Duggars, Reality TV

Appearances can be deceiving…

I hope you’ll indulge me one more Duggar related posting. It comes on the heels of yesterday’s post about young Spurgeon Seewald, whom many people in the Duggar Family News Facebook group think is “doomed” to live his whole life as a fundie Christian doormat for his grandfather, Jim Bob Duggar, not so affectionately known as “Boob” in some circles.

Today’s post is going in the opposite generational direction. I want to discuss Boob’s late father, Jimmy Lee (JL) Duggar. I’m going to refer to him as JL in this post, because that’s what Grandma Duggar called him.

As I was talking to Bill about four year old Spurgeon Seewald, and the people who think his future is “doomed” to fundie drudgery, I wondered out loud how this whole dynamic came to be in the first place. Jim Bob Duggar, after all, was raised in a God fearing Baptist church, but his mom only had two kids– Boob, and his sister, Deanna. Deanna had only one child, Amy, who is not at all like her fundie Christian cousins. And Boob and Deanna went to school; they weren’t homeschooled.

Jim Bob had a somewhat “normal” upbringing. What happened in Boob’s life to turn him into the narcissistic cretin he is today?

Suddenly, I remembered Boob’s father, JL, who died of brain cancer in February 2009. JL was featured on the original Duggar show just before he passed away. My memories are a little bit fuzzy, but a Reddit post explains that he was on the show for his birthday, which was February 3, 2009. He passed away on February 9, 2009. In other words– six days before this man’s death of brain cancer, he was trotted out for the cameras and a “birthday” celebration. He appears in the episode “Duggars on Ice” lying in bed, obviously very close to death, as well as another called “The Big Thaw”, in which the Duggars celebrate his birthday six days before he died. Two episodes later, his death was covered in an episode called “Duggars Say Goodbye”.

This is the clip in which the banana cake was served… It was filmed six days before Grandpa passed away.

I remember seeing that episode and thinking it was in incredibly poor taste. And I write this knowing that I’m not exactly known for being tasteful and classy myself. The Reddit author agrees that the way JL Duggar was treated before his death was pretty shitty. Here’s a screen shot of the post.

Here was JL Duggar, obviously very sick and frail. His son, Boob, apparently didn’t think very much of his father, who only had two kids instead of 19. JL was known as “fun loving”, and perhaps wasn’t a particularly strong church leader or patriarch. I wonder if someone in the church Boob went to made comments about JL that caused shame to Boob. Perhaps someone Boob admired disparaged his father to the point at which Boob was just fine in showing him off for the cameras, just days before his death. It kind of felt a bit like a “fuck you”, even though it was not really scripted that way. It was like, “Look, even though you weren’t a ‘godly’ father and I’m kind of ashamed of you, I’m going to show everyone– and I mean EVERYONE– how amazing a son I am by filming your exit from Earth for my reality show.”

Edited to add– I actually have the episode about JL’s death in my iTunes library. Gonna watch it now to refresh my memory.

I see Boob is picking out a casket for his father, saying that JL didn’t want anything “expensive” and would be fine in a pine box. Indeed… these were the years when the Duggars were constantly preaching about being thrifty. Buy used and save the difference… and there’s a scene involving food brought by neighbors, and a close up scene showing one of the youngest Duggar daughters picking her nose.

Charming screenshot of some kid! In another clip, a woman says, “I’d better not see this on TV.” So much for that!

I remember on one episode, which aired just before JL’s death, Jana made him some kind of banana dessert. JL was rolled out in an office chair, rather than a proper wheelchair. I highly doubt JL could enjoy the sweet confection made by his granddaughter, but it looked “good” on camera. I can’t find that clip anymore, and now I wonder if iTunes scrubs scenes, because I distinctly remember other clips that were controversial and somehow “disappeared” (ETA: I later found the clip, which is posted above, on Daily Motion). I also notice that at least one episode on iTunes is two minutes shorter than others from that season. Here are a few more comments from Reddit about JL’s last days…

As I was remembering this scene, I remembered my own father’s last days. I didn’t enjoy a harmonious relationship with my dad. I did, and still do, love him very much, but we had a lot of conflict in our relationship. I remember seeing him for the last time, and how heartbreaking it was. He was in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines. I remember hoping that his passing would be quick and dignified, and blessedly, it was.

A few days prior to my last visit with my dad, one of my sisters chose to send me a photograph of my father on his death bed. He was covered in an enormous CPAP mask and hooked up to machines and tubes. I remember being outraged that she sent the picture of him like that. I feel very sure that our mother would not have approved of it, and it was just a very manipulative, underhanded, disrespectful thing to do. Not only was it disrespectful to me, since I certainly didn’t need to see our dad on his death bed to know that it was time to come to Virginia and say goodbye, but it was also very disrespectful to HIM. I feel sure he would not have wanted anyone to take a picture of him in that shape and then send it in an email, where it could wind up in anyone’s possession. But my sister evidently felt that I “needed” a visual to drive home how serious the situation was. It really pissed me off (ETA: but mentioning this now doesn’t mean I’m STILL pissed off).

