"Three Hours Outside Myself" - Another Mother's Story

January 19, 2018

There's nothing like an ambulance ride to the emergency room to help you put life back into perspective. On Dec. 28, 2017, I experienced a sudden onset of symptoms that presented much like either a Panic Attack or a Stroke.

After three hours of terrifying symptoms, including the loss of feeling in my limbs as well as a brief spell of aphasia (speech disruption), my condition improved. I regained full use of my limbs and the ability to speak. It was like someone flipped a switch and turned me back on.

The final diagnosis, arrived upon through the process of elimination, was Migraine with Aura.

I'm not writing this post about Migraines or Panic Attacks or Strokes. Instead, I'm writing about what that near brush with death taught me.

I don't claim to understand what it feels like to truly face death, to be diagnosed with a terminal illness or to miraculously survive a catastrophic accident. Nope, I was just really sick for a few short hours. But the things I thought about, the things that swirled around inside my head for those scary hours, really impacted me. Actually, no, it wasn't the things I thought about. It was the things I didn't think about that really caused me to take note.
  • I never thought about how much money I had made.
  • I never thought about much I weighed or the size of jeans.
  • I never thought about whether my purse or my shoes or my coat were this year's hottest trend.
  • I never thought about whether or not any gray sprouts were peeking out of my hairline.
  • I never thought about how many followers I had on social media.
  • And I never thought about who the president is.
  • Believe me.
No, for those few scary hours, I thought only about people, my people, the people in my life that matter most to me and how much I love them.

I thought about how my older son had been through so much and how proud I was of his journey. How much I wanted him to continue his recovery and eventually be out on his own.

I thought about my husband and, although we found each other late in life, how lucky we've been to have shared these years together.

And I thought about my younger son, and how proud I was of the young man he is becoming. 

Luckily, this frightening experience was brief and my symptoms subsided quickly. I had only about three hours to worry that my time was up. 

But it's taken me three weeks to get myself to write this. And it was watching the movie "Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri" that finally inspired me to open up at all. The mother in that movie was filled with such rage, such regret, such pain. And all she wanted was to feel some sense of resolution. She thought she knew exactly what would fix it.

If you've seen the film, you know if her efforts get her what she wanted. If you haven't seen the film, I won't spoil it for you. I'll just say watching that film inspired me to write about this. 

I'm grateful that I had those three hours, just long enough to remember the things that matter and the things that don't. Sometimes you need a few hours outside yourself to bring life back into perspective.

Happy 2018.


Requiem for a Turkey

Nov. 22, 2017

Seven years ago, as Thanksgiving loomed, my household was slowly unraveling. I was a single mother with two teenage sons, one of whom was experiencing the onset of serious mental illness. We had not shared with our friends and family anything about his condition. We hadn't really acknowledged it yet ourselves. In fact, my sons' father was unwilling to discuss it with me at all, citing only typical teen angst and a mother's over-reaction. And, as far as I could tell, my younger son was well-distracted by video games, 13-year-old girls, and new pimples. I had hoped he had not noticed the gradual disintegration of our home.

Only my immediate family knew that my 18-year-old son was seeking mental health treatment and that he'd been diagnosed with depression. That was the extent of it, and most people didn't even know that.

I was denying the obvious, determined that silent resolve was my only option.

And, because I usually hosted my parents for Thanksgiving, I first thought I'd just put on my game face and power through it. Only a few times a year I attempt a Martha-Stewart-Style meal, so I figured I needed to suck it up. But as we reached mid-November, it became clear that I was not cooking a turkey this year.

I remember agonizing over how to tell my parents I wasn't hosting Thanksgiving Dinner. At no point did I recognize that what I really feared sharing was far more intense than the thought of thawing and stuffing a 12-pound Butterball.

Instead, I convinced them (and myself) that I wanted to do something for others on Thanksgiving rather than host the traditional, gluttonous holiday meal. I expressed disdain for our society's disgusting obsession with the "wrong" message, even dipping my toe into the Pilgrims-Natives historical perspective and claiming revenge for our American Indian ancestors.

Frankly, I was off the rails with rejection about hosting a classic Thanksgiving. I researched local organizations that offered service opportunities for the day and opted for Meals on Wheels. Under the veil of social consciousness, I pitched the idea to my parents.

They weren't thrilled, but they agreed. My mom offered to help me make plans to "give back" for Thanksgiving. Funny, I don't even remember telling my sons about this. I suppose it didn't rile them one way or another or I'd remember, right? In hindsight, my suspicions are that my older son was so deep in the throes of his illness by then that he wasn't able to care, and my younger son was so traumatized by the daily uncertainty of his family life, that he wasn't able to care either.

My only recollection is that I stressed out about telling my parents that I wasn't cooking a turkey.

As all the planning for holiday humanitarianism was playing out, the symptoms of my son's illness were becoming more obvious and harder to ignore. Yet, somehow, I did just that. His volatile moods had become an expectation rather than a surprise. His swings between angry accusations and weepy apologies were now the norm.

Each day, driving home from the school where I taught and where my younger son attended, we avoided discussions about his older brother. He didn't ask any questions and I didn't offer any answers. It was as if we had made an unspoken pact of distraction and denial. Instead, we silently savored the steady, predictable hum of the engine as we traveled the 25-minute commute back home, never acknowledging the reality and unpredictability of what may be waiting for us there.

