mental health, psychology, social media

You just never know what someone is going through in life…

Today’s post is about suicide. If you think that will trigger you, please move on to the next Internet station.

Over the twenty years I’ve been in Bill’s life, he’s repeatedly told me stories about his friends from high school, and how they helped him through that time in his life. Bill owes his career, in part, to his high school days. At his mother’s insistence, Bill joined Army JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps), and flourished as a cadet. He had grown up without consistent access to his father, so being in the JROTC helped him immensely, by providing him with positive male role models.

Unfortunately, Ex was also enrolled in JROTC, and that was how and where she and Bill met. She later tracked Bill down when he was in Germany the first time, and managed to marry him. We all know how that turned out. 😉 But in spite of the connection with Ex, JROTC was also a place where Bill met some great kids, most of them guys who were a lot of fun. His friend Mark, who committed suicide last month, was among them.

I wrote about Mark last month, even though I never had the chance to meet him. I was the one who told Bill about Mark’s death, as another one of Bill’s friends, who also “friended” me on Facebook, had announced it. Bill was really shocked by the news. He watched as his friends posted their reactions to Mark’s death, and their memories of knowing him. I felt sad for Mark’s friends and family members. Even though a number of them admitted that Mark had “demons”, they all had wonderful things to write about him. And even though they weren’t necessarily people who knew each other, they all shared in the commonality of knowing and loving this man who had violently left life on his own terms.

Sometimes, these things tend to happen in threes. When I initially wrote about Mark, I included some commentary about my cousin’s wife, who, in April, passed away of cancer. In another post, I also included some words about a guy I knew when I was in high school, who also had cancer and died on March 31st, having just turned 50 years old. I will be 50 next month, and I have been worrying a bit about my own health, lately. I have significant issues seeing doctors. So, although I’m sure I will need to pay a visit to one at some point, I’m having some trouble doing it. What makes things harder is when I hear or read about someone who commits suicide. Especially when they are presumably young and healthy. It makes me wonder what the point is of seeing doctors.

This morning, I’m realizing that the three deaths I thought had comprised that old adage of deaths happening in threes, actually weren’t that at all. Because since I wrote that post in mid April, two more people who have somehow affected my life have committed suicide. One of the people I’m referring to is country star, Naomi Judd, who abruptly ended her life on April 30th. Naomi’s death was tragic and shocking on many levels, but at least she’d lived a pretty full life. She didn’t live as long as she was physically able to, but she did live until an age at which a lot of people die for reasons other than suicide.

I wrote about Naomi, although I’m sure I’m not as affected by her passing as some people have been. I enjoy her music, and as a fellow human being who has experienced depression and anxiety, I have great empathy for the suffering she must have experienced to cause her to make such a decision. But this morning, I read an article on about a man who spent some of Naomi’s last hours with her as they sat next to each other on a 90 minute connecting flight to Chicago. Strickland explained that Naomi “never met a stranger” and would talk to anyone.

At first, the man she sat next to on her last plane ride hadn’t realized she was famous. But they got to talking during that short flight, and Naomi had made a real impression on him. When he got news of Naomi’s death, he decided to reach out to her equally famous family via email. To my great surprise, I was feeling a bit choked up as I read about the man’s kind message to Naomi’s widower, Larry Strickland, who had been so concerned about Naomi flying alone. According to the article:

“It’s a small comfort, I’m sure, but my life seems a lot richer after meeting your wife, however briefly,” continued the note, which visibly sparked an emotional response from Strickland onstage. 

“Obviously, I didn’t know Naomi at all, but I can tell you she spoke highly and warmly of you, and the life you shared together,” read the heartfelt email, which Strickland recited while choking up. “Rest assured she loved you and had no qualms about telling me, a stranger on a plane, that was so.”

The man concluded his letter by telling Strickland about the “measure and impact” his late wife left on him during the brief time they spent together, and Strickland told the audience the message provided “great, great pleasure and comfort to me.”

What a great gift this stranger gave to Larry Strickland. It’s a reminder to everyone that famous people are no different than non-famous people. I’ve thought about Naomi a lot, lately, but I am so glad that her husband was able to be comforted by a stranger’s loving message to him.