When that happened, I was very tempted to tell off my sister. But then I realized that if I told her off, it would make an already stressful situation much worse than it needed to be. So instead of telling her how I really felt at the time, I sent her a response that said something along the lines of, “Thank you for the update.” Then I wrote a scathing blog post, which I later deleted, because again– I didn’t want to create trouble, even though I felt justifiably pissed at the obvious emotional blackmail and completely unnecessary manipulative tactics she was, once again, employing. It was, yet again, another instance of someone being inconsiderate and disrespectful to me, while expecting me to accept that treatment without complaint. There must be something in my personality that makes people think this is alright to do. Then, when I stand up for myself, they treat me as if I’m the asshole.

And yet… as tacky, disrespectful, and distasteful as my sister’s choice to send me that picture of our dad on his death bed was, it was not nearly as awful as the undignified way JL Duggar was treated as his own death approached. I only hope he was even less conscious than he appeared to be in those last scenes of his life. Despite all the comments about how “wonderful” Grandpa was, in the end, it was all about the ratings and the money. And now, it seems like it’s all about maintaining control… as the Duggar children have all inevitably gotten much older and are wanting to live their own lives. We’re seeing that much of what was said in the early years of the Duggars on television was a lot of scripted lines. But then, that’s how it is in most families in which there is a narcissist at the helm. Everyone is trained to say and do the right things, or there will be hell to pay.

I know there are people out there– people within my family, former friends, former landlords, former employers and roommates and others– who don’t think highly of me. Many of them don’t like that I speak my mind– or “write my mind”, as it were. They would prefer that I didn’t remember, speak, or write about these things, because they are unpleasant and cast them in a bad light. I don’t go looking for information about what people think of me. I mostly assume that what people think of me is not my business, and looking for that information will only cause me pain. Moreover, I know that there are a lot of really great people in my life who can accept and love me for who I am and don’t expect a well-scripted “show”.

I guess the whole Duggar funeral dog and pony show kind of affected me on that level because it really felt so much like a big fake “show”. And while there’s no way I can know what kind of relationship JL and Jim Bob Duggar really had, what was presented on television did not feel very authentic. It reminded me of some of my own relationships, and how I’ve always been pressured to be someone I’m not for the sake of keeping up appearances.

It’s interesting how a discussion about four year old Spurgeon Seewald could lead me to think about JimBob Duggar’s late father, and then my own father. I still have a lot of baggage to unpack, I guess. It’s a wonder I have any friends, let alone an understanding husband. 🙂

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obits, true crime

RIP Mary Kay…

I woke up to the news that Mary Kay Letourneau passed away on July 6th. She’d been suffering from colon cancer and spent the last month in hospice care. Her ex husband, Vili Fualaau, was at her side taking care of her. This would not seem like such a strange thing, except that Mary Kay Letourneau did seven years in prison for raping Vili when he was almost 13 years old. She’d been his teacher in both the second and sixth grades. Although Mary Kay Letourneau was regarded as an excellent teacher who, to my knowledge, was not a habitual sexual abuser, for some reason she couldn’t resist Vili Fualaau. It cost her everything, including her freedom and access to her four children from her first marriage.

Mary Kay Letourneau also had two children with Vili. They were married in 2005 and split up in 2017, finally divorcing in 2019. I remember reading that the split was mostly because Vili wanted to start a marijuana farm and couldn’t do so legally as long as he was married to a felon. In spite of their divorce, he was with Mary Kay until the end, even though she was technically his rapist.

Mary Kay Letourneau’s story was certainly unusual. In the late 1990s, she was a fixture in the tabloids. Lots of people had, and still have, very strong opinions about her. Just this morning, there’s a thread on RfM about Mary Kay Letourneau’s passing. A couple of posters are steadfastly taking people to task for expressing sadness that Mary Kay died. I am one of those they’re judging. They claim I’m a “rape apologist” because I expressed condolences. Incidentally, I remember a few months ago, someone else on RfM implying that I’m a racist because I described the people who punctured our tire in France as “swarthy”.

The person who implied I’m a racist is also among those claiming that anyone who empathizes with Mary Kay Letourneau is a “rape apologist”. I guess this puts me right down there with Donald Trump. Actually, I think these folks, both of whom are very intelligent, but sometimes quite rigid and argumentative, are guilty of extreme black and white thinking. And they seem just fine with telling other people how and what they should think, too. I’ve learned that there’s no point in having discussions with people of that ilk because it goes nowhere. Their minds are made up, and they simply aren’t willing to consider other viewpoints.