Thanksgiving Day went off without a hitch at first. We used two cars between the five of us and distributed hot meals to grateful individuals living in seclusion for various reasons. Some were elderly, some ill. All of them were alone and deeply appreciative of our offering.

I remember thinking, "This is really good for the boys to experience. I'm so glad we're doing this. They need to see what outreach looks like. They need to be involved in caring for those in need of support, those who really need help."

I never once realized that we, too, fit in that category.

Once we'd delivered all the dinners, it was time for us to seek out our own hot meal. I had imagined we'd go to a Chinese restaurant. In my mind, that would be the perfect outright objection to the holiday nonsense that I'd claimed had inspired me to skip all turkey prep this year.

We piled into one car and began our search for the perfect Anti-Thanksgiving respite. The Chinese restaurants that I had in mind were all - surprisingly - closed.

Somehow in my planning, I'd failed to actually call them to check. I had believed completely in my fantasy that our local Chinese restaurant owners would ignore their new home country's holiday and remain open to serve revolutionary families like ours.

So we drove up and down the highway in search of a restaurant that was open. My sons were hungry and so was my dad. I bit my nails nervously, scanning both sides of the street for someplace with lights on. The first time we circled, my dad had spotted a diner serving a "Traditional Turkey Meal". I immediately opposed the idea - citing my determination to rebel this year. As we made our second and third pass by Said Diner, the growling from my companions grew louder.

I finally relented.

We slid into a booth at our neighborhood diner less than one mile from my house. And, despite my strong objection, most of our party of five chose from the menu the Traditional Turkey Meal.

There's a lot to give thanks for these days, seven years later: my sons, my parents, my husband of three years. But, I really can't get into that right now.

I've got a turkey to cook.

Etched Deep: A Place Where Art Reclaims Lives

Aug. 4, 2017

There is a place downtown where creativity inspires dreams in those who had long ago stopped dreaming. Where vision reignites ambition in those who'd long since given up. Where praise encourages the ignored and trust empowers the doubted. 

There is a place downtown where Hope is etched deep.

Ken greets us at the door. He's happy to see us again but sorry that he can't remember our names. He says we do look familiar. He just isn't so good with names anymore because of all the ECT. He laughs nervously like he's convincing himself that this is somehow funny. He doesn't know what projects we're doing tonight, but he knows they'll be good.

Pharoah comes in and puts his crumpled grocery bag on the table--it isn't filled with groceries, it's filled with notebooks. Removing each one reverently, he stacks them, then lays a hand down on the top one as if to swear an oath. Quietly, he asks if we'd like to hear a poem. If we do, he'll need a minute to find one that is appropriate for all audiences, one that doesn't have curse words and that doesn't require yelling.

And Nate arrives to drop off his hand drawn flyers advertising his debut art show coming up next month. He shuffles on the balls of his feet, nodding proudly when he learns his show will be the most well-attended one to date. He tells us of his girlfriend Sheila and how she's had Lyme Disease. He's very pleased to meet us and repeats our names again as if to memorize them before he disappears out into the city.

We sit down and we each pick up a tile. Yellow or pink. We pick up our carving tools and begin to create our own unique designs. Anything we want to imagine. We are told we can do whatever we think of as long as we carve deep. Get down below the color surface so it sticks when they fire the tile. So it stays. Just carve it in. Dig down deep. Dream hard.

Ken and Pharoah, Nate and Sheila know how to dig deep. And they have remembered how to dream and to imagine and to create right here. Their freedom to hope was etched deep into them when they first stepped inside this place.

Yes, we know Poverty and Homelessness lurk just outside that door. And we see Mental illness and Addiction hovering there too. But Ken and Pharoah, Nate and Sheila don't get distracted by that gloom. 

Their Hope, like ours, is etched deep.

Still Hope

July 26, 2017

It's been seven years since
the Wave of my son's illness first crashed over him.
Seven years since I realized he needed something
that neither he nor I could see nor taste, smell nor hear, touch nor feel.
Seven years since I tried to find the boy
who'd disappeared in Darkness
and smother out his Pain. And Sadness.

But Sadness swallowed him whole.

It's been more than four years since
my son went to Prison.
More than four years since he decided,
from the backseat of a Police Car,
to finally accept his Diagnosis.
More than four years since
I finally received the Call
and he stopped running
Four years since
I finally knew where he would sleep that night
and I felt Relief. And Sadness.

Sadness swallowed me whole.

It's been over a year since
my son left Prison.
Over a year since he came out the other side
and began to face the world of Recovery,
discovering it is a world of constant motion.
Like treading water,
Recovery expects constant Movement,
constant Effort, constant Work,
Recovery nags, never satisfied.
The journey of Recovery is always that.
A journey with no Destination.

It's been more than a year and
we are both Still just treading water.

It's been more than a month since
I left my teaching job
More than a month since
I began this new career
to Advocate and Support people
living with mental illness and their families
People like my son. And people like me.

And the work we do brings me joy.

But also, sadness.

Sadness that I can't solve all the Problems.
Sadness that there are not enough Resources
and not enough Hours and not enough Days
and not enough willing and capable People
to do this Work.
All this Work.
Not enough. Never enough.

So yes, Sadness.