Now comes the part of this post when I write about third suicide that has sort of affected me on some level. It’s a convoluted story, so bear with me, and keep in mind that this is simply from my perspective. Other people, I’m sure, have different perspectives. This is just my version of the truth.

Some readers– especially those who remember my original OH blog– might recall that in 2019, I abruptly moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress. I made that decision for a couple of reasons. I had actually wanted to move the blog for awhile, since Blogger isn’t the most professional or functional blogging platform out there. But I put off moving the blog, because I knew it would be inconvenient, and I’d have to start over from scratch. I finally moved it when it became clear that the old blog was becoming a liability. I had some readers who weren’t friendly to me, and they were stirring up trouble. I needed the extra security and functionality that WordPress offers.

I was legitimately shaken by the actions of this woman I had perceived was “stalking” me, and was in cahoots with our former landlady. I’ll call her “Jodi”, though that’s nowhere close to her real name. She had lived in our previous house immediately before us. She and her husband had left ex landlady’s house in September 2014, which was about halfway through their stint in Germany. Since they were still living in the community, and back then, I was sharing my travel blog in the local Facebook groups, Jodi started following me. Because the travel blog was also on Blogger, it was easy for her to find my rawer original OH blog. She decided to follow that blog, too, which probably led her to make some erroneous negative assumptions about me, and my character.

Perhaps because she was feeling curious, or maybe even a little guilty about moving out of ex landlady’s house, Jodi was regularly monitoring my blogs, even though she’d left Germany in 2016, or so. Occasionally, she would leave me “friendly” comments, always with a fake name. At first, the comments were nice, but then when I started having trouble with former landlady, she would leave comments that were shaming or chastising. One time, she asked me to edit something I had written that she was uncomfortable with, since she claimed it had wrongly implicated her. Basically, I had wondered why she and her husband had moved out of that house halfway through their tour in Germany. She had told us that she thought of the ex landlady and her husband as parents to her, and claimed they were wonderful people. And yet, she had to move. The story she told me was one that didn’t ring true to me, based on my experiences with the Army. Jodi insisted that she’d told us the truth… but I still had my doubts. I wasn’t born yesterday.

Jodi was “buddies” with our ex landlady, and in February 2019, a few months after Bill and I had vacated our previous house, she sent me a private Facebook message that really upset me. I had already blocked her on social media before I even saw the message, so when I finally discovered it on my Facebook page for this blog, she showed up as “Facebook User”. In that post, she chastised me for a new fiction blog I was starting. She’d read my initial posts on the fiction blog and mistakenly believed that I was going to write a “hatchet piece” about our former landlady’s daughter. She wrote that ex landlady’s daughter read my blog regularly and would be offended. Then she implied that I’m “crazy” and begged me not to “harass” the ex landlady by writing about her.

Now… the fact is, I have NEVER met our ex landlady’s daughters. Putting it lightly, ex landlady and I definitely weren’t friends, and I don’t think she would have condescended to introduce me to her family members, other than her husband. I didn’t even know her daughters’ names, and had not so much as been in their presence. I’m sure Jodi wouldn’t have believed me if I told her that, because I think she was wholly convinced that I’m a mean, unhinged, person who lies. You can say a lot of things about me, but I am generally a truthful person. I’ve written a lot of negative stuff about Ex, for instance, but now that I corroborate my posts with actual evidence, you can see where my posts are coming from. I may express things that are “ugly” and negative, but by and large, I am truthful.

One time, Bill met one of the landlady’s daughters, and he was impressed by her. He said she was very bright and articulate. She had a physical condition that made her different, but Bill did not mention this condition to me. The first paragraphs of my now deleted short story included a description of a character that had a physical condition similar to that of the ex landlady’s daughter’s. Naturally, “Jodi” read it, assumed that I was going to write a mean spirited story about her friend, and decided to pre-emptively stop me before I caused offense. However, writing a mean story about this woman I’d never even met hadn’t been my plan at all, and she hadn’t given me a chance to develop the character to what I had envisioned. I also didn’t know that Jodi had been sharing my blog with our ex landlady’s daughter, and probably ex landlady herself. It pissed me off that she was so concerned about her privacy, but had no regard for mine, even though my blog is, admittedly, public.

