Category Archives: Suicide

The Lesson a Giant Pumpkin Can Teach Us About Depression

I lost my sister, Katherine, at the age of 37, to suicide on March 26, 2012. I didn’t think about her every day before she died. I think about her every day now. Yep, nearly four years later – every single day. Who should you be thinking about every day? Take a few deep breaths…think about those people now. Repeat each day!

It’s amazing the lessons and reminders we get all around us when we find a moment to pause and reflect. My sister, Katherine, could brighten any room with her smile and laughter. She smiled until the end – keeping a brave face and hiding her struggles. So many of us were not aware of the signs of mental illness, depression, and anxiety, and how very real the possibility of a suicide could be.

Bear with me. We grew a giant pumpkin in our yard last year.

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In December it snowed, and I had visions of sprinkling the pumpkin with birdseed all winter long to watch birds and squirrels have fun with it.

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But then it warmed up a bit, and the pumpkin started to sag. As weird as this may sound, it was about this time that I had this random thought that my sister kept right on smiling and putting on a show that everything was ok, even though she was feeling bad. The pumpkin kept right on smiling. Every time I saw the smile on the pumpkin I thought of Katherine.

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I have many random thoughts, some I shoo away, some come back to me often, and this thought kept coming back to me. No matter how bad that pumpkin must have been feeling, that darn smile wouldn’t go away. And I thought of the struggles that are hidden every day by so many people.

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I kept thinking of this connection to my sister and complications associated with depression and the stigma of mental illness…still smiling.

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Of course. Still smiling. “I’m fine” said the pumpkin.

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I thought about the pumpkin while buried under snow and frequent sub-zero temperatures for over two months. The pumpkin could be seen again in March…still smiling. “You ok?”, “I’m ok, don’t worry about me. Check out my smile.” The smile is there, but the pumpkin is not ok.

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We had so much fun growing this pumpkin, showing it off to people, wondering how big it would get, etc, etc, etc, but I never ever would have thought the more the pumpkin rotted away, the more I would feel this connection.

So many people face struggles every day. They try to hide it from the world. They try to hide it from themselves, and they don’t share everything with their loved ones. They don’t know or see any way to get better. The rest of us don’t know what to look for, or think this will pass, or don’t pause long enough to look past the smile.

We cared for our pumpkin and watched it every day when it was growing and healthy.

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Maybe it felt heaviness from us.

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Being pushed or pulled in too many directions.

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Feelings of pressure.

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Or of emptiness.

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That it wasn’t good enough.

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Or was scared.

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But that darn pumpkin kept smiling through it all. Check in on those around you – listen to them. REALLY listen to them. Notice their changes in behavior and understand how very real suicide can be. If in doubt, get professional help. Mental illness, depression, anxiety, etc – they are so tough to talk about and share. You feel judged. You feel like you won’t get better. You feel helpless. With suicide you are fighting to live and die at the same time. It’s not that people in this situation don’t want to face the world and get better, they just don’t know how and don’t see a way out. Smiling puts people at ease and provides some escape from facing your reality and having to share the uncertainty that you have. Smiling on the outside, while caving in from all directions.

That’s what I learned from our giant pumpkin last year. It’s important for all of us to smile, but please be open and share how you’re doing with others. If you’re struggling then please let someone know. If you’re concerned about someone, don’t keep that to yourself. Reach out to them. Last year I wouldn’t have done this, but recently I noticed someone’s post on Facebook and sent them a private message, “…checking in to make sure you have people to talk to and have a good support network.” Sometimes that’s enough to get people talking. And to get a conversation started. But we have to pause long enough to make it happen. Peace in the week ahead.

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CLICK HERE to support this cause and help me save lives.

As always, I can’t thank you all enough for reading these messages, being there for those around you, and helping fight the stigma of suicide and mental illness. WE are saving lives. Thank you.

Week 11 Training Update

Here’s a mix of fun and sobering facts. Reflect. Enjoy. Learn. Grow. Share. Make a difference. You’ll find my week 11 training updates and pictures after the data.

Number Description
121 million ~# of people in world who suffer from depression (Healthline)
42,000 ~# of people who committed suicide in the U.S. in 2015 (AFSP)
31,000 # gallons of sweat that 26,000 people running the Boston Marathon could produce (ick) (Boston Marathon)
27,167 # of people who started the 2015 Boston Marathon (BAA)
26,598 # of people who finished the 2015 Boston Marathon (BAA)
10,000 # of lives I pledged to touch while raising awareness to suicide prevention
500 # of suicide attempts in the U.S. in the time it takes ME to run the Boston Marathon
126 # of people who have donated to help me save lives so far (THANK YOU!)
117 ~# of people who die by suicide each day (AFSP)
53 # of miles I ran in 8 days last week
37 age of my sister, Katherine, when she died of suicide
26.2 # of miles in a marathon
21 marathon mile marker when many runners may hit “the wall”
20.5 Boston marathon mile marker when you hit “Heartbreak Hill”
20 # of suicides in the U.S. in the time it takes ME to run the Boston Marathon
11 # of people over age 80 who started the Boston Marathon in 2015 (BAA)
11 # of people over age 80 who finished the Boston Marathon in 2015 (BAA)
1 # of people that it takes to MAKE A DIFFERENCE (you!)

In the span of eight days I did a 17-mile run, 5-mile, 8-mile with seven full hills, 5-mile, and an 18-mile run. And I took two naps :) The 17-mile run was dark, below zero, windy and snowing. Blah. The 18-mile run a week later was supposed to hit 50 degrees but instead I ran early in the day so I didn’t see anything above 35F (but it was the first time I only wore two shirts & only one pair of gloves, in a very long time!). It rained the day before so the entire 18-miles was an adventure in not trusting any of my steps. I didn’t fall but I had many, many, many slips and near misses. This was the closest I’ve come to quitting a run this year – not because I was tired, but because it was so slippery EVERYWHERE. My picture below doesn’t do it justice. Regardless, the 18 miles felt really good. Could I do another 8 miles? Yep…uh, maybe…I’d at least give it a shot now :)

Here’s my 17-mile run.