But with the Sadness,
also Hope.

Also Hope.

Lessons in Lifeguarding

June 25, 2017

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a lifeguard. Since my best friend and I both had been competitive swimmers for years and swam on our high school team, it seemed a natural fit to work as lifeguards once we were old enough.

The spring of our sophomore year, we enrolled in a lifeguarding course and attended the weekly classes, eager to sport those classic red swimsuits and mirrored sunglasses and twirl those whistles by summer. My friend was a better swimmer than I was, but I was a better student. Much like in school, the written content of the course came easily to me. I studied the lifeguarding terms, memorized the pictures, and sailed through the written test. My friend, however, barely passed it. You may wonder why I mention this, but trust me, there's a reason. In any event, we both advanced into the final portion of the certification process: the pool test.

This is the part of my story that has, in the past, left me, let's just say a bit disgruntled. But today is different, because today, I have recognized the incalculable value of what happened next.

Before I continue with my story, here's a little Lifeguarding 101. When someone is drowning, the victim is either "passive" or "active" based on their condition as the lifeguard approaches. A passive victim would be one who is face down in the water, unconscious. Obviously, the immediate concern is that their breathing is compromised. A lifeguard is taught to approach this victim promptly, turn them over to their back so they have air, and swim them to safety. Then, of course, resuscitation would be next, but typically there is at least one other person to help you with that. On the other hand, an active victim, although alert and awake, is actually (in my experience) more challenging to save because, well, because they are "active." They see you and want your help, but they may panic and resist your assistance despite the fact that they need you to save their life.

When saving an active drowning victim, you have to take extra care of your own safety in order to adequately save them. You may have to approach them and then back up again, gather yourself, and then reapproach cautiously, trying a slightly different method. You have to remember, that in trying to survive, the active drowning victim may, in fact, react in a way that pulls you down, drowning you both.

So our pool test involved one of the instructors portraying the victim and the other one wielding the clipboard and pencil, assessing the student lifeguard's actions during the "save". The five of us in the class lined up at the shallow end. The "victim" jumped into the deep end. I was last in line feeling a little bit nervous.

You've got this. You know this. You learned this. You have prepared in every possible way. 

As I watched each of my classmates approach their test victim, I checked off in my head the steps required according to the handbook that I'd memorized. Each student ahead of me, including my best friend, was successful in saving their test victim. Then finally, it was my turn. The victim assumed passive status, as he had every single other time, only this time, as I swam into the deep end to retrieve him, he flipped him over and began thrashing wildly.

Active victim. Here we go. You know what to do.

I backed away from him, treading water all the while, and considered what to do next. I spoke to him as I'd learned to do, assuring him that I was there to help. I reapproached but he thrashed even more. Again and again, he flailed and fought me as I tried to save him. With all the force of his 6'2" frame, he resisted my every advance. I exhausted every method I knew from the handbook. I attempted everything I had learned to do. I don't remember how many times I tried to save that active drowning victim. Maybe five. Maybe ten. I don't know. I just know that I never could do it.

So I failed.

I was the only one in the class who got an active victim and the only one who failed. I felt humiliated, angry, and resentful, especially of my friend, who hadn't studied that handbook like I had. She didn't know what I knew. I was the one who knew how to be a lifeguard. I'd done everything right.

And yet, she would be a lifeguard that summer without me.

It took years before I finally became a certified lifeguard. Determined to prove (to myself) that I was worthy of the job title, I took the course again in college and that time I passed it. I even went on to receive the Water Safety Instructor certificate, qualifying me to teach the Lifeguarding course, though I never did.

I only worked as a lifeguard for one summer. I got a great tan, had a lot of fun and even saved one child from drowning. It was a valuable experience, but I never yearned to do it again. Not until recently anyway.

After 25 years as a classroom teacher, I am lifeguarding again. Sort of.

Today I work for a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting, educating and advocating for people living with serious mental health conditions and for their loved ones. So, in a way, I am a lifeguard again. Luckily, there is a team of us. I'm not out there in the water alone.

Always the eager student, I am researching and memorizing all the content I can get my hands on to help me learn my new role. Sometimes our "saves" are easier than others. And although I'm new to the work and have so much to learn, it feels like I am doing what I am meant to do.

But, so far, I've been unable to save the one person I want to save the most, my own son.

If you've been reading this blog a while, you know that over the last several years, in lots of different ways, I've been trying to save my son. There are times when he has allowed me to approach him, hold his hand and float with him for a while, guiding him closer to safety. But he's never let me help him all the way there. He's resisted and I've had to back up, gather myself, and consider another way to reach him. And there have been times that I've feared I may drown, too.

But don't worry. I'm not giving up. (You should know that about me by now.) If it takes me the rest of my life, I will never stop trying to save my son and swim him to safety.

"Be the Feather"

"I don't know if we each have a destiny or if we're just floating around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time."    -Forrest Gump

April 10, 2017

Recently, a good friend of mine mentioned an important, yet sometimes overlooked, symbol from the Robert Zemeckis film, Forrest Gump (Paramount Pictures, 1994.) After reminding me of the notable image from the movie, she simply said, "Be the feather." And while I'd seen Forrest Gump hundreds of times and could quote scenes verbatim...

"Run, Forrest... run!"

"Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away."