In her message to me, Jodi wrote I didn’t have the right to create a fiction story inspired by people in my life (from where did she think authors get their inspirations?) She implied that I’m a “hack”, and “begged” me not to drag her friends through the proverbial mud, even though they had treated us unfairly, and she had even corroborated some of my complaints in comments left on my blog (most of which she later deleted). Jodi’s false accusations, erroneous assumptions, and continuous meddling in what was my business, really made me angry with her. I felt violated and misunderstood by someone I had met in person only twice. It caused a lot of psychological angst, and I was very pissed. Some of my earliest posts in this rehashed blog spell that out.

It never seemed to occur to Jodi that I’m not a total shit. I would not have written a snarky story on the level that she was assuming. Even though I did write a few snarky fiction story posts in my original blog that had characters inspired by real people who bugged me, some of my characters are neutral, or even positive. The character she’d clued in on was going to be one of those, and was not actually based on ex landlady’s daughter. Above all, it was clearly FICTION, and very few people even bother to read my fiction.

The vast majority of readers of my blog aren’t at all connected with the military. Even if I had written a mean fiction story about people we both knew, most people reading wouldn’t be any the wiser. I figured that if my fiction bothered Jodi and her friends, they could exercise some self-discipline and find something else to read on another site. But, because we were planning to sue the ex landlady for illegally withholding our deposit, I decided to delete the fiction blog after only a couple of days. I had intended to restart it at some point, but just couldn’t find the heart to do it after Jodi’s meddling. Her actions really did some damage to me, although I’m sure she never thought about that, and likely didn’t even care. She didn’t seem to have much respect for me, and clearly expressed that she didn’t think of me as a “real” writer. I had also noticed some hits coming from places where she had family. I had a feeling some of them were watching my blog, too, and that made me feel kind of paranoid, even though most of what I write should have been of little to no concern to them.

For the past few years, I’ve had Jodi blocked on Facebook. I didn’t look her up, especially since I knew that she was very concerned about her privacy on the Internet. I really just wanted to forget about the whole incident involving my blog, as well as her seemingly shady behavior involving our previous house. However, since moving back to the States, Jodi had gotten a job with Bill’s company, and he’d noticed her on the company’s email list. A few days ago, he told me that she was no longer on the roster. She also wasn’t listed as a government employee.

That seemed strange to me, since I knew she was very much into her career and she seemed to be on an upward trajectory. But I just chalked it up to her moving on. I never looked her up online, because I knew she kept a low profile. I just wanted to forget about her, and how she’d made me feel. But, sometimes I get into trouble when I get bored. Sunday afternoon, I finally did a cursory search of Jodi’s name. I didn’t expect to find anything. Imagine my surprise when I immediately saw an obituary for her, along with a video of her memorial service, which took place several months ago.

I called Bill over and said, “I just found out why Jodi is no longer listed as an employee at your company.”

Bill was curious, so I showed him her obituary, which listed her at just 34 years of age. The obituary made it sound like she’d had a very full and vibrant life. Naturally, we were curious about what happened. I unblocked Jodi’s Facebook profile, and eventually found out that she, too, had committed suicide.

Let me just say this, in case anyone who knows “Jodi” happens to be reading this. I am truly very sorry for your loss. No matter what I might have thought of Jodi and her actions toward me, I know there were people in her life who loved her very much and are devastated by her decision to commit suicide. I am especially sorry for her two children, who are still so young. Losing their mother at such a young age will affect them forever. All I can do is offer a sincere prayer that they will have as much peace as they can possibly have, under these circumstances.

After I discovered Jodi’s cause of death, I realized that she and I had some things in common besides the Army, living in Germany, and having had the same landlady. When I was growing up, I was a horse enthusiast, like Jodi was. I had a horse and worked at a barn to help pay for his upkeep. Jodi was a barrel racer, but my discipline was hunt seat. I spent my high school years showing my horse and going to fox hunts and competitive trail rides. I gave up my horse when I went to college, although I would have loved to have brought him with me to school. To this day, I miss having horses in my life.

Jodi was an animal lover, as I am. She had a cute little dachshund, whom I met when Bill and I toured the house we rented after her. I am a hound lover too, although mine have mostly been beagles.

