Remembering the gifts of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

Kate Spade, the American fashion designer, made people happy, very happy, with her iconic line of color and playfulness. She was known for her fresh, feminine, and, oftentimes, whimsical take on accessories and clothing. Kate Spade made getting dressed fun. For many, acquiring a Kate Spade piece was a rite of passage.

Kate Spade was a woman who was not afraid to wear vibrant pink tights and shoes with a black and white ensemble at the Met gala. Her friends, family and associates found her incandescent. She was a bright light who was full of fun, generosity and genuine kindness. It would be fair to say that those in her orbit would describe her as one of a kind.

So, how does somehow who exudes such happiness and joie de vive consider suicide as an option? Wouldn’t devoted loved ones, success, popularity and wide-open doors for creative expression insulate her from such an act? Alas, no. All of those worldly accomplishments, gifts, talents and support are not a guarantor from the ravages of psychic anguish, biochemical propensities, genetic vulnerabilities and mental illness.

Kate Spade had a history of mental illness. She was a woman who struggled with her inner demons. Curiously, she had focused on Robin Williams’ suicide. Perhaps, Spade felt a resonance with Williams’ pain (which we later learned was exacerbated by a dire diagnosis of Lewy’s dementia). Both had sought treatment; both were known to have suffered with severe and longstanding depression and anxiety, a devastating combo that can bring you to your knees, time and again.

And within 72 hours of Spade’s death by suicide, we learn that Anthony Bourdain (whose history of substance abuse implies a strong likelihood of depression and anxiety) had taken his life – in the same manner as Spade. We are shell-shocked and reeling. How could this happen? He was our irrepressible, fearless, ever-on-the-go, globe-trotting, culture-loving foodie who made the world more accessible through his travel shows and writings. Bourdain was an intrepid pioneer and straight-shooting chef. He was a master storyteller who encouraged us to step out and step forward. We were right there with him enjoying the yummy noodles in broth. He opened us up to new experiences we never would have tried on our own. He broke bread around the world and, in doing so, Bourdain created international communion.

Bourdain was a man of passions, most recently with the #MeToo movement. Bourdain came from a cut-throat food industry, which historically was known for its less-than-ideal treatment of women. He had come to realize, after the fact and in light of #MeToo, that there were many female colleagues who had experienced harassment and assault in the kitchen and he had come to the painful realization they had not viewed him, then, as the ally he became today.

Anthony Bourdain conveyed openness, adventure, directness and strength. He was akin to a global cultural cowboy, rounding up adventures, taste treats and conversations.

Kate Spade projected happiness, confidence, creativity and individuality. Like the fairy godmother who could snap her fingers, she created magic that honored the feminine and the playful.

Both of these highly creative, very sensitive and aware individuals were complex, multi-dimensional human beings. They knew happiness, laughter and light; they also knew darkness, vulnerability and pain. Perhaps, that is why both were so good at what they did.

Both Spade and Bourdain struck a nerve with us. And we responded wildly. We loved their work. We loved their signature styles and the way they embraced the world. Through their creative expressions, we felt they understood us and because of that, their deaths feel personal. We will miss Bourdain’s adventures and his tell-it-like-it-is commentary, and we will miss the je ne sais quoi of color and design that was uniquely Kate Spade.

In their respective deaths, Spade and Bourdain also made a difference. The one and only “positive” from their celebrity suicides is that their deaths – and within such a short timeframe as well – made the world take notice and be mindful, yet again, of the global epidemic of suicide. Their respective deaths accentuate the reality that no matter how much success and fame someone has enjoyed, no one is impervious to the strangleholds of deep depression, the terror of unremitting anxiety, the tight, self-defeated thinking that can further shatter perspective and break a life. Sometimes too much pain is simply too much.

Suicide is a counter-intuitive choice. If I were to hold a pillow over your face, instinctively you would fight for me breath. So imagine the intensity of the psychic pain and the density of the heart for both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain to make that final choice to find relief from their internal torment.

Let us not judge; let us remember that being human is challenging. Let us be a little kinder, more compassionate, more adventurous, less judgmental and, of course, more colorful as we go forward.

Please know, Kate and Anthony, that you both are loved, admired and appreciated for all that you shared with us. Each of you made our worlds a bit brighter, more interesting and expanded with possibilities. You both have been great gifts, and you have made a difference.

