Susan's  Blog

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March 23, 2019

Building a Life Worth Living

I suppose at some point we all ponder the mysteries of life's meaning and purpose. When you have lost your most cherished loved ones, those questions become louder, and more urgent. And when you propose to commit your life to a movement called "We Live On", you had better have a pretty good handle on it. We have gathered and connected with so many others who have lost their loved ones to overdose or suicide, or those who are struggling now with depression, suicidal thoughts, addiction, or are watching their friends or family struggle. Life seems to be getting harder and harder. Or maybe I'm just much more open to seeing it. Even with my own grief, my heart feels the pain of every other person who shares their story with me. And strangely, I wouldn't change that for the world.

     I don't know what most people would say is the "meaning of life". I suppose most people would try to come up with something intelligent, moral, or philosophical to say. But if you go by the way most people live their own lives, it's clear that, at least subconsciously, people feel that life is about the pursuit of happiness. And there is nothing inherently wrong in that. Who DOESN'T want to be happy? Who doesn't want their children to be happy, and their spouse, and parents, friends, and co-workers. Heck, I'd say I'd like to buy the world a Coke right now and wrap it in my arms, teach it to sing, and ALL that jazz. I'm not sure that's the MEANING of life, though. But it is a natural inclination. We seem to spend a lot of time in it's pursuit, and we seem to spend a lot of time feeling the disappointment from life's inevitable rejections of our demands for happiness.

     But happiness is an emotional state that is dependent on our circumstances, and I can tell you nobody gets through life without a couple of disasters - from broken hearts to broken bones, from empty nests to empty pantries, from failed businesses to failed marriages, from lost pets to lost children. Life is a hodgepodge mixture of agony and ecstasy for us all. It's no wonder people ponder it's meaning, because if our primary purpose is to be happy, the cards are stacked against us. It feels like the pursuit of happiness is a futile gesture, because we all experience times of happiness, but a lifetime of sustained happiness seems to elude most people.

     There is a different kind of "happiness", though that is the natural result of bonding and drawing close to other people. It is more than just an emotion, because it is an intangible force (like love) that can be present in good times, and in sorrow. I am talking about JOY. The dictionary may define joy as intense happiness, but for my purposes, I am trying to describe something that is much more internally grounded. I felt joy in the midst of my grief when I felt God's presence. I felt joy and deep sorrow at the same time. I was not happy, but there was something moving me from deep within. It still moves me. It motivates me to reach out to others. It rewards me when I feel the connection with them, and soars in me when I am able to provide help for them. It's taken the greatest losses of a lifetime for me to learn life's meaning, and it is this - that we are meant for one another. We are meant to share each other's burdens and listen to each other's problems. We are meant to wipe each other's tears and bind each other's wounds. We are not made for living in isolation, independent and self-sufficient. We function best when we have significant relationships. And we heal best when we allow ourselves to be a "conduit for healing" (this is a direct quote from GriefShare!). What that means is when we learn and grow, we teach and pass that on to others - just like I try to do in writing this. I don't know all of the big secrets of life. But I do know that the more focused on others we become, the more joy we feel. It doesn't give us a free pass against bad things happening. But when we make our lives about something more than just ourselves, I think we are beginning to understand.

     So, if we are to build a life worth living what would that look like? Instead of constantly chasing happiness, giving happiness might bring you true and lasting joy. There have actually been several scientific studies that have concluded that the most fulfilled people living are not the most successful, wealthiest, most educated, or those whose lives have had the least obstacles, but instead are those who have more positive social relationships AND those who are generous with their time and resources. Those things seem to be the recipe for a life worth living. I would like to personally add that having a spiritual connection is important to me, and learning to have gratitude is, as well. And that really does help with one's perspective, because there IS ALWAYS SOMETHING to be thankful for. I recently started a gratitude journal in which I write down just a few things each night that I feel particularly thankful for that day. Someone told me to do that and I finally did, and it has helped me stay more positive.

     All week long a song kept popping into my head - an old song from the 70's by a the band Ten Years After called "I'd Love to Change the World". The chorus goes "I'd love to change the world, but I don't know what to do...so I'll leave it up to you." It's so uncanny how things like that simply pop up from my ancient memories! But it did make me think. We all probably would love to change the world, especially when I belong to so many groups now in support of those in the addiction and suicide survivors communities. This week I learned of several more overdose deaths, and I read of the suicide of Parkland shooting survivor Sydney Aiello. It made me so sad that I felt, as I do many times, "what's the point?" Sometimes I see that this stuff just keeps on happening regardless of what we do. And if we do intervene and save lives, what then? It's so very difficult to overcome lifelong addiction and depression. Its's such a battle. And then I realize "that is exactly the thinking that keeps us in this mess".  So I leave it up to YOU... AND me. Because all of us together CAN change the world. Maybe we can't fix everything. We will never have Heaven here on Earth. But I can help someone, and I can help you find resources, and maybe that will help you to help someone. And after they heal, maybe they can help someone else. And that's how we become that "conduit" for healing I mentioned. And to me, that is the real meaning of life; it is building a life worth living.

-Susan

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
― Mother Teresa

April 20, 2019

Life's Milestones

I have been thinking about "milestones" a lot lately. We tend to mark passages of our life's journey with special dates for significant events. When a baby takes his first step - it's called a milestone. Graduating from high school - another important milestone. Birthdays, anniversaries, all of life's many "firsts" are all milestones. The word "milestone" no doubt came from the first types of markers that were used to track the distances along roads from one place to another. They were carved in stone pillars. Many still exist throughout Europe from as far back as the days of the Roman Empire. I guess there's a universal idea that we are on a journey down the "highway of life" that seems relatable to most of us. But just as the years cycle around every 365 days, we don't just travel down this road in one direction, but it seems we circle back around and revisit these milestones again and again.