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And here’s my 18-mile run just a week later. Weather is getting nice. Crazy it is February with these high temps (it’s all a matter of perspective).

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Ice. Ice. And more ice on my 18 mile run. When it looked dry it was ice. When it looked wet it was ice. When it looked icy it was ice. I’ll soon find out what muscles I was using to stabilize – hope those muscles are the same ones that will get me through Boston!

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Here’s data from my “7 full hills” day. My phone still hasn’t quite figured out where I am on the hills. The red line should be going between 806 elevation up to 933 elevation each time. Honest – I run all the way down – I’d only be cheating myself ;) And the blue line…well, let’s just say I’m not quite as fast going up as I am going down. And does this picture look like 50F and sunny to you? Me neither.

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As of this post I’m at $11,040. The support I’ve received so far has been absolutely AMAZING!!! I am so touched and blessed to get this support and honor my sister’s life. WE are saving lives!!! YOU can still help with a donation by clicking here. I’m chasing that NEXT $10,000!

As always, I can’t thank you all enough for reading these messages, being there for those around you, and helping fight the stigma of suicide and mental illness. WE are saving lives. Thank you.

Week 6 Training Update

“If there were no January, we might just take July for granted. Weather is a metaphor for life. Pain and suffering aren’t optional. Power through the storms and bitter setbacks – there’s always another warm front up ahead.” -Paul Douglas, January 17, 2016, Star Tribune weather page

Exactly. And as I prepare for each run in bitterly cold weather, I think about the struggles that so many people face every day. And then I start taking steps. One foot after another.

About 20 years ago I was a consultant in Chicago with KPMG Peat Marwick. I flew up to work at a client site 40 minutes north of Minneapolis, in Anoka. It was cold. Brutally cold. Below-zero-all-week cold. The hotel had an agreement with a fitness center down the road and would drive you there in a shuttle. I wanted to workout so I asked for the shuttle. How cold was it? So cold that the hotel staff gave ME the keys to the hotel shuttle and said I should drive myself. Yep. True story. Lucky for this hotel, the one guy from Chicago they chose to give keys to their shuttle was me. That’s when you know it is cold in Minnesota.

Week 6 of training. 120 miles behind me. Almost 90 days until the Boston Marathon. I’ve incredibly received over $8,000 in donations towards saving lives, preventing suicide, and fighting stigma. I’m touched every day by the generosity of so many. WE are saving lives. I can’t thank you all enough, and I hope that you continue to share my story and blog posts with those you care about.

This is what I wear for JUST ONE winter run. Crazy! I’m spending as much time doing laundry as I am running :)

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Do you have 4 minutes right now? Here’s a great, short video: What is depression?. A few, quick takeaways that are so important for all of us to understand:

  • “Depression has physical manifestations inside the brain”
  • “It takes the average person suffering with a mental illness over ten years to ask for help
  • “Depression is a medical condition, just like asthma or diabetes”
  • Open conversations about mental illness help erode stigma

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In the little weather picture can you feel the giant comic sun and beautiful hot air balloon warming you up? Yah, me neither. Squint and look at the scenery in the background of the photo just above the hot air balloon. See them? Look again and scroll down for a zoomed in view.

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Here’s the zoomed in view. It was a cold day, and I decided to jog through a nature preserve area that I’d never gone through before. As I rounded the corner I saw four deer. I watched them for a minute and took about fifty selfies (before my hand froze) trying to get both them and me in focus. Oh well, this was the best I could do.

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And a picture with a bit more focus…(once we take steps, even on bitterly cold days, we will be amazed by the wonder and surprises in life, especially as we go down new paths)…

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Long runs on weekends with the weather lately has kept things interesting. Sunday is my “long run” day (14 miles this week for my long run). Seriously, HIGH of -7F (not factoring in the wind yet)??? Brrrr!

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I ran part way across a frozen lake past a few ice houses, on my jog. But when I took out my phone it froze (literally), so I couldn’t take pictures. MapMyRun froze & stopped working then – so it showed a straight-shot home, which made it kind of fun, because it did show me running across the lake, but it also showed me running completely through yards and houses too! :)

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Thanks again for all of the support. I couldn’t do this without you. Click here to make a donation and support this great cause.

Thanks for reading. Have an amazing week.

Not quite ready for prime time

This web site isn’t quite ready for prime time. But…wait, wait, wait…

…if you’re here you must have seen my shirt in the Minneapolis Marathon (and, hopefully by now I’ve successfully finished my very first marathon).

I printed the shirt. The marathon came (5/31/2015). And I ran out of time to really spend the energy that I wanted to on this web site (e.g., cleaning up past articles, adding links & pics, new content). But hey, I’d rather have finished a marathon and only have a partial web site than the reverse! I do have some content…it will only get better (and more frequent)…so keep scrolling down and clicking around. Give me feedback too. Where should I take this? What would be helpful?

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(UPDATE: I did survive my first marathon and had a blast doing it.)

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Please let me know that you were here…and please come back. Leave a comment below…or send me an email at dcthmpsnep@gmail.com

My goal is to run in the Boston Marathon next year (2016) to raise money for suicide awareness & prevention and to fight the incredible stigma that exists every single day around suicide and mental illness. I will need your support (happy thoughts, encouragement, money, etc).