I like to travel, just as she did. That’s why we moved back to Germany. I had remembered Germany as a beautiful place, and wanted to come back here to live for a year or two. I never thought we’d be here for as long as we have. I swear, when Bill and I met Jodi and ex landlady in 2014, all we were looking for was a place to live after a very rough summer. We weren’t trying to make trouble for anyone. But then, writers who don’t sometimes stir up controversy are often pretty boring and unsuccessful. No matter what Jodi thought of what I do, I am a writer. And yes, I have actually been paid to write.

Just like Jodi, I have also struggled with mental health issues. I was treated for depression and anxiety for several years, and I have felt suicidal at times, although obviously I haven’t yet committed to the idea. I haven’t been on antidepressants since my early 30s, but there are times when I think I would be better off with some chemical assistance for my moods. But again… I don’t like visiting doctors.

Jodi’s loved ones have posted many pictures of her doing things she loved, living in beautiful places, and reaching for her goals. I haven’t got the foggiest idea why she decided that suicide was an appropriate solution for her problems. I won’t even try to guess. I just feel compassion for those left behind… and yes, that includes ex landlady and her daughter, whom I know were her friends. I hope Jodi has found peace. I wish we could have had a mature discussion, so that the whole mess and the misunderstandings with my blog could have been avoided.

You just never know what’s going on in someone’s life. I had no idea that Jodi was troubled in any way. She seemed like a person who had everything going for her. Clearly, some things weren’t going right, in spite of her facade. Wherever she is now, I hope she’s out of pain.

book reviews, healthcare

Repost: A review of The Empty Room: Understanding Sibling Loss by Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn…

This book review was posted March 2, 2016. I read Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn’s book about her brother, Ted, after writing a nostalgic post about David Vetter, the so-called “boy in the plastic bubble”. It appears here as/is.

Imagine watching your only sibling spend eight years kept in a room he could never leave.  Then, after those eight years have passed and your brother is on the brink of adulthood, he dies.  That’s what author Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn witnessed when she was growing up. 

Elizabeth’s brother, Ted DeVita, had gotten very sick when he was just nine years old.  The son of an esteemed oncologist who worked at Bethesda’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), Ted was eating dinner when his father noticed huge bruises all over Ted’s body.  Because he was a cancer doctor, Dr. DeVita knew his son was very sick.  After six year old Elizabeth had gone to bed, Dr. and Mrs. DeVita took Ted to the hospital where they discovered that he had aplastic anemia.  It was September 6, 1972.  I was just a baby– not even three months old at the time.  Although Ted DeVita had the country’s best doctors and state of the art technology at his disposal, medical researchers still had a lot to learn about aplastic anemia.

Ted wasn’t immediately put into “The Room”, the laminar airflow room where he spent the last eight years of his short life.  His parents brought him home from the hospital on September 8, 1972.  Five days later, he was back… this time, to stay.  From age nine on, no one touched Ted without gloves.  He didn’t leave the room unless he was wearing a “spacesuit” that protected him from germs.  Everything in his room had to be sterilized, including his food. 

Ted DeVita was born in October 1962, completely normal.  He lived nine years of a relatively normal life.  Then, he was relegated to a sterile hospital room that he was not allowed to leave.  He was forced to endure IVs, endless pills, blood transfusions, bad hospital food, and never being able to touch anyone.  Ted DeVita was reportedly a very bright boy who would “put people through their paces”.  He was difficult to the professionals tasked with his care, yet eventually developed into a sensitive young man.  He was loved by most of the staff, other patients, and their families.  Unfortunately, because of who his father was, sometimes he was in the middle of political disputes within the hospital.  And, of course, because his situation was so extraordinary, sometimes the press invaded his privacy, too.

When Ted died in 1980, Elizabeth was just 14 years old.  Many people expressed how difficult his passing must have been for her parents.  Few people realized how hard the loss was for Elizabeth as Ted’s sister.  In her book, 2004’s The Empty Room: Understanding Sibling Loss, DeVita-Raeburn writes about what losing Ted was like for her.  She also interviewed many other people who lost siblings when they were very young and explores what that loss meant for them as they continued living.

