!

It all started with a hard task for mommy on Saturday. I spent the day cleaning out my old office in preparation for turning it into the new nursery for Baby #3. There is a reason these things have laid in there so long, unattended. Ghosts of my past. I broke down in tears no less than three times. I came across a goodbye letter I wrote to my friend who was murdered. Some 25 years later, I finally found the strength to throw it away. All the journals from our fertility treatments, a chronicle of the roller coaster of hope and despair. All the sonograms and sympathy cards from our baby Noah. My old school papers and planning documents from the center I had set-up and directed. —Keeping a few things but just donating or throwing most things representative of my old life away and feeling like my kids will never know I used to do very important things.

After an emotionally exhausting day, I was ready for bed. I joked with my husband, since I could hear that tell tale croupy cough over the baby monitor, “Maybe I ought to just sleep in my clothes since Emerson sounds so bad.” Prophetic words. Less than ten minutes later, I am cleaning up vomit, alternating steam and cold air, walking that tight rope of not panicking and then realizing I should have left ten minutes ago, rushing to the ER and waiting to see what works to stop that horrible gasping for air as your precious child tries in vain to breathe.

I had just that day been celebrating the fact that Silas seemed to have gotten through his first bout of croup without having stridor. I had been celebrating that maybe, just maybe, we were done with this torturous routine of trying at home measures and then heading to the ER anyway. We came home from the ER, put Emerson back to bed and realized we probably have another three years of this with him, every time he gets a cold if he ends up like his big brother. Who knows if baby #3 will have the same issues?!?! We were desperate to get some sleep and then Silas was up all night coughing and throwing up. Yes, these things are common to raising young children. Centuries of mothers have survived them but that does not mean it is easy. I know these days are short but while you are stuck in them, especially where it concerns your children’s health, they are so unbelievably long. Absolutely daunting at times.

And then it happened. My Umbrellas showed up. Literally. Uninvited. Unannounced. Not even knocking. They know I am not going to ask for help. They know I am likely to turn down their offers of help when made. So, problem solvers that they are, they just walked into my house. A welcome sight. They came bearing chocolate, balloons, lemon juice, honey and hugs. They let me cry. They made me smile and laugh. They watched my kids so I could clean  the house a bit. We baked cookies together for another mom who was having a hard time… because there is always a need for an umbrella! And, perhaps most importantly, they spoke to me of important things.

“Kerry, you do the very most important things every single day – by loving your husband, your kids, and all of your friends too. And Silas and EJ, they see THAT and it is what matters. You can tell them about everything you did in the past and the person you were before they came along, and they will listen and they will appreciate all of it someday. But you, being who you are right now – that is what is important. To ALL of us. Because you are amazing.”

This is not to say that working mothers or fathers don’t do important things every day. We all make decisions based on our individual situations and your decisions are right for you and your family, regardless of what they are. A stay-at-home mom is not something I had ever envisioned for myself but it ended up being right for us. This is exactly where I want to be. My reasons for walking away from a very successful career are the same as they were the day I resigned. Yes, what I did before children was important. It came with impressive titles and decent paychecks, even good benefits. Yet, I believe there is nothing more valuable than pouring my heart and soul into each of my boys. The time I have with them will be so very short. I do not want to miss a minute of it. I am so very fortunate to have a choice in the matter.

Yes, I am tired. Yes, I am frustrated. Yes, I would love to be able to get one child dressed and the other STAY dressed so we can get out the door on time. Yes, I would like to have a night off every now and then. Oh, and sleeping in seems like some sort of wild forbidden fantasy. But, I also have the chance to mold their character. I delight in the fact that my 18-month old has already mastered how and when to say, “please” and “thank you” via sign language. My heart overflows when I see my 4-year old inviting his younger brother to help put ice cubes into his cup and offering him encouragement for doing a good job. Manners, compassion and love. If there were a report card for them, these areas would read, “Exceeds Expectations.” I can’t imagine anything more important than working to offer the world three humans full of these gifts.

