Archive for the ‘grief’ Category

Lou Reed, Good Riddance

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013


My memory of hearing the Velvet Underground for the first time is indelible in every detail. I had just moved to London and I was sixteen and up for anything. I was smoking hash with some guys I’d just met, sitting around stoned in their dark attic flat, when someone put on “Sister Ray.” I was transported to another dimension,  thrilling and unspeakably depraved.

I loved the Velvet Underground. By the time Max was in high school, he loved them too.

But in the last 15 years, I have come to hate Lou Reed, so his death left me cold. Big deal, is my feeling; he wasted a liver that should have gone to someone younger. Expressing my antipathy to Lou Reed on Facebook brought me new enemies and inflamed old ones. I guess that’s what Facebook is all about.

The problem, for me, is that Lou Reed was a willing and eager role model for young musicians who admired his stance as a flagrant dope-loving junkie, whose love-songs to dope make Keith Richard look like a Catholic schoolgirl. For those drawn to the dark side, Lou was a formidable siren. He made heroin synonymous with coolness.

I know you can’t blame artists for the actions of their followers. Marilyn Manson was rightly annoyed when people blamed him for the Columbine shootings. Gangsta rap might offend you, but it doesn’t turn law-abiding kids into gangsters.

Still, young people are vulnerable. They are searching for an ‘identity’ as they struggle to break away from their parents’ dominion. And a rock star who glamorizes intravenous drug use is a real problem. The worst thing Madonna’s fans could do was to go around looking like a slut. And they did. But fucking Lou Reed has lured kids into hospitals, Hep C and early graves.

I wish he had wised up early and had cautioned people not to romanticize heroin. Even William Burroughs described addiction as a gruesome nightmare of endless need and decaying flesh. But not Lou. For the last ten years at least, Lou Reed has appeared all over the place, blathering drunkenly about how important he is, or how important his friends are. Just a few months ago, I heard him blabbing about his friends Marina Abramovich, Yoko, Anthony Hegarty (who he kept calling ‘Ant’) and on and on. He was an asshole.

Max didn’t live long enough to see what an asshole Lou Reed was. He learned that heroin was a rocky path without glamour or romance, but then it was too late.

Lou Reed didn’t persuade me to use a needle, but maybe if I’d been a boy with a guitar things would have been different. If I was god, I’d go back and erase Lou Reed. I would also make sure that people knew about depression in children, so it couldn’t go on unchecked. I would trade the entire musical output of Lou Reed for the two kids I met in rehab who died from an overdose.

Fuck you Lou, and the horse you rode in on.

Beautiful Leg

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Kiera Roche - floral leg


Before today, I have felt offended by images of prosthetic limbs that seemed to fetishize amputees.

Even though it’s none of my business what people fetishize, I will always remember the doctor who told Max to consider having his leg amputated. Max was visibly upset, but somewhat resigned. Everything was as bad as it could be for him, so why not this new development, too. As it turned out, his surgeon disagreed. Further surgery and physical therapy could save the leg. But pictures of prosthetic legs continued to fill me with anger and despair.

Losing a leg seemed indescribably horrible and unfair. But it happens. And clearly there are plenty of people who cope with this loss and don’t let it ruin their lives.

Kiera Roche is a strong-willed amputee who has challenged herself with cycling and hiking. She has struggled with ideas of ‘normal’ and looking different. She loves her beautiful new floral leg, and I love it too.

Kiera and Anna


Keira and her beautiful leg have changed my thinking about amputees. I am grateful to have come across The Alternative Limb Project. I feel enlightened on a subject where my mind was once closed.


photos (c) the alternative limb project

Amanda To The Rescue

Monday, July 15th, 2013

It has been a heartbreaking weekend. God bless Amanda Palmer for cheering us up.

** If you don’t see a picture, go here.

Human Kindness Overflowing

Friday, July 5th, 2013

Nandini Valli Muthiah small


Last night, I stayed up until dawn after taking in too much suffering. I am trying to learn tonglen, a method of breathing in suffering and breathing out compassion, but I forgot. I forgot, and found myself dwelling on my own misery.

