Life After – Anniversary

Poised on the ice, listening and watching for the tell tale sound or sight of the first spiderwebbing of fractures on the surface. I feel steady yet I anticipate hearing an epic crack before I lay my head on my pillow tonight. My current balance is eighty percent intellectual, twenty percent emotional. Had my beautiful nephew Coby not died by suicide a year ago, it would just be another Monday morning and simply significant in that it is around the time we celebrate another one of my beautiful family members.

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Always clowning – Soup Straw

 

In some ways it seems shocking that a year has passed since our lives fell apart.  The human spirit continues to amaze me. It is stunning that a human being can endure unimaginable pain and still return to the light of day, forever changed but back in the light. Contact with some family members still seems to hurt. Not hurt in that they do something painful, but in that seeing them brings elements of the tragedy back. Most people forget what today is in our lives so there is no reckoning, no shadowing of the eyes, no slumping of the shoulders or the urge to reach out to check on them – not knowing if it will cause more pain.

To be honest, this is the most frustrating part for me.  I am steady, but I wonder if I should be checking on someone or extending sympathies or acting as if it is just another day. I don’t think on it too much as I am a much more heart-led soul. I will reach out to my family today to let them know that I love them, that I am sorry Coby is no longer with us and that I will be thinking of them.

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He was a great big cuz!

On my end, I have to keep an eye on my small person. While I am steady, I sense the ice is not so steady under her young legs. True helplessness comes from feeling like you don’t know how to reach or help your child in times of need. I definitely don’t have the answers here, but I know that my work day will end the minute she gets home. Tonight will be a full court press, hands on, eyes up, heart open night together.

I will do my best to remember that this is new to both of us and to remember the wisdom of an aviation disaster survivor speaking about how she managed her grief after losing a child in a plane crash. When asked what she attributed the survival of her marriage to she responded, “He doesn’t mess with my grief and I don’t mess with his.” I need to learn how to be supportive to her while not messing with her grief.

My grief is what it is. I still haven’t listened to the voicemail messages that flooded into my phone the days following Coby’s death (as I am constantly reminded by notifications that my voicemail is always almost 90% full.)  I am still trying to figure out if I can bear hearing them or if I should just delete them all unheard. I am truly appreciative of the outpouring of love that came in those days and every day since. As I type this I remind myself that life is for the living. I will delete the messages unheard, but I appreciate each person who reached out to me in my darkest hour.  This is what my grief looks like. Even the simplest decisions related to the aftermath of Coby’s passing are so difficult to make.

I am in the light now, face up to the sun and I am going to do my best to stay there. I know the clouds will come and when they do I will reach into my tool chest to get the resources needed to survive the resulting darkness.  Some days that’s coffee with a girlfriend, others it will be a therapy session and some days it’s a good old-fashioned cry. Today I will look for a way to honor Coby’s memory in a way that celebrates his life and not his final moments. I will send him light and love.

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Light and love

Right after Coby’s death I questioned myself about what I could have done, what I could have said, did he know how much I loved him and more fruitless thoughts about how I could have stopped it all. In January of 2016 I was asked to write Coby a letter that would be given to him at a school retreat. I am eternally grateful that I did because it gave me some peace that he knew exactly how much I loved him.

In re-reading the letter now I realize that there was little more I could have said or done, not knowing what was going on in his head and heart. I wish we were celebrating Coby’s collegiate accomplishments today, but instead we are reminded that life is fragile, that our young people are at war with demons we may not see and that the most precious elements of our lives are not guaranteed to be here tomorrow.

Below is my letter to Coby.  It makes me sad to read it (as the tears finally come,) but it is also the most honest, authentic expression of who Coby was to me.

Love you forever, Cob.

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1/8/16

Dear Coby,

Love. Fascination. Pride. Joy. Those are the things that come to mind when I think of you ­ my handsome, loving, hilarious and incredible nephew! I am in awe of the things you have accomplished and the way you carry yourself through this turbulent world. I am so proud of the young man you have become. I trust you with my most precious gift in the world (and that’s saying everything!) and my heart is full when I see how you care for your little cousin. It speaks volumes about the man that you are when you take time to be with and care for Lani or grandma. Those are the moments that show the beauty of your character. No, it’s not cool to hang with them…or me, but you do it anyway. Yes, because we can be fun and feed you great stuff and because you love us, but often you’re being kind and supportive of the things that we need. You can’t teach that kind of compassion, support and love. It’s either a part of your character or it’s not. I am grateful to God that at the end of the day, after the jokes and the selfies, you are a solid young man of beautiful character.