The remainder of this week brought even more unpleasantness. It brought more sickness, tears, tantrums, early bedtimes, refused naps and restless nights. But I was able to meet those detours with humor and strength. No longer defeated. My perspective rectified. Thankfully, my umbrellas had revived my spirit.

I have learned a few lessons this week. (1) No matter what, through the good and the bad, we are here for each other. This makes the good stuff awesome and the bad stuff so much better than it would be alone. (2) I have been reminded of what the truly important stuff is. It is love and giving of ourselves to each other. (3) I have some other parents, who are now grandparents, to thank for the time and energy, the sleepless nights and days of frustration they put into loving and molding their children. If I am ever in doubt about the value my job as a mom holds, I can look to my Umbrellas and know how much their parents’ work has impacted my own life.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

With love,

Kerry Stephen, Director of Important Things

New Position: Director of Important Things
New Position: Director of Important Things

If Dogs Were Teachers

IfDogsWereTeachers

This poster was hanging in the emergency vet’s office last night. I took a picture of it because it is how so many dogs are. I know Star taught us all so very much.

We had to put our girl down last night. We had been getting cocky about how long she could live beyond the vet’s prognosis. She started seizing late last night, she could barely walk and was clearly, finally, feeling the pain of it all.

I’ve been aching all over. Inside and out. Crying off and on all day. I hadn’t expected to physically feel the impact of her death but I feel as if I have been hit by a truck.

Dogs are a part of our family not just pets in this house. She was our daughter and a sister to our boys. She was rarely ever referred to as a pet. She was our baby, our girl, our daughter, a sister. I’d say she was our equal but I do believe dogs are often our superior as the words in this picture convey. So much love. So much patience. So much perseverance. So much to teach us. And, even after death, she is still teaching me.

I took a much needed nap along with Emerson this afternoon and had a dream of her. I saw her playing with a boy who looked a lot like Silas. I couldn’t figure out why Emerson was not there or any other members of our family and why Silas was older then he really is. Then, I realized she was playing with Noah, our angel baby. She is safe and happy at home in Heaven with the rest of our family.

“Enjoy every moment of every day.”

Star_10112014

A Chasm of Sadness

chasm

When I was fourteen a good friend was murdered by another peer of ours. There were other things going on but this was the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back. It spun me into a deep and dark depression. I alternately pursued dangerous things daring to feel anything at all and trying to take my own life. No matter what I tried, I failed to feel anything but sadness and fatigue.  I cried myself to sleep almost every night for over a year and prayed to God, asking him to just take me. My sister found one of my suicide notes. (I always chided myself as being too much of a coward to actually follow through with ending things myself.) My parents had a counselor, one I had been seeing for months, complete an assessment of me. I honestly can’t remember what it was but do remember her saying a score of 20 was clinically depressed and I had scored a 40. The doctor wanted to admit me into a psychiatric hospital I had seen advertised on tv. My parents opted to admit me to one closer to home even though my doctor did not have privileges there. Of course, they lied to me to get me to go. They told me it was just for an overnight stay but once I arrived, it was in for the duration. Our neighbor was a doctor there so they felt more comfortable putting me with someone they knew well.  My parents pulled me out of school under the pretense of an illness and admitted me to the looney bin. My deep, dark secret: I am crazy and I have the papers to prove it. My joke: I also have the papers to prove I am sane. How about you? :o

I remember it being set-up an awful lot like a dorm. I also remember thinking these people have real problems. I’m just a spoiled brat who can’t cope. It wasn’t at all like you might see in the movies. -Think more of an indoor camp where you aren’t allowed to have shoe laces. Or leave. Or call home. There was group therapy, individual therapy, art therapy, music therapy, family therapy. Work with a social worker. School and activities. If you made progress and were good you could earn calls home, trips home or outings on and off campus. I also made some of the closest friendships I’ve ever had (until recently). I remember there being a poster hung up on the wall proclaiming something about assertiveness being healthy. Then there was the day I saw someone else from my high school there and panicking because everyone would find out I was crazy.

