Category Archives: Suicide


It is possible there is a perfect time to die. A time when the stories told of you would be of kind compassion and rambunctious joy. Those are the times. When you are filled with love.

Not when you are alone. Not when you are filled with despair. A time when people think of you and smile, not shake their heads and ask why. Not too late when you have been lingering. But when you are active and happy. Die dancing. Die walking the beach. Not in front of a TV.

But most people don’t get to pick their time, it seems to me. And those who do often pick the time of despair and loneliness, leaving more despair behind them.

The perfect time would not have been the time that I picked. And, realizing it in time, pulled back. No, that was two weeks too early. The prefect time would have been as I lay on my wife’s body, having just heard her last heartbeat and felt her chest fall with her last breath. That would have been the time. Hearts and minds. My broken heart for her broken brain.

That would have been understandable. That would have been beyond reproach. Something worthy of writing about.

When people ask me how I am doing, I say I am ”integrating.” I can’t take credit for that. Unena said that. Right after she beat me at a word game. She is one of the people who saw me disintegrate, fall apart, helped keep me alive, gave me reasons, motivations for staying, put me back together, kept me together. She knows. I know. There is no healing. No moving on. None of that. It is integration. Synthesis. She is correct.

Leaving. It causes such pain. Such emptiness as can be understood only by those who experience it. And then, each relationship, each love, feels different. Yet  we do reintegrate.

And so, now, there are moments of joy. Much of it, actually. There is laughter and love. So much love. So many reasons to be here. Yet, I can’t help but feel my reason for being has passed. Come and gone. And it is just now a game of waiting.

I haven’t written much since then. I try but there is nothing there. So there is that. I started writing about the last year, the discovery and treatment and loss, assistance, love, frustration and loss, but got bogged down, torn up. So I set it aside. I am not ready yet. I might never be.

I have lost so much of my drive. My get-it-done-yesterday-ness. I walk. I exercise. I ride my bike. Sing. Play my ukulele. I actually watch some TV which is new for me. I am contemplating fishing. I actually bought the lures and hooks and I got a pole at a garage sale. There are six-pound bass a hundred feet from my house, so, hey, why not? I am relaxing for the first time in, well, I am not sure. But it is new to me.

My ambition? Studying for the GRE seems silly. Maybe it was an ego thing. I can imagine myself with my PhD and still just wanting to find the time to write. So that must be what I should do. Which makes not being able to write at the moment feel particularly distressing.

My ambition? What to do? Why? The only reason to stay is for the joy one can create in our own lives and the lives of others.  To enjoy the ride. To see our loved ones happy. To love. To bring love. To be loved. Getting things done is secondary. Only as much as it allows time and energy to love the people around me.

It is cliché to say we could all be dead tomorrow. But it is also true. The idea that we live on is delusional. It is a functional delusion. One I no longer have. So I want to treat people like, when I see them, it could be the last time. Tell them I love them before they go because it might be the last time. Deny no impulse to charity, no matter how small or large, because why not give what I have. And why not sit and watch the fish?  And play with my granddaughter. Why not? I could not be here tomorrow.

And any time would do. Today. Tomorrow. A week from now. Ten or fifty years. One day or the next. Dying any day is still dying and I will still live up to that day. Because you never know.

Lee didn’t. I didn’t. And look now.

All is well with the people I love. Or at least all is static. Some have grown so they can move on without help. Some thrive. But all are getting along without Lee. Even me.  And so, what of the stories of the devastation left by a death.  Pain, suffering, sure. But devastation?

I was told how horrible it would be if I died. The suffering it would cause. The pain. The ongoing emotional trauma. But, if I left now, my book would still come out. My son would still buy his house. My daughter will still be in medical school. My friends will still work day to day, care for their children, plant their gardens. They will reintegrate.

Maybe they said that because suicide is different than an accident or disease. Truly, I am not sure. But the thoughts I go to bed with, the love and joy, that would be gone. But so too would the day-to-day cares. IRS, money owed, fixing the car, all those things. Rebuilding the business, eating right. All gone.  Personal needs and drives. Gone. Gone the joy and delight in their satisfaction but so too their frustration.

Loneliness. Gone.

And I know now people would reintegrate. And go on. The only thing missing is that perfect moment. It passed. It passed. And I am still here.