I often get into trouble with people because, for the most part, I try not to engage in black and white thinking, even when it comes to what should be done with rapists, child molesters, and murderers. Perhaps it’s because of my social work training, although maybe if I had actually had to do a lot of work with victims, that “open-mindedness” might have gone out the window. I see most people as capable of being and doing good things, even if they’ve committed a heinous crime. I like to hope that most people are redeemable on some level, even if I know some of them aren’t.

Anyway, my thinking about this case is what it is. I don’t tend to think of most people as all good or all bad. For instance, I despise Bill’s ex wife, but even she has her redeeming qualities if I stop and think about it for a moment. She could have been much worse than she was, although she was certainly bad enough. She did some really terrible things to people– to include rape. But I can still think of worse people in the world. I also realize that whatever I think of her, she still has loved ones who wouldn’t want to see her dead. Or, I assume she does, anyway.

I had a social work professor who did a lot of work in prisons with domestic abusers and child molesters. While that work is certainly considered distasteful to a lot of people, it’s very necessary, just as defense attorneys are necessary to advocate for people who are accused of crimes. My professor explained what it was like to work with pedophiles and child molesters (there is a difference). I remember thinking how difficult it must have been for him to work with that population, but I later came to realize that working with them was a kindness. He provided a much needed service for the offenders, but also for anyone who has to deal with the offenders, including their families and other incarcerated people.

A person can be a pedophile, but not a child molester. A pedophile is someone who is sexually attracted to children, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have molested children. It could be that they’re just attracted to them and have fantasies. A child molester molests children, but may or may not find them sexually attractive.

Many people think that someone who victimizes children should simply be executed. I can understand why people feel that way. Children are innocent and powerless, and they are never in a position of strength over adults who victimize them. I agree that people who harm children must be punished and prevented from harming other children. However, many people also have issues with the death penalty. Although I grew up being all for executing criminals, my mind changed as I came of age and saw the death penalty unfairly administered. I read horrifying accounts of innocent people being exonerated, sometimes after they had already been put to death. So now, I’m mostly against executing people, unless it’s a matter of public safety, there is absolutely no doubt of the person’s guilt, and there is certainty that given the opportunity, they would offend again. I think it’s something that should be done exceedingly rarely.

What should we do with someone who confesses to being a pedophile, but never actually harms a child? If someone dares to admit to those feelings, especially to someone with training in counseling, should we just round them up and shoot them? Or should we offer them some kind of help? Do pedophiles have any intrinsic worth as human beings, despite their attraction to children? Can they be salvaged? Do they deserve compassion and understanding? As my professor said, people who are attracted to children are dealing with a very powerful drive. If they are brave enough to seek help before they hurt anyone, and even after they’ve hurt someone, I think that should be encouraged.

I also don’t think that all sex offenders are created equally. What Mary Kay Letourneau did was certainly very wrong. She did rape a child. But she was not on the same level as someone like Warren Jeffs, who repeatedly victimized scores of women and children for many years.

From what I have read about the Letourneau case, the relationship Mary Kay had with Vili wasn’t violent. He could not legally consent to having sex with her when they first got together, because he was a child. She certainly abused her power by giving in to having sex with him when she was his teacher. But he was, apparently, her one and only victim, and for whatever reason, he later married her and willingly stayed with her for years.

Did Vili have the right to make the decision to marry his rapist as a consenting adult? Yes he did, even if I don’t agree with his decision. It would not have been right for the government to say that he couldn’t marry his abuser, even if most people think it’s icky and wrong. Americans value their freedoms, as we’ve especially seen during the coronavirus pandemic. And Vili, evidently, did not consider Mary Kay Letourneau abusive, even if the law says differently. Mary Kay was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which may have had some bearing on her behavior, too.

I don’t see Mary Kay Letourneau as a monster, even if I definitely don’t condone what she did. I think what matters most is what her victim thinks. Vili Fualaau was Mary Kay Letourneau’s victim, not me, and he hasn’t been a child in many years. Apparently, he loved her, despite what she did. Mary Kay Letourneau went to prison for her crimes against him. She did her time, and to my knowledge, did not reoffend. She can’t ever hurt anyone else because she’s now dead. Colon cancer is also not a very pleasant way to die.