We’re all in this together. Thank you for your support and happy thoughts. Enjoy today. Please come back to this web site and give me any feedback that you have – and I’d love to hear thoughts on what topics you’d like me to blog on related to suicide and mental illness. I am absolutely willing and ready to share all of my thoughts and perspective from the tragedy of losing my sister to suicide just three years ago (March 26, 2012). No topic or question is off limits – let’s hit this head on and kill the stigma.

Two Year Anniversary

Originally posted by Dave Thompson on IronMegan.com personal blog, March 27, 2014 (note: his sister, Katherine, died March 26, 2012)

It’s been two years since my sister, Katherine, died.

That first year was insane. It was a whirlwind of emotions. We were constantly watching out for ourselves and each other – or just trying to get through each day as we cycled through all stages of grief. It forced all of us to deal with emotions that most of us had never even considered. But we got through it, and we continue to heal and rebuild.

The second year has been more educational & reflective for me

I’ve started to think more and more about my purpose in life. I still think about Katherine every single day, and I never know when grief will hit. The biggest mental turning point for me has been my understanding that mental illness, depression, anxiety, etc are no different from any other disease. We can watch for signs, we can take steps to reduce our risks, but in the end they are diseases that can’t be controlled. This means that people with these diseases don’t have a choice in the act of suicide. They died by suicide. They died as a result of depression. Just like you died by heart attack as a result of heart disease. They didn’t commit suicide. They didn’t choose to die. They didn’t choose to leave us. Professor Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University has a great 24-lecture series on Stress and Your Body. He very clearly states that major depression is one of the worst illnesses out there. With other illnesses you get a wake-up call and find joy to keep on living but with depression, by definition, people have lost the ability to feel pleasure and find happiness. Anxiety may be even more prevalent than depression, and again, anxiety is also a real medical disorder.

I knew nothing about any of this two years ago

I had opinions that were wrong. I wanted to know why she chose to leave us. Why she didn’t ask us for help. Why she would want to leave so much behind. I used phrases that weren’t accurate and unknowingly perpetuated stereotypes. I come across the word “stigma” frequently and it always seems so blameful – such a negative word – I don’t like that one, which may be the point. Even in yesterday’s Facebook postings about Katherine it was very easy to find words that are wrong and mask the truth. And these are comments by loved ones who have been part of this experience. If it’s so easy for us to capture this inaccurately then of course it’s impossible for the general public to relate to and understand the complexities of mental illness and suicide. But we have to try.

Feel compassion for their death

Here’s a great short article (with audio if you prefer that) by Alan Lessik offering a great perspective from someone who lost a loved one to a fatal mental illness (and coincidentally has a connection to Pearson): Judge Not His Death

“I had to let go of my thought that if he somehow tried harder he would get better. He tried, we tried everything that medicine, psychiatry, therapy and alternatives could throw at him. Unfortunately no one can know that a mental illness is terminal until the person dies.”

We shouldn’t judge

And isn’t it amazing now how many times we see awful news about suicide. It’s all around us and can impact anyone in all walks of life. It’s still hard not to judge or make generalized assumptions when you see that it is related to a celebrity, CEO, etc. But we shouldn’t judge. It’s no different than what we’ve been through. I just read Highest Duty: My Search For What Really Matters, by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. This is the pilot who landed a damaged US Airways flight onto the Hudson River in January 2009. It’s a good book and really shows how all of his life experiences and training put him in the perfect spot that day to save so many lives. One impact on his life was that his dad died of suicide at the age of 78 when Sully was 43 years old. He says,

“Naturally, I was distraught, angry, and upset with myself. I thought that I should have been paying closer attention to him. Intellectually, my mom, my sister, and I knew better. As with so many suicides, I don’t think any of us who loved him could have prevented him from doing what he did…After Flight 1549, people wrote to tell me that they could sense how much I valued life. Quite frankly, one of the reasons I think I’ve placed such a high value on life is that my father took his…his death did have an effect on how I’ve lived, and on how I view the world. It made me more committed to preserving life. I exercise more care in my professional responsibilities. I am willing to work very hard to protect people’s lives, to be a good Samaritan, and to not be a bystander, in part because I couldn’t save my father.”

It’s up to all of us to help raise awareness.

Take care of yourself first. But if you’re ok then keep reading. We should share our experiences. We should proactively ask others how they are doing, especially if they have given us any depression/anxiety/suicide comments or hints about themselves or others in their lives. And then listen to them and be there for them. We should be conscious about our choice of words. I meet with anyone that wants to talk to me about related topics…once I’m aware (and that is the hard part). I have met with co-workers and friends, people concerned about their kids, and people concerned about their parents. I have a Pinterest board. I have offered to help anyone at church who needs to talk on topics I can relate to. These are just some of the ways I try to spread positive values and help others. We’ve been through it, and we are better equipped to help others.

So what can we do?

Professor Robert Sapolsky (who I mentioned above) acknowledges that he has 22 lectures of bad news before he gets to some positive messages in his last two lectures in that series. His focus is on stress and how bad that is for us. But my particular interest was the connection to depression and anxiety. Here’s what we can all do:

  • Take care of ourselves. Do the obvious things like eat well and don’t smoke. Duh – you’ve heard it before.
  • And you need to exercise. You’ve heard this how many times before? Yes, exercise. 30+ minutes every day. It needs to be something that you enjoy doing. Make the time for this. I have made this change in my life and can stick to it most weeks. But I have to be intentional about it because it is important to me. I don’t know if depression sneaks up on you or if wham! one day I get hit by it, but if finding 30 minutes a day will help me (and provides so many other benefits) then sign me up.
  • He also recommends transcendental meditation and having a strong support network. I’ve been very blessed to have a small group of people who watch out for me and that I feel comfortable talking to. I don’t shy away from any conversations about what I’m thinking about and how I’m feeling. It’s good for me and good for others too. Hearing about vulnerability in others makes it ok for more people to share.
  • He also mentions having a religious belief but it is harder to show correlation since people with these beliefs are typically doing other things right and their church provides them a support network that is crucial.
  • The last thing he mentions is essentially your coping strategy. Knowing what you can change or control and what you can’t – when to accept and when to move on. Knowing when to change your strategy. Keeping the right things in perspective. I have learned how to be open and share what is on my mind. I absolutely try to continually educate myself so I am best equipped to make the right decisions. Sharing this information with each other is essential to this and part of my process.

