Monday, July 30, 2007

There Are No Coincidences

I never believed in ghosts. I didn’t ever have a reason to, but since Bryce took his life, there have been too many occasions for me not to believe. It’s true. In the six months since Bryce’s death, I’ve changed. I’m what some might now call a believer. Some people may think I’m crazy that I would even go there (“there” being: seeing signs, getting clues, contacting mediums, astrologers, intuitives, and acknowledging that there is “the other side”), but since I’ve always been a seeker, I was bound to find some things. The signs that I have experienced have provided me with a tremendous amount of comfort. They have helped with my grieving process, which as a survivor, is all that we can hope for while we heal.

The first time I got an inkling that Bryce was still around was when his parents contacted an intuitive after his death. The intuitive gave them a reading and without having any information on Bryce, she was able to see specific details of what tragic events had happened in Bryce’s life before he took his own life. She said names of friends and asked about past events that had happened in Bryce’s and his family’s life. She knew that Bryce had caused an accident that paralyzed his father just months before he took his own life. Goose bumps and shortness of breath kept me present during the twenty-minute reading, listening to all of his hidden truths (some that only I knew) spoken by a stranger made me realize that perhaps I could no longer scoff at television shows such as Crossing Over. It was a time to dive deeper.

I hadn’t dreamt much about Bryce in those early months, and I started to crave my own visions and conversations with him, to get answers to all of the questions that I wanted to ask him. I craved to find my own intuitive or medium to give me a reading and tell me how Bryce felt about this now that he was gone. I read the impressive book, Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives, about the Harvard educated psychologist who, against his own will, had been led by his patients towards past-life therapy. From it, he had learned that we met people from our past lives repeatedly. It had come recommended by the sweet girl who worked at my UPS Store, where I kept my P.O. Box, and once she told me about it I cried, because I remembered that Bryce had tried to get me to read it years before. Another friend recommended a medium named America, but she was booked for a year. Then she recommended another woman who had the gift, but she wasn’t practicing it full time. When she and I spoke, she told me that she would meditate and prepare to contact Bryce and that she’d call if anything came to her. I waited by the phone as a girl might wait for that certain man to call, but my phone didn’t ring. I concluded that his “spirit” had to spend time around his family in these initial months to give them the support they needed. I decided that I would have to find my support within this dimension, and not try so hard to search for it on the other side.

I let go, a lot. I finished my suicide support group, started to see my therapist every other week instead of weekly, and I made an effort to think of how my life might look better than it could ever have been. This is exactly when Bryce started to send his signs. I had spent this particular Sunday working on my book project and I was tired, knowing that once in awhile sitting down in front of the television provided some relief. Though my roommate and I have basic cable, I usually find myself going to public television to catch Frontline. It was nine at night, and since our local PBS station was showing a repeat, I searched for the other PBS station further up the channels. I stopped when I saw the familiar face of Dr. Wayne Dyer, the inspirational speaker who had done a handful of specials for PBS. Bryce and I had gone to see him a year before in San Francisco, which PBS had taped live in front of a thousand fans, and I remembered how we had never seen the finished product. What crossed my mind next was whether the cameras had ever filmed Bryce and me during the recording. The very thought of the possibility had me staring at the screen. The special had been an extension of Dyer’s book entitled, Inspiration: Your Ultimate Calling.

Years before, Bryce and I had seen the film, What the Bleep Do We Know?!, which marked the beginning in our combined quest to find out if humans really could create their own realities. As I sat to take in Dyer’s inspirational stories with the studio audience, he came to the part of the talk that I remembered when he read a letter that Ram Dass had written to a couple after their young daughter had been murdered. The letter had been read by the couple in Ram Dass’ documentary, Fierce Grace, which had been named by Newsweek as of the Top Five Non-Fiction Films of 2002. In addition, the film had come recommended to me when I broke down to a random yoga teacher about Bryce’s death in those first weeks. As Dyer read the poignant words of Ram Dass from the television, I got just as choked up as I had that night I had been there in the studio audience. Then all of a sudden the cameras flashed to Bryce who was now on the screen. I gasped and immediately picked up my phone to call my girlfriend who had been in the audience with Bryce and me during the filming. Then I sent a text to his mom and called Bryce’s sister. I was in shock. It was the first time that I had seen live images of Bryce since his death.

Dyer was nearing the end and came to my favorite part in his talk, how he had come up with the cover photo for his book. He lived in Maui, had just finished writing the last chapter of the book, a story about his friend who had died and how that friend had been fascinated by Monarch butterflies, when Dyer had walked outside to sit in meditation. A butterfly flew onto Dyer’s hand and stayed there for two whole hours while he walked the beach, certain that the butterfly was his friend. He told the story just as well this second time around on TV as he had that night. And just as he was explaining how open we had to be to see these miracles, the screen flashed into the audience and showed Bryce and me. I burst into tears. There were only two stories about death, and life after death, in Dyer’s full three-hour talk, and during those two specific (and quite special) stories, the camera had chosen to show Bryce. I was starting to believe.

Months later, I had planned to gather with some of Bryce’s friends and family to sprinkle some of his ashes in his favorite river. The intuitive had seen that image back in the reading months before, reiterating an idea that I had come up with, so we were secure in the fact that we had chosen to do the right thing. A week before, stressed and a wreck, I decided that I couldn’t handle the trip. I needed a vacation, a real kind, from Bryce, from the suicide, and from my grief. My closest friend who had stood by me during this tragedy helped me decide that we should go to an island to relax and get as far away from all of this as possible. In our day-long layover, we got a hotel room to rest before our evening flight, and for the first time in my life, my back went out. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t stand, and I certainly couldn’t carry my backpack. My friend asked me if I was well enough to go on the trip. Normally, I would spend some time considering if my pain was psychosomatic, but I was in so much pain that all I could do was sleep. I slept for four hours. When I woke up, my friend lay in the other bed.
“Amanda, there’s something I want to tell you,” my friend held her journal and a pen while I had just stepped out of the bathroom having taken a bath to try to relieve my pain.
“This has only happened to me one other time with my grandmother and I didn’t want to believe it,” she said quietly with ease.
I stood in my towel with wet hair and slowly lowered myself to sit on my bed.
“While you were asleep Bryce came into the room.” I took a deep breath and felt the emotions taking over, the lump move into my throat, and tears swelled in my eyes.
“What? What do you mean? How did that happen? Were you dreaming?”
“No,” she said calmly. “I was awake just lying here. He came in and sat down on the end of my bed. I know. It’s freaking me out, too.”
“I said to him, ‘Are you ok with her taking this trip with me?’” (Since I had cancelled the trip to deal with his ashes on the river.)
“He said, ‘Yes.’” I tried to straighten up and pay attention.
“Then I said, ‘I'm sorry that we've been talking about you and that I have been comparing you to Jordan (Jordan was her recent ex). I won't do that anymore.’ He said, ‘That's fine.’”
“And then he said this to me, ‘I want you to tell her that I'm going to take care of her.’”
I burst into tears, “Oh, God.”

