This is my nephew Tyrel. He would have been 28 on his next birthday, Dec 31, 2013.

Ty

This is Ty’s daughter, Saylor. She is 3 now. She was a 3 month old fetus when Tyrel took his life. He never got to hold her and see how beautiful she is. He was buried holding her first ultrasound picture.

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We’re lucky. Saylor’s mom, Destiny, is wonderful and has been great about letting us see their daughter. I don’t think I would have been that strong. We don’t get to see her often because she lives far away. Destiny got married Oct 11, 2012. It’s happy and it’s sad. We love her. She is family. We’re happy she’s found love again and that Saylor will have a daddy. We are sad that Ty will not be the one she grows up calling “dad” but does that matter anymore? She won’t remember him at all. She wasn’t even born before he died. Still, she’s his. His child, his DNA. She looks just like her daddy.

I can’t tell, some days, if that makes it better or worse. Sometimes I think “He made that choice.” but he was just a kid. He was scared and overwhelmed and hurting. I don’t think he really understand the global ramifications of the choice he thought he was making. In his despair, he chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem and that decision not only ended his life but irrevocably changed the lives of everyone who loved him.

I put together this slideshow for what would have been Ty’s 26th birthday on December 31, 2011.

Slideshow tribute: Happy 26th, Tyrel, Music and Lyrics by Mason Allan, another nephew of mine.

It never seems to get easier.

Tyrel suffered from rapid-cycling bipolar depression, like most the rest of our family, and hung himself on Jan 2nd, 2010; two days after his 24th birthday.

After Tyrel’s suicide, I quickly came to realize that the subjects of suicide and mental illness are taboo. Few people even expressed condolences to our family. In fact, my boss yelled at me for taking the day off work, the day after we found Tyrel dead. We told people that Ty hung himself. As my mother said “I refuse to be ashamed of one thing that kid did. I am proud of him. It took a lot of guts to hang himself and I won’t lie about how he died.” Suicide and mental illness go hand-in-hand and both subjects are strictly avoided by most people.

I wanted to do something to honor Ty’s memory, but also to smash preconceived notions about mental illness and suicide, and to help lift the taboo. I know that my blog, alone, won’t make a big difference, but we are capable of changing the world one person at a time. If it helps one person feel less alone, less stigmatized, then it’s worthwhile. I have been diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar too. The night of Ty’s suicide I experienced the first of many total fugue states – which I later found, was also my first break into completely separate identities. I was eventually diagnosed with DID (formerly known as multiple personalities).

Statistically 1 in 4 people suffer from diagnosed mental illness. The number is probably much higher, as many people refuse to admit they’re abnormally anxious, depressed, etc. It’s a good bet that you or someone you are very close to is mentally ill. You may not even realize it because, as a rule, it’s not socially acceptable to talk about. People grow visibly uncomfortable when the subject comes up.

The fact that mentally ill people are made to feel like they are somehow to blame for their illness is ridiculous and must stop. Mental illness is real. People suffering from mental illness can’t just “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” “stop feeling sorry for themselves” and a zillion other types of stupid advice mentally ill people are given. Most mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Mental illness isn’t a “pretend” disease. There is a physiological basis for most types of mental illness. If mental illness were treated like any other illness, a lot more people would seek medical help for their problems, rather than try to self medicate them away with drugs or alcohol out of feelings of shame.

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copyright Gay Harper
It seems that,
with every death,
I lose a part of me.

There’s very little left,
now,
of who I used to be and

this person
I’m becoming
isn’t able to see

the person
who I was then or
treasured memories.

Locked in this head
are places to which
I no longer have the key

My identity
must have drained out
with the last bag of my IV.

A hollow shell;
mask on tight,
I still resemble me.

The me
I used to know.
The me
I used to be.

Cringing white,
terrified,
I anticipate
the swift slap
of ink & metal

just before
the key
strikes,

crushing into
my thin, blank chest

a mark
that will be here
forever.

