An Obituary’s Message to Call your Mother

Mom, This one's for you!

Mom, This one’s for you!

Earlier this year, my local daily newspaper changed the placement of the obituaries moving them to page two. I’ve often wondered how many other newspaper readers are like me, keenly interested in the obituaries. I also question how my gradual transition from reading the comics as a teenager to devouring the death notices as a boomer occurred. Once, an elderly relative humorously confided that he read the obituaries right away to make sure he wasn’t among those listed. Of course, in case you miss one, you can simply go online and Google the person’s name and date of death. Often you can even post condolences to the family or send flowers if you like. Facebook can be another great way to be alerted to the passing of a friend or former co-worker when someone posts their obituary online. Living in a society that is in a constant state of flux geographically necessitates that we stay in touch electronically.

But what’s so important about an obituary anyway? In explanation, caring about people makes you realize what a vital part that death plays in the game of life. Commemorating those who have gone before us is an integral rite of passage, and being there for those left behind is of paramount importance. Yet, to be there, you have to be informed, thus the relevance of the obituary.

An obituary can tell you a lot about a deceased individual, even when you think you already know them. Then there are times, when you aren’t acquainted, but you are startled by the details of their death and human curiosity and compassion kick in. For instance, when someone young dies, even when they are a total stranger, most people probably lament this untimely passing in a deeper way. We sympathize, because the death of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, and your heart aches for those suffering this loss.CassieCasket

There is death by suicide, too. An obituary doesn’t usually reveal this heartbreaking detail. However, sometimes you can read between the lines to decipher that for some reason an individual could no longer bear to be part of this world. Other tragic deaths include accidents caused by alcohol consumption or those drug-related, of which there are far too many lately. As with a violent murder, the facts are frequently disclosed in a related news story. Another heart grabber is when several members of a family die together.

No one is spared the pain of burying loved ones, that’s why it’s necessary to be there for those left behind. I learned this valuable lesson in my youth, when a teenage friend committed suicide, and I failed her dear mother who was like a second mother to me. In the midst of this crisis, I disappeared. I didn’t visit the funeral home or call, because I was terrified of dealing with death. It wasn’t death itself that frightened me, rather the fear of saying or doing something wrong, or of not being strong. My misconception was that I wouldn’t be missed, but I was.

Growing up through my own funeral home tour of duty I have come to realize that you remember the faces there, and you are acutely aware of the absence of those who don’t come. It’s a defining moment like serious illness, when you realize who your true friends are. After all, the Bible says we should, “…mourn with those who mourn.” When I do pay my last respects now, I no longer feel overwhelmed by the need to have eloquent words of comfort. I simply say how very sorry I am, and offer a hug, remembering how grateful I have been for those consoling embraces in days past.

I wish I could give Robert Downey Jr., my condolences and a big hug. Sadly, the famous actor lost his 80-year-old mother on Sept. 22, 2014. A few days later, he courageously posted a beautiful obituary that he had written about her on his official Facebook page. He candidly included that his mom’s broken career dreams were caused by alcoholism, something she successfully overcame. He even credits a 2004 phone call from her as the catalyst for his own sobriety today.

Obituaries like Downey Jr.s’ are a startling reminder to the living to appreciate our tragically flawed loved ones. He closes it with the poignant words, “If anyone out there has a mother, and she is not perfect, please call her and say you love her anyway…”

Oh, how I wish I could, but the only obituary I’ve ever written was my mother’s. Still, maybe it’s not too late for you to take the actor’s wise advice and call yours.

Robert Downey Jr.s Mom

 

Click on the photo of Robert Downey Jr.s’ mother, Elsie, to read his touching obituary.

 

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Surviving Suicide: From a Mental Hospital to the Emmys

Suicide Prevention LogoSeptember is National Suicide Prevention Month. For me, suicide awareness is personal, because I have lost family members and friends, and almost died myself by suicide as a troubled teenager.

That’s why in August, while folks were freely expressing their opinions about the tragic death of actor Robin Williams, the inappropriate comments made it painfully obvious that our nation still understands little about the complex reasons behind suicide. As in Mr. Williams’ case, suicide is most frequently accompanied by a mental health issue like depression. This lack of education has been my catalyst for spending almost twenty years championing for suicide prevention.

Sharing my story publicly began while I was working as a reporter and producer at Lima’s WTLW TV 44 in the 1990s. My former supervisor, Ginger Stache, a talented journalist, who is now with Joyce Meyer Ministries, decided to create awareness about suicide by producing a documentary, and I agreed to be interviewed for the project.

To explain, as a depressed teen living in a dysfunctional environment in the early seventies, a near fatal suicide attempt landed me in an Intensive Care Unit hovering between life and death. Following that, much of my senior year of high school was spent in Toledo State Mental Hospital. After a couple other serious suicide attempts, and intermittent hospitalizations, a psychiatrist in charge of my case said I would probably die by suicide or in a mental institution.

Instead of fulfilling this dire prophecy, almost three decades ago, I found emotional and spiritual healing through faith, counseling, and living life one day at a time. Depression and shame about the stigma of mental illness gave way to the gradual understanding that my testimony offered hope to others still hurting. Like taking part in Ginger Stache’s documentary, “Before You Say Good-bye,” which aired nationwide and in Europe. She was nominated for two regional Emmys for the half-hour film.

When Ginger invited me to attend the 1999 black-tie Emmy Awards banquet to be held in an opulent ballroom of an historic Cleveland hotel, I felt like Cinderella. There was only one problem, being a single mom on my meager journalist’s budget didn’t allow for ball gowns.

When I found a dark green crepe formal at 85 percent off, I could hardly believe my good fortune. It was my size and fit perfectly. I handed over my hard-earned $20.00 bill and triumphantly left the mall with the dress. In the days that followed, I tried to be grateful, despite the fact that I didn’t care much for the nondescript gown.

A couple of my female colleagues were also attending the celebration. While they were excitedly describing their formals and accessories, I couldn’t help but envy them. They weren’t wicked stepsisters, simply women who had more disposable income.

Cinderella in VelvetOne day, another producer, Sheri Ketner noticed that I wasn’t thrilled with my dress. While I was expounding the virtues of finding such a bargain, Sheri candidly asked, “But, you don’t like it, do you?”

My countenance must have visibly fallen, as I dejectedly answered, “No.” Then I saw a determined look on my compassionate co-worker’s face. A couple days later, Sheri brought a large cardboard box into the TV station and handed it to me. Inside was a breathtaking burgundy velvet gown with a beaded neckline, and a skirt made of countless yards of translucent tulle over the velvet.

At the bottom of the box were matching velvet heels. Instantly I was saddened, since shoes rarely fit my narrow size 9 feet. However, I was amazed to see that the shoes were marked, “9N.” Sheri, smiled with satisfaction, and told me, the outfit was “borrowed,” and would have to be returned after the Emmys.

Larry & Christina Ginger Stache didn’t win a regional Emmy that night, nor did I get my prince. But a few years later on the evening of June 8, 2002, Ginger’s documentary about smuggling Bibles into China garnered the coveted prize. At the same time, I was marrying my handsome husband, who is a public school administrator in a candlelight ceremony.

Battling depression is still an occasional struggle, but if I would have died as a teenager, I wouldn’t be here to share this Cinderella tale. Tragically, every forty seconds someone dies by suicide and 800,000 people die annually according to a September 2014 Newsweek article. Before you say, “Good-bye,” please call the 24 hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-TALK, or seek professional counseling. After all, the life you save may be your own.

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