The tears swam down my face and onto my neck. I paced the room back and forth, wondering what life was all about, wondering if Bryce had finally been ready to come give me the comfort that I had needed from the other side. I didn’t know whether to believe her. She didn’t want to take it for real either, so we talked about it some more.
Then I asked, “What did he look like?”
“I could only see his back. But he was wearing a red jacket. Actually, it was a red, fleece jacket.”
My friend didn’t know Bryce enough to know what he would wear. She had probably only met him a handful of times. Then it hit me.
“Wait, Bryce was most likely wearing the red, fleece jacket I gave him when he killed himself.”
In that moment, I realized, there are no coincidences.

Monday, July 9, 2007

You’re My Home

You once told me that I was your home,

and I wrote it down so that I would never forget.

I clung to that wrinkled piece of paper by mistake,

like it was an extension of your heart.

But then I learned that paper can never wrap its arms around you,

or hold your hand in a crowd,

or dance with you on an empty dance floor.

I thought it could, but that was my mistake.

So now, when I’m not busying myself with missing what was good,

I remember what it really feels like.

I’m more at home all by myself.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Remembering Him Best

“It’s going to be like that first morning when you found out about Bryce’s suicide. Each time you experience something for the first time it’s going to be hard.”
I picked up a piece of corn bread, layered it with butter and jalapeno jelly, and realized that the memorial service would be the first time I would see his parents since my boyfriend, Bryce, had taken his own life. It would be the first time I would see his friends, and the first time I would meet some of his friends that I only heard about from the few memories that Bryce had shared.
A friend explained the concept of “experiencing firsts” to me while I sat weepy across the table picking at delicious baked goods that I could hardly enjoy.

It would be the first time back in the town where we had lived together, the town Bryce had called home for thirteen years before the almost four that we had dated. He had talked about the timberframe building he would design and build for us: three stories and a penthouse apartment with floor to ceiling windows that would overlook the mountains and valley. It would also be the first time that I would go into Bryce’s office in his timberframe shop, the one that had taken me four days to paint cerulean blue. I had chosen the color to remind him of the oceans in the world that we would swim and sail. I had gotten the paint free from a local painter because he happened to have that color leftover.
“Hell, if you don’t take it, it’ll just sit in the back of my truck,” he had said while he coughed out the remnants of his Marlboro. When I would walk into that office now it would be another first, Bryce wouldn’t be sitting there, and his absence would be permanent.

Two of his friends on my radar still didn’t know about Bryce’s suicide. One named David was unreachable because he spent winters surfing the Pacific in Mexico and turned off his cell phone for four months. My quest to contact him became obsessive (which I had noticed was one way of dealing with the shock and grief). I went as far as emailing random surfers that I found by goggling surfing forums to see if they might be catching the same waves as my described friend. One e-mailed back.
“Yeah, I know that guy. Have never talked to him, but have seen him on the beach.”
I grew frustrated and wanted to e-mail back, “Well, do you think you could go up to him?” but knew I should monitor where I channeled my anger.
I never heard back from the surfer, chalked it up to the fact that catching righteous tubes was more important than connecting strangers and wondered if I had put the words "death" or "suicide" in the email would I have gotten different results. I had to let go of the fact that our friend might miss the memorial service, and wondered how long it would be before he learned the news.

It took some time before anyone could even think about having Bryce’s memorial service, but once the date was set, each family member and close friend worked out his or her own part. His family, aunts, uncles, cousins, four close friends, and I gathered beneath one of Bryce’s timberframe at his parent’s home for a light brunch. Then we moved into the living room and formed a circle on chairs and couches. One by one, we went around sharing our thoughts, a poem, or something we had written to explain what was special to each of us about Bryce. As we reached for Kleenex to wipe away our tears, we reached into our hearts to share about his life.

We had scheduled a larger service for the community that evening at the timberframe shop. Earlier the day before, I had driven to get poster board and as the sun reflected off two feet of snow, I veered off and got myself stuck. In this rural area without four-wheel drive, I had to wave down any car that decided to pass in the thirty minutes that I stood there wishing I had remembered gloves. An older woman, stocky and strong like most of the rock climbing, mountain biking type that lived in these parts, stopped her truck.
“Oh, did you get distracted putting on make-up?”

Her condescending tone had put me off, it was the same masculinity that made me miss the femininity that always surrounded me in San Francisco, but I was in such a sorry state wondering how I had gotten stuck in the first place that it didn’t occur to me to give her my real excuse. I didn’t bother telling her it was because I had reached for my ringing phone and couldn’t distinguish between the side of the road and the snow bank, and I didn’t bother asking her to give me a little compassionate break. She left me with a tow rope, a shovel and brief instructions as to how I could get out once someone came by, then she waved me off to make it to her appointment on time. I stood their shoveling around the tires and couldn’t recall anyone being worried about making it anywhere on time in this town. Then I looked up, a habit you do after someone dies, and I cursed Bryce. Though I didn’t put too much faith in there being a heaven, I didn’t know where else to look. I knew that wherever he was, he was looking down on me laughing, because he used to say, “You could never handle winters here.” It wasn’t that I couldn’t, it’s that I never would have wanted to.

Once the third truck came by and towed me out of my winter nightmare, I went to the timberframe shop and covered the entrance wall with photographs that I had taken of Bryce over the years. The photomontage started with our first road trip around Idaho. Then the photos and descriptions moved across the wall like the travels that had moved us around North America. There was the circle trip through the Canadian Rockies, the camping trip on the big island of Hawaii, our discovery of the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver Island, and finally our trip from last year through Mexico. Bryce had rebuilt a refurbished Japanese motor for a 1986 Toyota van that we drove from San Francisco down the Pacific coast to the middle of Mexico, onward through Mexico City, up into Texas, over to Florida, up the Eastern seaboard and across the states back into Idaho. He had bought the van for one hundred dollars, the motor for three hundred, and spent two weeks comparing the old motor to the new motor with the keen eye of a self-taught expert.

Next, he build a pine bed frame for the van which he cut down the center, installed some hinges, and made the piece so that it could fold up one side in order to get our personal items stored in laundry baskets underneath. It was in these glimpses of Bryce’s ingenuity that had attracted him to me. It was the way he could create and solve any building or mechanical mystery and turn it into a project that kept him focused. When he had finished that project, I crawled onto our tri-fold mattress with him as we lay like spoons. In that moment, I waited for those three words that I always wanted to hear from him. I realize now that the safest way for Bryce to communicate those words was through his accomplishments.

Back at the memorial service, faces I knew and faces I always wondered about filled the shop a hundred people deep. I was nervous to see anyone who recognized me, but as it goes in small communities, once you’ve left your mark, a hug awaits you around every corner.
Bryce’s best friend came up to me.

“Amanda, you won’t believe who’s here,” and he led me around a crowd of people.
Standing before me was our surfing friend, David. I ran into him for a hug as I started to cry. “They found you. You got my emails.”
David shook his head in grief, “I can’t believe it,” he said in the same shock I had had for a month already. “Wait, what emails?”
“You didn’t get my emails? I was emailing surfers in Mexico to find you. They didn’t tell you? Then how did you know to come?”

