Depression: A Serious Disease

depression 3
I had a different idea for today’s blog, but my heart is heavy after learning about the loss of two people to depression and suicide in less than 24 hours.

One is a Hollywood legend that touched the lives of millions around the world with his laughter, insight into character and engaging personality (Robin Williams). The other was a young man, barely in his twenties. A beloved son with his entire life ahead of him.

But depression doesn’t discriminate. It knows no bounds. Age, sex, race, status… It doesn’t matter.
child depression
And depression isn’t something a person can merely “get over.” Or “set aside.” Or even worse, “just suck it up.”

For the person struggling with the disease, life can seem worthless. They feel lost, alone. The lows can be abysmal, with no light to reach for evident.
depression 2
For family members, it can be difficult as they struggle to understand the depths of the disease and how it affects their loved one.

Depression is not something to take lightly. To brush off. To dismiss as a weakness. It’s an evil disease. It takes lives. It leaves families shattered.
depression 1
If you or a loved one, a neighbor or co-worker…if anyone you come in contact with shows signs of depression, don’t let it slide. Instead, find the name and number of a local crisis center. Learn about the resources available and share that information. All it could take is for that person struggling to know that someone cares, that help is available. That they are worth it. That life can be a beautiful gift. That their life is a beautiful gift.

So please, look up that number and jot it down, add it to your phone contacts, share it with others.

And today, remember to hug your children and let them know they mean the world to you. Tell your spouse you love him or her. Call your mom and dad, sister and brother, grandmother and aunt. Email your favorite teacher. Text your best friend. Smile at the person in line at the bank or grocery store. Share a joke with a co-worker.

You never know when you have the chance to be the ray of sunshine in someone’s day.
depression 4

Resources to consider:

http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/help-for-depression#TreatmentFacts1

http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depresssion-support

Celebrating Family

lifelovefamily
This past weekend was bittersweet for me as I arrived in Texas for a family reunion with my dad’s side of the family, but then wound up having to say a final good-bye to my mom’s last living uncle who happened to live in the same town.

It was a blessing to see my uncle one last time. To give him a hug, smooth back his hair as he lay in his hospital bed, look in his gentle eyes and say a prayer with him.

It’s been a blessing catching up with cousins I haven’t seen in years. Talking about our kids and our lives. Sharing laughs about old times and making new memories.
girl cousins framed pic 1
cousin love

This weekend has been a true picture of what family is all about. Helping each other through difficult times. Celebrating good times. Advice and guidance when faced with troubles. Support through good and bad. There have been ups and downs, squabbles and tears. But more importantly, there’s been love. Lots and lots of love.

So today, as I move from my aunt’s house to the RWA National Conference hotel, I leave with the certainty that I’m writing for the perfect genre. Romance novels are about love and healthy relationships conquering conflict and doubt and the ugliness of the world.

Our novels celebrate what we want for our kids: happiness, strength, peace and love. Lots and lots of love.
family love

hearts of  love
Today, I say: Go hug your kids, call your mom or dad or aunt or cousin, send a simple “I Love You” text to someone you haven’t in a while. Celebrate your family. Life is short. Your list of loved ones doesn’t have to be. 🙂

RIP My beloved Tio Pablo, te quiero mucho!
Tio Pablo

A Love so Pure

I’ve started and stopped writing this blog all day. I have a running list of topics I’d like to write about, from marriage to kids growing up too fast, the meaning of home, and kindness. I’ve learned to jot down thoughts when they strike me, so I can always go back to them later. I no longer trust myself to remember.

But today, my notes weren’t enough…because yesterday my cat died.

sofie 1

Her name was Sofie and she was 13. She came to us as a one-day old kitten, when we took in her mama and sister as fosters for a local rescue group. She was tiny and white and oh so sweet, and for a long time we laughed at what a sound sleeper she was. When we walked into the room, mama cat and sister would startle and look at us, but sweet Sofie would sleep on…as if she was completely oblivious to us. It wasn’t long before we realized that she was. Like many white cats, Sofie was born deaf.

Time came to put the kitty family up for adoption, but…we just couldn’t do it. We already felt so protective of sweet Sofie. We worried about what life might hold for her. About how vulnerable she was. About what would happen if she ever got outside…

So, yeah. Sofie never went anywhere. She opened her eyes into our world, and in our world she stayed…until yesterday.

But that’s not what I want to talk about…yesterday. The end. How hard it was to say goodbye, and the emptiness we all feel. The second guessing…and the soul-gnawing guilt. Well, actually I probably do need to work through all that, but right now, I’m more focused on the other side of the coin. Not on the loss, but the love.

I have no memory of a life without furry friends. I grew up with cats, adopting my own as quickly as I could once I moved into my first apartment. From there one cat became two, at times three. After I married, we branched out and brought canines into our realm of felines, and we’ve had a mix of both ever since.