"I'm not a smart man, Jenny, but I know what love is."

...I'd never really stopped to consider the impact that feather has on the overall message of the story. Not until my friend told me to "be the feather."

My friend's wise words were inspired by the possibility of a career change for me. A big one. After twenty-five years as a classroom teacher -- spending the last sixteen years at the same school-- I faced the possibility of leaving for a new position completely outside of public education: Director of Advocacy and Education at NAMI Delaware.

And while I knew my skill set was right for the role, the idea of venturing off the career path I'd been on for a quarter of a century caused me to second guess myself. I worried that the families at my school would be upset. I worried that my colleagues just wouldn't understand. I worried ...well, let's just say I worried and leave it there.

How I wish I was the kind of person who can find something to do and just keep doing that thing until they do it really really well. And then just keep doing it really well again and again and over again. And be happy doing it.

But I'm not that kind of person.

So when I learned I may be able to spin my part-time passion for mental health advocacy into a full time profession at a local non-profit I loved where I'd volunteered for years, I knew I had to go for it. I couldn't possibly pass up the chance at applying, right? It was a long shot that I'd actually get the job, but it couldn't hurt to try...

As the weeks stretched into months, interview after interview...I became more and more convinced that I wanted this job. That I was perfect for it. It was at this final step in the interview process that my friend reminded me of Forrest Gump's feather when I had said to her, "What do I do if I don't get the job?" And then I'd followed up, more panicked, with "But what do I do if I DO get it?"

I had always believed my destiny was to be a teacher. My parents had identified the bossy-pants take-charge attitude in me at a young age and fostered it saying that I was a "natural" teacher. When I went to college, it was never a question of what I would be. Rather, it was a question of what I would teach.

But now, twenty-five years later, I was considering a job that did not involve seeing students' faces every day. A job outside of a classroom.

That thought caused a little tickle of worry to float around inside my mind, float around like a feather. Yes, we're back at the feather again.

Not often am I driven to write poetry, but, in this case, poetry seems the only suitable medium in which to express my sense of wonder at all that has transpired in the last few months.

A feather floats along
looping, lifting, lingering
as if to smile

gently cascades downward,
softly settling into 
newness again

Inspiring hope 
and possibility 

Thank you, to my dear friend, for reminding me to be the feather. Like Forrest Gump, I believe it's both accidental-like and destiny happening together. Maybe the breeze takes us where we're supposed to go, but we decide where, when and if we will land.

I will begin my new position of Director of Advocacy and Education at NAMI Delaware this spring. I'll just be the feather.

Bidding Farewell to a Bad Year

Grandpa Bob with his first great-grandchild, Emma Grace.

December 31, 2016

Tonight, on this last night of 2016, one of the worst years I can recall, I'm thinking of my grandpa.

He was a gem.

Grandpa Bob was a cross between Jimmy Stewart and Mr. Rogers: a lanky-limbed World War II vet from Arkansas City, Kansas who always wore his shirt tucked in, usually with a cardigan sweater, and who always ate his french fries with a fork.

Grandpa oozed manners, gentility, and goodness. He was one of a kind. I miss him.

Another thing about Grandpa Bob is that he always addressed you by name. "Well, now, Peter... [insert Jimmy Stewart pause] ...how are you?" Or, "Now, say there, Annie... [insert JS pause again] you sure do look purdy as a picture."

And as he aged, he may have used the names of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren interchangeably, but he always addressed them by name. It was his way. He was polite to the core.

A few years before Grandpa Bob passed away, our family did something unusual. We visited a homeless shelter. I'd like to say that this kind of goodwill gesture was typical for our Leave It to Beaver family, but if I did, I'd be lying. We, like most middle class suburban families, wrapped ourselves up in gift giving and receiving for each other without much thought about how we could make someone else's holidays any better. But, that holiday season back in 2006, we decided to do something unusual.We decided to lead a holiday sing-along at a homeless shelter downtown.

My two school-aged sons, my dad, my younger brother and his wife, Grandpa Bob - who was then about 80 - and I drove to a part of town we didn't know well.  Everyone was a little nervous; everyone except Grandpa Bob. Oblivious to our hesitation, he just smiled his Mr. Rogers-warm smile to each resident as they cautiously entered the room.

We gathered around the piano where my mom plucked out old standards like "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". Gradually, the residents joined in with us, reluctant at first, but eventually with smiles. I don't know how long we sang in that big, dark room, but I remember looking around at those strangers' faces and thinking that it may just be getting a little bit brighter in here.

When it was finally time to go, Grandpa Bob, turned to an older gentlemen who was seated by the piano. "Stanley," Grandpa said to the homeless man, "have a better year."

We still don't know if his name was really Stanley. And didn't wait around to find out. We hustled out to our car at a pretty good clip.

Have a better year? Of course, he should have better year. It'd be hard to have a worse year.

With the very best of intentions, Grandpa Bob wished Stanley a happy new year. And, although Stanley and perhaps his fellow residents may have misinterpreted Grandpa's intentions, I know what he really meant. I hope you do, too.

So, tonight, on New Year's Eve 2016, I bid this lousy year farewell just like Grandpa Bob would have:

May your 2017 be filled to the brim with Jimmy Stewart pauses, Mr. Rogers smiles, approximate first names and french fries with a fork.

