Acceptance and Society

A week before Thanksgiving was Mattie’s 5th Angelversary.

Sometimes it still feels like yesterday. I can still hear the words Mark spoke when he told me the news that my youngest child might never come home again.

I know people grieve differently when they lose a child, but when your child is missing you hang on to Hope. You hang on by your nails. Even when circumstantial evidence points the other way and indicates your child is dead.

When would any parent stop Hoping?

When would you accept your child’s death in your heart?

Well, for me, it was long after my mind logically accepted it. Almost 5 years longer.

Yet if your child a victim of suicide, the disappearance and death are suddenly different. People don’t seem to be as compassionate and understanding when someone loses a loved one by suicide; family and strangers alike.

In speaking with other parents who lost a child by suicide, it is hard to imagine family not attending a memorial service but it seems it is not uncommon.  Apparently football games, lunch or work are more important. The parents become pariahs; people to be avoided; people who are “over-emotional”.

Strangers are just as cruel when they say the child is ‘in a better place’, “they would find another way (to suicide)”, “it clears the gene pool”.  Seriously, these are words spoken or typed to parents who lost a child by suicide.

Do these people even understand how their actions or words are daggers to a parent’s heart?  How can a child be in a ‘better place’ than with a parent?  How can they believe the OLD myths that a person will find ‘another way’ when this has been disproved over and over again? How can someone be so callous as to imply your child was less than the rest of humanity?

So I cannot help but wonder; what would these people do if the same happened to them? How would they begin to deal with a child who has an illness or disability or attempted suicide? What would they do if that disabled child disappeared? When would they acknowledge their child was never to return?

Sometimes you have to walk in someone’s shoes to understand.

Some would call it ‘Karma’ – letting a person experience what they have caused.

Never, ever, ever would I want another parent experience the turmoil when a child is missing.  Never, ever, ever would I want another parent to suffer the loss of their child.                          Never, ever, ever would I want another family to lose a loved one.

– if it was solely for the purpose that they could understand the agony our family suffered; so they could appreciate the salt they rubbed in the wound.

Perhaps I am more sensitive now than I was before.

Perhaps having a child with a disability disappear and be presumed dead will do that to a person.

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My life stopped…

My life stopped when I lost my youngest child.

Looking back it was more than surreal. How does anyone acknowledge a nightmare that begins at dawn?  At 6:25 am I woke suddenly, distressed, anxious, actually sat ‘bolt upright’ in bed. I never thought people did that until it happened to me. I always thought it was a literary phrase.  “Bolt upright” and I knew my world was wrong and never would be normal again.  I got out of bed and checked on both my sons.  Neither were in their beds. Not unusual. I went downstairs and saw one son asleep on the couch.  This wasn’t reason for alarm.  The boys worked unusual hours and would fall asleep watching television or video games.

But Matthew was missing…

I checked my cell phone. He had a tendency to meet with friends late at night when they ended their work shift. He often stayed the night at their house.  But when this happened he knew to text me. He knew I worried.  Nothing was on my cellphone.  I didn’t have a message.  I tried calling his phone but got his voicemail.  The same, the second time.  I tried texting him.

I knew he would often stay at a friend’s place in San Francisco and go directly to class which started at 8 am.  So I sent him another text before I went to work. I was more than just anxious and relayed that to my husband. Something wasn’t right. My world wasn’t right.

I was busy at work but at lunch I tried to reach Matt again.  I knew when he was in class he would have his phone off but on his break he would respond.  Today he didn’t.  I called; I texted.  No response.  I was becoming upset.  This wasn’t Matthew. He always responded to me!

Then came the climax of the nightmare which suspended time.

Mark called me – he had been contacted through the Hercules police department that Matt’s car was found in San Francisco.  That was the message on his voicemail. He thought it was a parking ticket problem.   My heart fell out of my body. (I don’t think I found all of it yet)

I called Mark back and yelled, “No! No! No! Something terrible has happened! Find out what it is!”  In less than a minute Mark called back.

It was beyond terrible! It was the nightmare that wouldn’t ever end. Ever.

Mattie’s car was found at the Golden Gate Bridge parking lot and the officers think he jumped from the bridge. Oh No! Not Matt!  Don’t let this be real ! No! No! No! No!

I called David at home, my eldest son, to get information. The neighbor told him the police had been by the house, looking for Mark, as the registered owner of the car.  She had our work contacts and provided them to the officers. Which is how Mark was informed.

I walked into a co-worker’s office and shut the door. I told her what had potentially happened and she offered to drive me home. No, just cancel my patients for the day, I asked and I left.  I started calling Matt’s friends; had they heard from him? Did they know where he was? No and No.

When I arrived home I saw the devastation on David’s face,  unable to believe that his brother was gone. Forever. (How is this possible?) They had played video games less than 12 hours before.  He was on the stairs, crying, asking if this was real, and I had to say “yes”.

“Yes” – The worst word I ever spoke in my life. The acknowledgement that our lives would never be the same again. Ever.

I would spend the next few days in a daze. I called hospitals and coroners’ offices looking for Matthew or “John Doe”, since he didn’t have his ID with him. He left that in his car. I couldn’t sleep much and when I did lie down I kept my cell phone and house phone on my chest, just waiting for him to call.

How was this at all possible?

Well, Matthew had been diagnosed at age 12 with schizo-affective disorder. Schizophrenia with a mood disorder – in his case – depression.

So much happened since 1999 –  he had graduated  high school twice,  was working, and in school to learn how to heal others (which, if you know Matthew, was his calling).

