Suicide is not Painless

Suicide is not painless

                  Last August 11th, Robin Williams committed suicide. He left three adult children to cope with his death—heartbroken, without a choice.

                  On September 26, 1972, my father shot himself. It was my sister’s birthday. He sat on my old twin bed, in the bedroom my sister and I shared as children, and pulled the trigger on his twenty two rifle. Eleven days later he died, leaving three adult children grief-stricken.

                  There were other similarities—both men battled depression, anxiety and substance abuse. My father was diagnosed as a manic depressive when I was six years old. His disorder was never successfully managed, and every year he spent weeks in the hospital receiving shock treatments.

                  Both men loved to joke and laugh. When I told people about my father’s death, most of them said that they’d remember him with a big smile on his face. I remembered his smile too—but to me, the smile masked ongoing pain and sadness that he couldn’t shake no matter how many shock treatments he had, or how much alcohol he medicated himself with.

                  Suicide isn’t a normal death. The effects of a completed suicide are devastating on the family. As for me, I beat myself up about moving my family to California three years before he died. I thought that if I hadn’t moved away, maybe he’d still be alive. He loved my young children and maybe if they were around…

I wished my father had reached out to me the last time I talked to him on the phone. I wanted him back and I hated him for leaving me forever. I couldn’t stop the intrusive thoughts that flooded me night and day. Nothing gave me pleasure, and grim nightmares jerked me awake when I managed to fall asleep.

 After Robin Williams’ death, his son, Zak, told People magazine, “Often if I see something, or if I’m watching a film, I think, ‘Oh man, he would have appreciated this’ or ‘He would have gotten a laugh out of this.’” It was the same for me—the grief was always there. I’d see a sunrise and think that my father would have loved it, see men fishing on the lake and think how he would have loved to be there catching a bass.

You quickly find out that people don’t know what to say to the family after a suicide. My friends well meaning attempts to comfort me were awkward and brief. I didn’t blame them, but I felt ashamed, embarrassed, and alone. I didn’t even want to guess what they were thinking about my father—about my family—about me.

What helped were my sister and brother. We’d experienced the same horror and were locked in the same overwhelming despair. We talked, cried, laughed a little or just sat together. We were one in grief and I felt better being with them.  I hope Robin Williams’ children are as close as we were.

Suicide isn’t a normal death—it takes years to come to terms with it. Survivors suffer from PTSD symptoms as well as grief. Recurrent thoughts, distressing dreams, flashbacks, and anniversary reactions were part of my life for almost five years. I couldn’t concentrate, read or enjoy myself. And although I never had considered it before, I knew suicide was an option if things ever became too much.

Years later, I became a therapist. My education and training have allowed me to put my father’s suicide in perspective, and to help others going through what my brother, sister, and I did. My heart is with the children of Robin Williams on their difficult journey.  

For support groups and information:




No Boy Left Behind

What do you think of when you see a rainbow? When my grandchildren were young, they thought about leprechauns and the legendary pot of gold. Me? I think about Rainbow Services.

I've been with the San Pedro Agency for over twenty years--first as an intern collecting hours for my Marriage Family Therapist license, and later as a board member. We're part of a network of domestic violence agencies providing support, shelter, counseling and legal aid to victims dealing with domestic violence issues.

When I started at Rainbow, they were operating in a dilapidated four bedroom house that did it all--office, shelter and counseling center. Twenty years later the have two shelters and two office buildings. All four places are staffed with caring professionals who help the victims stabilize and recover from violent circumstances.

Our shelters are a safe place where victims can relax and share their experiences and fears with others. But, shelter life is often stressful for children who are traumatized and struggling to cope with the violence they've witnessed or experienced. They can have problems sleeping, regress, become irritable, aggressive, act tough and provoke fights.

For these reasons, most domestic violence shelters refuse to take in teenage boys--but Rainbow Services is different. Elizabeth Eastlund, our Clinical Director, told me, "At Rainbow, we come from a place of how can we help this family? And as far as serving teenage boys, we see them as part of the family and we want to serve everyone in the family who is at risk of continued abuse."