“Mitigate the alonenesss”

Here’s a short related excerpt from an interview with Andrew Solomon who has suffered from depression and his advice on how best to support others:

“I often say to people who describe having a friend who’s depressed “You need to make sure that the person is never alone.” Sometimes that means talking to them, and sometimes when they are too miserable to talk, it means sitting quietly by their bed. And sometimes when even having another human being in the room feels overwhelming to them, it involves sitting right outside the bedroom door. It never involves going away and it never involves taking seriously their claims that they want to be alone. Depression is a disease of loneliness and the best way to address it is to mitigate that aloneness.”

My purpose in life

I was in a discussion recently with someone in a book study at work about our purpose in life. I don’t know how I would have answered that two years ago. I don’t think you can just pick your purpose and expect to get it right and for it to be meaningful. Sometimes it finds you, like it or not. I’m not sure that we can help or save everyone. But what we can do is live for being happy today, be there for those around us, chase your dreams, and live life with no regrets. A huge focus in my life now is thinking about how I can make a positive difference in the lives of others. Concepts from The Dream Manager have absolutely changed what I focus on in my life in the past several years. I talk about these principles at work and with friends. I am working on doing the same at church this year. I am looking at more local groups on depression/grieving/suicide to see where I may fit in to help. I’m trying to build a larger presence on Pinterest. If you’re interested in talking more about any of the things I mentioned and seeing how we can make an ever bigger impact please let me know.

I want feedback for future articles

I also am thinking about changing some of my writing style to be more focused on an audience that doesn’t know me and my story. Largely when I write it is very beneficial for me – but I get great comments from some of you throughout the year too. But could I write on topics that I know about and help others on their journey? Other than these being way too long (I know, I know) I’d love feedback. Respond in comments or send me a separate email. What do you like about how I write? Where can I improve? What topics should I cover? What questions do you have? Misconceptions? Uncertainties? Things you’ve learned that I could elaborate on and share? How about this – would you like to hear more on happiness and pursuing dreams?

Take care of yourself

Dream big. Be there and even just listen to those in need. Educate others. Think about your purpose in life and what more you can do.

Only 10 people on average will cry at your funeral

One last comment. Jeff Olson in The Slight Edge referenced an article saying that only 10 people on average will cry at your funeral and that

“the number one factor that would determine how many people would go on from the funeral to attend the actual burial would be…the weather.” “If it happened to be raining, said the article’s author, 50 percent of the people who attended my funeral would decide maybe they wouldn’t go on to attend my burial after all, and just head home.”

Katherine touched lives

Just think of how many people cried at Katherine’s funeral. Think of how many lives she touched. Think of how long that line was. And think of how many people did go on to the actual burial and stood in the rain on a cold New England day for Katherine. She was a special person and is still loved and missed so much.

When…

Originally posted by Dave Thompson on IronMegan.com personal blog, March 26, 2014 (note: his sister, Katherine, died March 26, 2012)

In the beginning
all the time
when I woke up
when I went to bed
any time in between
when I walked into work
when I walked out of work
but I kept it out of work
had to then
when my phone rang at work
you are never prepared for that phone call

when I drive up the street to my parent’s house
when I drive down the street away from my parent’s house
when I think about that first moment at their house
and we all stand in the kitchen and catch up on things
and get to see and hug each other for the first time of that visit
and joke and laugh with each other
and get some cookies from the cookie jar
that’s always a special moment
it’s still special
but is missing something now

when I think about my parents
and all the things they did right
and all the love we showed each other
and all the happiness waiting for all of us
together in the future

when I think about future family reunions

when I look at our last family pictures
and thought we were doing it for another reason
it wasn’t Katherine that we were worried about then
you never know the reason
take the picture

when I think about my brother
and his family
and my parents
and Katherine’s family
her husband
and girls
those smiling, happy girls
we worry about them remembering too much
yet not remembering enough
those precious, special girls
and extended family
and her best friend
all of her friends
and her co-workers
and anyone fortunate enough to see her beautiful spirit shine
you never know the reason for making all those connections
make the connections

when I think about New Hampshire
Boston
Maine
New England
a trip to Disney
a trip to Grand Marais
she said a summer trip is “good for us!” 2 weeks before she died
the struggle to live
and to die
at the same time

when I think of a cold and dreary New England day
or see a timeless New England cemetery
when I hear bagpipes
wow were they sad that day
and yet beautiful in a way I’d never heard before
and don’t want to hear again

at any holiday
when I have a birthday and turn a year older
New Years
Christmas
Thanksgiving with family
it’s so odd that my happiness related to aging and family holidays
triggers sadness
the happier I see us all
the sadder I want to feel sometimes

when I think about my childhood

when I see anyone take their family for granted

when I hear anyone say the word “sister”
or “brother”
especially if they are complaining about their siblings
hey grown-ups
please don’t complain about your siblings
I know kids will fight with each other
that’s normal, and part of every childhood
watching my children do that stirs up many emotions in me
frustration, sadness, hurt, mad, plus others I guess
I have to leave the room and not deal with it
guess it makes me miss Katherine even more
and wants me to have them appreciate each other all the time
I know it’s not realistic
but wow does it overwhelm me

when I see other families fight
over the silliest things
and just not get how precious life is
especially when these families know my story
but they forget
please appreciate what you have
or if you don’t appreciate it
please don’t do that in front of me
especially during holidays which are already tough on me
help me every day continue to live my life positively
and inspire others
and not judge
and have patience
and respect all those around me
and help me “be kind” as the quote says
because everyone you meet is fighting a great battle

when I worry about telling my kids
when I worry about not telling my kids

every time one of my children says they hate me
yes, it happens to all of us
hopefully not often
but all kids say it
it digs deep
in ways it wouldn’t have two years ago
or when they cry over friends
or not fitting in
how can you not worry?
do you overreact?
underreact?
love them
listen to them
be there
don’t judge
create that loving environment.