Now, 5 years later, I feel like a day hasn’t passed.  The remembrance of the call we received is as clear as yesterday.  There isn’t a difference between the day we lost Matthew and today. The emotions are as raw and as near the surface today was they were in 2007.

Though Life continues on around me, there will always be a part of me that can never move forward.  Part of my heart that will remained anchored to November 15, 2007, where time with my child stopped.

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Vacations – A Reality Check

I have always found that the purpose of a vacation is to check in with what is important in life.  Getting away from the stress and drama of everyday life.

This vacation was no different.

This vacation reminded me that I need to remove myself more from electronics; television, telephones, email, social media.  I need to connect more in person with friends and loved ones; I need to visit with people in person. I need to write letters – receiving a letter via post is more appreciated than one might think. I need to play cards, whether cribbage or poker, more often.

This vacation reminded me, again, that worldly goods are only important when they help improve the lives of others.  I was reminded that money is only important when it creates a world that enhances a person’s ability to change, for the better, and then change the world, for the better, as a result.

This vacation re-affirmed that family and friends are both enduring and fleeting, and each have an incredible impact on our lives.  We love them all very deeply; those we have known over 40 years and those we have known for so much less.

I believe as we get older we learn to ‘see’ people differently and respect and appreciate their influence on the world around us. Life-long connections can be made in less than 5 minutes with certain people.

This vacation reminds me I need to be more tolerant and try to understand other people’s perspectives on life, because they won’t always coincide with mine.  I haven’t walked in their shoes for those years they have lived.   I haven’t experienced their day-to-day life and how much that might influence their perspectives.  I need to keep my mind so much more open.

I do know my vacation lets me make a difference.  I have helped save an animal’s life; improve a child’s health; made an impact on understanding a culture that is thousands of years old; help a family have food on their table for the next month.  All in just a two week period.

Vacation?  To me it is the reaffirming that enjoying life is most important; that money is only a means to make others happier and healthier, and sharing vacations with loved ones is a joy to appreciate forever.

This vacation reminds of the vacation we were planning for Matthew’s graduation from National Holistic Institute.  We were taking Matt and his brother to Belize in 2008 to see what impact they could make on another culture or the world.  Matthew would be able to see what his options could be and the influence he would yield.

Yet that vacation never occurred.  Matthew disappeared 3 months before graduation.

This is the actual reality check.

The impact of losing Matthew will not be lost upon the world.  We may not see or speak with family or friends frequently, because we carry their thoughts and love with us every day.  They always influence our thoughts. We will continue to make an effect on the world because of the impact of Matthew on our lives and eventually the world will come to understand how much it misses the difference that Matthew would have made himself.

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Matthew’s Morning

The day of  Matthew’s Life Celebration began cool and cloudy.  We left Richmond in a chartered bus, headed for the Golden Gate Bridge.  Specifically to Light Standard #97.  Why? We know a young man jumped from this location in the early morning of Thursday, November 15, 2007.  His body has never been recovered. Our son’s car was recovered in the south east parking lot that morning and the California Highway Patrol  began a search for the owner.

That search lead to our home, as the registered owners, and eventually to our work locations through a neighbor.  Much too late.  We found that Matthew left the house early that day and that he had previously searched the internet for directions to the Golden Gate Bridge.  He also searched to see if the suicide barriers for the bridge were in place.   They weren’t.

That day he wasn’t at school, actually hadn’t been there for a week. He had tried to contact friends over the previous days but was unsuccessful in making connection.    In searching his car we found a full set of clothing in the trunk, wet and reeking of oil, from a recent Bay Bridge oil freighter collision.  What happened is still unclear but there is the possibility that Matthew made a suicidal attempt on Monday, three days prior.

This day was special as it was not just the Celebration of Matthew’s Life, it was also the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge.  We began our process for this portion of the Celebration by obtaining a permit with the bridge district in July 2010 and it was granted as a First Amendment permit.  After a civil rights court challenge about permits in January 2012, the permit was no longer required if our group was less than 50 and, if over 50 people, a permit would not be allowed due to the bridge’s celebrations. We accepted these conditions.

Less than 2 weeks prior to our event we heard on the news the south-east parking lot would be closed.  This was where our group was to disembark and walk past the south tower to our destination.  We contacted the bridge district staff about this restriction and appealed to make an exceptation for our group since our request was 2 years old and originally accepted.  Staff brought our appeal to a meeting and in discussion with the bridge patrol and CHP, we were allowed drop-off and parking privileges for an hour.

We made our transit to the Golden Gate Bridge and arrived early. Unfortunately staff was unaware of our pending arrival but they accommodated us readily.  We were grateful there weren’t many pedestrians on the bridge.  Several of us encountered people that were curious of the groups carrying the multitude of roses.

I was walking a short way with Gloria, a woman who lost her son, also Matthew, when we were approached by a gentleman with a question. He said, “I know the bridge has an anniversary but why are so many people carrying roses?”  Gloria responded, “The roses are for a memorial for her son that she lost from the bridge.”  His response was, “I’m sorry.  I have lived in San Francisco all my life and I know the [bridge] district has done a lot to stop the suicides, but not enough.”   Gloria says, “Thank you, we have both lost our sons, our Matthews, on this bridge. “

I must mention this wonderful woman has never been on the bridge in her life and for the love of our sons, she walked past the south tower to light post 97 to toss a bouquet for her son.

Gloria couldn’t remain and returned to help with the shuttle of volunteers for the BridgeRail Foundation  “Whose Shoes?” event in the Crissy Amphitheater, but I will never forget her courage – for the love of her son and mine.

Until someone loses a loved one, a child, and follows in the steps their child walked to their death, they will never be able to imagine the strength it took this woman, on this day, to make this walk with us.

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