I don’t understand Mary Kay’s and Vili’s relationship, but since Vili is an adult, I respect his choices, and yes, I am sorry for his loss. That does not make me a “rape apologist”. Aside from that, Mary Kay Letourneau was still the mother of six people. I don’t know what her children think of her, although I did read that she managed to “mend fences” with her eldest children. Her daughter, Mary Claire, was even the maid of honor at Mary Kay’s wedding to Vili. They’re probably sad that she died. Or maybe they aren’t sad. They’re entitled to whatever their feelings are. As a fellow human being, I have empathy for them. It’s not my place to demand that they hate her or be glad she’s dead. It’s not my place to demand that anyone thinks or feels the way I do. It doesn’t mean I admire Mary Kay Letourneau or think she was a paragon of virtue. It means I see her as a flawed human being who suffered and is deserving of basic compassion. There are people who loved her and will miss her, in spite of her shortcomings as a person. And I am sorry for their loss.

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musings

“I know just how you feel…” uh, no you don’t.

This morning, a friend and former co-worker shared an interesting article from the Huffington Post about how to talk to a grieving friend. The author of the piece, Celeste Headlee, writes that one of her friends had lost her dad. Headlee found her sitting on a bench outside their workplace. She was staring at the horizon, not moving or speaking. Headlee wanted to help, but didn’t know what to say. She thought about how she’d grown up without her father. He’d drowned in a submarine when Headlee was nine months old. Even though she’d never known him, she had grieved for him.

Headlee thought she was commiserating and sympathizing with her friend, letting her know that she “knew how she felt”. But when she was finished speaking, her friend snapped, “Okay, Celeste, you win. You never had a dad, and I at least got to spend 30 years with mine. You had it worse. I guess I shouldn’t be so upset that my dad just died.”

Headlee was taken aback by her friend’s reaction. It hadn’t occurred to her that she had flipped the situation to be about her. She thought she was showing solidarity in relating that story about her dad. But Headlee’s friend was grieving and raw with pain. She didn’t want to hear about her friend’s grief. At that time, she needed love and support and someone who was actively listening to her and responding with kindness.

People do this all the time. I’ve done it. I’m sure you’ve done it. You hear someone talking about how they’re in pain because of some kind of misfortune. Instead of simply listening quietly and offering support, many of us feel compelled to say “me too”. There is a time for “me too” and there is a time when “me too” isn’t appropriate. If someone is looking for love and support, they don’t need to hear about how you’ve been hurt, too. At least not at that moment. Maybe later, you can have a talk about your mutual experiences. But when the pain is raw and the loss is new, it’s better to save that sob story for later. It can seem like one-upmanship, or even worse, flat out narcissism.

Still, I understand how hard it is to save that story. I like to tell stories myself. I will admit that in the months since we lost Zane, I’ve responded to posts about others who have also lost their dogs to lymphoma by commiserating. Cancer sucks. Canine cancer really sucks. I still miss Zane every day, although I’m not grieving like I was in September. What I usually try to do is express condolences, wishes for peace and comfort, and support first, even if I slip in a “commiserating” comment last. But after reading this article, I think maybe the best thing to say is simply “I’m sorry. How can I help?” or “If you need anything, let me know.”

No matter what, though, I try very hard never to say “I know just how you feel.” Some time ago, I realized that it’s impossible for me to know how another person feels or what they’re thinking, no matter what. I only know how I feel and what I think. I can only speak for myself. I don’t even know if the person next to me sees the color blue the same way I do. I don’t know if they hear music the way I do. I don’t know if they experience a cool breeze or a hot shower the way I do. I can assume they do, but I don’t know for sure. I can only guess.

Even if someone seems overwhelmed by excitement or completely down in the dumps due to some kind of loss, I truly don’t know how they feel. I know how I might feel in that situation, but even then, if I’m not experiencing it and haven’t lived their lives, I really don’t know. I know how I felt when my father died, but I don’t know how my cousin felt when her dad/my uncle died. My uncle and I got along better than my dad and I did, and I was a bit sadder about his death than I was when my dad died. It’s not that I wished death on my father, although in many ways, I think it was a blessing. My dad had Lewy Body Dementia, which is a horrible, progressive, cruel disease that robs people of their sanity and independence. My cousin’s dad/my uncle had a major stroke and was relatively active and independent until two weeks before he died.

Which death was “sadder”? I guess it depends on how you look at it. My dad lived longer, but his quality of life wasn’t as good. He spent the last six years of his life totally dependent on my mom. My uncle was out and about when he had his stroke. Death came for him in a matter of two weeks. For my dad, it was years. Maybe it’s sadder that my uncle died the way he did because it was so sudden. A year ago, he was still alive and there was no reason to believe he’d be dead within seven months. With my dad, death was also kind of sudden. He’d had emergency gallbladder surgery and was unable to recover from the anesthesia. If he hadn’t had the surgery, he probably still would have died because the gallbladder was very inflamed and infected. Maybe death would have come sooner and been more painful. Either way, it was bound to happen.