Earlier in the day, I wrote a letter to someone whose partner killed himself. Later in the day, I answered an email from a man whose depressed wife has taken to her bed, leaving him with two jobs and the care of their children. Then I read about the mother who killed her 14 year old autistic son, incurring the understandable wrath of the disability community and beyond.

So many problems and so many tragic circumstances with no easy solutions. It’s overwhelming. You have to do something, though, right?

I have a bunch of Facebook “friends” who I don’t know in real life. I acquire them for the usual reasons. One of them, Jon, had an accident a few weeks ago that left him paralyzed in a wheelchair and unable to keep his apartment. His story triggered memories of Max’s despair over his injuries.

I was determined to help Jon. I noticed that he had more than 1,000 Facebook friends. He is a political activist and provokes lively discussion on his Facebook page. So I posted my idea on his page: I exhorted Jon’s friends to each make a $5 donation to his Paypal account. What a great idea, I thought proudly! I felt deeply satisfied by my plan to rescue this person in need.

Jon received four donations, including mine.

He was okay with it, but I was horrified. I couldn’t get over it. Five dollars?? Wouldn’t anybody give five dollars to a human being in such difficult circumstances? What the fuck is wrong with people?

I’m upset by indifference, even though I’m guilty of it all the time. I would like to see more compassion. Coincidentally, I just came across this study in how compassion and kindness can be taught and developed, literally changing the brain in the process.

More kindness would be great. The messages I’ve received from strangers who read my blog have often brought me to tears, just because kindness seems like such a meaningful gift. When we breathe in each other’s suffering and breathe out compassion, we are all that much closer to healing the unbearable pain of being human.

in out


*photo (c) Nandini Valli Muthiah

The Problem with Living

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013



On Thursday it will be three years. I never expected to still be around. Time doesn’t heal all wounds but it changes your emotional terrain.

A couple of weeks ago, I considered living for the first time.  I was experiencing a patch of happiness that felt like peace.  Naturally, I had to question this. It made me feel guilty and shallow. I forgave myself the guilt and contemplated the prospect of living the remainder of my life as if it mattered.  Living on purpose, not just because I can’t bear to hurt my husband.

It occurs to me now that this is what Max was contemplating. He wrote that he wanted to wake up in the morning and feel like living, not just to avoid hurting his loved ones, but as a choice for himself. He gave up hope that this could happen.

I feel more hope than I did when I was going around looking for someplace high enough to make a successful jump. I feel like I could conceivably find a purpose in life and make a commitment to seeing life through to it’s natural end.

But then I would have to worry about all the stuff that people worry about when they want to live. I’d have to worry about cancer instead of mocking those people on the Cancer Center commercials who want so badly to survive. I’d have to worry about my bad cholesterol, which is sky-high. I’d have to worry about dementia and social security and losing my hair or teeth.

I’m just not sure. I’ve been hovering between this world and the next, trying to cultivate a saving level of numbness. Love can break through, and it does. Maybe instead of jumping off a roof, I can jump into life. It’s a new idea. It’s somewhat threatening. But I plan to explore it.


A Disturbance in the Force

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Matthew Warren RIP


It hurt my heart to learn that Matthew Warren, the son of Pastor Rick Warren, ended his life at age 27.

I didn’t even need to read the story to assume that Matthew’s death was caused by lifelong depression. Too often, suicide is the outcome of this kind of unrelenting pain.

Rick Warren is a homophobic cunt whose stance has done harm all around the world. He and his church have had a presence in Uganda, whipping up anti-gay fervor and violence.

But no one deserves the loss of a child. Pastor Warren probably did his best to help his son hang on. Sometimes your best isn’t enough.

Meanwhile, Matthew’s uncle led a prayer at the Saddleback Church, thanking his god for something or other.  As if some god had a secret plan for poor Matthew, and could still be relied upon for anything.

I wish someone had at least made sure that Matthew didn’t have a gun! Is that too much to ask?

I have no one to pray to. I can only mourn the loss of another sweet vulnerable soul who couldn’t stick around. The world needs more of them, not less.