A few years ago, one of our Rainbow Volunteers, Judy Willis, worked with one of these boys, a fifteen year old, staying at the emergency shelter with his mother and two siblings.

Judy's a retired attorney who loves kids. She used to be "Barbie's lawyer when she worked at Mattel. One night a week, she helps the kids at the shelter with their homework, plays games with them, motivates them and helps them feel good about themselves.

This boy (let's call him Daniel) was a challenge. He'd witnessed violence first hand, had to leave his home, friends and change schools. He was old enough to worry about how his mother was going to support them--she's left a successful job to go into the shelter. School wasn't a priority for him, he had problems concentrating and his grades suffered.

Judy worked with Daniel one night a week and his grades began to improve. But not only did she volunteer at Rainbow, she was a volunteer at the College Center at his new high school. She kept an eye on him, helped him adjust and set goals for his future.

After two months, bolstered by Rainbow's help and support, Daniel's mother found another job. The family moved out of the shelter and into an apartment in the area.

Two years later, Daniel was a well liked, straight A student. His dream was to major in premed at a California university. Judy helped him identify appropriate colleges and she proudly told me, "He insisted in filling out every application himself. He received six scholarships and was admitted to a UC school. Daniel's thriving--almost finished with his second year and well on the way to a career in medical research."

Daniel is one of our success stories. His family, one of many who weathered storms and found the pot of gold at Rainbow Services.

Yes, You Need a Platform

Congratulations, you wrote a book! And, if you're like me, you realize that you don't have a platform. I should have been developing connections, establishing myself as an expert in the field, and figuring out how to connect with potential readers while I was writing The Peacocks of Palos Verdes.

The only exposure I'd ever had was a "My Turn" essay in the Daily Breeze about the peacock adventures I shared with my youngest grandson. At that time, I wasn't an expert on peafowl--no one knew my name. I wrote my peacock book because there wasn't even one book written about our local birds. I hadn't been telling the immediate world what I was writing because I thought someone might steal my idea and publish a peacock book before I did.

Of course, that didn't happen. Mine was the first peacock book in Palos Verdes, and I wanted to get it into the hands of peacock lovers' everywhere. I had no time to put together a platform, pardon the pun, I had to create one on the fly. It was easier than I thought and you can do it too.

The first step is identifying your audience. Face it, no matter how compelling your book is--it's not for everyone. I know that you want it to be, but trust me, it's not. You have to identify who your ideal readers are and zero in on them. You can't build a platform unless you know who you're talking to. A notable exception to this rule is when you write for children; then you pitch to the moms and grandmas. They're the ones who buy the books.

Here are some ways to build your platform:

Website and blog: Buy the URLs specific to you. I used and reserved for future use. They're professional and easy to find. You should set your website up to establish your credentials and promote your work. It's the perfect place to post your speaking schedule, upcoming interviews, and school visits. Blogging is up to you, but if you decide to blog, make sure you do it regularly.

Social Media: Social media makes it easy for you to communicate with your audience about your book and upcoming activities. If you refrain from posting crazy things--like a mug shot of your weird brother-in-law from his last arrest--Face Book humanizes you. It's a great place to share pictures of your school visits, book signings, and interviews. I post lots of peacock pictures and my "Friends" do too.

Events: Set up book readings and signings for yourself and participate in author fairs. Contact local elementary schools and offer to speak at career day and Read Across America day. Do this once, and you'll be asked back every year. Volunteer to speak every chance you get. Your mantra should be, "Why yes, of course." Events are a great way to establish name recognition and meet your potential fans.

Media: Subscribe to the local newspaper and introduce yourself to the editor. Make it a point to comment favorably on columns and cartoons that you like. Email the editor your suggestions for future columns, and make yourself available for interviews. Recently, I queried our local paper about writing an educational column on peacocks. The editor liked the idea, and my first column is coming out soon.

Remember, you can't build your platform overnight and it's never finished. It requires consistent effort on your part keeping it up to date. Sound daunting? Perhaps, but it's definitely worth the time, because once you establish a successful platform, you'll attract your personal audience and extend your network. That's how I became known as "the peacock lady."