My cousin was a total “Daddy’s girl” and she was very close to her dad. My dad and I weren’t very close, even though I believe we loved each other. I cried only a little when he died, and if I’m honest, I don’t miss him much. He and I fought a lot, and he was frequently abusive to me. I know he was a basically good person, but he had a lot of demons and, unfortunately, I got the brunt of the consequences related to his untreated depression, alcoholism, and PTSD. My uncle, on the other hand, was funny, laid back, and for the most part, just a wonderful, generous guy. It helped that I didn’t live with him, either. If I had lived with him, maybe I’d feel differently… although I kind of doubt that. He was my favorite relative, and I think we had a special relationship. Still, it was not the same relationship he had with my cousin, and my cousin and I are totally different people. I don’t know how she feels about his death. She doesn’t know how I feel about his death, or my dad’s death.

My three older sisters probably feel differently about our dad. I have a feeling my eldest sister, especially, took his death hard. I think she was my dad’s favorite daughter. They did things together, spent time together, had the longest time together as father and daughter, and I know he admired and respected her for being successful and beautiful. I don’t think they fought much, mainly because she was the firstborn and strived for perfection in all things. Also, she moved out of the house when she was about seventeen and went to the Royal Ballet School in London. I, on the other hand, boomeranged back to my parents’ house until I was 27 years old and could finally move out for good. Even though we’re sisters, I don’t know how she feels about our dad. I only know how I feel.

Anyway… I think after reading that article, I’m going to try harder to be supportive and a good listener when someone is grieving or otherwise in pain. At the same time, I think there’s something to be said for those who try to be kind when someone is in pain. Even if they say the wrong thing, at least they tried. Unless it’s clear that they meant to be hurtful or a clod, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. The only comment I got after Zane died that really hurt was when one of my relatives told me that Zane was now “in a better place”. While I know some people say that to mean he’s gone on to a better world, this particular relative has told me more than once that she’s an atheist, so she probably doesn’t believe in “better places”. And either way, saying that means she thinks that Zane is better off dead than with his loving family… which really is kind of shitty, even if it happens to be true. But this relative also told me, just after we lost our paternal grandmother, that she’d always suspected that I wasn’t my father’s biological daughter (which 23andme has now proven that I am). So I don’t go to her for comfort, anyway.

The most comforting beings in my life are my husband, who always knows what to say and do, and my dog(s), who also always know what to say and do. And even beyond the grave, Bill and I get comfort from Zane, too. In fact, Bill dreamt about him this morning… sitting in our living room in his young, healthy state, wagging his tail, shaking off, and letting Bill pet him before he awoke. Maybe he is in a better place now…. but he’s still with us in our hearts and dreams. But no one else knows how I feel about him, not even Bill.

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musings

Depression is an equal opportunity offender…

As I was waking up this morning, I read a sad news story about the late Saoirse Kennedy Hill, who died on August 1, 2019 of a drug and alcohol overdose. She was only 22 years old and studied communication at prestigious Boston College, in Boston, Massachusetts. Saoirse (pronounced Ser-sha) Kennedy Hill was the daughter of Courtney Kennedy Hill and the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968.

Somehow, I didn’t read or hear about Ms. Hill’s death when it happened. I guess I was too busy getting ready for our latest trip to Scotland. Today’s news item initially confused me, because at first I thought she had just died yesterday. Then I clicked on a link that took me to an earlier news report about her demise at the Kennedy family’s compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Hill’s grandmother, Ethel Kennedy, still lives at the historic house, which has been in the family for many years. It was originally the home of Joseph P. Kennedy, who was the family’s patriarch.

Saoirse Kennedy Hill was the daughter of Irishman Paul Michael Hill of the Guildford Four. He was falsely accused of being involved in the Irish Republican Army Bombings and spent fifteen years in prison before he was released. In 1993, not long after he left prison, Paul Michael Hill and married Saoirse’s mother. Part of Saoirse’s childhood was spent in Ireland, and she was reportedly very proud of her Irish heritage. Her name means “freedom” in Gaelic. Unfortunately, she was not free of clinical depression, which she had once written about in a school essay. She claimed that depression had dogged her since her middle school years, and she was plagued by “bouts of deep sadness that felt like a heavy boulder on [her] chest.”

I know something about Saoirse’s struggles with depression. I spent most of my youth depressed, isolated, and anxious. Although I have always been one to crack jokes and laugh a lot, the truth is that for a good portion of my life, I’ve felt like shit. It wasn’t until I found the right antidepressant that I realized how heavy the burden was, and that I really didn’t have to go through life feeling like shit all of the time. It was at that point that I knew major depression is a real illness.