I am usually pretty good with words but I cannot describe to you the immense weight of depression. It is all consuming. It’s like a black hole, sucking everything into it. Your energy. Your hope. Your happiness. Like a blender on puree, it brutally cuts everything into nothing or, sometimes, sorrow. Never mind lifting yourself up out of depression. A friend once said, every part of your being is struggling to simply not sink any lower. It is as if you are standing at the bottom of that chasm pictured above with no equipment, energy or will to get yourself out. I did not even want to be saved. I simply held on because I did not want to be the cause of anyone else’s pain. All I wanted was for everyone to stop loving me so I could go without hurting anyone. Yet, a hand reached down. And another. And another. Pulling this unwilling soul up out of the chasm. Pushing me towards the help I desperately needed. They refused to give up for me. They insisted and forced me (because I was a minor they could) to survive, to let help slowly steep in. It worked. Not in that moment. But at least I found the strength to survive, to begin the long and arduous path towards health.

It took decades for me to return to my whole self. I was very fortunate to be able to do this without taking medicine. Others are not so lucky. We are made up of a jumble of chemicals that can easily go awry. Even if you find the right mix of medicines your body can change causing you to start the stabilization process all over again. You “survive” what you can easily describe as your most difficult battle in life only to discover you will have to face it again. Perhaps repeatedly. I almost drowned once. I remember the waves coming so hard and fast I was not able to gather my strength in between each wave. I kept trying and trying, swallowing more and more water. Eventually my legs gave out from under me and the waves pummeled me. I was under the water, the waves rolling me along and I lacked the strength to do anything about it. Luckily the life guard pulled me out but this is very much like fighting depression. The waves of depression, much like the riptide of an ocean, are so much stronger than you. To “defeat” depression, you must vow to tread water, to continue to exist until the current shifts. I cringe every time my mother refers someone’s child to me saying, “Kerry has overcome depression. You should talk to her.” It is not something you overcome. Much like an alcoholic, it is one day at a time. I keep the clouds at bay with positive behaviors/actions, therapy and surrounding myself with love but rip currents can surprise you.

I remember coming back to school, standing by my locker in between classes, chatting with friends. Someone told a joke. I don’t even know what it was about but I laughed. A deep belly laugh. A real one. Not at all like the fake ones I had been doing for so long. God, it was a brilliant gift and it felt so good. The current had shifted. I instantly thought to myself, “I am glad I did not kill myself.” I have not had such a deep depression since then but I have had periods of struggle. In those times, I remember that laugh and remind myself it will come again. Perhaps this is why I adore the every day simple moments so much. I no longer need to be or want to be at the edge of thrill, excitement,  defeat or death to feel things. Right here, in the middle of every day life are the greatest pleasures. Light. Laughter. Learning. Love.

I usually limit my writing to life with my self, family and friends. While this is my personal story of depression, it is inspired by the loss of Robin Williams. Yesterday, it seems apparent, one of the world’s greatest actors and comedians committed suicide. It boggles the mind how someone so talented and adored could end in this way. And, yet, I understand. He struggled with depression for so long and won out so many times. I wish there were a distress signal those suffering could send out.

S.O.S. – Support, one of us is suffering.

Then, from all walks of life, people with your affliction come to tell you it will end. It will eventually be all right. They can hold you up until you find your way again. I wish you had lived to laugh and love again, not only Robin but all others who have died from mental illness.

Depression is a deeply uncharted chasm of sadness. It makes me ache whenever I hear of someone not making it to the other side. It is there. The other side is there.

I write this for those of you suffering right now. Your big belly laugh is there waiting for you. On this blog I often talk about sunny days and rainy days. When depressed it is so hard to envision sunny days. It’s as if you’ve lost the right to have access to them anymore. Stephen Fry once wrote, “It will be sunny one dayIt isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will. One day.” Please do what you can to find someone to be your umbrella, your raft, your life guard until your sun returns.