Have a better year.

Twelve Days Post-Election

On the first day post-election I faced reality: 
Trump just won the presidency.

On the second day post-election I faced reality: 
Hillary conceded 
'cuz Trump just won the presidency.

On the third day post-election I faced reality:  
She got more votes 
but she still conceded
'cuz Trump won the presidency.

On the fourth day post-election I faced reality: 
Riots 'cross the country 
‘cuz she got more votes. 
She still conceded 
and Trump won the presidency.

On the fifth day post-election I faced reality: 
BAN-NON? Dear Lord! 
Riots 'cross the country, 
‘cuz she got more votes.
She still conceded 
and Trump won the presidency.

On the sixth day post-election I faced reality: 
Immigrants feel threatened.
BAN-NON? Dear Lord! 
Riots 'cross the country, 
‘cuz she got more votes.
She still conceded 
and Trump won the presidency.

On the seventh day post-election I faced reality: 
Hate crimes are increasing.
Immigrants feel threatened.
BAN-NON? Dear Lord! 
Riots 'cross the country, 
‘cuz she got more votes.
She still conceded 
and Trump won the presidency.

On the eighth day post-election I faced reality: 
They say to “just get over it.”
Hate crimes are increasing.
Immigrants feel threatened.
BAN-NON? Dear Lord! 
Riots 'cross the country, 
‘cuz she got more votes.
She still conceded 
and Trump won the presidency.

On the ninth day post-election I faced reality: 
It's time to call my therapist.
I cannot “just get over it.”
Hate crimes are increasing.
Immigrants feel threatened.
BAN-NON? Dear Lord! 
Riots 'cross the country, 
‘cuz she got more votes.
She still conceded 
and Trump won the presidency.

On the tenth day post-election I faced reality:
Trump U settled its lawsuit.
I’m glad I called my therapist.
I cannot “just get over it.”
Hate crimes are increasing.
Immigrants feel threatened.
BAN-NON? Dear Lord! 
Riots 'cross the country, 
‘cuz she got more votes.
She still conceded 
and Trump won the presidency.

On the eleventh day post-election I faced reality:
Pence got booed on Broadway.
Trump U settled its lawsuit.
I’m glad I called my therapist.
I will not “just get over it.”
Hate crimes are increasing.
Immigrants feel threatened.
BAN-NON? Dear Lord! 
Riots 'cross the country, 
‘cuz she got more votes.
She still conceded 
and Trump won the presidency.

On the twelfth day post-election I faced reality:
I won't give up my country...
Pence got booed on Broadway.
Trump U settled its lawsuit.
I’m glad I called my therapist.
I will not “just get over it.”
Hate crimes are increasing.
Immigrants feel threatened.
BAN-NON? Dear Lord! 
Riots 'cross the country, 
‘cuz she got more votes.
She still conceded 
and Trump won the presidency.

 at Hillary Rally in Philly

A Promising Conversation of Hope

September 17, 2016

The other night, at my request, my friend Diane graciously hosted a casual get together in her home. There were four moms and one dad there, as well as one university student and one high school student. The goal of the evening was to have an an informal dialogue and build awareness about Sandy Hook Promise's mission and no-cost violence prevention programs. Meaningful conversations like ours were happening all over the country this week as Promise Leaders talked to people in their communities about overcoming feelings of helplessness when it comes to preventing gun violence. We were all talking about hope.

I began the evening with the story of how I became involved with Sandy Hook Promise:

Up until a year ago, I hadn't heard of Sandy Hook Promise. I had, of course, heard about the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. That event was life-changing for me. I didn't know any of the innocent victims or their families. No, but it shook me to the core because when I heard about that troubled, 20-year-old young man, armed with multiple weapons, entering an elementary school building and taking the lives of 20 first graders and 6 adult employees before turning the gun on himself, I had to face a hard reality: that shooter, that troubled 20-year-old young man reminded me of my own son.

Until that day in 2012, I had shielded myself from the truth. I couldn't possibly fathom the idea that my first born child was that troubled. Because if I'd faced that thought, I would have also had to admit that I had failed him.

My son spiraled into mental illness after graduating high school and despite my attempts at getting him to seek treatment, he walked out my front door on December 31, 2010, refusing to admit he needed help. So when that shooting happened in December 2012, and I learned about the shooter's past, I couldn't deny reality any longer.

Days after the Sandy Hook shooting, I began to write a blog. I began to tell my story. My son's story. Our family's story. 

Fast-forward three years. A lot had changed in our family's story, but not much had changed in our country's. In our family's story, my son had struggled with unemployment, homelessness, addiction, and criminal activity. Eventually, he ended up behind bars, sentenced to a mandatory minimum of three years. In our country's story, unfortunately, not much had changed when it came to mass shootings. Though America was hopeful that the Sandy Hook tragedy would at least lead to better gun laws, mass shootings were still happening frequently and Americans were becoming numb to the nightly news stories of innocent lives lost and families forever broken.

On August 26, 2015, Allison Parker, a TV news reporter and her cameraman, Adam Ward, were shot and killed on live television. Andy Parker, Allison's father, swore on national TV that he would do "whatever it takes" to end gun violence. I offered my condolences to Mr. Parker in an open letter. to him I posted on my blog. I echoed his commitment to ending gun violence, but I also noted that our country's problem wasn't just about guns. It was about mental health. And it was about stigma. And it was about health care. It wasn't just about access to weapons.