David explained that he had had problems with his Achilles' tendon, (which ironically to me had been Bryce’s same physical issue when I had first met him), and that he had come back into the Valley for one day and night to see his doctor. He had driven into town for dinner and someone had said to him, “Hey, you going to that thing for Bryce?”
David said, “What is Bryce having?”
I cried wondering if Bryce was up there orchestrating this all.
Moments later, while I stood in a circle of women blubbering about how strange it was that David had shown up, Bryce’s Aunt Ellie came up to me.
“Amanda, this is Katy. I think you two would have a lot in common, you should talk.” Katy was one woman that I didn’t recognize from the Valley, which meant nothing since it had only been my second summer here.
“Katy, I need to eat. Let me grab something.”
I trusted Bryce’s Aunt Ellie that she wouldn’t give me something I couldn’t handle. I also trusted her because it was one of the few relatives in Bryce’s family that he had recently grown close to during a time when he started to separate himself from so many others.

Katy and I went to the front of the table that was next to the microphone we would all begin using soon. As I tried to eat bite-sized spinach quiches, Katy started in on her story. “I don’t really know where to start?” she said.
“Just talk,” I said, knowing that after experiencing David’s arrival, nothing would faze me.
“Well, I didn’t really know Bryce, but I felt like I should be here. My boyfriend killed himself ten years ago.” I started to tear up again.
She told me how it had happened in her early twenties right after college graduation, how she had gone on to travel on her own, had gotten knee-deep into drugs and alcohol, had met another man and had gotten pregnant (and since had had a daughter). Then she told me how her boyfriend who she had recently split from had said to her, “You’re still not over him.” “Him” was her boyfriend that had killed himself ten years before.
“So, I thought I should come tonight because I don’t think I ever really grieved for him properly.” She mentioned how Bryce had sounded a lot like her boyfriend: brilliant, intense, talented, a perfectionist, and needing to be in control of his life. She told me how she had gone back to Chicago for his memorial service to be with his family after her boyfriend’s suicide, and then something struck me as a coincidence, so I spoke up.
“Where in Chicago was your boyfriend from?”
I had asked because I had already learned the world was small in these circles.
“Winnetka,” she said intently.
“Wait, what was his name?”
Katy revealed his name and I dropped my head into my hands.
“What is going on here?”
I didn’t think my body could handle any more shock.
“I knew your boyfriend.” I looked up at Katy whose face was now red with tears and in the same state of shock.
“Are you kidding me?” As she said that, the memory from my past that I had totally forgotten until now flooded my brain.
“Well, I knew him one day. I went to see a swimming meet. He was a strong swimmer, right?”
She cried harder. “Yes.”
I told her how I had gone to a swim meet with some friends to cheer on one of our friends and how I had remembered seeing her boyfriend. I admired his strong shoulders and chest, and how I had recalled how cute he had been and remembered his name since he had won the meet. It was a single memory from one day that I hadn’t thought about in seventeen years until this moment.
We sat there staring at each other not knowing what to make of our meeting. 

“Did Aunt Ellie know this when she met you?”

Aunt Ellie had been standing near the door and walked up to Katy to ask her how she had known Bryce. Katy told her that she had come with a friend of Bryce’s, and that she had never known him, but that she had lost her boyfriend to the same tragedy. I wondered what the message was to be in our meeting, but instead just sat with Katy holding her hand while we cried together.

Bryce’s business partner got on the microphone to help wipe away some of the devastation. We sat listening to friends and strangers do their recollections on what they remembered most about Bryce. One new friend of mine, a man who had lost his daughter to suicide years before, had told me to ask one friend to be within arms reach of me throughout the service. He had told me that I would need it. As I sat there listening to these people’s stories about Bryce, with my head spinning at the small miracles that had already been placed before me at the service so far, there was my friend who I had appointed as the person I could reach for. She pulled a chair up next to me, put her hand on my leg, and whispered, “How are you doing?”
“You have no idea,” as I blew my nose and smiled.

There were old backcountry skiing buddy’s who spoke of Bryce’s ingenuity again, how one time when his pole basket had broken, he had squashed a Budweiser can from his daypack to use it as a replacement basket. Then there was the architect in town who spoke of Bryce’s incredible talent for building timberframes and his impeccable work ethic. Next was a woman I couldn’t place in Bryce’s life. She talked about how Bryce would show up at her grandkids’ birthday parties over the years and how she had appreciated Bryce’s kid-like mentality. She talked about how Bryce would line the girls up on a hillside lying down, and then he’d play “Steamroll” and roll all 180 lbs. of himself down the hill over the girls while they giggled. Everyone in the room laughed as if we all knew that devilish side that had Bryce do things that might not always look like a good idea but somehow he managed to pull off. When the woman left the microphone, I realized where I had recognized her. When I had stopped at the corner drugstore the day before, I had broken down into tears seeing an old friend. While I had broken down to my friend explaining the photomontage I was making of Bryce, this woman had rung me up at the cash register. She had been the first person in town who couldn’t look me in the eye, now I knew why.
I got up and ran to the bathroom to see one of Bryce’s kayaking friends leaning against the wall.
“Amanda,” he whispered, “how many times did you run out of gas when you were with Bryce?”
I smiled, “Hold that thought,” and closed the bathroom.
There had been that time we had exited the highway onto the off-ramp and then coasted around the corner to gain momentum to land in that exit’s gas station. I remembered how we had been in hysterics with the luck of it all. Then there had been another time on our way to a friend’s wedding when I had forgotten that the gas light had come on (because Bryce had taught me that you always had more time than I’d think with a gas light), and we had to hitch to a gas station with an older couple in their cross-country RV. Then there had been the time in Mexico last winter. One of the tricks of the Toyota van was that the fuel gauge was broken. We had to watch it go down to Empty immediately after fueling up and then remember that during the second time the gauge went down to Empty, that this was the true gauge of our fuel. Bryce had confused the two, so we had to walk off the Mexican toll road into a town, spend twice what gas had cost back in the States, and barter the rest with some beer since we had run out of pesos.
I came back out of the bathroom and whispered to Sam, “I remember running out of gas three times, but it was probably more than that.”
“Yeah, it was four with me.”
I gave Sam a hug and went back to my seat to try to wring out a little more happiness.

On a back table, there was a book where people could write in their thoughts about Bryce, which was helpful for those who couldn’t have shared them in front of a crowd. On the cover of the book was a photograph of Bryce riverboarding. He was smiling as if he had always been in that space, though in the last year I knew he hadn’t. His smile reflected how we all wanted to remember him, as the adventurer, the free spirit, the kind of person who would try just about anything. However, what Bryce had become behind closed doors was in the other photographs that I had taken. He and I would go on afternoon hikes or drive out into the country to discover abandoned barns, and he would usually walk ahead of me. When I put together the photomontage, I noticed that I had taken so many shots of Bryce from behind that you would have thought I knew we might lose him someday. The contrast between these two types of photographs mirrored the exact contrast that was our relationship, and a life that he compartmentalized in order to hide what ailed him.