Life is going to offer up a world of challenges. It just does. No one gets to the end without having their back side handed to them once in awhile. Some get it more than others. Whichever side of the fence you land on please remember that we are all praying for you. You are covered by the prayers and blessings of some of the most ardent prayer warriors I know. So remember to breathe, seek help when you need it and know that most storms will pass in time. Keep your eye on your passion and your purpose, not everyone else’s. Find out what feeds your soul and gives you a reason to get out of bed swinging each morning. Tilt at windmills, slay dragons and most of all work on being a good person. Money will come and go, but you can’t take it with you. Cherish relationships above all else, especially your relationship with God.

I will leave you with a few of my favorite quotes that have sustained me through the tough times and have been my compass in life:

●  Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. Look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true. Think only of the best, work only for the best and expect only the best. Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. Give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others. Live in the faith that the whole world is on your side as long as you are true to the best that is in you. (Christian D. Larson)

●  Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. (unknown)

You’ll always be my Cob. I will always be here if you need me ­ no matter what, and if I know one thing, it is that the world is ready for you to step up in all of your magnificence and make a huge impact.

Love you forever,

­ Aunt Tanya

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For more information on Coby and the Fly High Coby Fund:

https://www.gofundme.com/flyhighCoby

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2016/04/parents_of_teen_suicide_victim_starting_nonprofit.html

If you are in need of help please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1 (800) 273-8255

Shuttered Vision

Wisps of glimmer, shards of luminescence, chaos and silence – my mind is a mashup of weird and unsettling elements. The emotion fatigue and dread brought on by the incessant “breaking news” media notifications leaves me with a sense of shuttered vision, not to mention a weary soul.

Much of my art, and my essence, is derived from inspiration, love and a longing for equity, justice and peace. In the last two weeks it feels as if the world has tipped on a new axis. I am no stranger to hate or bigotry, but current events have thrown lighter fuel on the world I thought I knew. Silly me.

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I have no idea how to fix the world in this particular moment and time. The violence, hate, fear, pain and despair are palpable. I don’t know how to fix that. With each new act of violence or hatred our human potential is compromised and the realization is staggering. The thread of my artistic inspiration is dampened under layers of grief, anger, concern, heartbreak and this painful process of consciousness expansion.

I can’t unsee the callous disregard for vulnerable human beings who have done nothing to be caught in harm’s crossfire.  I’ve exhausted my current capacity to explain why we should care about refugees, women’s rights, Black Lives, LGBTQ communities, those whose faith is different than mine and our ability to protect the Earth (just to name a few.) The explaining doesn’t do it. It doesn’t touch the mark or soften hearts.

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Love is all around

My consciousness bucket list includes seeing the end of war, hunger, violence (especially towards women and children,) homelessness, achieving equality, justice for all, mainstream acceptance  and treatment of mental health issues and love, love, LOVE! Yes, I am Pollyanna, The Kumbaya Kid and any other snarky retort that comes to mind. I want to live to see peace on Earth. I do and I’m unashamed to admit that my heart weeps each time we take steps further away from that paradise.

How do I take the emotional turmoil and infuse it into a piece of work that “says something?” Hell, how do I use the skills I’ve developed to drain this emotional morass so I can connect with my creative source? I can’t seem to get away from Nina Simone’s words about an artist’s duty…”An artist’s duty is to reflect the times…How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times?”

Those are haunting words, an artistic call to action. At it’s core it comes down to the fact that the inspiration behind the art can not be beckoned with a checklist. Inspiration seeps into my heart, soul, brain, dreams through mysterious and elusive means. When my vision  is shuttered the wisps of thought, light and creativity struggle to find the pathway. In such turbulent times I struggle with finding the head and heart space to nurture the creative being inside.

With acting they tell you take whatever you are feeling and use it. Intellecutally I believe it’s the same principal, yet my vast ocean of feelings are solely generating more feelings – loss, grief, exhaustion and at times hopelessness. The “work” for me is to manually turn the corner. Since I can not seem to shake this space, I have been sure to make it to the gym, to more eat fruits and vegetables, hydrate and get more than my traditional 5-6 hours of sleep.