I remember when I first sought help for depression. The reactions from the people in my life were interesting. Some were genuinely surprised to know that I had a problem with depression and anxiety, especially since I laugh all the time and crack a lot of jokes. One man even told me, the day after I was diagnosed, that I was one of the happiest people he’d ever met. He was surprised when I told him that just the day before, I’d been prescribed my first bottle of Prozac (fluoxetene), which was one of the many drugs found in Saoirse Kennedy Hill’s system after she died of an overdose at her wealthy family’s homestead.

One of my relatives seemed doubtful that I could have depression… or that depression is a real problem that requires medical intervention. She seemed to be a member of the “get right with God crowd”– those people who think that mental illness is a result of sin or not having enough faith in Jesus. Another relative warned me not to use antidepressants as a “crutch”. She seemed to think antidepressants are “happy pills” that make people high, which they don’t. In fact, Prozac was a huge failure for me. It turned out my “happy pill” was Wellbutrin, and all it ever did was even out my moods, perk me up a bit, and make me feel less hopeless and helpless.

Still others tried to point out all I had going for me and a deep breath and splash of water to the face were all I needed. When I was getting treatment, I was young, reasonably attractive, and I had a college degree and international work experience. I also have musical talent, and back then, I was taking classes to try to develop it more… something I did as a method of feeling better about myself and the world. The music lessons worked, even though my dad decided to horn in on the action by signing up for lessons with the same teacher. That’s a rant for another day. 😉

It’s been a long time since I last felt horribly depressed. I haven’t taken antidepressants in about fifteen years. Sometimes, I think I would like to take them again, but I hate going to doctors, so I don’t bother. Instead, I drink more than I should, which I know isn’t a good solution.

Saoirse Kennedy Hill was also a drinker. In fact, she mixed alcohol with a long list of prescription drugs, including: methadone, a drug used to treat opioid use disorder; diazepam and nordiazepam, which have sedative effects; and fluoxetine and norfluoxetine, which are antidepressants. Based on the list of chemicals in her body, it appears that Kennedy Hill was trying very hard to feel better. It sounds like nothing was working for her anymore.

Once again, against my better judgment, I read the comments on this news. A lot of people judged Saoirse for being rich, beautiful, and privileged. More than one person wondered why this is such sad news when no one cares if a homeless person overdoses and dies on the street. I kind of expect these kinds of comments from the insensitive. A lot of them are rooted in jealousy and ignorance. But the one comment that made me stop and write this piece today was one left by a middle aged man, who wrote “It’s hard to imagine such a beautiful girl suffering from depression, and that’s a big part of the problem.”

On reading this comment again, I realize my first reaction to it was wrong. It initially seemed like he was saying that someone so beautiful (and Saoirse was very pretty) shouldn’t be depressed. But now that I’m fully awake, I see that he’s actually written that people don’t expect young, beautiful, rich women like Saoirse Kennedy Hill to have any problems, and that is a problem in and of itself.

I’m sure plenty of people were envious of Saoirse, who clearly enjoyed a lot of privileges and advantages in her life… although I really couldn’t say what it would be like to be her. Yes, she was a Kennedy, but the Kennedy family has been famously plagued by tragedies. And who knows what went on in her private life? I’ve read enough books by the children of wealthy people to know that coming from a rich family doesn’t guarantee a great childhood. This isn’t to say that Saoirse had a bad childhood so much as it is to say that I don’t know what her childhood was like. I can’t assume it was excellent simply because her family has money.

Reading about Saoirse Kennedy Hill’s death reminds me a bit of Margaux Hemingway’s story. Margaux Hemingway was similarly rich, beautiful, and privileged. She’d worked as a model and an actress, and was the sister of Mariel Hemingway and the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway. To look at her, you’d think she’d have everything in the world to live for. But, like Saoirse Kennedy Hill, Margaux Hemingway died too young of a drug overdose. Her badly decomposed body was found in her Santa Monica studio apartment. She was just 42 years old, having overdosed on phenobarbital. Her death was ruled a suicide, while Saoirse Kennedy Hill’s has been ruled an accident.

Well, anyway… I am no rich stunner like Saoirse Kennedy Hill or Margaux Hemingway were, but having experienced major depression, and having experienced the depression lifting after drug therapy, I know it’s a medical problem. Assuming that beauty and wealth should prevent depression is like saying that only poor and ugly people get cancer. Depression strikes all kinds of people from every walk of life. Some people can take medication and talk to a therapist and get better. A few lucky folks can rely on good nutrition, plenty of sleep, and exercise and feel the fog lift. Some unlucky people can’t get rid of depression no matter what they do, even if it seems like they have everything in the world to live for. Don’t even get me started on Robin Williams, who not only suffered from depression and anxiety, but also had Lewy Body Dementia, which my father also had. I don’t know if Robin Williams died due to his depression or the sheer craziness that comes from LBD, but a whole lot of people who know nothing about either subject want to call him selfish and cowardly for taking his own life.