On the next table was a bowl full of polished rocks called thought rocks, rocks where we could write our thoughts with a silver Sharpie. A psychologist friend explained the thought rocks idea, that friends should write and decorate them to give to his parents to plant in their garden or keep in a special place. I photographed the rocks for my memory. Some read as: Peace, ’07 season is for you (which must have been from one of Bryce’s kayaking buddies), and Pure Love, which is what I had written as a reminder as to what I kept telling Bryce even in those final days when we had talked, that no matter what had happened in the past, he was always loved. The one fact that I had learned early on after I had left the relationship was that my love for Bryce was never going to be enough to save him. So I left my rock, hoping that if he was indeed coordinating the few miracles and moments that kept blowing my mind during this memorial service, at least he knew that even when it grew so bad, underneath that top layer of sadness was the pure love I kept trying to give him.

I walked around taking more photographs to have for my memory of this special night. There were a few stragglers next to the kegerator, resembling some off-campus parties in college. Men dressed in fleece, Carhartt pants and hiking boots topped off their plastic cups and laughed here and there. I walked over to a couple I knew and leaned into them, something I had done for myself throughout the night to old friends and new. Then I looked at the woman standing across from me, looking familiar but more dressed up in a skirt and a little mascara.
“Wait, I know you?” I said.
“Yeah, I’m the one who helped you in the snow this morning.”
My swollen eyes must have reminded her of what I needed to hear.
“And yeah, now I understand why you went off the road.”
I smiled, welcoming her forgiveness, and went back to taking photographs of what we had created here: words, thought rocks and memories, the very things that were the most important for us to remember him best.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Serve Them Tear Soup, Kids Can Handle It

Tear soup When a friend’s dog was left for dead in the dirt road that led to her mountain ranch last fall, I was the one who was on the phone with her when she found him. “Oh, there’s a dog in the middle of the road,” was her first comment with just a tinge of annoyance. The next thing I heard on the end of the line was, “Oh my God, I think it’s my dog?” Her second comment was more a statement of shock slightly tinged with fear. Her last comment came through tears. “Oh, no! Oh, no…my dog is dead. What am I going to tell Liam (her eight year old)? I’m going to have to call you back.” She hung up. I called her back and got her voicemail where I said that she could call me if she needed anything, for me to pick up her two kids, whatever. Then I got in my car and drove to the bookstore in town.

Books are one of the gifts that I have been grateful for in my life lately. Books say the things that, at times, we can’t seem to say.

I asked the women at the bookstore if they had any children’s books on grief. I had spent some of my days away from my own book manuscript working in this very bookstore, so I knew where the children’s books were, I just needed the recommendation. I needed a book that was as sensitive as Liam. I sat down and opened up the children’s book, Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss, written by Pat Schweibert, Chuck DeKlyen, and illustrated by Taylor Bills.

I read each page in the silence that bookstores so effortlessly provide, with only the sound of the pages turning to disturb me from the beauty of the words written on each page. When I got to this passage, I had to catch my own tears from smudging the ink.

“Grandy found that most people can tolerate only a cup of someone else’s tear soup. The giant bowl, where Grandy could repeatedly share her sadness in great detail, was left for a few willing friends.”

I paid for the book and angled it against my friend’s art studio door that she would find later to read to her son. The next day she called me and thanked me for the book, telling me that she and Liam were able to talk a lot more easily about his dog’s death once they had sat through one reading of Tear Soup. I made a mental note to buy myself a copy in case I would need it in the future.

Three months later I did.


“I feel like I’m unraveling.” Grandy cried. “I’m mad. I’m confused. I can’t make any decisions. Nobody can make me feel good. I’m a mess. I just didn’t realize it would be this hard.”

My oldest sister was fourth in line behind my other sister, my mom and my dad of who I told over the phone of my boyfriend’s suicide. She was the sister who had recognized the summer before that I may be in over my head in this relationship and spoke to me from the wisdom of her forty years. I had listened to her while we stood facing each other on the back steps of the little one room bakery in town, but I stared at my feet instead of her eyes that were the same color blue as mine.

“Amanda, you cannot be responsible for his happiness. I’m telling you, it won’t get any easier if this kind of stuff is coming up now.” She had witnessed my boyfriend blaming me for the sale of his house which he had put on the market a year before. She was right, it was hard to hear, and I loved him too much underneath the ridiculousness of his blame to leave. But a month later, when I left for a trip out of the country, I decided to voice my concern and take a break from the relationship while I traveled abroad. Then when I returned we were good again, so I stayed. This was the beginning of a year-long pattern, but really it was an extension of a pattern that was there from the beginning. He was down, I was down. He was up, I was up. I decided my emotions according to his and my gut knew it wasn’t right, but my heart was too attached. Because when it was good, it was so good, but when it was bad, I knew I deserved better.

When I left the last time, knowing that I would go down with him if I stayed, I had to do everything I could not to go back. We were mirror reflections of one another. We were soul mates. We had been placed in this lifetime to teach each other the hard lessons that might help us evolve if we were willing to work them out. But in the reflection was more pain than either of us could handle. I know this now.

When he killed himself I reached for my copy of Tear Soup.

My oldest sister was the first one to offer that after the memorial service I come be with her and her family. I booked my reservation that day. A week later over the phone she said to me, “We’re not going to tell the kids about Bryce. We’re just telling them that you guys broke up since they just went through the death of Wanda.” I understood that the kids had gone through the death of their grandmother just a month before, but I wondered what kind of lesson was being taught to their kids if they covered up the reality of life’s journey from them. I understood not telling them about suicide. I imagined there was a certain age to reach before such a conversation, but the fact was that I would have to lie if the moment presented itself. This put me over the edge, but I didn’t have the energy to take on the fact that this didn’t seem right and change it according to my wishes. How could I visit them for a week, just a month after his suicide, and pretend that Bryce had just become my ex-boyfriend? How could I turn the tears of devastation and shuffles of my tired feet into something like a break-up? But instead I kept silent and made a mental note that when I would have my own kids, we would talk about everything.

I arrived at their house after the memorial service exhausted on a snowy night. Though my sister picked me up, we talked in monotone, and it was my brother-in-law in the front doorway who asked me the one question I still crave everyday. “How are you doing?” I stood in my hat, gloves and coat and fell into his hug. I let go of the tears and lies that I felt I had needed to hide. I was learning that a good cry was a much-needed release. I started to crave a good cry as I did the very answers to the questions that would prompt it. While I cried into his shoulder, I looked over at my niece and nephews who watched me while their eyes darted back and forth in discomfort. I wondered if they now knew.

We sat down for dinner moments later and held hands for grace. My sister started. “Why don’t we each share something good that happened to us today?” I couldn’t believe the words coming from her mouth. Did she really think I would have something good to report? My eight-year old nephew was the middle child of the three, the one who always surprised us with comments to remind us of his sensitivity, so he spoke up. “I have an idea. Why don’t we say something nice?” My brother-in-law responded. “Okay, Ethan, why don’t you start?”

We lowered our heads. “Dear God,” Ethan said as I peeked to see his eyes closed while he spoke. “Please take care of Bryce in heaven.” The tears fell down my cheeks as I squeezed Ethan’s hand hard and smiled at him. My brother-in-law whispered, “From the mouths of babes,” and looked at me with his own tears and a smile.

“She sensed that people in church believed that if she really had faith she would be spared deep sorrow, anger and loneliness. Grandy kept reminding herself to be grateful for ALL the emotions that God had given her.”

