Friday, July 25, 2008

Coldplay 42

Chris Martin of Coldplay

I just couldn't let the day pass without asking if you have listened
to Coldplay's song entitled "42"?

The lyrics begin:

"Those who are dead are not dead
They're just living in my head."

If you haven't, I recommend you take a quick listen by clicking on the "42" above. Chris Martin's voice is haunting and beautiful and, I think, speaks to anyone, who is coping with grief and for whom memories, and even apparitions, are part of everyday life.

Music-particularly piano music and songs from bands like Coldplay with strong lead vocalists-were therapeutic for me, while I was in mourning. In our fast-paced world, where we seldom have time to stop and talk to our neighbors, let alone reach out to others to talk about our grief, listening to songs like this can help us reach the inner parts of ourselves that need to be freed.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ponds and Reflection

"However mean your life is, meet it and live it;do not shun it and call it hard names."

--from the "Conclusion" to Walden

Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden
A few days ago, we started digging a pond in our back yard (see my blog: "cool pond"). That got me thinking about ponds and asking myself why people are drawn to water and what water teaches us. For Ben's entire life, he was drawn to water. He enjoyed boating as a boy. He joined the navy and was out at sea for months at a time, and tragically, he took his own life by the edge of the ocean.
Of course, the most famous "pond philosopher" is Henry David Thoreau. The Walden pond in Massachusetts inspired him to write about leading a simpler life.
In the chapter "The Ponds" of Walden, he wrote:
A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth's eye; looking
into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature."
Perhaps it is water's reflective nature that attracts us. We not only see ourselves in water, but we also see the nature of which we are a part. I wonder if there is a primal need to view ourselves as part of a greater picture. Nature certainly takes care of this for us, as we stare down into our reflection in a pond. We are connected to the sun, moon, clouds, trees, birds, and animals above and around us. I am not sure that feeling in the company of nature lets us feel less alone. Thoreau wrote about solitude in Walden and felt alone. But, perhaps, it teaches us about our responsibility as one part in a greater whole: to tread lightly on the Earth and respect it, as we would want to be respected.
Thoreau learned to accept his reflection. In his conclusion, he wrote, "However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names." My hope is that everyone who has gone through a difficult event in his or her life that has made him or her ashamed or taken away confidence, will remember this quote from Thoreau.
Do you have a thought on ponds? Please leave me a comment.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Memory in our Lives

In my memoir, Surviving Ben's Suicide, I wrote about the importance of memory in our lives. Recently, I've been re-reading several of the works by one of my favorite anthropologists, Keith Basso. Basso has studied and written about the Western Apache for about fifty years. One of his most remarkable findings is how tied the Apache are to place and memories. When Apaches talk about their landscape, they evoke memories and use language about the past. To them, the past is a well-worn path, which their ancestors first travelled. Notably, in their perception, the well-worn path is also the past.

The names of places along the way were given by ancestors, who named them for events that occurred there. Regardless of how the physical landscape changed over time, the names of places would remain, serving as a spiritual and emotional connection between the Apaches of today and their deceased. For the Apaches, life and memories are inseparable. Interestingly, Basso is the son of a novelist. Not only is he a beautiful writer, but I wonder if he was inspired by his father's writing to look for minute and everyday patterns in people's behavior that symbolized something great.

Basso's findings on the Western Apache remind me that I can live a more spiritually fulfilled life, if I allow memories of the past to enter my mind and my language.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Is Suicide Selfish?

A question that has come up again and again during my radio interviews for Surviving Ben's Suicide is "Is suicide selfish?". I have pondered this question for fifteen years now. I understand where people are coming from, when they believe that people who take their own lives are selfish. However, I have come to understand that suicide, in every case of which I am aware, is not about selfishness.

I can't speak for everyone, and I hope that others will comment about their experiences and thoughts on this, but in Ben's case, he had been struggling with the pain of mental illness--he was bipolar and borderline--for years. He had been fighting courageously to find a way out of the darkness that surrounded him. He went from therapist to therapist and tried several medications that were prescribed to him. Some medications worked for a short period of time, but none had a lasting positive effect, and they all seemed to have severe side-effects. Ben told me that he felt as if a wool blanket was pressing in on his brain. He felt suffocated. He began to be confused about who he was. He felt like he was losing his mind and his dignity. Nobody had an answer for him.

In the end, I am not sure that suicide was even a choice for Ben. He seemed to be consumed by mania, because during his drive from his apartment in Washington DC to Maine, where he took his life, he kept journal entries that became sloppier and sloppier and harder and harder to decipher. He took his life, but he was clearly not in control of himself at that point. How can we justify calling that selfish?

That is not to say that survivors are not victims. I believe we are. We are left in the wake of the most unimaginable tragedy. Not only do we have the emotions of guilt, shame, anger, and profound sadness to cope with, but many of us also have financial entanglements. Some have children to comfort and support. Others have businesses to keep afloat. But my question is who is the victimizer? Is it the person who committed suicide or the illness that took him or her or the failure of modern science not to adequately help the deceased?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Looking Forward to This Blog

"Fifteen years ago, hikers found my college boyfriend’s body on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. He was thought to have been lying there for three days, after driving by himself from Washington, D.C. to Lubec, Maine, which was the eastern most point of land on the North American continent. He walked along trails, surrounded by thick evergreen forests that followed rock cliffs rising eighty feet above the ocean. On the second of July, 1993 he shot himself in the head. It was the end of Ben’s journey and the crossroads in mine."

The excerpt above is the beginning of my new book, Surviving Ben's Suicide: A Woman's Journey of Self-Discovery. When my college love from Sarah Lawrence, Ben, took his own life, I was left in the wake of his suicide. I found that there was tremendous silence surrounding suicide, and that others could not or would not talk about my loss with me. I wanted desperately to read someone else's true story of how he or she had lost a girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse to suicide and had gone on to rebuild his or her life. To my astonishment, there were no memoirs about surviving a partner's suicide. They simply did not exist! In fact, there was very little literature about surviving a loved one's suicide. Years later, Carla Fine's groundbreaking book, No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One was published, and it opened the doors of communication on the subject of being a survivor of suicide.

But until my book was published, there were no full-length literary memoirs on the subject of surviving a partner's suicide. That upset me, because I knew that there were millions of suicide survivors in this country alone and hundreds of thousands of those were people like me, who have lost lovers to suicide. In my view, the single most important thing for suicide survivors to do is to talk to others about their experiences and read about other people's journeys, rather than endure their personal misery by themselves.

The process of publishing my book and talking to readers about it has made me want to discuss some of the subjects surrounding my experience in my own blog. I am really looking forward to sitting down most days with a cup of coffee--and probably a chocolate or two, because I can't live without chocolates--and pondering a new question.

While doing radio interviews for Surviving Ben's Suicide, there have been important and thought-provoking topics that have come up again and again. I would love to explore some issues in future blog posts such as:

  • whether suicide is selfish or not
  • is there a finite time in which one should grieve?
  • why is guilt and shame such a tremendous part of surviving a loved one's suicide?
  • why is suicide the second leading cause of death for college students in the USA?
  • why does society not have an easier time helping survivors of suicide work through their grief?
  • why is there such silence and stigma surrounding suicide?
  • the importance of balancing control in our lives
  • and so much more...

My hope is that you will comment or ask questions so that we can have some discussions on the issues above in the weeks and months to come. Please join in or email me at I'd love for you to visit my website, too: It is partly under construction, but there is still some info available there.

xxx Comfort