Mr. Parker never responded to my letter. But Nicole Hockley did.

Nicole is the mother of Dylan Hockley, one of the 20 first graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. Nicole had read my open letter to Mr. Parker on my blog. And I believe she also scrolled back and read through entries I'd written spanning all the way to December 2012. She must have read the first post, the one where I talked about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary and compared myself to the mother of the shooter. Despite that, Nicole reached out to me and wanted to talk, mother to mother.

She thanked me for writing my blog and sharing it with the world. And, this mother who'd lost her six-year-old child to a senseless act of gun violence, had the incredible grace to express her sympathy to me because I was another grieving mother. Though I hadn't lost my son by death, I had most certainly lost my son.

Nicole told me she believed we shared the same goals, the same viewpoints. She said she thought we should work together somehow. She told me about an organization she had co-founded called Sandy Hook Promise.

And now, here I am tonight, a year later, telling you about this incredible organization and its mission to prevent preventable acts of violence so no one else has to suffer such senseless loss.

Our hopeful conversation continued with a short video featuring Promise Leaders in action. Then we turned to specific details about Sandy Hook Promise's programs. Each of Diane's guests shared their concerns about gun violence in our community and across our country. We discussed the climates of local schools and universities, and the two student guests spoke up, as well. The high schooler shared examples of witnesses social isolation first-hand, while the university student told us her plans to start a Students Against Gun Violence club on campus. The parent-guests asked me questions about how they can bring SHP to their children's schools and what other measures they could take to become involved with Sandy Hook Promise.

Despite my emotional exhaustion, I felt myself smiling as I got into my car to head home. The promise of hope just does that to me.

A Quiet, Steady Hum: The Background Noise of a Mother's Fear

June 26, 2016

I recently read Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale, a wonderfully rich novel about two sisters in France during World War II. They each, in their own way, become heroes. While I don't have a sister, I could definitely relate to another strong theme of this book, the sacrifices of motherhood.

One part struck me as especially significant:

"The sound of his voice reminds me that I am a mother and mothers don't have the luxury of falling apart in front of their children, even when they are afraid, even when their children are adults."

While I have absolutely no experience struggling with the hardships of war, I do know a little bit about being a mother and being afraid. And I agree. We "don't have the luxury of falling apart in front of our children..."

These past few months have been challenging in our home. The newness of my 24-year-old son being released from prison has worn off. The "settling in" period has faded. And now we are faced with the "getting on with living" part of things.

And it hasn't been easy for him. He's had trouble finding consistent work and he's had trouble readjusting to daily life outside prison. He sacrificed so much and changed so much of himself just to survive almost three years behind bars, but it seems that the man he had to become when he was inside isn't the man he wants to be now that he's outside.

As his mother, it's so frustrating to see him frustrated. And I think that's what he is. Frustrated. He's definitely grateful, sure, because he's not in prison anymore. And he's more balanced, yes, because he's being treated with more effective medication. But he's still, from what I see, frustrated.

And, as his mother, I'm afraid. It's not the same kind of fear I used to have. It's not the kind of fear I had when he was unmedicated, when he was irrational and potentially dangerous. No, this fear is muffled, hushed. It's a quiet, steady hum, a muted background noise, swimming gently just below the surface of my mind. It's always there but I try not to hear it. I try to block it out or maybe even accept it as the new normal.

When I do acknowledge its existence, I ask myself what it is I'm afraid of.

I'm afraid of what happens next. I'm afraid of what may happen and of what may not. I'm afraid of unfulfilled potential, of dreams deferred. And I am afraid I may not see that son I once knew again. I am afraid he may fear this, too.

But, I'm his mother, and although I am afraid, I can't show it because I "don't have the luxury of falling apart..."

It May Hurt a Little

I'm the one in the center front, wearing the fluorescent green shirt
and blue hat, focusing on not feeling the pain.

April 17, 2016

My husband is a runner. Not the few-miles-on-the-weekend runner. No, he's a serious runner. In fact, he's on his way to a big race right now. He'll be running in his first Boston Marathon tomorrow, despite a nuisance injury that brought his training to a screeching halt last month.  He's going to run Boston anyway, knowing he probably won't run his best time, and, frankly, knowing he'll be running through pain for 26.2 miles.

"It'll hurt a little, yeah, but it'll be worth it," he shrugs with a grin as he loads up his car this morning. He's heading north to do something he's dreamed of since he was in high school.  Finally, he'll get to experience the Boston Marathon.

I wasn't thrilled about his decision to go at first. I urged him to consult a doctor who then sent him to a physical therapist. He was told his condition wasn't serious, just uncomfortable and could be corrected with lots of strength training and stretching. He was given the "go ahead" so I stopped my objections. Plus, I knew he couldn't be talked out of it, anyway. For him, quitting isn't an option. Lance Armstrong said, "Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever." That is how my husband lives every day.

It is one of the many things I love about him. And it's one of the many ways I aspire to be more like him.

My husband who never quits, even if it means running 26.2 miles in pain.