And now I find myself sitting here, reflecting on my furry friends, and all that they brought to my life. When you share your life with a furry friend, you’re never alone. We tend to think that we care for them, but in so many ways, they care for us. They’re there. They’re always there, bounding to greet us when we get home, following us from room to room, crawling into our laps when we sit down, nuzzling us when we desperately need contact. They make us smile and they make us laugh, they give us love and make sure that we’re never alone. They love us. Unconditionally. They love us when we’re happy and nice to them. They love us when we’re busy and don’t have time for distractions. They love us when we’re angry or stressed, when we turn away or shut them out, when we don’t want to be bothered. They love us when we’re sad or broken-hearted. They just…love us.

And through them, our furry friends, through that pure, pure love, we learn far more than we could ever teach them. We learn about loyalty and forgiveness, about vulnerability and innocence and trust, about companionship, about silliness and simplicity, about being in the moment and loving the moment, about not worrying what tomorrow may bring, about the importance of hanging out and relaxing, about friendship. And love. They teach us how to love, what it feels like to be loved, and to love in return. Unconditionally.

Four years ago we lost our ancient black lab, Clyde. We went six months without a dog, before my (then) seven-year-old daughter started hounding us for a puppy. Kids today have way more resources at their disposal than we did. We had to look at classified ads. Kids today have the Internet, and my girl knew about Petfinder. She’d hunker down at my laptop, key in her criteria, and presto, she had an endless supply of puppy candidates at her fingertips.

My husband and I, however, were like….a dog. You know, all that work. The poop in the backyard. The vet and boarding bills. The training…. But after our initial reluctance, we realized allowing our daughter to adopt a puppy was about way more than poop and bills and work. It was about…her. Our daughter. Her childhood. It was about allowing her (and our son) to have experiences my husband and I had already had. It was about letting her love and be loved, about letting her learn and grow. And so Roxie, a clumsy white puppy who became a big white dog, came into our family.

And so I sit here now, my heart raw after a rough ten days, but so very, very grateful for the thirteen years we had to love our sweet Sofie. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Because no matter how badly goodbyes hurt, there is no greater gift, than that of unconditional love, them to us, and us to them. That is their legacy, and it’s worth all the dirty litter boxes and piles of backyard poop in the world.

sofie 2

When Your Child Grows Up Without a Grandparent

So far this month we’ve talked about miscarriage and special needs. Today I’m writing about the loss of grandparents.

It’s funny that I can’t even write this post without bawling; I don’t normally consider myself to be an overly emotional person.

***

My mom and I had grown close as I grew into my adult years (we weren’t so close during the rebellious teenage years). We talked almost every day, for as little as five minutes but usually over an hour. Most of the time it was about nothing; it was simply for the pleasure of talking to each other. I lived in Colorado, she lived in Texas. She had become my best friend.

When I got pregnant in 2008, she was over the moon for me. She threw my baby shower, a surprise shower over Christmas when she could be here. She stayed with us for three weeks around SuperGirl’s due date so she could make sure she wouldn’t miss her birth. We actually had an argument after SuperGirl was born (because she was overdue and my mom only had a week left to stay) about her not having enough time with the baby; I was holding her too much! (Which just shows you how important communication is! I would have gladly let her take her more so I could sleep.)

After she went back home, we tried to Skype every week so she could “talk” to SuperGirl on camera and see her. One of her favorite things was to try to get SuperGirl to stick her tongue out and wag it back and forth–something SuperGirl never did for her, unfortunately. She loved my daughter immeasurably, as much as any grandparent has ever loved a grandchild, and was looking forward to coming back up to Colorado to celebrate SuperGirl’s first birthday.

Of course, that never happened.

SuperGirl’s first birthday was in June 2010. My mother was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in March. She died April 22, 2010 at the age of 49.

It kills me that not only will my mother not be able to see SuperGirl grow up (or WonderGirl, or this baby boy we’re expecting), that she won’t be able to have a relationship with her, but that my children will never know what a truly amazing woman their grandmother was. Not apart from my words, anyway. They’ll never get to play with her, to go shopping with her, to be indulged by her. They’ll never be tickled or chased or eat too many of her special Christmas cookies.

***

SuperGirl was born June 2009. That fall, my mother-in-law, who had previously been diagnosed with emphysema and COPD, took a turn for the worse. She had to quit working, was put on 24/7 oxygen, and her range of activity was limited. She could no longer garden, one of her favorite things, because it left her too out of breath. The only places she went regularly were her doctors’ offices. She sometimes went upstairs (she lived in a MIL suite in my sister-in-law’s basement) to eat with everyone for holidays, but most often we went down to her.

