Could My Dad’s Suicide Have Been Prevented?

A father and his young daughter play her favorite game in their front yard. Dad holds the girl’s hands and spins, her feet flying in the air as they go round and round. The world became a blur.

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Mitch Mayborn, my Dad

The game never ended for the dad, my dad, as his life continued to spin and spiral out of control until it ended in the early morning hours of January 17, 1991 with a self-inflicted gunshot. Had he spiraled so far down that he had no other choice? No other solution to his pain? Could this horrible event have been prevented?

Intervention, prevention and the belief that suicide is preventable rules the day now. If one can learn and notice the warning signs, and be willing to get involved, a tragedy might be prevented, a life might be saved. Not always, but trying is better than not trying.

This sentiment can be hard to swallow if you tried to intervene and still a suicide happens. A survivor of suicide loss already feels so much guilt, are we piling on more, implying that they should have/could have done more? A survivor does feel an inordinate amount of guilt, and it is possible this will make things worse for them. For me, after therapy, support groups and the passage of time, I have been able to resolve my feelings of guilt.

When the spinning game stops, the child flops  on the ground laughing, feeling the dizziness subside as the minutes pass.

My dad’s dizziness never subsided. Posthumously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it is suspected that he suffered most of his adult life.

If I could find a time machine to go back to the 1970s, I think my father would have been a good candidate for intervention. It would have involved staring down the shame and stigma of mental illness and alcoholism by not just my dad, but by my entire family. Skeletons loosed from their cozy closets and into the world.

Sure there was talking, or rather yelling, shaming, blaming, accusing and rejection. We had a lack of understanding. We made his problems about us. If he would/could only notice our pain he would stop his destructive behavior. But real intervention? No. Dad fought his demons alone and the best he knew how, but they only got bigger and louder until they drowned out all reason, taking over the mind of a man who seemed to have all the answers when I was growing up.

The idea of and methods for suicide intervention and prevention came around too late for my dad. The stigma of mental illness and suicide is not gone, but it is fading away. Surging forward is the thought that it is part of the human condition and should be treated as such. There is far more understanding and openness surrounding mental illness, but there is still work to be done.

If you know someone who is struggling, I hope that you have the courage, compassion and caring to speak directly to them, ask if they need help, listen and help them get help if they need it.

If you are struggling, I hope that somewhere in your darkness you can find a sliver of light and reach out for help from someone you know, a crisis line in your area, or the National Suicide Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).

It’s Grand

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I saw her and fell hard. A take your breath away, knock your socks off, heart-melting kind of fall. All of that and more. The grandbaby. The anxiously awaited for tiny girl that is a part of me, but not of me arrived almost 2 months ago.

How to explain these feelings without sounding like a sappy goose has been a challenge, but to say that I was not prepared for their intensity would be an understatement. Being taken out at the knees by a small toddler has been my go-to visual. Sure, I expected to love this baby, but the WOW, I LOVE THIS BABY, not anticipated.

I have given birth twice, first to the mother of this new baby, and I love both of my children fiercely. A mother’s love, though, comes fraught with so much baggage. The pressures, the responsibilities, the helplessness that a new mother feels can permeate that intense love and rob a new mom (and dad) of the pure pleasure of their child. Those blood curdling screams that come from such a tiny thing worm their way into an exhausted parent’s whole being leaving them at wit’s end. Day after day, night after night; when will the screaming end?

But this grandmother love? This grandmother love is something different. Pure pleasure, maybe, without the baggage?

When I went home after Margot was born, I wallowed around in my empty nest, wanting desperately to be with the new little family, and share all my immense wisdom. Hah! The hard fact is her parents will have to figure out much of the care and feeding of this tiny human on their own. Living 600 miles apart is hard for me, but that can be accepted and worked around. When your kids grow up, you don’t get to make decisions like where to live anymore. If only.

I have just returned from a second visit to the sweet little miracle. This time felt different. Having adjusted to her existence, knowing that all was well with everyone, I settled in, wanting to help, but also simply observing. I did insist on a date night for the new mom and dad, but probably more for my own selfish “Mimi time with Margot” than for the good of their relationship. During my babysitting time, I contradicted my advice to my daughter to put the baby down every now and then and get some stuff done (sorry, attachment parenters), but my minutes with her were limited and I wanted to make the most of them.

On the last night of my short visit, I was in charge of bedtime. I rocked Margot in the semi-darkness as she wailed. No bouncing, no shushing, just listening to the instrumental Disney songs, and waiting out her distress, that “there’s no reason for it” distress that can drive parents crazy; and she calmed, going from wail to whimper to quiet. As I set her in her crib (apparently the wrong way around because her sweet little face could not be seen on the video streaming to mom and dad’s iPhones), it hit me.

Show, don’t tell. Not only useful writing advice, but a significant life lesson that I, of sometimes many, many words, need to practice often.

Grandmother’s love, wow! I see my own babies’ faces in this new baby, but without all that new parent baggage. I soak in the cries and smiles, the coos, burps and the hiccups; perhaps because I know how fast babies change and, before you know it, they have a baby of their own.

I’m looking forward to my next visit in a few short weeks, and I will soak in her newness all over again.

The Sleeping Baby

Is there anything sweeter than a sleeping baby? Case in point:

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As new parents, sleeping is what you hear you will miss the most, that you will dream of your baby sleeping at night — ALL night. As a new grandmother, I am contractually obligated to offer up advice to the new parents which they can then ignore, because what do I know?!

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article in their Personal Journal section on Sleep Training. I’m sharing this with my daughter and son-in-law with the disclaimer that the opinions in the article and video may not be mine. Watch the video below for the gist of the article.

Parents have  wanted their infants to sleep through the night ever since the first cave tot middle of the night wake-ups revealed the family cave to the saber tooth tiger pack. In more recent history, Roland and I, too, wanted our precious babes to sleep through the night sooner rather than later, and grandmothers gave advice. Another disclaimer: I don’t remember if my mom or MIL gave us any specific sleep advice. At the time, though, I do remember talk around the playground about just how to accomplish this much desired goal.

They call it sleep training now (I guess along the lines of potty training). We didn’t call it that, but there was talk about letting your baby cry it out. Do you or don’t you. We didn’t. That’s my story. Laura, according to her baby book, slept through the night at 7 weeks! Woohoo! First kids do like to show off, don’t they?!

According to his baby book, Kyle slept through the night at 3 months. I must have written it down on the first night he did it, and then it didn’t happen again for 12 years. Well, maybe not 12 years, but Kyle was often sick with ear infections or bronchitus or asthma or something and I remember a lot of sleepless nights. I suspect we might have let him cry it out on a night or two.

Mostly, though, I remember trying the cry it out technique with naps. And 10 minutes was my limit, so I guess that “cry it out” is not entirely accurate. The idea was, after 10 minutes you check on the baby to let them know that you have not abandoned them. There is no picking up, just a rub on the back or the head, some soft assurances, and then you sneak back out, and start the 10 minute thing over again.

Parenthood is not very efficient.

There isn’t a right way, no one size fits all. There’s the way that you, as a parent, feel most comfortable with. At the end of the day, eventually, hopefully, everyone sleeps.