Fire Engine Red

Posted: July 11, 2012 in My Poetry
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Raining ash
for forty days.
Everything’s on fire and
you, with your small words
like “god” and “hope”,
beg to be burnt
to a cinder.

Smoky skies;
days dark with
spent embers from
mountains blazing
with raw fury;
anger,
a question,
answered in flame.

Even futility
is useless
against this towering rage.
The world is aflame.

Hope,
like love,
is a dirty word.
It gives you faith in
nothing and

you, with your petty dreams,
small words
bleeding dry to white spit,
at the corners
of your parched mouth,
are insignificant.

In the face of nature’s wrath.
you are nothing.
No one.

Your words
are sounds
coughed up by
dying animals.

Everyone protests
that last, great
blast of
life.

I just got a newsletter from the suicide bereavement group my sister and I attended last summer. The statistics posted below make me sad. I know that they’re right and I have felt the immense difference between the types of “compassion” shown to families where the death is accidental or natural as compared to drug overdose or suicide. This last year, my father died. The same week, two of my cousins died too. One was an alcoholic and no one seemed very upset by his death. His brother, on the other hand, died of complications from pneumonia. His death was a shock and was far more devastating to the family than the cousin who died of an alcoholic related disease. Why? Both were my cousins. Both were loved. Both had virtually the same background. Neither were expected to die any time soon. Why did everyone seem sort of relieved that Kevin died, but sad that Kenny did?

It just brings up so many bad feelings about the way my family and I were treated after Ty’s death. Especially at work. We weren’t allowed to grieve. People we thought were our friends accused us of causing Tyrel’s death by either inattention, by being “bad examples” due to our own mental illnesses and all sorts of other ridiculous, but incredibly hurtful things. Voyeuristic vultures wanted to hear every detail. I just recently had someone ask me if Ty died as the result of autoerotic asphyxiation. I just stared at them for a long moment then said “No. ‘He killed himself’ doesn’t mean he died accidentally trying to get off.” Dumbass, but sadly all too common.

When another nephew’s friend died from a congenital heart defect while they were staying at the family’s cabin with another friend, the rumor-mill ran rampant. Three boys alone in an out of the way cabin…clearly they were using drugs and one had ODed. It’s such bullshit that it makes me furious. When the autopsy results came back, it showed what we’d known all along. Jesse had no drugs in his system. The other boys were tested by the police the day that Jesse died, and had neither drugs nor alcohol in their systems but the rumors continued. I’m tired of people being so judgmental. Even if Jesse had died of an overdose, should being a normal kid wanting to try something new be a death sentence? I don’t believe so. Ok onto the study results before my head explodes from fury induced high blood pressure.

“In this study, the authors compared and contrasted 571 parents who had lost children by various causes— suicide, drug-related deaths, accidental deaths and natural causes in terms of their grief difficulties, post-traumatic stress and other mental health problems and perceived social stigma. In comparing parents whose children died by suicide or drug-related death with those whose children died of accidents or natural causes, the suicide and drug-related death survivors had appreciably more difficulty in grief and with poor mental health. The authors conclude that powerful social stigma against drug use and mental illness remains a pervasive challenge for these parents as they experience less compassionate responses from others following their losses.”

from
“Parental Grief After a Child’s Drug Death Compared to Other Death Causes: Investigating a
Greatly Neglected Bereavement Population.” By William Feigelman, John R. Jordan &
Bernard S. Gorman, Omega, 2011, Vol 63 (4), p. 219-316.

Build a Dream

Posted: March 3, 2012 in My Poetry

I am back.

In the belly
of the beast,
hanging hate
like dirty paper.

Sick with the kill
of day upon day,
tearing ragged strips
to make paper mache –

Build more nothing
on nothing
until it feels like
something.

It’s the same nothing
that it’s always been,
wishing’s not a spell.

I go on feeling
nothing
and the news?
It piles up.

Unread & waiting
for the shallow code
of feeling.

What’s Love Worth?

Posted: January 29, 2012 in My Poetry

Hanging on
when good is gone and
bad, ugly things crowd in;
vultures flying lazy circles.