when I think about how Grandma T would always pause when we’d go
through old photos
when she got to Grandpa T’s sister Margareet who died when
she was in her early twenties of cancer
something about the way she said it or paused I think
showed a profound impact on Grandpa T for the rest of his life
it would be interesting to hear if he ever talked about her
or how that impacted him
and how his life changed
does anyone know?

when I look at draft emails still addressed to Katherine
or the messages from her still saved in my phone
or read her comments in my blog
so glad I created that blog
it is the 1st item I ever pursued after reading The Dream Manager
Katherine always talked about creating her own blog
she really wanted to do it
but it never happened
so glad she read my blog
so glad she wrote comments
you never know why you do some things
and the benefits they will produce
chase your dreams
write your blog (or whatever is on your dream list)
who cares what others think
take small steps at first
but just do it
support other people’s dreams
write those comments
they mean so much

when I have great memories of her
it’s so true that we remember and miss the small things
the imperfections, crazy moments, and unique traits
those random, funny email that I still have saved
jigsaw puzzles of course
that wonderful laugh/snort/chortle/burst with that smile
the awesome gifts she bought me
will I ever throw some of those away now?
how long will a G. H. Bass jacket last and still be so stylish?
don’t answer that
I say I need to get better at buying gifts like she did
talk is cheap, huh?
when I hear “wicked awesome”
ok, I never hear that
when I drive past where she got pulled over by the police
for speeding in Minnesota
while in her pajamas
with no I.D.
with her best friend
and not really knowing where they were
must have made that cop’s day

when I watch my children grow older
when I see my daughter dancing
and growing older
and making lifelong friends
when I fold her flannel pajamas
when she wears new dance costumes and make-up
I can picture Katherine at that age doing these same things

when I still think about calling Katherine out of the blue
it just doesn’t seem real some days
this really happened to our family?

when I connect with a song
For a Dancer by Jackson Browne
“And somewhere between the time you arrive
And the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive
But you’ll never know”
find songs or poems or stories that have meaning to you

When I see my grey hairs
when I don’t sleep well at night
because my mind is up
I sleep better now
but those grey hairs don’t turn back to brown
thanks Katherine

when I hear people say
“suicide”
“I’d kill for that”
“he’s dead to me”
“slit my wrists”
“hang myself”
they are just words we all use
but I pause on them now
and try to be intentional
and thoughtful
in my words and actions

when I try to think about what she must have been thinking
and going through
so much that I don’t understand
and can’t relate to
but I’m learning a lot and continue to learn
and not judge
anxiety
depression
Crohn’s
OCD
are scraping sounds of teeth against a metal fork or spoon
a warning sign or just a way to annoy your sister?
who knows.
when I tap my fingernails on the wall
as I walk down a hallway
or stairwell
but I can stop tapping my nails
I control it
but others can’t
so hard to understand

when I lay my shoes side by side for the next day
the right shoe goes on the right
the left shoe goes on the left
now that can’t be changed
don’t mess with my shoes
right?
what makes it anxiety and OCD?
versus just being silly?

when I jog past a certain area in this loop that I do
I talk to her there
we all need to handle this in our own way
find that special spot
talk to yourself
talk to her
pray
don’t bottle it up

when I pause and hug my kids real tight

when I see a beautiful sunrise

when I have a bad day

when I get in a slump for a day or two

when I let small things frustrate me

when I think about others going through struggles
and I still don’t ask them about it enough when they say they are “ok”
it’s awkward
or we forget weeks later
and I can’t assume just because someone is having a bad day
that it will end up in suicide
but you never know
so live a good life
and always be there for others
listen and watch for signs

when I see awful stories in the news
when I hear others make judgments about suicide
and state why people did it
and how could they leave so much behind
or be so selfish
we have so much to learn

it’s a disease
just like a heart attack
you can’t control it
and shouldn’t be judged

when I hear a judgment come out of my mouth
I hope this doesn’t happen often
we all do it
often without realizing it
you never know the other person’s story
or what they’ve been through
or what they are going through
nice words and thoughts go a long way

when I try to think about what day to honor her each year
but really it’s every day
every day is a great day to remember her
and live a life that she would be proud of
but it’s not enough to say every day
I really want an intentional day to celebrate her life
or do focused good in the world in her name
I’m open to ideas

every time I tell someone new who I am
I may not tell them about this right away
but I’m thinking about it
it’s a huge part of me
it has shaped me
and focused me
and helping me define a purpose
and to live intentionally
without judgment
not take any day or moment for granted
and be there for others all of the time
but I’d trade it all back in a heartbeat

when I think about what I want to focus my life on
when I think about what truly matters
when I think about what I would change in this world if I could
when I help others understand why it’s important to have dreams
and pursue them
and live for today
and be happy now
because that’s the only guarantee that we have
and I’m inspired by the people
who have already used this as a wake up call
and are pursuing their dreams now

when I think about dream lists
Katherine had 19 dreams in her list
I think she accomplished one of those
do the rest of us live the remaining dreams for her?
do I just need to post something to Etsy?
or does someone have to actually buy it?
heh heh
is it ok to share most of her dreams?