I know it’s hard to understand, particularly if you’ve never experienced it, but generally speaking, getting rid of major depression isn’t as easy as simply willing yourself to feel better. That’s like trying to will yourself to get over a broken arm. Looking on the bright side is helpful, but most people who are depressed need help to get to the point at which they can see that a bright side is possible. Saoirse obviously had a lot of medical help in the form of prescription drugs, but in the end, they weren’t enough. It’s tragic that such a promising young woman was cut down so early in life. My condolences to her family.

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dogs, musings

After the thrill is gone, he’s gone to a better place…

I always pay attention to the music that plays when Bill and I are on our way to or from a euthanasia appointment. It may seem weird that I do this, but music makes up part of my psyche. It’s important to me. So I listen carefully just before and after I lose a pet.

In 2012, when we lost our dog, MacGregor, we were on our way to North Carolina State University Veterinary School to attend his death. On the way there, the song “Far Side Banks of Jordan” by Alison Krauss and the Cox Family came on my iPod. That song goes like this…

I believe my steps are growin’ wearier each day
Still I’ve got another journey on my mind
Lures of this old world have ceased to make me wanna stay
And my one regret is leavin’ you behind

But if it proves to be his will that I am first to go
And somehow I’ve a feelin’ it will be
When it comes your time to travel likewise, don’t feel lost
For I will be the first one that you’ll see

And I’ll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan
I’ll be sitting drawing pictures in the sand
And when I see you coming, I will rise up with the shout
And come running through the shallow waters, reaching for your hand

Through this life we’ve labored hard to earn our meager fare
It’s brought us trembling hands and failing eyes
So I’ll just rest here on this shore and turn my eyes away
Until you come, then we’ll see paradise

And I’ll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan
I’ll be sitting drawing pictures in the sand
And when I see you coming, I will rise up with the shout
And come running through the shallow waters, reaching for your hand

I’ll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan
I’ll be sitting drawing pictures in the sand
And when I see you coming, I will rise up with the shout
And come running through the shallow waters, reaching for your hand, hmm

It seemed like MacGregor was telepathically comforting us, even though logic tells me it was a coincidence.

You’d have to know MacGregor to know how significant this song seemed as we drove to his euthanasia appointment. He was very much a country dog– mostly beagle and basset hound. He was afraid of strangers, but if he knew you, he was the most awesome, hilarious, funny dog. And he was a very devoted friend.

After MacGregor died, we listened to music on the way home to Zane. About twenty minutes after we set his spirit free, this song by Rhonda Vincent came on the iPod.

It was a gathering of some 300 people
In the little church the crowd began to swell
Quite a send off for a simple country farmer
For many loved and knew the old man well

And as his bride of 60 years came forward
She bravely walked to where his body lay
A hush fell over all that stood around her
She smiled through tears as she began to say

I will see you again
For this isn’t the end
You’re my forever friend
And I will see you again

Ever since a simple carpenter from Nazareth
Walked the mountains and the shores of Galilee
Ever since he died and rose again on Easter
Death doesn’t have the same old victory

Tonight I’ll lay my head upon his pillow
And cry until the breaking of the day
But even in the pain of separation
There’s a hope inside my heart that lets me say

I will see you again
For this isn’t the end
You’re my forever friend
And I will see you again

Jesus, He made a way
There is coming a day
So I will hold on ’til then
And I will see you again

I will hold on ’til then
And I will see you…again

I’m not a very religious person, but this was playing on the way back from seeing MacGregor’s entry into the next world… I found it very comforting.

Yesterday, when we lost Zane, I played the iPod again. On the way to appointment, there was a song by Folk Uke. It was definitely not a religious song. However, on the surface, it seemed kind of appropriate. It was called “Try to Say Goodbye”. Folk Uke is a very irreverent band, and this was not a comforting song.

If you knew Zane, this might seem appropriate… He was kind of a wise ass, even as he always tried so hard to be good.

On the way back from the appointment, I noticed the Eagles were playing… and it was this song, of all things…

All day, I got condolences from people paying respects in the wake of Zane’s death. Some were very heartfelt, loving, and kind. Some were pretty tone deaf and borderline offensive. I mostly tried to give people the benefit of the doubt. A lot of folks just plain aren’t good at comforting others. They don’t know what to say, but feel like they should say something. Most of the time, they offer thoughts and prayers, condolences, or just plain write “sorry”. These thoughts are probably better received offline, because about 80% of communication is non-verbal. But in today’s Internet connected world, we’ve lost the ability to communicate non-verbally. If you’re typing on a computer, you miss out on seeing the other person’s facial expressions and body language, which offers so much more of a clue as to what they really mean and whether or not they really mean it. So those words are not particularly comforting. They show that someone has tried to make an effort to be kind and sympathetic, which I do recognize. But are they meaningful, wise, or soothing? Not really, if I’m honest.

