Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Aftermath

"I'm still waiting for your suicide note.
I keep telling myself it just got lost in the mail
Because I can't bear the thought of you leaving

without saying goodbye..."


I found this image on my daughter Chloe's dresser. It was next to pictures of her dear friend Ian whom she lost four months ago. We sat on her bed remembering Ian and cried.

Chloe shared this with me the evening I returned from the state Capitol after "Safe Schools Lobby Day" where the Michigan Safe Schools Coalition gathered to ask the Senate to pass a comprehensive anti-bullying bill. The bill is named "Matt's Safe Schools Law" after an East Lansing 8th grader, Matt Eppling, who took his life following a hazing incident at school.

At "Safe Schools Lobby Day," five different families were on hand -- each whose child had committed suicide after being the victim of bullying. As I talked with these grieving parents, several dynamics became clear to me:
  • Most of these parents did not see any warning signs that their child was at risk.
  • There is an incredible bond among parents who have suffered the unimaginable loss of a child.
  • The pain appears to be the same for these parents no matter how many days or years have passed.
Despite this devastating pain, Ian's family has actively looked for ways to have his friends walk alongside them through the "Journey to Healing." The family hosted an event by that name at school a few weeks ago. This day was filled with many opportunities for friends and family to express the myriad of feelings with which they are left. Some worked out emotions by breaking dishes (Chloe on the right) . . .

or, along with others who loved their friend, celebrated Ian's life through art (Chloe on left).


Grief is a combination of a multitude of feelings and the process is unique for each person. Last year, many of us lost our friend Steve. This week I was contacted by one of Steve's college friends who had just learned of his passing -- learned that Steve had taken his own life. This college friend was overwhelmed by sadness as well as anger.

As I experienced grief this week -- seeing it in my daughter's eyes, hearing it in the gut-wrenching stories of these parents at Lobby Day, or reading it in the words of Steve's college friend-- I am reminded of Ian's family's words, "If he only knew" (how much he was loved).

In the aftermath of these devastating losses, I am left with the question "What can we do?" What can we do to become more aware of the suffering of others? What can we do to make a child's way easier? What can we do to ease the pain of those who are left behind?

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Cultivating Hate 3: Make Up Stuff



The pause this Oklahoma State Legislator makes before she foretells the end of civilization in "two decades" is telling. When cultivating hatred, it works well to just fly by the seat of your pants and make up stuff.

If people really know gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals as their friends, neighbors, family -- people whom they love -- it's much more difficult to hate them. Instead, blame the end of the world on them. Make them the "other." That seems to work.

Want to let Rep. Sally Kern know that we're all listening to her hate language? You can. Click here.

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Cultivating Hatred 2: A Perfect Example

Yesterday I received an anonymous comment posted to my blog regarding the Grand Rapids Press article entitled “Warrior Mom.” This comment is just too rich to leave in an obscure location -- I’ve given this message its own post so we can parse it. Here’s the verbatim text:

“to the bloggers, dont believe everything you read. A very important part of that article in the paper is not true, and Mrs. Beighley needs to speak the truth about "her" children....
My son is gay, and my husband and I certianly dont focus on that and that alone as the Beighleys do. They have some REAL issues. GOod luck, and remember to tell the TRUTH. You know what Im talking about, Mrs. B.
oh my, I dont think she will approve this one...........
just goes to show...”

Obviously “readers” are not “bloggers” but we’ll fly past that one.

Let’s dive in. First of all, she writes with such mystery about that which she says is untrue. There is neither further comment nor substantiation. Next.

Onto the “her” children comment: This is some kind of code. Does this refer to my beautiful Ari and Chloe? Well, I was quite present when they were born. They're mine. Or is it a very mean-spirited comment about my stepsons Nate and Collin? If so, I would only say that my relationships with Nathan and Collin are some of the most beautiful gifts I have received in my life and they show me grace and love by calling me “Mom.”

I also consider my daughter-in-law Sarah one of my kids. Is this a challenge to that relationship? If so, I would add that Sarah is one of the great teachers in my life, and anyone who knows her can attest to the fact that she is ferociously loyal to her family. I’m definitely claiming her! As far as children go, I could not forget our beautiful Jeremy who lived with us one winter when living with his own family was no longer possible.

I do not say that these amazing individuals BELONG to me, if that’s the inference. But I would say my life is rich because of each of them. I am grateful to say they are part of my family. And, though I annoy each of them in the ways that mothers do, I sleep just fine at night knowing they would each claim me as well.

Regarding her son being gay: Interestingly enough, in the over 10,000 emails I’ve received in the past three years since Ari’s coming out, when a parent refers to his or her son being gay, it has always been followed by a pronouncement of love. That’s blatantly missing from this writer’s statement.

About the claim our family only focuses on Ari’s being gay, I have this to say. I could read these words and claim that I know something about the writer based on the spelling, grammar, and punctuation challenges presented. But I don’t know her. I don’t know who she loves, who loves her, what she is passionate about. For this writer to say that she knows anything about our family is a statement made in complete ignorance. In fact, if she knew our family, she would never make that claim.

The assertion that our family has real issues and "remember to tell the truth" made me laugh. It brought a visual of some nightmarish first grade teacher standing over a six-year old hoping to shape the child’s behavior by shaming her. The shame thing -- it's a no-go with me. As a family therapist, I believe every family has issues. In fact, those issues are what we call “life” and are woven into the very fabric of our experience. This writer’s statement is both condescending and arrogant … as is calling me “Mrs. B.”

“You know what I’m talking about” is a kind of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” attempted intimidation ... and, again, completely lacking in substance.

David and I have been the recipients of unsolicited and generous media attention in the past year. One of the reasons I believe this is so is that we are willing to lend our names and faces to bring into the light the bigotry that exists in our communities and to say that our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters are not only being denied the basic human rights this anonymous writer enjoys but are also daily the victims of discrimination and hate violence.

“Just goes to show”: Just goes to show what? It just goes to show that writing an anonymous comment which trashes someone’s family is an act of cowardice. It just goes to show that hatred is cultivated in the dark places – in places where people say judgmental, ignorant, arrogant, and condemning words while enjoying complete anonymity -- in places where people put white hoods over their heads and conduct heinous acts.

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