when I think about the good person I want to always be
and the shining example I want to set for others
and the best that I can be

when I think about if I can really ever save anyone
all we can do is try
be there for people
spread happiness
share some smiles
don’t judge
give people space
but not too much space
but how do you know where that line is
all we can do is try the best we can
and be good people

those of us that can control our lives
should control our lives
and help others
and learn
and do better
because we know better

when I think about keeping our entire family together
when I think about how fragile life is
when I think about living each day to its fullest
and treasuring the blessings we have before us each day
and being there for others
all the time
even when we don’t feel like it
yes, even then
all the time
and how far I’ve come in the past two years
I think the best thing I can do to honor her memory
is continue to improve and live the best life I can
smile
help others
listen
give back
just be there
focus on today
that’s all we can guarantee
life is precious
enjoy each day to it’s fullest
because you never know

Quoted quote with a quote as I reflect on Katherine and this past year

Originally posted by Dave Thompson on IronMegan.com personal blog, March 26, 2013 (exactly one year after the death of his sister, Katherine)

Think positively

When I traveled to Spain with friends years ago we learned a valuable life lesson. It was a long trip (and an awesome, incredible, amazing trip with great friends) but we had a few stressful points so at one point I started saying “ sucks” (I’m sure one of them remembers specifically what sucky part brought this on – another detail I’ve forgotten over the years). We soon realized the more we said that the more it really did suck and the more things went wrong. So we stopped saying it. We started thinking positively. Things got better. The trip turned out awesome! This lesson applies to each of us every day. The books The Secret and The Power of Positive Thinking capitalize on this.

Spread good vibes

I try to be positive. I’ve made great strides the last several years – and I try to share those good vibes. In the spirit of that, last February (2012) I wrote a blog post entitled “Good things happen to good people” – that whole post was about positive things. Oh, the irony. The whole post was about ‘how great Spain was’ – all good stuff. Amazing how that same world can be completely turned upside-down a month later. It makes me think of that great Woody Allen quote, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

Assume good things are always happening

Don’t read too much into any of that. God isn’t laughing at us, and I’m not cynical to positive thinking. But I doubt you’ll see another completely, totally, absolutely positive post from me about all the great things happening. Even if and when they are happening I’m not sharing so blatantly – you can just assume it’s always happening, ok?

Finally finding peace with my sister’s death

I read God Never Blinks this week – it’s a collection of short newspaper publications by the author, Regina Brett. She had a chapter titled “It’s okay to be angry with God. He can take it.” That made me laugh & relate to it. My range of emotions this year have been all over the place. It took me a long time to understand and accept that Katherine didn’t have a choice – she had an illness that took over and left her no other options. It took me a long, long time to let her know that I understand and hope that she’s in a better spot for her and at peace. And for me to tell her that. I don’t like it but I can’t change it. Of all places and people, it took a night in a bar, with the spouse of a friend directly in my face sharing a crazy-unreal, goose pimple-inducing story and then asking what felt like were awkward and personal questions to make it click with me and change my thoughts.

Here come the quotes…

I’m not sure that I’m ready for the messages in all of the quotes that follow, and I’m not always ready to focus on the future, but I will continue to ponder and learn from these quotes.

This same book goes on to say,

“You don’t need a cancer verdict to start living more fully. Every day, light a candle. What a great reminder that life is short, that the only time that matters is now. Walk out of boring movies. Close any book that doesn’t dazzle you. Greet every morning with open arms and say thanks every night with a full heart. Each day is a precious gift to be savored and used, not left unopened and hoarded for a future that may never come.”

I also read Beauty Beyond the Ashes: Choosing Hope After Crisis, by Cheryl McGuinness today. Her husband was the pilot of one of the planes that hit the towers on 911. She has a strong religious focus that I won’t go into but I did like these lessons from one of the chapters.

(1) Life goes on. As unfair, unreasonable, and impossible it seems, we still have work to do after a tragedy occurs. We still have roles to fill. We still have responsibility to family and others. The stuff of life may pause for a while, but it doesn’t stop. Fair or not, that’s reality. (2) Healing requires active participation. If we can summon the strength to take the first steps, the healing will come that much sooner. If we don’t take those first steps and participate with God in our healing process, we die while we are still alive. God tells us to trust him, get up, and take one more step of faith toward healing – in spite of our feelings. (3) Many details about the future remain unknown. Walking with Jesus involves walking by faith. Our attempts to control the future are fruitless. Those of us who have suffered loss understand only too well that we control very little in our lives. The promise of tomorrow is given to no one. We need to appreciate each day as a special Gift from God and focus our hearts on him, seeking to know and understand his will on a day-by-day basis. We need to take God’s Word to heart when he tells us in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” My prayer is that you will also come to know hope, not despair; courage, not fear; love, not hate.

Yes, I’ve been busy reading this week. Here’s a similar thought from Suicide and Its Aftermath, by editors: Edward J Dunne, John L. McIntosh, and Karen Dunne-Maxim.

“Moving on does not mean forgetting. It means gaining freedom through closure and giving up feeling victimized. It means going on with our lives, with each other, with our living sons and their families, with other relationships, and with life as it really is, not as we would like it to be. It means eventually being able to move beyond the event of suicide to remember and celebrating the life of our daughter. We are facing our future with a greater sense of who we are. Our awareness to increased divorce rates to parents of suicide recommits us to working through our thoughts, feelings, and differences, determined that our bonds of loving and struggling should not be broken. We now know that we cannot control what happens to us, but we can take charge of how we respond. We can no longer change the destiny of our beloved daughter, but we can be sure that our lives will be more meaningful, purposeful, compassionate, forgiving and loving. My life has changed and I will never again have the same innocence. But perhaps there is hope for others more newly bereaved in the fact that life has continued on with a new awareness of the fragility of life, with a deepened spirit and commitment to life and with the certainty that, although life is not perfect, it is good.”