I first learned about this book a few weeks ago, when I decided to blog about David Vetter, the Texas boy who was about my age and had lived in a plastic bubble.  I grew up hearing about Vetter in the news.  He was a year older than I was and had been in isolation since birth because he had a disease called SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency).  For some reason, I thought of him and did some research.  That’s when I read Ted DeVita’s story and learned about his sister’s book. 

Though I have three sisters who are alive and apparently well, I was interested in reading The Empty Room.  kind of knew someone in high school who had aplastic anemia.  Unlike Ted, he died within weeks of his diagnosis, also when he was a patient at NIH.  Also, my academic background as a public health social worker makes me interested in these types of books.  And, of course, as a child of the 1970s and 80s, I had seen The Boy In The Plastic Bubble, an unauthorized made for TV movie starring Diana Hyland, Robert Reed, and John Travolta.  That movie was loosely based on Ted’s and David’s stories, though neither of the families were ever consulted about or consented to the making of the film.  Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn’s comments about The Boy In The Plastic Bubble are also intriguing for those of us who have seen the film.

I wish DeVita-Raeburn had focused her book on her brother’s story.  On the other hand, after reading her book, I can see why she couldn’t do that.  Toward the end of the book, Elizabeth explains what it was like talking to her parents about her brother’s death.  It was extremely painful, especially for her mother.  As she interviewed her parents, Elizabeth learned the adult version of her brother’s story.  She also gained some insight into what her parents did to help her cope with Ted’s illness. 

Throughout the book, DeVita-Raeburn writes about how children who have lost a sibling learn to adjust.  Oftentimes, they are encouraged to forget about the lost sibling.  Sometimes they change aspects of themselves as if to reclaim some part of the lost brother or sister.  She writes about a sister who had been athletic before her brother’s death, but became even more so afterwards, as if she wanted to preserve that part of him.  She writes of another sister who had become a star student, almost as in tribute to her brother’s academic ability.

DeVita-Raeburn writes about the Kennedy family, which has been famously shrouded in tragedies as much as it has its dazzling politics.  Apparently, John F. Kennedy had not had political aspirations before his older brother, Joseph, died in a plane crash.  He had taken on his brother’s interest and went on to become our thirty-fifth president.  When JFK was assassinated, younger brother Bobby determined to make a run for the White House until he, too, was killed.  Youngest brother, Ted Kennedy, was also a politician.  He settled for being a senator.

I was fascinated by DeVita-Raeburn’s commentary on the Brandt twins, Raymond and Robert, who had been identical twins in a family with eleven children.  Their parents were German immigrants who were devout Lutherans. Robert and Raymond Brandt grew up in Ohio, dressed the same way, shared the same bed, and were always together.  When they were twenty years old, they took jobs working as linemen for the electric company.  Robert died in a freak accident and his brother was left to carry on.  DeVita-Raeburn met Mr. Brandt, who later started a support group for twins who had lost their twin sibling.  Her recounting of the Brandt brothers’ story is very compelling.  I wanted to find out more about the Brandt twins after reading about them in The Empty Room.

Apparently, a lot of women who have lost siblings, particularly if the sibling they lost was an only son, keep their maiden names when they marry.  I thought that was an interesting point, though nowadays, a lot of women keep their names anyway.  Personally, I was happy to take Bill’s name for many reasons, not the least of which it would mean no one would ever call me “genitalia” again.  If you know my real name, you may know why a few people called me that. 

Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn’s book, The Empty Room, is beautifully written and well-researched.  I appreciated her personal insight and research into the phenomenon of sibling loss, especially since it was a topic that hit so close to home for her.  The only editing glitch I noticed was when she referred to her brother’s “spacesuit” as a “Nassau” suit.  I think she meant NASA.  I also liked that at the end of the book, she included a reading list for those who wanted to learn more about what it’s like to lose a sibling.

I think this book is excellent reading for anyone who has lost a sibling, especially if they were children when the death occurred.  Aside from that, it’s also a great read for people who are public health social workers by training… or really, just anyone who finds these kinds of books interesting.  I realize that some people may find this book’s subject matter depressing.  I, for one, think reading The Empty Room made me wiser.  It also made me grateful for medical researchers.  Nowadays, no one stays in laminar airflow rooms or plastic bubbles for years.  Thank God for that.