May you both rest in peace.

The medicine of sorrow

Sorrow is a universal human experience. It is feeling all too familiar these days.

Years ago, when Haiti was slammed with devastating storms, a woman said when the first storm came through she lost her home, when the second one came through she lost all eight members of her family. She was now left with one plastic pale and the clothes on her back. That’s it, that’s all she had.

Two thoughts come to mind with the enormity of that kind of loss.

One, I am reminded of the concept of medicine as in the American Indian medicine pouch. The pouch might contain a feather or piece of bone that symbolized an experience where the individual came to understand their inherent strength of character, an aspect of self.

Medicine in this context is defined as power, and a power that can never be taken away from you. Therefore, it is not your car, your job, your bank account or your relationship. Medicine is what you are made of; it is the wealth of your experiences and wisdom. It is the you that has been stretched, fired and tempered by life. It is how you perceive the world, see yourself and choose to be in the world.

Loss of any variety or potency requires some personal medicine. Grief is crazy-making. It takes time to accept the unacceptable. It takes time to feel the undulations and reverberations of loss. The attachment has been severed; there is a hole. And, usually, all we want to do is fill the hole with what was. Because – and here is my flair for the obvious – loss mandates change. And change is often uncomfortable, new and unknown. This makes loss scary. The road ahead becomes rocky; walking becomes an effort to maintain balance and stay upright.

Sorrow stretches a heart and teaches us a whole new way to open our hearts and love. Sorrow cracks us apart and can bring us to the edge. Sorrow is transformative. It rearranges priorities and possibilities.

My second thought is of Blanche DuBois from Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Blanche allowed that she relied upon the kindness of strangers. I think all denominations of heartache require kindness.

And in what might be a kind of emotional homeopathy, what cures a broken heart is more heart medicine. Be it the sharing of a common experience or as Joan Didion described in A Year of Magical Thinking, the simple act of a cup of tea and sandwich left for her as the bleary-eyed and numb survivor. It can be the hand held in the hospital, a hot meal, shoes and a coat for the winter or the kind word that comforts the depleted and weary. In some ways it matters little what it is, what matters most in the connection, heart to heart, that says, “I care.”

We heal through our heart connections, be it the ones we have lost and hold close or be it the ones who bear witness to our grief journey and tend to our shattered hearts.

Grief, which is another way of loving, and caring, are potent medicines that speak directly of the power of the heart. And the elements of the heart — caring, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, kindness, generosity — lead us to healing.

 

 

How do we help a loved one who has lost someone to suicide?

Suicide is often a sudden, unexpected death. It leaves loved ones reeling with shock, confusion, heartbreak, anger and whole panoply of emotions.

When word gets out about a death by suicide, there is a ripple effect. The loss moves out in ever-widening circles and whoever hears or knows anyone impacted by the loss wants to do something. Bake lasagna, make the calls, organize logistics, walk the dog, help with the service, be a shoulder, lend an ear. They want to feed you, nourish you and hold you. They want to help you stay afloat when you are drowning in heartbreak. They feel your loss, and your loss becomes their loss.

Loss is primal; we all feel it. And this is especially true when we hear of a suicide, and especially, the suicide of a young person with their unfurled life before them.

It is hard to see our loved ones doubled over in grief and pain. We want to do something — anything — to help ease their misery.

What can we do when someone we care about loses a loved one to suicide?

Read more here.

 

N.B. The HuffingtonPost Canada retitled this article to “Don’t be Afraid to Talk about People Who’ve Died by Suicide.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/adele-mcdowell/dont-be-afraid-to-talk-about-people-whove-died-by-suicide_a_23280876/

“The Well of Grief” by David Whyte

The Well of Grief

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning down to its black water
to the place that we can not breathe

will never know
the source from which we drink
the secret water cold and clear

nor find in the darkness
the small gold coins
thrown by those who wished for something else

~ David Whyte ~

(Where Many Rivers Meet)

The death of a child

For a Parent on the Death of a Child

No one knows the wonder
Your child awoke in you,
Your heart a perfect cradle
To hold its presence.
Inside and outside became one
As new waves of love
Kept surprising your soul.

Now you sit bereft
Inside a nightmare,
Your eyes numbed
By the sight of a grave
No parent should ever see.