Ok, one more…Suicide: Why? by Adina Wrobleski says something similar:

“While we cannot bring the person back, and while there are no second chances with the person who died, there are many second chances with the living. There is an opportunity to make up in the present what is desperately wished for in the past. The death of a loved one changes people; how they change is up to each individual.”

And just a few more quotes I’m still noodling over…not sure what I think of some of these…

I’ve come across this quote a crazy amount of times recently, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” -Philo of Alexandria or Plato or maybe somebody else. If only we knew about those battles.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself, Can make Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven” -John Milton

How about this one? “You got to go through hell before you get to heaven” – maybe this is taken out of context from what the Steve Miller Band meant, but after this hellacious year I’m taking this to mean that we’re all going to heaven.

We’ll get through this together

It’s been a tough day but cherish those memories and we’ll continue to get through this together. Love to you all. Rest in peace my beautiful sister.

I Remember

Originally posted by Dave Thompson on IronMegan.com personal blog, April 12, 2012 (note: his sister, Katherine, died March 26, 2012)

Katherine.

I remember your smile, your laughter, your love of life.

You seemed so content and happy and enjoying the life that you had made, and focused on the future.

Your family is so beautiful. You were doing such a great job with your family and career and navigating your way through life as we all do. It isn’t always easy but we all were making it.

Just a few weeks prior you told me that summer was getting closer and that we needed to plan our Grand Marais, MN trip – and we did. And we were just starting to talk about your plans for a Disney trip with all of our families in the summer of 2014. I was so excited to have a week of hanging out up in Grand Marais – talking and taking it easy – getting away from the rest of the world for a bit – especially given how serious last year was at times with dad’s health.

I look at the photos of us as children and wonder what I should have done differently as a big brother to protect you and help you. I wish you would have shared more and given so many of us a chance to help you.

I will miss sharing my stories with you. I was always so happy to get your blog responses – I will miss that and swapping stories as we raised our children. I am so glad I started my blog when I did and that I do have so many comments from you. I was always so proud to get your “approval” of all the happenings in my life and that we shared an appreciation of “simple” values and memories from our childhood. Maybe I never said it enough, but I was so thankful for all that you did to help out mom and dad last year. Your trips up to help dad (and mom) were so important – that’s what families are all about and now I’m especially glad you got to spend that time with them. I’m glad I made a special trip to New Hampshire last year – the intent was to see dad but if his health hadn’t been an issue then I likely wouldn’t have seen you either. You tried to get to MN every few years – I always so looked forward to seeing you and just getting to hang out and catch up on things and show off our kids to each other. It was always so great to see how excited you were to get out here and see and hold and play with and have fun with my kids – I loved that about you.

I often thought about how you, Dan, and I would grow closer and find time for trips way down the road – just like what mom and dad have done with their siblings. But first we had to get through diapers, grade school, dating, college, and moving our kids back out of our house – and then this would happen. It was going to be the three of us laughing and crying and sharing as we got older and bonding over memories of our parents and our childhood and our family history.

You had some great friends from childhood – you stuck together and shared so much over the years. Your friend Trish summed up some things about you that I absolutely agree with, “You were capable, reliable, efficient, independent, creative, determined, devoted, loyal, honest, loving, and kind. Your smile and laugh will remain with me forever. I can’t remember a time when you didn’t see the humor in life. Your friendship was a gift to me and to all who were blessed to have you in their lives.” And Stacie added this one too, “I will always remember her one of a kind smile and laughter with an occasional snort mixed in for the really funny moments that life brought.” This was you – we all saw it and felt it.

I have fun, silly memories of you. I won’t forget them.

I loved that you said “wicked”, and “awesome”, and “wicked awesome”. I’m sure I told you that every other phone call.

I remember at our place when we were having corn for dinner and you started singing “shuck a corn, shuck a corn”, just like Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan. I’ve said that with a smile ever since. I still will.

I remember you bought me a rabbit wine opener. You were so excited to show me what it was and how it worked. You opened the box fast, we got a bottle of wine, and you immediately started cranking on the lever to push the corkscrew down into the cork of a bottle of red wine I chose. In your hurried excitement you didn’t notice that there was a rubber stopper on the end of the corkscrew – so as you cranked down on the lever the rabbit ended up pushing the cork into the bottle…which proceeded to shoot a high pressure stream of red wine straight up at my ceiling. Hee hee. We laughed and laughed at that one. It made me think of the time mom and her sisters decided to open a bag of potato chips by having one of them hold the top and bottom of the bag while the other one slammed it with both hands coming together in the middle of the bag…not sure what they thought would happen but I remember chips flying in every direction. I laughed that you got some of their common sense genes :)

I remember watching “The Dream Team” (1986, Michael Keaton) and how you laughed and laughed at a scene with them singing in the back of the bus. Your love of life and laughter were contagious. It was always a goal to say something funny enough to get to see that sparkle in your eyes and hear your genuine laughter.

I remember when you came out to Minnesota and we went to the Children’s museum. There were a bunch of hand puppets…and you found the momma and baby possum puppets. But you hadn’t quite realized that they were puppets…so you were doing some sort of odd birthing show that traumatized all the kids around us. The look on your face (followed by that crazy laughter) that resulted from me explaining to you that they were puppets and not reproductive props was priceless. I’m still not sure if we ever decided if they are possums or opossums.