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My hope is that by consciously invoking self-care I will be able to manually reboot my creative ignition and begin to see possibilities, new worlds and magic once again. We have a long road ahead and it is expressions of art that will help guide and sustain us. Make no mistake, art is everywhere. It is part of the fabric of our lives and so I send the artists of the world, wherever your are, love, light and strength to continue on through the darkness.

 

 

Life After – Hangover

This morning I got up determined to hit my desk the minute I got my kid off to school. I was showered, dressed, computer on, coffee warmed up and nearly four hours later I have done virtually nothing of substance. That’s the truth of dealing with the consequences of mental illness and losing a loved one to suicide.

The conversations that happen in the recesses of the light aren’t shared publicly, get pushed aside and forgotten in the attempt to re-enter the hustle and bustle of daily life, yet leave a lingering filthy residue on your soul. The pain uncovered, the searing confusion about which way to turn, fear and uncertainty about making the next right decision and putting one foot in front of the other zap the clarity, energy and drive that is otherwise present on a Monday morning.

The process of caring for our grieving children can suction the life and soul from you if you’re not careful. I initial started to write that I compartmentalize my needs so I can support my daughter in her grieving, but that wouldn’t be true. The truth is that I keep my rawness in check in case I can’t put it away in time to support her every need. It’s as if I’m afraid that connecting to the pain will leave me in a formless puddle of anguish and either she’d either come across me like that or need me and I won’t be able to shape myself back into ready to go mom.

Last night we celebrated what would have been my nephew’s 19th birthday. A friend asked how it was. I told her the truth, it was beautiful, sad and ugly. That’s the truth.

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Lighting the paper lantern to release with love in memory of Coby

No, I’m not going to tell you how hard it was to hold my sobbing child’s hand while in the other room a somber Happy Birthday chorus was being sung in Coby’s honor. No, I can’t articulately express the lengths of my emotional fatigue and desire to get to a day when thinking of Coby or my Aunt, who took her own life just four month’s after Coby’s suicide, results in happy memories. No, I have no recipe for dealing with the complexities of the ravages of mental illness and suicide.

 

Today I do my best not to beat myself up for my lack of focus. Maybe my brain is pacing itself until my soul is ready to digest the latest round of conversations, observations and realizations. I am not living through a normal situation and I am reminding myself that my responses are normal. I think one of the greatest tragedies that comes from these acts are the pain coming together unleashes. Yes, it is part of the healing process but it is awful.

One of my saddest memories will be my daughter telling me that she didn’t want Thanksgiving this year. She didn’t want to have any holidays without Coby. It took my breath away. I could have never been prepared for her to articulate that. In hindsight it made sense, but I was so unprepared. Thankfully we made it through Thanksgiving and had a beautiful holiday in spite of the pain. Hopefully one that she’ll put in her happy memory chest.

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Young and innocent

I don’t expect December 10th will come again anytime soon without some version of a sledgehammer of pain, but I do look forward to the day when it’s more of a tug. Each day moving forward is another step out onto the broken sheet of ice – some steps land solidly and bear the weight while others leave you plunging into the freezing water. Today I am sending strength to my family, and all of the families, who can’t see the light of day, can’t see the next step and struggle to even take the next breath. I can’t imagine what you are feeling. I am so sorry and I love you.

Today I will be gentle with myself. I will prepare to receive my young person home and do my best to be present, loving and open to sitting in her grief with her if need be. And once I put her to bed, I’ll do my best to sit in my grief, assemble my broken pieces, put them back into some semblance of new normalcy and do it all over again. Maybe, just maybe, if I keep walking through it with my eyes and heart open I will eventually get to the  other side.

More than anything in the world, I wish Coby knew he could have talked to me -that I would have been here and that suicide wasn’t his only answer, but in matters of life and death like this there are rarely second chances. If you are reading these words and are struggling, please seek help. Life gets a little bit dimmer each time we lose a soul.

If you are in need of help please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1 (800) 273-8255

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For more information on Coby and the Fly High Coby Fund:

https://www.gofundme.com/flyhighCoby

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2016/04/parents_of_teen_suicide_victim_starting_nonprofit.html

Rough Waters by the Shore

This morning I sat on the side of my bed pondering my fate. Most mornings I utter some form of gratitude for seeing another day when so many others don’t. This morning it was a quick something, but my mind wandered to rough waters. The kind of rough waters that threaten to upend a boat right before it reaches the safety of the shore. The kind of rough waters that are overcome by the exhausted being who has found, somewhere deep inside, the determination, heart and scream-down the storm raging in your face will to continue on to reach the elusive yet visible shore.