The painful crawl of days,
some things you can’t fix.
The eternal stink of incontinence
filling rooms with
the palpable stench of decay.

The lift and strain
to keep muscles from atrophy;
the constant gulping terror
devouring you whole.

Moans, coughs, sobs
become the only language
you understand, and
when they sleep,
blessed respite
when you can die a little too.

What’s love worth
to you?
When you’re no longer recognized;
are bitten, beat and choked
by the terror of dying…
is that when you say
“Enough.”?

I can’t wash my hands
of this;
the smell of shit and piss
follow me into the shower and
back out, again.

I’m forever tainted.

Still, I strain to lift bodies
from the filth of their own excrement,
wash them off,
make them clean.

The washer runs, non-stop.

First one,
blessedly dead,
now another, dying.

What lesson am I meant to learn
in this ceaseless battle?

Press on with love.
Forget about hope.
Live for each separate moment.

The reward is in
I can.
I will.
I did.
I will do what it takes.

For love,
I sacrifice my peace.

For love
is all
there is.

Silence

Posted: January 27, 2012 in My Poetry

Silence is the worst of it;
not really silent at all.
Static echoes blurring by
ears too shocked to hear.

Where voices once laughed
dark silence holds firm
like the black leather
gloves of a killer,
one hand held hard over mouth
while the other crushes your throat.

Loud, popping silence
as you fade from yourself.
It’s just your brain imploding.

All sharp edges,
your days on earth
turn inward and attack.

They were always there,
some forgotten;
bitter shards of youth

twisting inside you,
a serrated blade
searching for your heart.

When, at last,
the knife discovered
there was no heart to wound,

it found your mind instead.
Plenty there to snicker-snack

but silence found me
first.

My Father’s Ghost

Posted: January 24, 2012 in My Poetry
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I dreamed I saw your ghost last night.
You seemed to have lost your head.

I followed your gaunt shuffle,
waiting for a sign;
some reason you’d come back

but you wandered, headless,
down the hallway
turned a corner and were gone.

You’d gone into your office,
so I went there too.

You weren’t there, just
your books, the newest published
a month after your death.

So many things you cared about
with passionate intensity.

The publisher asked
what we wanted done with the royalties.

Of course, they’ll fund your scholarship for
botany students with promise:
your namesake and your baby.
Plants were your only true love.

I guess you’ll live on
in leaves of various kinds.

Leafing through the pages, now
I feel your quiet presence.

You don’t want to hear
the truth
so you kill the messenger.
Block out anything
unpleasant to your ears.

Does it work for you,
this way of not dealing with
your fear?

Growing piles of dead friends
littering your past,
your present, your future.

You can’t see them;
eyes closed tight as
you swing the blade.

Red rains down in
clotting gore

stains you and
everyone near you
painful crimson-black.

There are other ways
to cope with loss,
instead of ruthless slaughter.

Hate
yourself.
Hate everyone.

Truth won’t stop for you.

Like cold wind,
it will find you.

No matter where you hide.
No matter who you kill.

Lost Time

Posted: January 7, 2012 in My Poetry
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Our hearts beat together
in intimate embrace,
reflecting each other;
infinite repetition.

Like children, we accepted
the inevitability of Us.
Too innocent to question
an impossible future.

Forgetting all decorum,
tradition or taboo,
thinking only of each other.

How can I capture that wind
with words?
It tore us apart,
limb from limb, heart from heart.

Invisible but powerful enough
to drag you from my arms;
cleave you to her
like a tornado driven splinter:
sharp and irresistible.
Too deeply imbedded
to ever be freed.

I clutched my heart in bleeding hands.
That poor, shattered mirror
reflecting nothing but distortion.

Flayed feelings, burned then buried alive.
No eulogy was spoken.
They clawed at raw earth,
clinging to hope, but
nothing can set dead love free.

Neither fire, nor silence,
that grey ice sliding down my spine,
could unearth what was gone.

I mourned the loss alone;
vigil for the broken mirror.

7 years bad luck.