I remember on another trip to Minnesota that you and Heather got fake nose piercings at the Mall of America and tried to scare Beth and me into thinking they were real. And that you got pulled over in Beth’s car and you both were in pajamas and you didn’t have your driver’s license with you. Hee hee.

And the memories of you buying Christopher a whoopee cushion for the rehearsal dinner at your wedding. You wanted it done your way…you made sure they each had gifts waiting for them ahead of that long night…you wanted them to have fun…and boy did he have a blast with that. We all did. You loved watching him go to practically everybody that night and making them act the part and feign surprise. That’s the magic you brought to a room – you trusted your instinct and it always worked out and made us enjoy life even more.

You were the best present buyer for me ever. You knew exactly what I liked – and you put thought into your gifts. I knew anything you bought me for clothing would be perfect for me – you just knew. I remember when I was a consultant working in Pittsburgh that you sent me a shirt for my birthday and that I was so excited to get it from you that I wore it the next day to work. I remember one of the ladies asking me if the wrinkly look was the new style on the east coast – it didn’t seem that bad to me but I never gave it a second thought not to wear it (guess I could have given some thought to ironing it though).

I wear your “Katherine’s Movement” t-shirts all the time (mostly to the fire station on calls). Every time I have worn those over the years I always thought about you – every single time. I tried to put one on again last week – I couldn’t quite do it yet – but I will again in time. I always found it odd that I didn’t get more comments from my fellow fire fighters when I was wearing a bright orange Crohn’s shirt (from a Crohn’s walk I did out here), or the Katherine’s Movement shirt with the guy & girl restroom-ish sign on back. But I wore those proudly and welcomed any questions/comments.

It was fun to get you a little mad. When you made up your mind, you stuck by it. I didn’t always understand why you got so attached to some things or how you made your decisions (and you probably thought the same about things that I have done) – but I admired your dedication & ready defense. Your cars are a great example of something you made up your decision on and defended to no end – which made it all the more fun to pick on :) Buying a house that was built two centuries ago (not something I would ever, ever, ever have the stomach for). Anything racial was another taboo topic that made it all the more fun for me to get you going on, and your choice of some of your old neighborhoods was another easy button to push. But you stuck by these things, and held to your values, and stood by your decisions, and everything always seemed to work out for you.

And I have some very random memories of you. That Alice in Wonderland Syndrome or bizarre case of some form of mononucleosis that you had. I was away from home at the time (college or working by then) but I remember mom and dad saying you were in some other world – for instance, sitting in the car sideways in a seat with your feet hanging out the door and telling them they could drive away. And that when you finally snapped out of it, it was something like 3:00 a.m. and you asked for eggs so they made you a big bowl of them. Not sure if any of that is true – but that’s what I remember :) And us dancing to a Monster Mash record (yes, record) on the hardwood floors in our NJ apartment. And you getting some sort of Indian name from one of our cousins (and hearing Erik’s self-proclaimed Indian name after that). And how Erik could make you laugh and laugh. And you loving River Phoenix as a kid. And sharing that back bedroom at Grandma and Grandpa T’s house and playing with the same toys there year after year (that week or two each summer seemed soooooo loooooong). And that you threw up in the same city in Indiana two or three years in a row less than an hour into our 16+ hour drive back home (mom said it was because you were so excited to see your friends – I could never figure out why they still gave you orange juice again before we got in the car that 2nd and 3rd year). Or that you went on some kind of crazy shopping spree with an old friend after their CDs and other things were stolen and you had the entire insurance check to spend.

And you had some obsessions. You were a jigsaw puzzle savant. A jigsaw puzzling fool. No puzzle was impossible with you around. I have to stare at the puzzle and the picture and the pieces…I don’t think you even liked to have the picture visible, and you could pretty much just walk past the scattered pieces on the table and almost instantly grab a piece and put it where it belonged in one try. And you loved books – not necessarily reading them, but possessing a hard-cover of your favorites sitting on a shelf seemed to make you happy. And you were a dancer – as a little girl and as you got older. I remember you laughing talking about getting to be in a recital while over 30. And the Nutcracker – don’t mess with the Nutcracker – that was your special ballet and time of the year. And it’s so easy to picture you sitting on the floor in flannel pajamas, with a jigsaw puzzle on the table, and kids crawling around. This was you – loving the simple things in life and loving your family.

I loved some of the silly things you and Erik did that brought out the fun in life. Things I probably never would have done, but that part of my envies. Owning chickens…having a boat and going lobster fishing…getting tattoos/piercings (I still stick with my story that I pierced one of your ears in our upstairs bathroom – wonder if anyone else knew about that??). Part of me wants some of these things and I loved hearing about your latest antics. I still laugh at the fact that you complained so much when I worked at the fish market (the smell when I got home, and you couldn’t stand to eat seafood – and I could bring it home every night to eat) – and then later in life you changed your mind/tastes and liked seafood – that was an ironic twist that made me laugh over the years.

I loved that you clung to an old-fashioned view of the world at times and aligned your values with that. You were the one to have Grandma and Grandpa T fill out memory books. You were the one who went to Indiana and sat for hours while Grandpa T went through all the slides from the trip to Alaska. You were the only one who got dubbed as anybody’s favorite cousin. Your pressure of hanging your memory box on your wall (albeit empty!) helped push me to get mine done. You had a professional photographer take so many pictures of your kids and family – she was such a good find on your part.

You never wanted a fancy life – but to be content with your family and friends. I always loved that about you. Family (and friends – new & old) is important and that’s how you lived your life. I always felt the love – through your visits, and cards, and responses on my blog post. You used to talk about wanting to be a mom when you grew up. And having kids. That’s what you wanted. That’s it. And you did it – and you were great at it. You were so caring and thoughtful and kind and giving. I’ll remember. And I’ll miss all these things about you.