Milestones found along old Roman Road in modern day France

     This month of April has been a bittersweet month for me. Tom's birthday was April 3rd, and the first anniversary of Chris's death was April 14th. As much as I prepared myself for the possible emotions I knew I would encounter this month, I still found myself filled with a new wave of longing and grief. I started to wonder - what is it about a date on the calendar that makes us humans so sensitive? It's just a date. Nothing else has changed except the cycle of another year as it continues to unfold. This year is vastly different from the year before, but the very date is enough to drag my heart back to another time. One date - Tom's birthday - fills me with tender memories of becoming a mother for the first time.

     Looking through all of our old photos I can see all of the birthdays celebrated with family and friends. Tom had some grand birthday parties. We had a tendency to go overboard on the birthday celebrations, because as parents of 2 young very active boys, our social circle pretty much revolved around our kids, their friends and their friend's parents. The most ambitious party was when Tom turned 9 years old. He was obsessed with The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, and he had collected just about every action figure he could from the series. We actually rented out an event venue that looked rather like a castle, dressed in Medieval-type costumes, served pizza and cake with juice in goblets at a long banquet table in the hall, and hired two entertainers to perform a sword fighting exhibition for the kids! I  know - did I say overboard? But it was fantastic!

     So as I looked at pictures from the past, I was warmed by all the milestone moments that were recorded. Birthdays, holidays, graduations from preschool and middle school, outings with family, funny things the boys used to do, school pictures, field trips, family vacations - all wondrously recorded in full color. The photos paint a picture of a very blessed family and happy children. And my heart is warmed by these memories and the knowledge that my children were loved beyond measure.

     But, of course, the pictures cannot tell the whole story. They are both heartwarming and gut wrenching because I know there will be no more memories to make - no more photos to add to the family collection. As Chris's "angelversary" (they call it that now) approached, I knew I wanted to do something to remember him and share with the family. Scouring through a dozen or so CDs of backed up photos from old family computers, I was struck at how precious Chris was as a child. He and Tom both were, and they were natural "hams".  I especially liked the pictures of them together. Chris looked at his big brother like he was his hero and copied so many things he did. I think Tom enjoyed the attention, and he looked out for his little brother. Did they fuss and argue with each other - OH YES!! Only now, it's hard to remember that part, though. The photos show the good parts - and that is what I'd rather remember.

     So, to share our good memories of Chris, we got together with Adam's mother and sister, and her two kids, my boys' cousins. Chris spent quite a bit of time with them over the years, and I know they miss him, too. I made a slide show of my favorite pictures of Chris, and afterwards, we painted rocks with nice messages to him. They will always be treasured. I think it turned out to be a special day for us all, and we got to share together in a positive way.

     But the reality is I miss them. I have moved forward in my life and changed a lot of my way of thinking for the better. But I still miss them. And I don't think that will ever change. I still talk to them, kiss their pictures and tell them goodnight every night. I still hope and pray to see them in my dreams every night. I still see children that remind me of them, still go places and think how much they would have liked it there. I still bought Tom a birthday present. I still hear kids say "Mom" in a store and whip around because it sounded just like one of them. I don't think this will ever change. Maybe I don't want it to change. Maybe it's my way of holding on to my memories - the only things I have left of them - that and some really great pictures.

     I'm not saying all this to make anyone feel bad. I don't want pity from anybody. What I DO WANT is people to understand how fragile our lives are on this Earth. I truly believe in the afterlife, and I think I will be reunited with my children again someday, and that is great solace to me. But we are obviously here on this Earth for something. So what I want is to share myself and my story with those who want to hear it. Drugs ruined my son,Tom's life and eventually ended it. And that event had a lot to do with Chris taking his life as well. We have to figure out how to keep our children safe. We have to pay a LOT more attention to what they are exposed to and who they are keeping company with. We have to equip them with tools that enable them to deal with the difficult culture they have to navigate in school as they approach those teen years, and even before.

     What I really want is to let people see that my kids were decent, happy kids from a good family. And something terrible and tragic happened to them. What can we do to keep it from happening to other people's kids? It's going to take a lot of effort on everyone's part to find a solution to these problems that are so pervasive now. We need our government's support, but we also need churches to become more involved. We need social service groups, but we also need volunteers. We need school systems to initiate educational programs, but we also need parents and grandparents and neighbors to get involved. We need to build a system that cares enough about this generation that we are willing to give our time, our money, our resources, and our ideas to the cause of ending the scourge of alienation and lack of self esteem that makes so many kids become depressed or turn to drugs. I want your kids to reach ALL their milestones. I wish that no parent ever has to lose their children, or watch them suffer without being able to find help for them.

     So I guess there is a milestone that I am aiming for. Since We Live On has received its 501 (c)(3) tax exempt status now, we want to get more involved in the community at a level that can really bring about some change. But we need help from you, and anyone in the community with a desire to make a difference. We eagerly ask for your input, your ideas and your participation.  Please consider supporting our cause by giving us feedback. Join us in our events. Pass along our information to others. Consider donating your time and yes, money. Unfortunately there are considerable costs involved in carrying on a vision this far reaching. We DO dream of BIG THINGS. And we believe with your help, we can reach an important milestone in the future as this small nonprofit becomes an important part of the solution to the dire condition of our community's mental health!

-Susan

"They say that life is a highway and its milestones are the years

And now and then there's a toll-gate where you buy your way with tears.

It's a rough road and a steep road and it stretches broad and far,

But at last it leads to a golden Town where golden Houses are."

-Joyce Kilmer

Chris's Memory Rocks