When the kids were excused from the table to do their post-dinner activities, my sister, brother-in-law and I sat at the dining room table to finally reconnect. My sister told me that they had stuck to the idea of not telling the kids until the kids had broached the subject on their own.

“On Sunday after church we told the kids that you were coming for a visit. And then Christopher (the oldest of the three kids) said, “Is Bryce coming?” That’s when we knew we couldn’t lie. So we told them.” I held my hands together at my mouth hanging on her every word, wondering if the kids had asked how he died, wondering if they had told them. “We didn’t tell them it was suicide.”

My six year old niece, Katherine, directed me in her room as we got ready for bed. “I always sleep on the top bunk, so you can sleep down there,” she pointed to her bottom bunk. “Sounds good to me,” I said to bring calm within a room that had been attacked by toys. She curled up with her stuffed animals on her top bunk, while I moved all of her pink and lavender blankets to get into the bottom bunk.

We lay still in our bunks.

“Can you talk in heaven?” Katherine said from above. “Yes,” I said. “I think you can.”

“Is dog heaven next to human heaven?” I could picture her twirling the ear on her stuffed animal bunny above me as she pondered such honest questions. “I think it is right next door,” I answered.

The week before, I had fretted about how I might answer such questions when they came, but the answers were simple when the questions asked were so real.

A few nights later, after I had had some time to bond and hug and get to know my niece and nephews outside of the few times I saw them each year, I had my laptop idling on their living room chair. Katherine and I were sitting on the floor playing the card game Memory. She giggled after beating me two times, and then she caught out of the corner of her eye a photo that flashed on the screen from my photo screensaver. It was a group shot of Bryce, me and the three kids when we had visited last spring.

She looked me right in the eye.
“You know, I cried today at school because four people who are close to me died.”
I could only account for two, her Grandma Wanda and Bryce, but I also realized that with how heavy and sad it was in the air, I, too, felt the weight of four deaths.
“I want to see more photos of us,” she said.
“Okay,” I smiled.
It was rare for anyone to ask to see my photos. I had to dig through the photos that I had separated out into my “Bryce” folder, the folder I had created in those early days after his suicide because I couldn’t handle seeing his face pop up on my screen after my laptop lay dormant for five minutes. I opened up the folder that held more of the photos from our time that visit and began talking openly about Bryce.

“Remember this walk?” I said. “When I took all of those silly pictures of you on the swing set?” Katherine giggled. “Yeah, that was fun.” Then she did that thing that I used to do at her age, ask those questions that were wiser than her years.

“Why did Bryce die?”

I wasn’t totally sure of the answer to give a six year old, or the reason as to why he died either, and I thought of one of the last things Bryce had said to me before I had left the relationship, “Promise me that you won’t ever put me into a box?” he had said. I had to tell her something other than suicide. I had to be honest, but suicide was too young for her brain to comprehend, not to mention the nightmares it might create. So I did the best with what I had.

“Bryce had a disease in his brain that made him sick.”

“What’s the disease?” she said.

“It’s called mental illness.”

As we sat back on the floor to begin our next game of Memory, I wondered if I had just put Bryce in the very box that he had asked me to keep him out of.

“There were no words that could describe the pain she was feeling. What’s more, when she looked out the window it surprised her to see how the rest of the world was going on as usual while her world had stopped.”

I left my sister’s house and realized how proud I was, how I handled the secret of suicide by being open with her children regarding death. I was taking the time to be with my feelings, and to be honest with them by sharing what felt appropriate at the time. My mom visited them last week and told me that Katherine had talked to her about our time in February.

“Aunt Amanda was really sad when she was here,” she said. My initial reaction when I heard this from my mom was to worry, but then I realized that children also need to see sadness, and how fortunate we would both be when I would see her again this coming July for my dad’s 70th birthday. Then she would see that each day since the last I had grown a little less sad.

“As soon as Grandy tasted the rich flavor of that carefully made soup, she promised herself never again to assume that quicker was better.”

When I got back home I flipped through my copy of Tear Soup. I came to the page that was just an illustration. Drawn were three pots with the words “Profound loss”, “Major tragedy” and “More than I can bear”. Above the pots were spoons hanging from the wall to stir the tear soup that Grandy had made. Above the hanging spoons was a shelf with cookbooks leaning against each other with poignant titles. The first book was entitled, “Murder,” which surprised me. As I turned my head to read the spines of all of the books, I read, “House Fire,” which I had had my freshman year in college when two guys arsoned my dorm room, then “Divorce,” which I had experienced twice in my childhood, and next was “Flunked Geometry,” which reminded me of the D grade I had received in Statistics. After reading all of the titles, I realized that grief and tears were around more often than we adults cared to admit. Then, at the tippy-top, above “Infertility” and “Spouse Died,” was the book of “Suicide”.

I shut Tear Soup and decided to keep it within arm’s reach for that day when we might have to stir our own batch of tear soup.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Tiny Bits of Kindness

One of the things that has happened since my boyfriend’s suicide is that I’m carrying the burden of not only my own skeletons, but the skeletons that he left behind. It’s a heavy burden to bear and I’m constantly reminded while I navigate this grief how it’s really a two steps forward, three steps back process. This grief, in particular, leaves a series of stones that need to be turned over with the contents beneath it inspected carefully. Especially if you’re someone like me who already moves through life trying to find answers to some of life’s most perplexing questions. It’s also very easy to reach a place prematurely where I’ve thought, “Wow, I’m doing okay today (or this week),” as I’ll seem to manage myself at work and go a week or two where I haven’t had “the conversation” (the one where I talk about it with a stranger or a friend). There are the days where I feel okay or I think to myself, “Am I really moving on with my life?” Which I am, but it isn’t something that happens overnight, and I tend to be the type who enjoys being productive in regards to my own healing. Then there are the days where I wish I could just stand in the middle of my office and scream at the top of my lungs “This is what’s going on with me! And will someone take a moment to stop and listen?” But while I’m burdened, do I really want to burden others? And the more important question becomes, “Why do I feel like I would be a burden?”

But I already know that answer.

If I lived in Indonesia, where I have traveled, the men would be getting their teeth filed come July in preparation for the month-long cremations in August. As a culture, we’d have time to look forward to the time when we, as a society, were going to deal with death as a whole. But unfortunately for me (and trust me, I’ve traveled enough to know that I’m fortunate to be an American), I live in a culture who would rather exploit death through images and movies than talk about it. Death is a downer. And suicide? It’s a secret. I still find myself whispering when a girlfriend and I talk about it over chips and guacamole at lunch at the Ferry Building here in San Francisco. But then I get angry that I feel like I have to do that, so while I’m on the bus, I pull out the book my therapist just leant me by the Father of Suicide himself, Edwin Shneidman, entitled, Suicide as Psychache: A Clinical Approach to Self-Destructive Behavior and slyly peer at other bus riders to witness their reaction. I guess it’s my own way of seeing if anyone will notice, or even better, start a conversation. It’s also my way of flicking my society off for being so scared to and of death.

And no matter how much my friends and family wanted to be there for me, they hadn’t walked in my shoes. They weren’t still plagued with the questions. They have gone on with their lives. They don’t think about this suicide or are touched by it quite like me. But once in awhile, I’ll be reminded as to how good other people can be in the wake of such tragedy. People will exemplify the best of humanity. It’s these moments that keep me going through this.