Well… I mostly cut people some slack. I appreciate that people were trying to be kind. We are taught that when someone experiences the painful loss of a loved one, we should be sympathetic. If one manages empathy, that’s even better. But a lot of people just don’t get the concept of empathy. Many people don’t have the sensitivity or the time for that, or they don’t know the person well enough to know how to respond. I get that. I really do. It means something when a person makes a sincere effort, even if the effort is a bit bumbling.

However, I think the comment that kind of cut me to the quick was one that came from a family member who typed, “He’s gone to a better place.” I do think I know what she was trying to convey, although more than once, she’s claimed to be an atheist. If she’s an atheist, then no, she probably doesn’t believe he’s “gone to a better place.” Either way, “a better place” is separated from me. She’s basically said my dog is “better off dead”, which is a really shitty thing to say… although I don’t think that’s what she meant.

It’s kind of akin to Donald Trump’s massive gaffe a couple of years ago, when he tried and failed to comfort a young soldier’s wife whose husband was killed in Nigeria. Trump said something along the lines of, “He died doing exactly what he wanted to do.” Basically, it sounds like that means he’d rather be sweating in Nigeria dodging bullets than being at home with his loving wife and their children. What Trump probably meant to convey was that the soldier had willingly signed up for the military because he wanted to defend the country and be of service. However, people join the military for all kinds of reasons. Maybe he believed in the mission in which he gave his life. Maybe he didn’t. He died with honor, though, doing what he agreed to do. And he was many thousands of miles away from his wife and babies when he did it. I’d like to hope he would not have preferred being in Nigeria over being with his family. But we don’t know. Trump didn’t know, either. His words were not comforting or particularly kind. They were thoughtless and insensitive.

As to my relative and her choice of words… well, I am not surprised. She isn’t known for being particularly empathetic. This particular relative, on the day we buried our grandmother, mused aloud if maybe I wasn’t my father’s biological daughter. She cited the fact that I have blonde hair, blue eyes, and a lack of freckles, while Dad was dark haired, dark eyed, and freckled. Also, my dad and I didn’t get along very well, although we did love each other. Fortunately, 23 and Me has put that particular question to rest.

It stung when I read my relative’s words, though, although I do understand that she was trying to be comforting. It would have been better if she’d said, “his suffering is over now” or “you were kind to help ease his way” or something like that. Telling me that my dog has “gone to a better place” sounds like it means that he’s better off dead, away from me and Bill, than at home with his loving family. And when those words come from someone who claims she doesn’t believe in God or the hereafter, they are especially hollow and meaningless.

Zane loved us. It was very clear that he did. Although he didn’t fight death, I doubt he really would have preferred dying over being with us. Is he at the Rainbow Bridge? I’d like to think there is such a place, although logic tells me there probably isn’t. But I do know that he’s no longer sick, exhausted, in pain, or suffering. He doesn’t have trouble breathing. He’s not bleeding internally. He doesn’t feel the frustration of not being able to do what he’s always been able to do. He was a dog who loved to run and play. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and he loved to snuggle in bed with us. In the last weeks, he stopped being able to do those things. He no longer has to live with the frustration of not being able to enjoy soft beds (because they made breathing too difficult), long walks (because he didn’t have the energy), good food (because cancer killed his appetite), or sitting in my lap (because he no longer had the strength, stamina, or coordination to jump up into it). Even if he’s not at the Rainbow Bridge, he’s no longer conscious of the things he could no longer enjoy. That’s a blessing.

This experience has reminded me to be more careful about what I say or write to people who have experienced the loss of a loved one. It’s better to be helpful than harmful. If I can’t be helpful and kind, it’s better not to say anything at all. Even though I love to write, I don’t always have the right words… And I don’t always have to say anything. A lot of people didn’t notice/didn’t comment on Zane’s death yesterday. Although it would have been nice if more of my family members had cared enough to comment, I think it’s better that people keep silent if they don’t have the right words. I’m no longer very close to my family, mainly due to my vehement rejection of Trump and my love for swearing and raucous humor. So they don’t follow me and they don’t know… As for my friends, the ones who really know and truly care about me had the right words. They were enough to make me feel loved. While I do appreciate the condolences left by people who don’t know me so well, I was reminded that when it comes to words of comfort, sometimes less is more.

Incidentally, I think Arran is grieving a bit. This morning, he was lying in Zane’s usual spot, looking forlorn. This is going to be an adjustment for all of us.

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