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Great Mender

I have felt agitated the last few days. I have been running hot, feeling anxious. It has taken a while to figure out why. Once it was pointed out to me, though, I put my finger on it. I had been taking Great Mender for a busted rib. Jin Gu Die Shang Wan tends to heat the body. Mine is already on the hot side so there are certain herbs I don’t take as they will create even more excess heat. Americans tend to run hot as it is. Then we take red ginseng and other herbs that heat us further. Great Mender is wonderful for helping heal bone injuries but I should have taken something to help reduce the heat from it.

We treat herbs as though they are not medicines. Strange. We think they are powerful enough to be of use but not powerful enough to take the needed precautions. We self-prescribe without knowing much about them or how they interact with different conditions, constitutions, herbs or medications. We treat them like Western medicines when most herbs should be used to treat underlying causes and not overlying symptoms.

Of course, many MDs will do just the opposite, telling the patient herbs are of no use and then forbidding their use. Which is it? If they are powerless, why prohibit their use? But then contradictory stances are nothing new in Western Medicine.

So I cut the dosage down and am feeling better and still healing. The agitation has gone away.

I was feeling useless. With Shelley taking up so much of the day to day functions in the office, I am left to massage therapy, working on patients in tandem with Lee, creating web content, setting up public events, promotion, networking, publicity, and writing a series of essays, poetry and a novel while supervising the illustration of the last children’s book. On top of that, I started a Free Market downtown.

And so I have been feeling as though I am not pulling my weight, even though the weight pulled may well have been quite excessive at the beginning, even though the inertia of that pull is still carrying us forward, I ask, and have done so out loud to my office-mates, “What have I done for us lately?”

I am supposed to take more time to write. When I do, I feel I am shirking my work at the office, most of which is being handled more than ably by Shelley. So she schedules clients most likely to need me around the same time so I am able to take half days or full days to write.

I recognized feeling that was neither here nor there. All the ways I felt are based in real feelings, real assumptions I have of myself, but they were just excuses I used for the agitation. The feelings were there anyway but they were not the cause.

Still, I sat and went over all the horrible things I so often think about me. I spent far too long on this.

Then I thought of the wonderful things people say about me. How misguided they must be. Obviously terrible judges of character. Should I trust people who know me to… See, I will examine this to death. And the more I do so, the more ridiculous it will get. Good, it needs to be obviously ridiculous.

When someone has something negative to say, it is always worth looking at. What grain of truth might there be in it? None? Perhaps. Does something of it ring true? If so, can I learn and grow from it?

If I can learn from that, how about the positive? Should I not listen to that, examine it, learn and grow from it?

Am I really a mensch? Am I really a good man? Does no one really try harder?

My Tibetan name, is Karma Bondru Zangpo. Excellent Diligence. Such a name, given when one takes Buddhist Refuge, is a lesson. It is called a Dharma Name, and it is the person’s best, most prevalent quality. It is also that person’s biggest, most prevalent trap. It is the trait that makes them wonderful and that which trips them up. It is what they do. It is their undoing.

As I diligently examine myself into a state of anxiety, I think of my name, slow down and become just a bit less diligent. The anxiety dissipates just a little.

I have just had the air conditioner replaced in my office. The handyman did not move anything before setting to work. A bookcase fell. The CD cases not broken before are more than broken now. It takes me two hours to clean up the mess. Broken plastic, plaster, sheetrock, books, CDs, cards. It is an opportunity to examine what was there and move something to the front that had, over time, moved to the back of the bookcase. Time to take stock and time to thin the herd.

I find an envelope. It is from a class I took two, maybe three years ago when I was teaching middle school. We work during the summers, most teachers do not have long summer spans free, and this was just one of the many summer classes I had to take. This one was on poetry. Poetry Alive. How to spoon feed sugar-coated poetry to kids who have no interest in it at all. They do performances and classes in school all over the US. That explains quite a bit. The class itself was awful. The idea was to have kids perform poetry instead of read it. If they perform it, they will have to investigate the poems more fully, get deeper into them. Perhaps. But, in the end, it taught close reading, as I taught, and the performance aspect was just a way to allow the teacher to grade the students when a discussion, a real discussion, long, without goal, without preconceived ideas, would have done much better and be far less tacky.

More often than not it resulted in bad performances that would drive even the most ardent lover of poetry to prefer spending his or her time watching reality TV instead.