Last night was a tough one for me. I went to see my Suicidology therapist. She’s studied Suicidology for over thirty years and is doing a great job educating me on mental illness, medication, depression and what stuff I need to look at and what stuff appears to have been out of my control. At times, I feel like the college student I wish I had been, questioning her for answers in a realm where I never thought I’d roam. It was also a session where I let out one of the many secrets that I am still holding. The intimate moments between my partner and me where we sat and cried and each wondered to ourselves, or aloud, “What the hell is happening here?” I told her about the last time I saw my partner, how he crotched down on the front porch of my apartment and just cried. How I just sat there DYING to reach out and hug him and take him and tell him I would make it all okay, but knew that I had done all that I could do for too long of a time. It was the first time in a long time where he told me, “You look so beautiful.” I wondered why it had taken him years to be able to say that to me. Why it took hitting rock bottom for that thought to be shared, for when I ever asked to hear that, to get a clue as to if he ever felt I looked pretty, he said it came off as me being needy.

The tears came in drops, then they came as waterfalls, and the emotions that I had thought had been worked through bubbled to the surface like the geothermal land we had lived near which is always waiting to erupt.

“I guess I still have a lot of emotion. I don’t think I’ve shared that with anyone.”

I surprised myself. Here I was, an open book, who would say to my friends, “No, please, ask me questions and if I feel up to it, I’ll answer.” This would eventually lead to, “Ask me anything, please,” once I felt safe enough.

My therapy session came to an end. I walked to the bus stop and waited for the bus to take me to Benihana where I would be meeting three of my girlfriends for dinner. We had planned the dinner months ago, with Benihana having a celebratory effect on us all. We had traded cute emails about how excited we were to order Rocky’s Choice, or to get that first taste of soy sauce. And for the salad with that special dressing. My boyfriend also happened to have thought that Benihana had the best Green Tea ice cream he ever tasted. I agreed.

I called one of my friends. I wasn’t sure I could make it.

She was her soft, kind self. She offered to reschedule. She offered for us to just order in.

“No,” I said. “I’ve been waiting for Benihana for a month. I’m just calling to warn you and the troops that I’m not doing very well.” She was soft and told me not to worry. It felt good to do this lately, warn people when I felt like a wreck so that they could prepare or opt out before I did. Then a large African-American man pulled up in a Nissan 300x with the T-top off. He had an eighties Mohawk, smoked a cigarette and was blasting Lionel Ritchie’s “Penny Lover”. It made me smile and realized that I had to go, if only to tell this scene to one of my friends I was meeting.

I got to the restaurant before them and ordered a glass of red wine (though I haden’t been drinking lately since it usually just made me feel more depressed than I may or may not have been). They came in happy and buzzing from their earlier rendezvous with their own wine. We went to the community table awaiting our succulent shrimp and smoking onion volcano trick by the chef. All of the Benihana chefs are now Latino, a change from the Japanese chefs from ten years ago (many of us had been going to Benihana since we were little). So we cracked jokes, calling our table chef “Alejandro-san”. I was laughing within moments, and it wasn’t because of the one glass of wine.

My friends, one-on-one, have been there for me to talk about the suicide. Some have been amazing, while others have, at times, disappointed me with their ignorance. But for the most part they have been great big ears for listening and thumping hearts that care. And many times, like life, they have surprised me.

This was one of those times.

One of my friends said, “Is it time to give Amanda our presents?” And they all giggled like little girls and shuffled their hands into their pockets and purses. “Yes!” the other two chimed in unison.

“What?” One of the friend’s birthdays was next week, so I didn’t understand. “Why me?”

“Sit here.” They moved me around to sit in the middle of them. I looked around at the hundred or so people now filling the community tables at a very public Benihana.

My first friend took the humorous, yet sweet, approach, and read from a piece of paper.

Haiku for Amanda

An old friend of mine
She knows how much we love her
Let love lift her up

Then she recited another...

To be Amanda

One must first dream then act out.
Small but strong she grows.

Another poem was written on a card by my second friend...

Let your heart be true.
Let your eyes be open.
Relish the rain and sun.
Forgiveness is our road to true compassion.
Love yourself.
Honor all.

Then she followed it with one of her favorite quotes...

“Peace is every step.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

Finally, she handed me a pink crystal rock. “This is your gratitude rock,” she said. I looked at the strangers looking at us from the next table and started to cry.

The third friend opened up a poetry book from the 1940’s that she had picked up at a garage sale after skimming through it and read the following.

Giving and Forgiving

What makes life worth the living
Is our giving and forgiving;
Giving tiny bits of kindness
That will leave a joy behind us,
And forgiving bitter trifles
That the right word often stifles,
For the little things are bigger
Than we often stop to figure.
What makes life worth the living
Is our giving and forgiving.

-Thomas Grant Springer

“When you called we knew we had to do something,” she continued. “So we said, ‘Okay! We have fifteen minutes to do something for her’ and we broke to our separate corners and came up with these.”

I sat in awe. I was in the presence of tiny bits of kindness, which were around me all of the time, just waiting for me to admit that I couldn't do it alone.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Surviving Trauma: How the Suicide Support Group Saved My Life

When I got the news that my boyfriend killed himself on a rainy morning three months ago, I experienced shock for the first time in my life. I walked around not knowing what to do with myself. Once some time, screams and tears had passed, I took some deep breaths, calmed myself, and then sat down at my laptop to google “San Francisco suicide support groups”. I was acting on instinct because it occurred to me that I had finally come up against something in my life that was larger than me, something that I couldn’t handle all on my own. I needed the direction of professionals, of those who had been there before me, of others who, perhaps, were receiving the same news that same week, or even, in that very same moment.

When I could focus on the screen between tears, I found statistics that were staggering. Suicide ranked as the 11th cause of death, while homicide, which we see constantly on TV and read about in the newspaper at least one time every day, ranks 15th. One person every 16.2 minutes kills themselves and white males lead the percentages. Every suicide left at least six bereaved friends and family members, so I did the math, and that equaled 180,000 people who were affected each year by such trauma. San Francisco Suicide Prevention was the oldest volunteer crisis line in the United States and their newest program was their Survivors Group, a weekly group for the surviving family and friends. I picked up the phone.

My head started running through a case of the “shoulds”. I had left our relationship a few months before as an act of self-care. I say this to myself to this day because it’s the only thing that keeps me from feeling the guilt around the “shoulds”. It’s the “shoulds” that are always there for the taking. There’s the “I should have known” or “I shouldn’t have said that”. The “I should have done this” and “I should have done that”. The problem with the “shoulds” were that they lead me nowhere safe. They lead me nowhere where I could gain understanding, faith, forgiveness or peace. Our society wants to blame and I want to blame, it’s part of the process in trying to find answers around suicide. But I had done all that I could with what I knew how. And the reality was that now my boyfriend was out of his pain, a deep knowing said this to me, that now he was in peace. He had to be, because he had been struggling so much there at the end.