For those who have been left behind, I write for you too. There is nothing you could have done to save your loved one. My family got me help but it would not have worked unless I wanted it too. There was enough of my brain not clouded over with the disease to let others begin the healing work. Only I could finish it though. I could have refused to engage with any of the services offered to me in that hospital and afterwards. Your lost family member or friend loved you very much. This disease is just as venomous as cancer. I pray you find peace in knowing they are finally at rest. Their suffering is done and I’d be willing to bet they have found their big belly laugh in Heaven. Yes, I wholeheartedly believe they are in Heaven. ChasmToSunshine

Writing from the Heart

Monarch_Butterfly_Cocoon_6708

It has been a while since I’ve posted any real writing. I’ve been told my words come from the heart. Perhaps that’s why I don’t seem to have any words flowing right now. My heart is hurting. In spite of our two vibrant young boys and all the life of Spring and Summer, much of my world seems to be in a season of death right now. I have never dealt particularly well with death.

First, celebrating Memorial Day, visiting my grandfather’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. I was overwhelmed with all that he gave to other soldiers and their families as we went to the Visitor’s Center for the first time in my life. I was floored, telling my sons that their great grandfather was intricately involved in planning the funeral for JFK. Their great grandfather researched and wrote the military protocol observed for over 27 funerals taking place per day and that is just at ANC. What a gift my grandfather gave to those who died as well as those left behind. What a legacy. I had, only moments before, walked by a long line of tourists saying to my husband, “Grandpa would be ashamed of what I am thinking of those people.  –Touring the dead and having picnics on their graves. Do they know what it cost? Do they really understand?” I was overcome seeing all these people stopping to read information, to pause and reflect as I never had before. I always made a beeline for my grandfather’s grave and went straight out again. I see now. I realize I haven’t the slightest idea what it is like to have a soldier’s soul.

Then there was Mrs. Z’s death. The first of my constants to pass away. We lost touch because life gets so darn busy and then the party list gets so long you feel like you have to cut it down. And you learn later you cut out the wrong people. You invited people who aren’t really invested in you or your children. People who aren’t really involved. People who wouldn’t know if you were having a good week or a bad one. No, she should have been here more often. I am reminded of something relayed at my step grandmother’s funeral. She once said, “Come to my birthday party. Skip the funeral.” I should try to remember to keep the invitation lists long for the birthday parties. Who cares about the funeral.

Finally, or at least I hope so, we just found out our “daughter”/dog is dying of cancer. I am a noted worrier yet I took her to this appointment thinking we were wasting our money on an x-ray because they were going to say everything was fine. But it isn’t. I am not certain what I expected to hear when I asked how long she had. A year maybe. But they estimate a month. And all of the sudden the 12 years we’ve spent with her seem so short. And every less than stellar mothering moment stands out boldly in my mind. Moments I should have been more patient, more kind, more loving. I’m tossing the regret aside, to be observed at a later time. Now, we have a month plus or minus (now already a week into that estimation), so I am trying to cherish and memorize. Silas celebrates every morning with a pronouncement, “Yea! Star is still alive!” He worries each time we return home, “I hope she didn’t die while we were away.” I know he doesn’t really get it but we are doing our best to help him cherish and remember what little time we have left with her. Maybe teaching him will help me to remember these important lessons I am reminded of with each death yet forget with time. The hum of a busy life is like falling asleep in a poppy field. It is so easy to lose track of the things which truly matter.

So… My heart seems to be building a cocoon to shelter from recent and coming days. It is curling up inside as it undergoes yet another metamorphosis. I have always been more emotive than anything else. I have a friend who calls me intuitive. Maybe I have intuited that I need to reserve my strength. At any rate, it is hard for me to write deeply when I am holding back pain. It is my heart that needs to speak not my mind. Perhaps it has to be both but my heart certainly leads the way. I feel the words beginning to stir but they have not yet taken form.