The teacher for the course had each of us make a bag, a small brown lunchbag, and put it up on the wall. Anytime we felt the desire to say something nice, to compliment a fellow student, we were supposed to write it on a piece of paper and put it in their bag. It was supposed to be anonymous.

We were supposed to decorate it in a way that portrayed our true selves. I did this by not taking a bag. No bag, no decorating. Not pinning it to a wall. No thank you. So the teacher did it for me. Now there’s a lesson for me.

I still do not understand why the notes could not be given directly to the person. Why we could simply not have told the other person. Why was it supposed to be secret?

I pull out that bag now and remove the varying slips of paper.

You are always such a patient and compassionate example to those in the group. You work so hard to help others and to understand them – who they are and what they need. This group would certainly be less without you in it.

Adam, Sometimes I feel like you hold back on getting to know people or letting others know you. You are a wonderful friend, love to spend time with you.

Adam, You exude wit and intelligence and keep me on my toes.

Sage, poet, artist, warm-hearted man. WOW.

An honest sage and philosopher always when we need it most.

I am always amazed at you when we talk.

Thanks for the reality checks.

You are an intelligent, insightful person though, at times, you overanalyze a situation.

Of course I can’t believe people who know me too well and these people don’t know me well enough to be believed. How far do you think that thinking will get me?

Looking at these comments, I realize this must be a different bag. None of this is about poetry, or teaching. Somehow, at some other time, I must have done this exercise with another group. I can’t recall, but the evidence is in my hands.

Evidence. Now comes the analysis. I’ll let you know how it comes out.


Posted by on June 15, 2009 in Culture, Education, Poetry, psychology, Social, Suicide


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There is a Picture of Me in my Daughter’s Bedroom

There is a picture of me in my daughter’s bedroom.
On her night table, it would be the last thing she sees
Before turning off her light.

It is a photograph of me holding her in my arms.
In it, she is one year old and I am nearly twenty,
As she is now.
In the picture, I am holding her
As I am now.

Last night she swallowed a bottle of pills.

There is nothing unhealthy in my daughter’s kitchen.
Processed foods and artificial colours would never
Find their way to her table.

She is a dancer for the ballet and vigilant with her body.
She regards it as sacred and believes
Others should as well.
She has done her best to keep everyone
Full of life.

Last night she swallowed a bottle of pills.

There are no prescription drugs in my daughter’s medicine cabinet.
She questions doctors on the rare occasions
She feels the need to see one.

She must know why she needs the pills and what they will do.
She regards them as foreign substances
She should avoid
And would not take anything other than
An occasional aspirin.

Last night she swallowed a bottle of them.

I have a picture of me in my daughter’s hospital room.
On my night table, it is the last thing I see
Before turning of my light.

It is a photograph of me holding her in my arms.
In it, she is twenty-one years old and I am nearly forty.
A nineteen year constant, growing wider, growing wider.
In the picture, I am holding her
As I am now.

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Posted by on July 1, 2008 in Family, Poetry, psychology, Suicide


Final Exam

Today I have one fewer students. Jacob has committed suicide.

He had never done well, spoke little, responded rarely and seemed, forever, to be looking darkly into a distant space. Rail thin, sullen, his long black hair would sometimes sway and uncover the circles under his eyes. He would tell me he was ravenous always, that his headaches were constant. He wrote this to me in a note.

On a bit of paper, written in short, matter-of-fact fragments, he told me his home was small, loud, had no space for him to study that did not have a TV blaring, parents yelling. I wrote me he could not see though the pain in his head, spent his time eating, eating, eating.

Grades? How was I to convince him grades were important? In the face of such pain, how could I lie and tell him, more important than his suffering, were his essay scores? While I tried to help him with his work, I had not recorded grades for him in weeks. What would a zero teach him? The value of labour? That failure brings more failure and suffering more suffering?

I shared his note with guidance, asked he be checked into, checked out, checked up on. Spoke with his teachers, his mother. That was a month ago.

Today the news was delivered to me in a note folded into my mailroom box. On a half sheet of paper, a scrawled missive said the administration had decided I was to not count zeros for the last few weeks he was in class. That his final exam would still have to be counted and recorded as a failing grade and he be given an F for the term.

And that is how we said goodbye to Jacob.