In our conversations those weeks before he took his life, I kept guiding him back to the professionals who surrounded him. I’m not clear as to how much help he sought out after our conversations from those professionals, or if these professionals could help like they “should” have. I may never get answers to those questions because there is so much secrecy behind depression and suicide. Mental health patient records are private, suicide is spoken in whispers, and depression has become more about marketing. So the question I went to after all of the harmful “shoulds”, was whether I could find some peace for myself. Though my boyfriend had to have been in far more pain to choose to take his own life, I was left to live out his pain. And if I wanted peace, the only way I would find it was to talk it out with others. With those people who also knew this pain. I dialed the number.

What followed were eight weeks of hour and a half sessions on Monday nights. There were eight of us. Five of us had lost our partners, the ones we had loved for many years. Three of us had left our relationships out of self-care, so in this first session I already saw how I wasn’t alone. There were two other women whose partners had acted the same as mine had in our last six months of our relationships. The others’ partners had all had childhood trauma. Every single one of us in the room was known in our families and groups of friends as the one who was nice to everyone. We were the ones who let things roll off our backs. We were open and friendly. We resolved conflict. We were the ones who quietly pushed when our partners wouldn’t agree to seek help. We were the loyal partners who kept their secrets. We were the ones left behind to now tell their stories which started to sound exactly the same, minus the manners in which they chose to take their lives.

In those first weeks there were tears. Lots of them. It was embarrassing at first, even for those of us women in the group who may have been used to sharing tears. But over time, the brother who found the courage to admit he wanted to change careers and become a comedian, even he shed some tears. His brother had done it at his family home. Then there was the man whose partner of fifteen years had left his note at the Golden Gate Bridge, had been picked up in his car, and then still managed to do his deed while in the hospital. I looked into the women’s eyes that had to find their partners after the act and realized that no matter how much hurt we shared, I had gained some perspective already. It had been two months, and I was happily off the Xanax and whatever else my friends had given to me which they had snuck back as over-the-counter drugs from Mexico or Thailand. These women had to leave their apartments so that they wouldn’t have to replay the trauma of their discoveries. We shared tears and trauma and pain, but I would only have a visual to imagine, not the actual memory of the act. My compassion for others, which I thought I had lost forever, started to grow.

In the latter weeks the comparisons started to end. Those who were further ahead on the healing path told the rest of us that they understood how we felt. “Oh, that will pass,” they said. “That’s where I was a month ago, too. Don’t worry.” We became beacons for one another. I shared how I would write about this and shared the ten or so books I had already stormed through in order to gain some understanding into my boyfriend’s suffering. Others shared their successes, in how they were now handling people and situations differently than they would have in the past. We had sessions where the collective emotion was anger. In another session all we could do was congratulate each other and laugh. The migraines that I brought into each session and left with every time started to dissipate. We all agreed how we hated missing even just one session as it stunted our well-being for that week. And when the time was right at about the sixth week, we started to ask for recommendations for individual therapists. I was hell-bent on finding a therapist who was an expert on suicide and so I found one. She was a woman who taught Suicidology, the research of suicide and everyone who is affected. She charged a fraction of what my past therapist had charged me and as she put it during our first session, “No one should feel they have to skimp on therapy because they can’t afford it.” We made appointments for once a week.

The group has ended, and my individual sessions have begun. I still have so many questions which may never have solid answers. Like if there are more suicides than homicides, then why is the latter more fixated on in our culture? Why is there so much ignorance surrounding depression? Why are people scared to speak up and ask for help? Would this be the worst I’d ever have to experience in my life and was that up to me? But no matter what, I know that even if I don’t find all of the answers, I had a group that walked me through the initial storm. I have their phone numbers stored in my phone so that I can call one person or eight who know exactly how I feel. And we’re meeting for dinner in a couple of weeks. We’ve continued our support group online where we can chat and post photos of us with our loved ones. And I finally have a new therapist who can talk about one of the most taboo subjects that I have ever encountered. If it weren’t for all of them, I’m not sure I would have been able to call myself a survivor, or understand that surviving is sometimes the most important lesson we’ll ever get to learn.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Ghost of You

I’ve seen you now

Two times I feel

The hair I loved to put my fingers through

And the furry blue coat with pockets to hold my hands

The other morning you took my breath away when you walked towards me

Tonight you were a ghost to remind me that you were gone

On a passing train you rode by like a blur

Like our years might become if I don’t take the time

Each time the hair, both times the jacket.

I wonder about the gifts you may have left me.

How you loved cats and now so do I.

And that I think of you each minute on my bike

And how I now really look into the eyes of those suffering on the street

and finally understand their pain.

My gut told me it was you tonight and that this should be a poem

And the hug I got tonight may have been from Aaron, but really it was you.

So I’ll wait until the next train, or while I ride my bike, and simply cherish the time

Because the day will come when you might really be gone

And I’ll have to start my search.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Man Moves On

My boyfriend, Bryce Broughton, took his own life on Thursday, January 25, 2007.

I know that I will need to write about this, about us, about him, in the future. In the meantime, I have decided to share what I wrote for his family as we gathered to honor Bryce's 36 years underneath one of his beautiful timberframes in his parents' home in Tetonia, Idaho. After that is what I wrote for the service for friends and the Teton Valley community that night at Bryce's timberframe shop, Teton Timberframe, in Driggs, Idaho.

I've never lost someone close to me like this. The only analogy that I have been able to come up with is that navigating this death is like surfing. I thought many times that Bryce and I had caught a good wave, but then a tsunami came and knocked me over. Now it's up to me to get back up and surf life again.

10:00 AM, Saturday, February 10th at The Broughton's
Tetonia, Idaho

Who was there
Friends and loved ones: Chris, Kate, Mitt, Walt and Amanda
Family: Ann-Toy, Porter, Grandma Grace, David, Abby, Ros, Uncle Tim, Aunt Janet, Aunt Ellie, Mysta, Brook, Grace, Aunt Starr, Uncle Phil, Cousin Susan, Cousin Chris

I first met Bryce while he was in a cast recovering from surgery in Brook, David and Ros' house where I was their roommate. Bryce was staying in the attic above my bedroom. Years and months before I met him, Bryce had to crawl to the bathroom because his achilles were in so much pain. Over time he began to heal.

I called my mom and whispered into my cellphone, "Mom, I have a crush on the brother who's visiting." I told her some things about him, how he was adventurous and masculine. She replied, "You should go downstairs and walk through the house with a snowboard on one shoulder and a kayak on the other." We laughed. Instead, I took him on a personal tour of San Francisco and then he took me to lunch at a Vietnamese dive. He asked me what my sign was and I said, "Libra." He laughed and said back, "My married friends just told me that I needed to find a Libra to match my Scorpio."

The next three and a half years were filled with learning, growth, love and hard healing. Here are some of the wonderful things that I learned about my best friend and love, Bryce.

I loved the way he stopped to talk to homeless people in San Francisco. How he looked them in the eye when he spoke to them, and by doing so, he shared his humanity.

I admired his adventurous spirit and how he'd try just about anything.

He loved the passion and heart of Latin cultures.

He asked permission the first time he wanted to cuddle me that week I met him. He loved to cuddle for lengths at a time in order to reconnect.