Birthday Love

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013



Max is 37 today, somewhere out in the cosmos where I will find him when the time comes.

Lighting a candle and waiting it out.

A Special Game

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Inner Vision is a computer game created by a college student who has given some thought to suicide. The goal of the game is to convince three people not to kill themselves. As a player, you interact with them, choosing the advice you believe will help them most.

It’s a simple game but it offers a surprisingly intense experience. It might be useful as a way to combat suicidal thinking. It could  also be a tool for stirring compassion and teaching us the importance of listening.

For me, it was a chance to get it right, to save three imaginary people from taking their own lives and breaking innumerable imaginary hearts. It was comforting.

You can play the game here. If you’re impressed, don’t thank me, thank Sunil Rao at his website here.

Family: Part I

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

My dad had seven children with three wives. I am still getting to know the younger ones, who live in another county. One was an athlete in college, and she was the apple of daddy’s eye. He had always wanted a tennis  player and with her, he got one.

Years after graduating from college, she wondered what to do with her life. She lived with her dad until his health took a drastic turn. She loved him so much that she hastened to move out, leaving the duties of caring for him to my brother, who took a three month sabbatical from his job in a city up north.

Sometimes when I was visiting my dad, she would arrive for a visit. She would prance around for him like a palace courtesan before a king. As she explained to the other exhausted siblings, “I give him joy!”

When our dad got weaker and needed help paying his bills. she conducted whispered meetings with him at his bedside, accusing various family members of stealing from his wallet and even stealing his medication. Poor girl. That’s what love is, isn’t it? She was just trying to protect him!

Now that my dad is gone, I still don’t know what makes this girl tick. I like how she manages to avoid getting a job, because that has been my lifelong dream as well. (See Office Space.)

I love her blog, which is a tribute to hippies, many of them nude in a forest or commune or something. You can scroll and scroll, losing yourself in peace signs, long stringy hair and little proverbs about karma and creativity.

Creativity: I wish I had more, don’t you? Then no one would know that I’ve removed the camera-shy siblings from the photo above. Maybe my dad wouldn’t mind the extra hands and feet in this photo. I know he would criticize my hair. If only he’d lived long enough to see my silky keratin treatment.

Anyway, now she has assumed control of our dad’s trust.  It’s nice to know it’s in such competent hands. Stay tuned for Part II.


When Can We Talk About Depression?

Thursday, January 17th, 2013


Like everyone else, I am heartbroken by the loss of Aaron Swartz, 26, who hung himself last week. He was by all accounts an amazing person. He used his brilliance in technology to advance the cause of a free internet.  He was a passionate activist whose antics led to serious charges that could have ended in decades of jail time.  Naturally, there is cause to question and condemn the over-zealous prosecutor who seemed intent on punishing Aaron in the worst way possible. Living under this threat and its attendant stress must have been difficult.

But nobody in Aaron’s world seems to want to talk about depression. Maybe they feel that being driven to suicide by the dark forces of the corporate-government complex is more noble than a loss in the struggle with clinical depression. In forums and editorials about Aaron’s death, those who bring up Aaron’s admitted depression are scolded with “Now is not the time!”

But now is the time. Now is always the time. If you don’t understand depression, here is a good place to start. If you want statistics on college suicide, go here.  Read about the stigma of depression in the tech world here. Read Aaron’s blog post about his depression here. You already know that more US soldiers now die from suicide than in combat.

Suicide is preventable. Not in every case, obviously. But awareness and education and the dedication of friends and loved ones can and does make a difference. This website,, is the first step in learning  how you can help and what words to use with a friend who might be thinking of ending his life. is another good resource.  Feeling hopeless and seeing no end in sight can make death seem like the only option. Empathy and affection can persuade the depressed person that things can change.

I wish I could have comforted Aaron Swartz until he felt strong enough to go on. I wish I had stayed up with Max and held his hand until the beginning of a new day. We can’t go back in time but we can try our best to break someone’s fall if we are mindful and courageous enough to make the effort.