WonderGirl was born in November 2010. Every memory my daughters have of their Grandma is of her being mostly bed-ridden and hooked up to oxygen. Despite all of her medical complications, she doted on both girls as much as she could, and was always grateful for every chance she had to see them. The last time they saw her in the hospital, she was able to go downstairs to the gift shop and buy them each a stuffed animal. From the time she took a turn for the worse in 2009, she went in and out of the hospital several times a year until she eventually passed this past December. One of the last things she told me was how sad she was that they wouldn’t remember her.

***

My children will grow up without biological grandmothers (I have a father and stepmother who live in Florida; my husband’s father died before he was born).

Because I didn’t experience loss of a close loved one until my mother passed, I haven’t really known how to approach this with my kids. I talk about my mom a lot–perhaps too much. When I was telling SuperGirl before her second birthday everyone who would be at her birthday party, she asked, “And Mawmaw, too?” Of course, I cried and told her Mawmaw was in heaven and couldn’t be there.

SuperGirl now understands better that Mawmaw and Grandma are in heaven. I don’t think WonderGirl has any idea who Mawmaw is, and I’m not sure she even understands that Grandma is gone. Sometimes when we talk about my husband’s family, she still includes Grandma along with everyone else. We have pictures around the house we talk about, and my husband and I try to connect our girls to things we have that either grandmother gave us.

But as far as they know, Mawmaw is as real as the superheroes they watch on TV, and all I can do is hope they will have at least vague memories of my mother-in-law.

Sometimes I get jealous of friends or family who still have grandmothers for their children. Not because their children get packages in the mail or because the parents have “built-in” babysitters, but because of a thousand-plus little things like that my children will miss out on. And who’s going to tell me when they think I’m doing something wrong raising them? Who’s going to listen to me complain when they turn into rebellious teenagers just like I was?

I’ll try to teach them about the wonderful women they should have known. I’ll try to love them enough to make up for that gap. But I fear it’ll never be enough–at least not for me.

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I’m Elise Rome, AKA Midnight Mama because I’m usually burning the midnight oil. If SuperGirl (3, with a speech delay) and WonderGirl (2, my very own hip attachment) aren’t getting up in the middle of the night, then I’m busy working on writing and writing-related business until morning. Both my husband and I stay home with the girls (he’s a writer, too! www.lukasholmes.com), but usually I’m focused on them throughout the day and only get started working until after 8pm when they’re both in bed. I’m a former Texan now living in Colorado who desperately misses no-snow winters, and my parenting goal is to raise my daughters to be strong, intelligent, and independent women…much like the heroines I write, as a matter of fact. I’m a recovering perfectionist, recovering procrastinator, and perpetually aspire to keep the house clean (because it never actually is). When I’m not chasing around my daughters or adoring my cooking/cleaning/diaper-changing husband of 9 years, I write historical romances about women who fascinate me and men who somehow always remind me of Rhett Butler, the first literary hero who captured my heart. www.eliserome.com

What One Mother Has Learned About Grief and Loss

This month at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard, we’re talking about moms and loss and the grief that comes with it. But that’s not a bad thing or a sad thing.

It’s ironic, really, that talking about loss and grief can actually be uplifting. After reading Ellie’s poignant posts about her miscarriages, I felt so inspired. I want to be a coffee bean like Ellie. How can I give? How can I change the world through what I’ve learned? And same with Robyn’s post on having polycystic ovarian syndrome…she’s created such a good life in spite of her infertility. She’s an awesome mom, and she won’t let any sense of loss or grief deny her the joy she finds in her family.

As I was contemplating my own journey as a mom who’s experienced loss, I sat and tried to hold it close so I could write about it easier. But I’m having a hard time doing that…reliving the intensity of the anguish of expectations that didn’t come true. And I’m kind of glad. I’ve experienced a ton of loss as a mom–and terrible, wretched grief about it. But I’m at a new place. And it’s a place with a lot less fear because I already know the ending. That’s the beauty of becoming an older mom, I suppose. I already know that whatever happens to my children and to me as their mother, the love is there. It won’t die. It will be stronger than ever. Good will win.

In the long, long run, good always wins. I think that’s the most profound thing a person can learn, and I learned it through my experience as a mother.

I think back on the last 21 years—that’s how long I’ve had my son with mild Asperger’s Syndrome–and it’s been a real odyssey. I was afraid Nighthawk (that’s what I call him on this forum) would be ostracized as a child and a teen. Well, sometimes he was. I was afraid he’d be depressed about that. Yep—occasionally, he was! And I was afraid he’d be lonely, confused, and scared. Well, gosh darn it, he certainly was all three, many times.