He told me that he loved the sound of the child-like laugh from his little niece Grace and he became fascinated when she started to speak.

Some of his last emails to me were important and I wanted you to hear them.

I was just sitting remembering the day we spent on the beach in October.
Nice day. I think those are some of my fondest memories.
Just laying on the beach with you.

and some others...

Thanks for your supportive words in this extremely challenging time.
Know that I have a lot of love and care for you and everyone in this as well. 
I guess I have been so fortunate to have had such a good life and that this fall has really been the hardest it has ever gotten. It is still hard to understand though. I think about how happy we were in Mexico and our trips to Canada and the nice walks we had this summer in the canyon and I just am baffled by the turn life has now taken. But it is so important to keep faith in the bigger scheme playing out as it should. I am so thankful for your presence in my life right now. I have faith that this will play out for the best. I am thinking of you all the time. 


My responses were love back. Though with time and more knowledge, I now know that the above letters to me were Bryce saying goodbye.

I found some poems by Rumi in The Book of Love. This was one of the books that Bryce and I would trade back and forth to read to each other and share our favorite bits of wisdom.

A first favorite of ours was:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there.


Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along.

6:00 PM, Saturday, February 10th at Teton Timberframe
Driggs, Idaho

Who was there
About 100 friends, loved ones and members of the community

Lately, whenever I have gotten sad or have had that moment where I remember the tragic reality, a miraculous thing has happened. I smile because I've recalled a moment with Bryce. I imagine we all have done this and will continue to do so for some time.

When I walked to baggage claim in the Salt Lake airport the other night, I looked for Bryce. Years ago, Bryce was living in Driggs and I was living in San Francisco. We had made a rendezvous plan at the Salt Lake airport to spend Halloween weekend together. We had made a deal to come dressed in costume and to keep our costumes secret until we saw each other.

I went as the tooth fairy since I worked at a school. I flew as the only one in costume in both airports on Southwest Airlines. In a pink gown, a white wig and a tooth wand, I wowed little girls in airports and made passengers and airline employees laugh. After landing, I walked to the Salt Lake baggage claim and looked for Bryce. I couldn't find him. He called out my name and I turned around. When I finally searched long enough and focused, Bryce stood with slicked-back hair, a dark suit, a tie and a name tag that read "Elder Broughton". I had finally spotted him in a sea of suit-wearing Mormons. He said he had tried to find a backpack to complete his outfit. He had stopped at every Deseret Industries (the Mormon thrift stores) from Driggs to Salt Lake, and even at a Kinko's in order to make the nametag. I laughed because Bryce never half-assed anything. I knew in that moment how much I loved both him and his clever mind.

Here are some other things that I learned, loved and appreciated about Bryce.

He was happiest when he was creating a new design, whether it be a structure without ninety degrees or a line of pants for men.

He was also happiest when he was on a river, a road trip, flying his plane, sailing his boat, or traveling on his own terms to discover a foreign land.

He could speak for hours in Spanish to locals and found pleasure in learning about their lives.

He was interested in and fascinated by worm holes, string theory, and other universes.

He considered being a researcher for NASA and once told me that if he was ever given the opportunity to leave Earth to go live on another planet, he would do so in a heartbeat.

He wanted to climb Everest.

He could make one hell of a campsite and string up a tarp and create stellar shelter within minutes.

He loved the ruggedness of Idaho, all of its natural beauty and hidden secrets. He fondly recalled the days when he would drive from Driggs to Victor in Teton Valley and only pass one car. He cherished how everyone did "the steering wheel wave" when passing each other on the road.

His favorite beer? Bud in a can.

He knew the lyrics to most songs by The Police.

He had a blast rebuilding a Japanese motor from the ground up for his 1986 Toyota Van that he bought for $100 on Craigslist. We drove the van from San Francisco, through mainland Mexico and on through the Southeast and Eastern United States back to Idaho. The trip equated halfway around the world. We only broke down once and it wasn't because of the engine.

He liked to mentor others on his timberframe craftsmenship, but only when they had the drive to learn it right.

He would stay on site or on AutoCAD until the design or the cut of the timber was just right.

He wanted to fly a plane with Mitt and me above Africa. We talked about the idea for transporting mail or refugees who had been displaced by war.

One his recent emails reflected this dream, he wrote:

I just had a dream about Africa. I don't know why or where it came from but you
were part of it and you had this idea to build a community for travelers that
was on a bluff overlooking the African Serengeti. You/we were planning to
open up a section of the bush that was up on a plateau overlooking the plains.
A really beautiful location but very remote. You would drive in thru this willow-like
thicket that was cleared; (sort of like Katherine and Duncan's Driggs land) with a mix
of grass and bushes but opened up to a view looking down on the plains where all the
wild animals lived. There would be all sorts of little cabins and a main building where
everyone could gather and look out on the animals. Dreams are fun.

I loved the above image. I feel fortunate to have loved Bryce.

I found more Rumi poems that were perfect to share with both Bryce, wherever he is, and with you, his friends.

You may be planning departure,
as a human soul leaves the world
taking almost all of its sweetness with it.
You saddle your horse. You must be going.
Remember, you have friends here as faithful as grass and sky.


My work is to carry this love as comfort for those who long for you.

The information below is part of the obituary that Bryce's mom, Ann-Toy, wrote (with some additional details by me). It also gives donation information in memoriam for Bryce.

Reflecting his many interests and his deep concern for others, donations in Bryce's name can be made to Idaho Rivers United, P.O. Box 633, Boise, ID 83701-0633, The Coalition on Homelessness, 468 Turk St., San Francisco, CA 94102, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, Donor Services, P.O. Box 630577, Baltimore, MD 21263-0577. Their website, contains much information on the signs of severe depression, helping educate all of us to recognize this in loved ones and assist them in getting the help they need. Donations can also be made to Ananda Marga, Inc., 97-38 42nd Ave 1-F, Corona, NY 11368. Ananda Marga is the parent organization for Casa Ananda, where Bryce and Amanda spent their time in Mexico City using his woodworking skills and her scrubbing skills to help to prepare the first group home. Bryce talked about how rewarding that time was and how happy it made him. Those who want to donate to Casa Ananda please write the check in the name of Ananda Marga, Inc. with a note that the amount is a donation for Casa Ananda. Ananda Marga will send receipts which can be used for tax or other purposes. Ananda Marga will then forward the amount to Mexico City.

"The principal mission of Casa Ananda ( is to help street children and homeless young adults leave the streets, drugs, alcohol, crime and prostitution and give them the opportunity to finish their elementary, high school, preparatory and college studies so they can transform themselves into productive and exemplary citizens."

Dada, the man who founded Casa Ananda, wrote me the following when I told him the news of Bryce.

Dear Amanda,

I'm really sorry to hear about Bryce. I still remember very well the time
both of you worked here at Casa Ananda when we were just starting and
there was nothing in the house. Right now Casa Ananda is moving quite well
and we have decided to open three more places this year: one for girls,
one for boys and one for the children of the girls (most of the girls
living on the street have children!).

Best regards,
Dada Kalatiitananda

You can read about our time at Casa Ananda in my article written for DivineCaroline (where I was formerly staff writer) entitled, Travel and the Art of Giving Back.