The waters are crashing over my head, filling my eyes, nose and mouth with brackish water, but I saw the shore. About a year ago one of my business  mentors told me I was in the middle of the ocean. He said it would take as much effort to give up and get back to shore as it would to power on. I chose to power on.  I mean, really. That’s not much of a choice. I’d spent 7 years of my life in pursuit of my dreams, had one devastating set back and now I was offered the choice of giving up on all I had accomplished with not much to show for it but a mountain of debt and hope. The other choice was to take all of the hours I had invested in educating myself, the knowledge I had gained in those classes, attending film festivals, workshops and incubators, the manifestation of projects in various stages of development, the sweat, time and expertise of all of the freelancers who collaborated on my projects – unpaid, deferred and paid, the monies I was able to raise through crowdfunding, grants and platforms like Patreon and Fundly, the few messages of my need to capitulate and get a real job and the ocean of messages of support from friends, family  and mentors and push on. When you look at it like that, there is no choice. I had to keep moving forward.

The rough water is chest level and the punishing waves have elicited an unending barrage of stress, fear, anxiety and doubt, but I saw the shore.  In one of my workshops for artists, the instructor told us, “No one is coming to save you.” Damn. Damn. Damn. Seven years fighting each day towards this dream and no one would come rescue me? Damn. To tell you the truth, as frustrating as that message is, it is liberating to know that you are going to have to pull your head out of your own arse and figure things out. Sure there will be people to support your journey, but this is one trip across the ocean that you’re going to have to take on your own.

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If you believe, as I do, that everything happens for a reason and that you are where you are supposed to be, then the dark times can be paralyzing. I have always looked at it from the perspective that I am here because I still have something to learn before I can transcend to my next level of consciousness and overcome my worldly rough waters.

In 2008 when I was an actress deciding to write a show with my friend so we could see positive representations of ourselves on television and work in the field we so loved, I could never have imagined how soul crushing and financially debilitating this journey would become. I guarantee you that I would NEVER have decided to embark on the journey if anyone had shared that with my then 34 year-old self. I wasn’t strong enough. I didn’t have enough courage. I wasn’t worthy enough. I couldn’t tolerate that much pain, shame, longing and despair. That’s who I would have believed I was back then.

The woman I am today is in the boat with the rough pounding waters demanding that I turn back, that I give up, that I abandon this pipe dream and go back to where I belong. The problem is that I’ve seen the shore, and even more important than the shore is that lined up along the path to the shore are lifeboats of love, compassion, support, encouragement, inspiration, motivation, empathy, self-discovery and wonder! I’m not sure why I couldn’t see it before, but I am eternally grateful to know that although they can’t save me, they won’t let me go down with my ship! They are pacing me, lighting the way and making sure I know that we are in this together. I have to get my boat to the shore, but I am not alone. I see the shore. I don’t know how many days, weeks, months or years it will take me to get there, but I do know that I will get there and oh, the celebration we will have when all of our boats are on the shore together.

Keep going…

 

Creativity Trumps Fear

In the midst of swirls of grief there are moments of happiness, joy and pure creative expression. I’ve been working to get a documentary concept out of my head and down onto paper for the last 18 months. The spark was clear and strong but unraveling the story, angle and approach would not come easy.

The initial feeling was, “Of course this should be a film!” but then when I started to think about who should be interviewed for this film I began to hesitate. When I’m developing a concept I intrinsically put myself on set, in the producer/director’s seat and in the vicinity of the action. This very thought meant that I would be in the same room with a person I had been creatively in awe of for most of my life. That’s when the doubts began to creep in.

The challenge with these doubts were that there is no way to tell this story without sitting across from all of the things that intimidate me. Over the last 18 months and through the prodding of mentors, peers and collaborators I kept coming back to my notes and drafts. I wrote my dream. I didn’t pull any punches. I finally went with the thought that the worst they can do is tell me no – but if they told me yes…

IMG_9949The mere act of doing the work to define the random rumblings in my head have made this real. Yesterday I sent off a proposal to two trusted colleagues who are attached to this project and then sat in a puddle of vulnerability as I waited for them to get back to me. That act of being vulnerable is why I’ve failed before. It’s why I waited a year to respond to someone who graciously offered to get me an audition with a friend of his in Hollywood.