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I think Arran is grieving…

The past three weeks have been strange as we’ve been getting used to losing Zane. I think they’ve been especially weird for Arran, who was not in attendance when we said goodbye to his buddy on August 31st. Arran saw us take an ailing Zane out of the house, and that was the last he saw of the dog who was his companion for 6.5 years. I think Arran knew Zane wasn’t feeling well, but he probably doesn’t understand that Zane won’t be coming home. Add to the fact that Arran was passed around a few times before he landed with us, and you have a dog who might wonder if he’s going to be “sent away”, too.

Last week, Arran started licking one of his paws to the point of rawness. Bill took him to see the vet, who cleaned the paw and put a bandage on him. We kept the bandage on for a few days. It was removed on Monday of this week. Meanwhile, Arran started licking his other leg. I’ve been giving him Betadine soaks to keep the areas clean and allow them to breathe. It’s hard, though, because he keeps licking and, short of forcing him to wear the “cone of shame”, there’s not much we can do to stop him that doesn’t involve using another bandage. The last one irritated his skin, leading to another raw spot, which he also licks. I’m not sure what brought on the licking, although I am starting to wonder if he’s suffering from anxiety.

Yesterday we were watching TV and Bill came home after having been away for a couple of days. I heard him come inside the house, but Arran didn’t react. Normally, he would have run downstairs to greet him, but he didn’t move from his spot. He looked sad and lethargic. I became alarmed and wondered if maybe he was losing his hearing or something. But then I rang the doorbell, and it was clear Arran heard it. That means he just ignored his favorite person’s homecoming.

Later, someone from a charity rang the bell, and Arran reacted to that. I noticed his mood brightened significantly as we ate dinnerm and realized that Arran must be grieving, too. Not that I’m surprised, or that this is a new phenomenon for me… I know dogs grieve. It’s just that the ones we’ve had in the past were not so obvious about it. Arran is more sensitive than our other dogs have been, which is really saying something. I think he really cherishes having a family and still worries about being passed to someone else. Adjustments seem to be harder for him than other dogs we’ve had. Bill was gone for a few days, so it was just him and me. He’s more Bill’s dog than mine. I wonder if he thought he was going to be sent away, too.

Usually, when we lose a dog, it’s about a month before I bring a new one home. This time, I think we’re going to wait awhile, unless fate intervenes. I would like to have another dog. I think it would cheer me up a bit. But… it’s not as easy to get a new dog in Germany as it is in the United States. Americans have a bad reputation for leaving their pets in Germany, so many shelters won’t let Americans adopt. We could get a dog from a neighboring country, and we may end up doing that. But traveling with pets is not as easy as traveling without them. I’d also like to do some more traveling.

Arran is getting older himself, and a new dog may be a big adjustment for him. I think he misses Zane and the routine we had, and he’s a little confused by the change in the “pack structure”. But I also think he will come to enjoy all of the attention we can give him now. He doesn’t have to share it with another dog. I’m afraid if we bring one home now, there will be fighting and chaos as they try to decide who is in charge. Zane didn’t care who was in charge, although when he was feeling well, he didn’t let Arran push him around. I don’t like dealing with dog fights.

There is one thing I really miss, though, that Zane used to do… I never thought I would miss this. Zane loved to burrow under the covers and snuggle up next to me. I think he must have been one of the puppies at the bottom of the heap when he was born. When I would change the sheets on the bed, he could not wait to jump under them. Sometimes, he couldn’t even wait until I was done putting the sheets on the bed, and I’d have to shoo him away. It wouldn’t be a minute after I made the bed until he was digging under the duvet to bury himself. It used to annoy me, but now I miss it. And I miss how he’d insist on my holding the covers up for him so he could jump under them and situate himself just so, right next to me. Then he’d get overheated, and climb out, dog spreading on the blanket at the foot of the bed, just like his old buddy MacGregor used to do. Arran doesn’t do this at all. He sleeps between our heads, and more often than not, his ass is in my face.

Sigh… I really hate this transition. I love to rescue dogs, but hate the bereavement followed by the breaking in period. There’s a mixture of trepidation, anxiety, and exhilaration that comes with getting a new dog that is tough on everyone. Arran is not as easygoing as Zane was. But sometimes, fate has a way of working these things out… We’ll see what happens.