As a kid, I was a competitive swimmer. But finding pool time as a working adult wasn't easy, so in my thirties, I tried to teach myself to run. It started out as mostly walking with a little running, but eventually, I was running the whole way. I even ran some 5K races and discovered that I almost liked it...or, more honestly, I didn't completely hate it.

For my fortieth birthday, I trained for a short distance triathlon. I survived it and found that I was almost enjoying myself. Almost. Then this past fall, for my forty-fifth birthday, I trained and finished a half marathon. And now, I'm training for another one.

Running for me isn't bliss. It isn't escape. It isn't exhilarating. Despite my husband's ever-so-patient encouragement over the years and promises of the possibility of a "runner's high," I still don't like running. I only do it because it feels good AFTER I'm finished. It's complete drudgery while I'm actually doing it.

But I must admit, that for my mental health, running is good for me. I suffer from bipolar II, which is primarily depression, but includes sporadic episodes of hypomania, as well. When I'm feeling especially blue, running is not something I feel like doing. I'd rather crawl into bed under the covers, turn down the lights, and settle into the darkness until it passes over me. I'd rather quit.

"Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever."

Depression pain doesn't feel temporary. If I feel myself slipping into the dark, the weight crushing me down and pulling me away from everyone and everything that matters, the last thing I want to do is go for a run. But I try to remember that running may hurt a little, but it'll be worth it.  I'll feel better if I can just get through it.

"Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever."

My husband knows that his 26.2 mile race tomorrow will likely hurt a little, but he isn't going to quit. I want to be more like him. A man who isn't afraid of a little pain. A man who is determined to finish what he starts. A man who sees pain as something to get through not to fear.

I may not love running. I may not even like it most days...but I'm not going to quit it.

Confessions of a Part-Time Mom

April 2, 2016

There are a few good reasons why I haven't posted here in a while. First, I spent the last two weeks of January in Miami with seven other national Sandy Hook Promise presenters. We brought the message of "Start with Hello" to all of Miami-Dade county high schools. It was quite an experience. I'll write more on that soon.

Then, as soon as I returned home from Miami, I shifted into high gear preparing for the high school musical I directed, "Beauty and the Beast," which ran the last weekend in February.  I was out nearly every evening and weekends, too. And my husband built the set so he was with me a lot of the time. While I'm thrilled with how the production went, I'm glad it's over. It was exhausting.

As soon as I flipped the calendar to March, I could completely exhale. I was finally able to slow down. It's been nice and not so nice having more free time lately. Because now that I'm home more, I notice what I hadn't taken time to notice before. Not really...

I notice my son. I mean, I really notice him now.

Not just with a quick, casual chat in the kitchen or a polite exchange in the hallway. No, I'm really seeing him now.

And don't get me wrong...I am SO. GLAD. HE'S HOME...it's just that...

I'm uneasy even typing this...

It's just that It's hard to watch him sometimes. To see him and realize what he's going through. I knew it would take time to readjust once he got out. They say coming home from prison is like a soldier coming home from war. And I knew that. And I understand that.

But still.

It's just so hard to see it firsthand. In real time.

I'm being so selfish to make this post about me and not him. It's not fair at all. He's doing everything right. He's seeing a therapist weekly. Taking his medicine. Going to work.

So why do I not make this post about that?

Well, I guess because this blog is me: Still Hopeful Mom. It's a place for me to tell you about our struggles through my eyes. And my eyes are seeing struggles these days. A lot of struggles.

I know he's not satisfied yet. I know he wants more out of his life. And I know that he will get there. But it's so hard to watch when your child wants something out of reach. I just want to grab it for him. And I can't.

I think the last few months were important for me. They were legitimate commitments to Sandy Hook Promise and to my students at school, but I also think on some level they were opportunities for me to escape for a while. To not have to stand by and watch the daily frustrations my son faces.

Because watching my adult son slowly re-acclimate to society after nearly three years in prison is excruciatingly painful. Some days I'm not so sure I can do it.

But then again, I'm Still Hopeful...and more importantly, so is he.

Not Tonight

January 13, 2016

Tonight I saved a man's life. I didn't mean to. It just happened. I was heading home on the interstate and veering to the right to take my exit. But something stopped me.

A man stopped me.

He walked out in front of me. He raised his hands in surrender, sat down, and then lay down, arms and legs outstretched.

As soon as I realized what was happening I laid on my horn hoping he'd somehow snap back into reality and get up again. He didn't. In fact, he didn't move at all.

When I realized this was not an accident and he was not getting up, I threw my car in park, leaving only about one car length from his feet. I hit my hazard lights and called 911.

At the same time, a young man pulled past him and parked a car length beyond his head; he got out and raised his phone to his ear, no doubt, calling 911 as well.

After being put on hold, I finally reached a dispatcher who assured me that police and ambulance were on the way. She advised me to stay safely inside my car until they arrived.

She advised me to leave the man lying there waiting to die.

I didn't wait in my car. Neither did two other concerned drivers. The line of traffic had stalled briefly before resuming at break neck speed beside us. One woman stopped ahead and to the right of the young man I previously mentioned. She got out and grabbed a blanket from her trunk. She draped it over the man still splayed out on the ground. The other women parked to the left of the man. She got out and started talking to him. She seemed to have some medical training.