It’s all fear. As much as I tell my little girl that feelings can’t hurt you, I find myself being paralyzed by my fear. After coming clean to my friend about why I ignored his email and promising myself to do better, I realize that I can be scared and still take action. The fear paralysis is what will kill my creative expression and ultimately my happiness. Today I am relieved and happy that I was able to wrestle the random ramblings in my head onto a 2-1/2 page proposal. This is always the first step in my process and so often the hardest.

As I remember my late aunt and celebrate her life this weekend, I’ll take with me some of her fearlessness and ingenuity and do my best to incorporate that into my creative practice. No matter what happens beyond this point with this project, my artistic voice will never be heard if I hide in the shadows. Future possibilities exist because I stepped into the light. I invite you to step out of your shadows and join me in the light…even if just for a moment.

Life After – Remix

While tonight doesn’t feel like part 3 of the previous posts I’ve written about living life after losing Coby, it also doesn’t feel like “normal” or “new normal” or whatever. I guess it’s just whatever there is on the other side. For tonight’s sake, let’s just call it a remix.

 

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Today was a good day. It’s been an exhausting week full of client demands and creative hurdles to overcome but I’m keeping pace, and maybe even picking up steam. When I think back to the time when I couldn’t even answer the phone, I know that is huge progress. I still haven’t listened to my voicemail messages from the weeks following Coby’s death. My phone keeps sending me warning messages that my voicemail is 90+% full.

Do I listen to these messages that might sink me because they are full of my friends and loved ones concern for my family? The kindness hurts sometimes. As weird as that sounds, a hug can crush and tear-filled eyes have the power to unleash the feeling that are being held at bay by the hustle and bustle of the end of the school year, conference calls, piles of mail and happy occasions.

Nah. They can stay right there for now. For the moment I get to celebrate a few victories -My little one getting an academic award and a call back for a great project, hitting a significant milestone with our newest documentary and remembering most of my passwords while I plow through work.

I celebrate a tiny bit while being reminded that Coby will never graduate like so many of the friends I see on social media and in the world. I’m thrilled for them, yet I can’t help but think that he should be there clowning with his friends in a cap and gown. We should be showering him with love and praise for one of the greatest accomplishments one can have – successfully pursuing an education. Alas, it is not to be for Coby and that hurts. If I’m honest, typing that, acknowledging that fact brings on the tears.

I think of the shadows left behind in the souls of his classmates. I think of the carnage that is left behind after. After. After. After. I think of the carnage of the world we live in and I struggle to stay in the light as I wonder how the hell we can hold human potential and the essence of life in such disregard. A deranged man in a nightclub extinguishing precious lives, petty grievances in neighborhoods all over the country handled with terminal consequences, hate, fear and anguish all around.

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In moments like this I remind myself I have a choice. Light or dark. Each moment I get to choose and sometimes making that choice is a Herculean effort, but today – as I took my girl to try sushi for the first time (in honor of seeing a great indie film East Side Sushi) and told her how proud I was of her, choosing the light was an easy choice. In a year, where she lost the only “big brother”she was ever going to have, being able to find the light together is a blessing.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know that the sun will rise and the birds will sing, and that has to be enough for now.

Life After – Part 2

I think of Coby. I close my eyes. I don’t see or hear a train screaming down the tracks. It’s a brilliant breakthrough that I am eternally grateful to have experienced. I no longer have to rip my eyes open and calm my racing heart.

I think of Coby and a lovely thought mingles with the residual sadness leaving me with a  bittersweet warmth. It still seems unreal. It still couldn’t have happened to us, but it did. My little one put it best when she said that now when she thinks of Coby she isn’t sad anymore, but that she feels happy. Time beginning to heal.

Coby with his Grandma Gladys.
Coby with his Grandma Gladys.

I’d be foolish to think that there aren’t going to be many moments when the old feelings surface, but today I’m so, so, so grateful that they have given way and allow me to see another possibility. I miss Coby. I love Coby. Eternally 18 and eternally in my heart. I guess that will have to be enough.