You will wear this absence
Like a secret locket,
Always wondering why
Such a new soul
Was taken home so soon.

Let the silent tears flow
And when your eyes clear
Perhaps you will glimpse
How your eternal child
Has become the unseen angel
Who parents your heart
And persuades the moon
To send new gifts ashore.

~ John O’Donohue ~

(To Bless the Space Between Us)

Go gently, dear one

Go gently, dear one.

There is no need to push, push, push.

Treat yourself with exquisite tenderness.

You have endured more than imagined possible.

You have swum in unimaginable depths and shadows

Breathe out fear and worry, rage and guilt.

Slowly open the knots in your heart.

Take small sips of breath and

Breathe in hope and possibility.

Pull in equanimity and calm.

Allow your heart to be soothed.

You have been through so much, so very much.

Go gently, dear one.

 

Loss and grief

Loss is universal. It is also idiosyncratic and unique. We each handle loss in our own way. There is no right or wrong way to come to terms with death.

It is hard, exhausting, and excruciating work to make sense of the un-sensible and to unpack and repack a life that you have held with such love and affection. You will need time and space to work through all the layers of feelings as you remember and revisit all that you experienced and shared with the one you lost.

Loss requires time, time to accept the unacceptable and time to feel the undulations and reverberations of your loss. There is no time limit—grief takes as long as it takes. Grief opens you up in ways you never thought possible. Unexpectedly, you will find yourself remembering other losses in your life as well. Grief builds upon grief; like pearls strung on a necklace, every loss becomes connected close to your heart.

Trauma is also a cumulative experience. We hold traumatic events in our cellular memories. They are not forgotten. And like grief, a new trauma can trigger feelings from a prior trauma. This is important to consider, as suicide is both a traumatic and grief-filled experience. The double whammy of grief and trauma can sometimes be so overwhelming that it is hard for you to stand or eat or sleep or even make simple conversation. Dealing with a suicidal loss requires extreme gentleness as you wade through the minefields of emotional residue.

Understand that grief can be crazy-making. Your world is upside down and nothing makes sense. You have lost the terra firma upon which you have grounded yourself. Now, everything is up in the air. There are no more givens or constants; everything seems like a variable. One ER nurse told a grieving mom, “Do not be surprised if you hear the voice of your daughter. It is not abnormal to hear voices of the deceased, especially at the beginning.”

There is no one way to grieve and deal with loss. It is such a difficult process of both accepting the unacceptable and letting go of your most cherished. It takes time to deal with the layers and work your way back to solid ground.

Be gentle and take precious care. You are not alone.

This is no ordinary goodbye

Suicide leaves you in a complicated place.

Grief and trauma are intertwined.

This is no ordinary goodbye.

Go gently.

Be kind to yourself.

Take as much time as you need.

Remember.

Cry some more.

Rant and rage.

Love some more.

It’s all ok.

In fact, it’s perfect.

Your heart will lead you

into a place of shelter.

Take precious care.

This is no ordinary goodbye.

 

The five reminders from loss

The hard-flint beauty of loss is that it serves as a teacher. Loss reminds us what has become “back-burnered” in the daily press of life.

1. Life is short.

2. Life is precious.

3. What matters most is love … who we love, how we love, what we love and when we choose to open ourselves with courage and vulnerability to love.

4. Loss precipitates change.

5. Loss reminds us that we still have time to fine-tune the focus our lives, re-arrange our priorities, revitalize connections and be the love we want to be.

Sometimes, it’s hard to see the gifts of sorrow, but they are present and, equally, patient until we are ready to claim them.

May you be held in peace.

 

Dealing With Christmas Blues

winterlucy

It is that time again; the winter solstice is around the corner. The word “solstice” is derived from the Latin for “sun standing still.” This solstice, a pagan precursor to Christmas and other seasonal holy days, denotes the return of the light and a decline in the darkness.

And for most of us, that return of the light in all of its figurative and literal glory is a very good thing. We human beings thrive on light; we find an imbalance of darkness overwhelming and depressing. We revel in the flicker of candles, the twinkling of lights and the lightness of our spirits as we deck our halls, trim our trees, plan surprises for the children and find thoughtful ways to gift a loved one. We beam; we sparkle. The light begets light; the light begets love.