The grief you feel as a mom to see your child hurting is excruciating, and I hid the depth of mine from everyone for so many years. What else can you do but move past all the incidents of hurt? You have to keep going. But I remember one particularly bad time when we were visiting friends in Spain. It was our last night there. Nighthawk was a teenager and his American cousin, a boy the same age as Nighthawk, was quietly invited over to a Spanish girl’s house—probably for a romantic goodbye–and Nighthawk was not, although he was her friend, too. He was visibly upset, both sad and angry. Usually, you hide when you’re hurt, especially in front of people you don’t know well, but Nighthawk didn’t. My brother took him aside and tried to explain to him the concept of being a “wingman:” yes, guys stick together, but if a special girl one of them likes enters the picture, the other guy understands and gladly steps back.

I tried to intervene, too, but there’s only so much a mom can do. It’s really up to your child to figure it out for himself. So while I watched Nighthawk try to process what had happened, I got through the rest of the awkward dinner with our Spanish friends with dignity and good cheer. I was a guest in this country, and I owed them that.

Even as I went back to my hotel with my sister, who was my roomie, I acted as if the hurt hadn’t happened. I pretended along with her that it was a beautiful night in a charming town in Spain. How often would experiences like this come along? She thought it was a kindness to me to forget the incident at dinner, so we tried for normalcy back at the room, laughing and talking, happy to be two sisters having a European adventure.

But I couldn’t sleep. I remember sitting up in bed and saying something like this to her: “What happened to Nighthawk was so painful to watch. And I’m tired of everyone just acting as if everything’s okay around me for the sake of moving on. My grief is real. I’ve been pretending for 17 years that I’m okay. But I’m not. And I’m scared that the hurt will never stop, for him or for me. I wonder how we’ll endure.”

That moment was a turning point for me. My despair, my sadness, all had its roots in being afraid. I wasn’t sure that I could handle the truth.

But here is that truth: my son wears his heart on his sleeve. He doesn’t have the instinctive social filter he needs to protect himself. He’s not sophisticated and never will be. He’s smart, though, and through a lot of practice, he can learn to navigate the world. He’s come such a long way already—he’s a junior in college now, he speaks several languages, he has friends and a part-time job. Embittered people sometimes use his vulnerability to entertain themselves. The kind ones are wonderful—helpful, friendly, and loving. But Nighthawk won’t always be around kind people. Perhaps more than the average Joe, he may get hurt, over and over, for the rest of his life.

This is not what I wanted for my boy when I birthed him.

When you’re low—truly low—you have two choices: to actually embrace what scares you or to hide from it. If you choose the former, you choose to live. If you choose the latter, you die inside.

And when you choose to live your truth, the big miracle is that strength and peace just come. In abundance! Some people call it grace. Some call it God. All I know is that since that night in Spain, I am living wholly. And those fears I faced—aloud in the presence of my sister—lost their power.

Those damned expectations I had the day I held Nighthawk in my arms for the first time as a newborn baby…well, they were phantom dreams that held me back from living my real life. They kept me from seeing vividly, every day, that I can celebrate the fact that my son is living his truth with courage, humor, and compassion. He’s a walking testament to the power of love and what it can do in a person’s life.

So this is why I’m in a new place. Sure, I know bad things can happen to Nighthawk, to me, to my family, my friends, and to the world. But I’ve experienced utter despair. I have used that power in me—whatever you want to call it–to stare down the fear, to somehow turn myself, despite all odds—like a rusty, stripped screw–from denial to reality.

And each day, I remind myself that the power that turned me is there. I call it Love. It’s truth and grace and God…it’s all that’s left in us when we think we’re empty. So in a way, I’m glad I’ve been reduced. I’m glad I know pain. I’m blessed to be the mother of Nighthawk, and I wouldn’t change a single bit of our path. To be fully alive, you have to be where you are. Not settling—no, indeed, we must fight hard sometimes to make things right—but having faith that truth will lead us to the place of peace and power inside us that allows us not only to survive but thrive.

That’s all I have to offer the world. That’s me being a coffee bean. I hope I’ve brought you hope—the way Ellie and Robyn have brought me hope. We’re meant to share it.

Every mom has had to witness her child’s pain. We tend to make it our own, don’t we? And every mother deals with expectations that didn’t come true. I’d love to know how you handle yours, if you’re willing to share. XOXO


Hi, I’m Kieran. My family loves music and anything that makes us laugh out loud. Along with Chuck, my husband of 23 years, I try to teach our kids that we have to actively choose happiness–and if I accomplish nothing else as a mom but pass that one lesson along to them, then I think I’ve done my job.

My oldest guy, Nighthawk, was diagnosed in kindergarten with Asperger’s syndrome, and now he’s a junior in college; his sister Indie Girl, who’s younger by 16 months, is a college sophomore; and my youngest, Dragon, is in ninth grade. For our family, it’s about managing your weaknesses and wringing everything you can get out of your strengths. And along the way, finding joy.

www.kierankramerbooks.com