The four of us, strangers who shared one moment of potential horror together, waited in virtual silence for the sirens to arrive. While we waited, we had come to the conclusion that the man had some sort of psychological issues, possibly delusions. He had quietly asked to be taken to our local mental health hospital but otherwise had said nothing. His eyes rolled back into his head yet his entire body remained alarmingly still.

The police finally arrived. Finally.

I thought, "Thank god they're here. This man needs help." How foolish I was to think they would be there to offer care.

No, it seemed they were there to clear the traffic.

Once they'd determined he was likely a homeless man, possibly drunk, they frisked him, rolled him over harshly and threw handcuffs on him.

The man. Never. Moved.

He was the same man who I had watched try to kill himself only moments before.

And they handcuffed him.

I couldn't keep quiet. "Did he resist arrest?" I asked.

"No, but he smelled like alcohol. He's homeless and has mental issues so he's probably dangerous."

I bit down on my lip hard. "But did he resist? Why did you have to cuff him?" I said quietly, more to myself than to the threatening state trooper. I certainly didn't want cuffs on my own wrists.

I could kick myself now. I should have spoken up louder. I know the others around me were thinking the same thing I was: Why did you have to do that?

I caught eyes with one of the other Good Samaritans and she looked shocked too. Why would they not talk to him first? Why did they have to assume, though they had NO reason to, that he was dangerous?

The man had just decided he wanted to end his life moments before. He was already broken.

Why break him further?

The police officers dragged the man by the arms to one of their cruisers. He never twitched, never flinched, he barely breathed. But he was cuffed, because he might be dangerous.

Tonight I watched a man try to kill himself. And because I was watching the road, I didn't kill him.

But tonight I saw that same man get treated like he was less than human.

He won't die tonight.

Not tonight.

But what about tomorrow?

Renewed for Another Season, the Best One Yet

December 31, 2015

My husband and I enjoy binge-watching highly-rated TV series that we somehow missed. We've watched the entire series of 24 as well as Breaking Bad years past their air-dates. I love to analyze the story arcs, the characters, basically the writing itself, and so does my husband, whose first career was as a writer in Hollywood.

Our current series addiction is The West Wing and the writing of Aaron Sorkin.

I've decided two things based on my exposure to this incredible show. First, Jed Bartlett really SHOULD be our president. I love him. Seriously, he would be perfect, but that's a blog post for another time.

And second, our family's life could be re-written as a TV series.

No, really. Think about it. If you've ever watched an entire television series from start to finish, you'll see what I mean.

Season One of a TV Show: That's when you get to know the characters, learn about the setting, and you basically discover the main conflict, right?

So in our family, Season One would be all about my son's mental health crises and eventual diagnosis of bipolar disorder. There would be mis-diagnoses at first. Denial, misunderstandings, but by the season finale, you know the deal. Bipolar Disorder is the antagonist.

Second and Third Seasons of a TV Show: These are when the characters each take on their own mini-conflicts and the audience learns more about each character and how each subplot fits into the larger dynamic of the show itself.

So in our family, Season Two would be all about my older son's denial and self-medicating behaviors, my younger son's own denial (like his rebound to high-achieving academics despite his brother's struggles), and my own diagnosis and treatment issues. Season Three would be when my husband Tom comes into our lives, eventually moving in with us and his own story meshes into each of ours. Remember, the main conflict is still my older son's illness and how we are all affected by it.

Fourth Season of a TV Show: Here's where the television studios really start to take chances. The show has grown in popularity and they want to try some new things. Maybe some actors are demanding bigger paychecks or they're threatening to leave. Those who stay may decide they want to direct some episodes or they may suddenly appear with producer credits. Some are even killed off and replaced by different characters the audience must get to know. The writing takes some turns in the fourth season. There are flashback episodes, dream sequence episodes and maybe trips to Hawaii where the leads get lost in a cave. Some of these episodes may really suck. The characters may suffer and the audience may fear the series is doomed. And it may well be. Season Four is just about the time when risk becomes a player in the show's vitality. Sometimes the risks are worth it, and other times they lead to cancellation.

So in our family, Season Four has to be the Incarceration of my Son. Nothing more to say here. It's at least a season's worth of total setting shift, focus shift, attention shift. Risk. Pain. Fear. Conflict. You name it. We had it.

If you're lucky enough to make it past Season Four, there is a Season Five, maybe Season Six, and possibly even a Season Seven. These final seasons share one main thread: the search for resolution of the main conflict. Sometimes there are wild twists and turns, but you know if you've been on board since Season One, you're not giving up now. You're determined to see it through. As each character's subplots are stitched back up, the bigger conflict is slowly sewn together too. Season Finale: Resolution at last.

So in our family, our last few seasons would, of course, involve the resolving of our subplots: my younger son decides on a college and heads off to the freshman dorms; Tom and I return to Las Vegas for the third time and finally get married while we're there; and, after two and a half years, my older son is released from prison, committed to making a better life for himself.

I haven't actually seen the final seasons of The West Wing yet. 

And I haven't seen our series finale either. 

But there is good news on both fronts.

I trust in the writing of Aaron Sorkin. He crafts stories we can all understand. We feel inspired because, simply, his words capture the truth.

And I trust in the determination of my son. He envisions better days ahead. He is inspired to resolve his conflict. To take control of the writing; to take it away from bipolar disorder and bring it back to his eager hands so he may discover his own truth in the next season of his life.