Isn’t it all grand? Isn’t this the most wonderful time of year?

Actually, no. Not for everyone.

For some, the holidays are nothing more than bah humbug. They relish the role of Scrooge. They find the nonstop loop of Christmas carols anything but jolly; they are ready to strangle the next person who sings “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

They find themselves wanting to knife the blow-up, illuminated Santa bobbling away on their neighbor’s lawn and watch it deflate into a puddle of plastic. They grit their teeth and clench their fists with forced merriment at holiday gatherings oozing with eggnog and dream of lobbing bourbon balls at their host’s head.

The stretch of Christmas and New Year’s is an endurance test of their mental health. It’s too much family, too much togetherness and way too much dysfunction. They have shut down all tidings of comfort and joy in an effort to emotionally survive. As the countdown towards New Years continues, they have, more than likely, felt their grumpiness quotient ratchet up to new highs.

Then, there are those whose light has been dimmed by circumstance or fate. These holidays of tinsel and candy-caned merriment are anything but for them; these holidays serve as poignant reminders of what once was. There is an empty seat at the table; there is a loved one in a dangerous place.

There is the interminable wait for the test result, the lost job or the foreclosed home. There is palpable darkness; there is heartache and heart break, grief and sadness, worry and fear. The holidays are anything but bright.

So, what do you do if you find yourself standing in the dark and not wanting to be swept up in the holiday razzle-dazzle?

Let’s talk strategies to help you get through without self-destructing or curling up into a fetal position and waiting for it all to be over:

Be gentle with yourself.
It should go without saying, but it is always necessary to say. For it seems that when we hunker down into survival mode, we often start beating up on ourselves for not being enough–good enough, lovable enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, rich enough, thin enough, fill-in the-blank enough.

The suggestion here is that you take the love, warmth and connection of the season and apply it yourself. That’s right: start loving yourself, feel a little warmth as you connect with you. When it gets right down to it, isn’t it a basic requirement that we accept ourselves? And in that acceptance, wouldn’t it stand to reason that we would want to be compassionate and understanding towards ourselves?

And being compassionate means knowing how to protect yourself. No dangerous or toxic situations for you. No hostile confrontations. Treat yourself like the precious being of light that you are. Life is tough enough; you don’t have to become your own enemy. You can, instead, choose to become your advocate, your friend and your own rock-solid connection.

Give yourself the gentleness and consideration you would give to a dear friend. In other words, give yourself a break from the rigidity; allow yourself some latitude to do what is right for you. Serve your soul; listen to your heart and, above all, don’t forget the gift that you are. There is no one, I repeat no one, on the planet that is just like you. There is no one with your genetic coding, particular repertoire of skills, accumulated wisdom and backpack of experiences.

If you accept the metaphysical, you are here for a reason. Your presence matters in the great jigsaw puzzle of life. You raised your soul hand and said, “Yes” to this moment and time. Allow your gentleness and concomitant protectiveness and self-advocacy to nurture that yes until you are ready to step out of the corner and into a beam of sparkly light. And, please, take as much time as you need.

Hope. Peace. Cookies.
With a bow to Kate Spade, who wrote that great combination of words on one of her lines of Christmas cards one season. These three words made me smile when I saw them — and they made me think.

We all need hope — it is, indeed, the very flicker of light that allows up to put one foot in front of the other. A little bit of hope can go a very long way. If possible, allow yourself a smidgen of the good stuff. It is high octane and can really help get you headed in a better direction.

As for peace, that’s another given. We need peace on every level, the personal to the global. What better way to survive the season than to cease being at war with yourself or others? This makes me think of the old song lyrics, “All I am saying is give peace a chance.” How about it? Are you willing?

And as for cookies, well, they are a personal favorite, but more than that, they can symbolize the sweetness of life, the specialness of the season and, perhaps, an opportunity for sharing with another during these days. Sometimes, a simple cup of tea and a few cookies provide a bit of tenderness that is just enough to make the holiday palatable.

Wherever you are in your heart these days, dear reader, please know that I am offering you a virtual cookie as a kind of communion.

And the angels always remind me of this: You are loved, you are guided and you are protected. It’s a comforting thought, especially when it seems so very dark.

Take precious care, and may you be blessed with grace in a season that is all too tender this year.