Posted by on December 15, 2006 in Culture, Education, Social, Suicide


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Aspirin as an Effective Treatment for Writer’s Block

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead. – Gene Fowler

Writing is easy. It is not simple, but given the time and a life, or an imagination, or, better, both, there is sufficient fodder for writing. William Sansom told us “A writer lives, at best, in a state of astonishment. Beneath any feeling he has of the good or evil of the world lies a deeper one of wonder at it all.” This is true. Given such astonishment, all there is to writing is looking at the world with that astonishment, discovering what of that experience is communicable and putting the words into an order words have never been in before to say something no other person has ever said or say it in a way that has never been done so a reader can see something completely new in a way which makes it feel familiar or something familiar in a way that appears to make it astonishingly new. That is it. That is all. The hard part is finding the time.

Most writers do not write full time. As perhaps one of the most important professions over the ages, it is one of the least paid. Poets would be within the court of the king but serve at his pleasure. So we now serve at the pleasure and vagaries of the public. We have bridges and streets named after us but rarely do we get paid in a way that allows us to write and write and write.

To pay the bills, to give my wife the time needed to get her practice off the ground, I teach writing at a public school. A public middle school. Five classes a day and sometimes seven. I train students to pass state tests. That is my job.

I cannot do this. Instead, I prepare them for college, for Advance Placement classes, teach them to do literary analysis and critique, to think. We read Plato, Alan Watts, Bradbury. We barely open our textbooks but we write poetry, publish poetry, win contests and, in the end, gain some of the best writing scores ever seen by this state. From parents and students, I receive thank you cards, presents, pictures. From administration I receive time-outs.

In between, I keep records, meet deadlines, appear mean, being cruel in order to be kind. I tell them no, no no, when the school rules tell me I must, to students who do not want to be in class, in school. I tell them they may not go to the bathroom, must make their bodies slave to a clock, be chained to the forty-seven minute increments and a chime, we separate things not naturally separated and learn this now, that then and stop at a bell. We become subjects of conditioning and divorce our bodies from nature, marching in four minutes from class to class.

I eat at certain times, as do they. I use the bathroom after holding it too long, as do they. I switch gears at the sound of a bell, like them. And, like them, never do so smoothly or wholly. I hold off drinking and hydrating so we can get through classes, as do they. They are training their bodies to do what mine does not, live by a clock and all day, I think, as I teach writing and hold my bladder, what I want to be doing is writing and drinking. Water and words.

I hate this. It is detestable. It feels criminal, violent. Friends tell me I should be honoured to teach. I am so honoured I can barely purchase a house in the county in which I teach. I should be enthralled to make such an impact on my student’s lives. I am but need not be in such an environment to be effective. They tell me to be happy I make such a difference in their lives. I tell them to get the degree and do it themselves if they think it so important.

I cannot not meet the needs of my students. I don’t not know how to do something in a way other than well, no matter what it requires. The weird students flock to me. The writers stick to me. I’d stop today. Now, if I had the chance.

You must do it, I am told, because you love kids so. I am told this repeatedly. No, I answer. I do it for the money. Mind you, I would teach for free any children who wanted to learn and had interest. But the job I do for the money. I get quizzical looks, strangely cocked heads on people suddenly looking like confused puppies attempting to understand a strange new word. It pays better than adjunct work at the community college. It pays better than private schools. I had never planned on teaching in the public schools but then I had not thought of my wife in medical school. I went to college for an advanced degree. It was not the one I wanted but it was the one available where I was at the time and would fit my work schedule. I was going to travel Asia with my Sweetie and teach English as a Second Language. Then she decided to go to med school. I took on teaching because, it seems, there is only thing I was qualified to do by my degree: teach.

More time is needed. It will end, I’m told. I’d like to believe that but it certainly feels as though it will not. I am trying to give it more time, but frustration wins over patience. The day to day absurdity seems to pummel any sense of equanimity into paste where one day looks like the next, and each is a place I don’t want to be.

I think of leaving, going to Europe or Japan. But, what about the books I’m working on? The theatre I hope to create? I cannot afford a second household, have found work which pays only what I make now or less and this is not enough for a another home, no matter how modest. I look for work where I live but incomes are low, will not allow time for writing. Even with the few weeks-off teaching appears to give, I find I must take classes, gain credits, recertify. If anyone tells you teachers have scads of time off, tell them it is a fallacy. Then kick them.

And I must write. I do so early in the morning before school. I get up and write. I do so at night. On weekends. Hold poetry readings, perform, record poetry, write essays, write plays and do all this around teaching school. I must, or else all I do is teach and shall find I have become nothing but a teacher; else I have given up what I am, to live in order to work only. Otherwise I am but an income and, at that, not a great one.

And I am exhausted. Still, I know I will not give up that which is congruent with my self to become fully incongruent. Yet, I go to bed at night, thinking, feeling, if I did not wake, it would be not so bad. If I did not wake, I would not have to go to work.

I wake in the morning wanting to say, starting to say, with my head on the pillow, “It is a new day, with a new sun. I can make this day what I choose it to be…” but always come up short and, despite my best efforts, silently exclaim, desperately, “Crap, I have to do this again.”

I think things I should not. I wonder, do we have aspirins in the house? How many? A bottle? Two bottles? How much would be enough? I could calculate this but am afraid to learn just how little.

I didn’t know aspirin could kill. My daughter taught me that and paid the price with an ulcer. She took half a bottle. Too many and it would have been enough. How many for me? I think how easy it would be to take them and lie down, enjoy fully my sleep knowing it would not end in classes the next day, the same damn thing again and again and again. The same pressure over and over. To get into bed knowing there were no more staff meetings, professional development plans, parent conferences. Sometimes, I am hard pressed to see why this is a bad idea. Sometimes is more and more often.

My doc tells me it is the epilepsy. That it drives one a bit crazy, especially if one is a control-freak. I’ve read up on this. Epileptics tend to be very physically healthy. They live to ripe old ages but often do not make it with their minds fully intact. If they do not make it, it is often due to suicide.

I use to say I could never end up famous. As a poet, I just was not crazy enough. Look at the really famous poets and one will discover most of them are off more than a bit. Drugs, disease, mental illness. Perhaps there is hope for me yet?

I have not mentioned this to anyone. People ask me how I am. I answer fine. I have, at times, given rather strange responses to that question only to hear, “Glad to hear it,” “That’s great,“ and the ubiquitous, under-meaning “Good.” All rather funny after answering “I lost my head to a marauding swale,” “Deplorable,” or simply “Tired.”

The question is asked pro-forma. When asked the question “How are you” in any of its many similar forms, people are expected to answer in the positive or, if not positive, to give light, short, nearly cliché complaintive responses. “Ready for the weekend.” “I need a vacation.” We all are liars. Anyone asked who actually, honestly answers the question is looked at blankly, the way we look at and listen to a developmentally disabled adult while we think how we can’t wait to escape. We consider them a bit off, fringy, whining, needy. When asked how we are, we can lie or whine.

But I am high-functioning and this is not always to my advantage as I get the job done and done well regardless of how I feel. Depression does not decrease that functioning or, if it does, such decrease is not of any noticeable amount as to call attention to my health or well-being. I can appear cheerful, calm, happy. And so it goes.

On occasion a friend notices I am not as well as I seem, as together as I pretend, asks why I said nothing. I answer that I did not want to seem as possessing any of the above mentioned qualities. I do not want to be needy, whiney. I am chastised. Told the question was asked sincerely. I have no doubt. Told I am wrong to dissemble and that it does not give the friend a chance to help. Told such behaviour is selfish. True, perhaps. I believe the sincerity of what is said. Yet, in answering truthfully, what is gained? Are any problems solved? And if others then worry? How shall that be a help? How shall I knowingly worry friends with that which they cannot help, cannot change?

And so I have not. Until, perhaps, now. I have written this. And what should be done with it? I should do the equivalent of burning it, trashing it by hitting the delete key, by not saving. Don’t save it, don’t save me. Maybe I should actually print it and take the physical being of the words and paper, burn them and send them skyward as wisps and smoke to disperse into air, thinner and thinner till naught can be seen of it above and what is left upon the ground is unrecognizable as anything but that which once was.

Perhaps I should put it away for a year, look at it then and see what time has wrought, imagine how I could feel as I did, laugh or sigh. And if I feel the same way, cry over my old words for all the good they have done me. Or publish it before I change my mind.

Sixty-eight five hundred milligram tablets.

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Posted by on August 25, 2006 in Culture, Family, Social, Suicide


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