Chelle Summer

believe

What do you say?

Michelle Rusk
IMG_8613.jpeg

When my sister died– and it was over twenty-five years ago when there was much more stigma surrounding suicide than there is now– I remember thinking how could she end her life, believing that she valued and cherished life much more than I did. And that also meant people often didn’t know what to say to me.

But there is another time that leaves people speechless– after a suicide attempt.

What do we say to someone who has attempted life? Life is the whole of everything we do and believe and when someone tries to end it, we know it goes against everything we’ve been taught about preserving it.

In the years that I trained people in suicide prevention and in the experiences I’ve had working with suicidal people/attempters, I’ve learned that it’s an opportunity to be there for someone, a time not to speak, but to allow them to speak. Suicidal people are looking for a way to express their pain and when they don’t find it, they might attempt to end their lives.

They don’t need to hear from us how wonderful their lives are and how great they are. They are trying to reconcile feelings inside themselves that we might not have any idea are there.

We have a tendency to want them to stand in a sunny place with us. The spot where they are standing is stormy and they don’t want to move from it until they have an opportunity to express the pain they feel, the road that led them to the attempt, and how much they hurt. It’s like the clouds in the sky continuing to hover until they’ve had a chance to drop moisture on the earth. Expressing the bad allows us to see the good again.

It’s a relief for them to express their pain and sometimes enough for them to move forward. Others might need more help in the vein of a therapist or someone to walk the road for them as they try to find a way forward. There might be other circumstances around the attempt that they need to cope with as well. No matter the depth of their needs, there is a place for all of us to be there for them to some extent.

Ultimately, I think of the founder of the field of suicidology, Edwin Shneidman, who said that it came down to two questions: “Where do you hurt?” and “How can I help?”

Hitting the Reset Button

Michelle Rusk
IMG_1021.JPG

This weekend is Memorial Day, the official kickoff for summer. And also the time we plan everything that we're going to do this summer. However, what usually happens come Labor Day– the end of summer and start of fall? Often we find ourselves looking back on summer and wondering, "Wait, I had all these things I was going to do! What happened?"

The end of May is the perfect time to hit the reset button, both on what we had hoped to do this year but also what we want to do this summer.

Have we made headway on those goals we planted the seeds of back in January? If not, it's the perfect time to rethink them and maybe tweak them so that we're more likely to accomplish them. If the goal was too big and we easily felt lost and gave up, how do we break the goal down into smaller pieces to make it more manageable?

And if we have made strides in accomplishing our goal (or goals!), what do we want to accomplish next? How do we keep ourselves interested to keep moving forward? What new goals can we set?

Many people see summer as a time to slow the pace down– and that might be our goal for the summer– reading more, spending more time with our families, doing more creative activities.

Whatever you do this weekend, take a little time to reflect on where you're at and where you want to go this year. The start of summer is the perfect opportunity– and a three-day weekend!– to step back and make sure you don't reach Labor Day wondering where summer went. And everything you wanted to accomplish with it.

Questioning Faith

Michelle Rusk
IMG_4869.jpg

Recently I had my monthly spiritual direction visit with a priest here, Fr. Gene, and one of the things he happened to say was how he has come to understand questioning faith is part of the faith journey.

It took me a moment to absorb what he had said because it was the first time I could truly admit how much I doubted faith for so long.

Growing up, it was expected that we would go to CCD class, make our first communions, and then we could stop once we were confirmed. But I can now freely admit that all these years– and throughout high school after my confirmation– I doubted the existence of God. However, my mom had such steadfast faith that I never felt I could say I didn't believe. I knew I was expected to and kept it to myself.

It wasn't until my first relationship break up in college that I had to figure out where to lean for support and I started to attend church. Reflecting back, I now see that Mom set in place a coping mechanism for us by making us complete all our sacraments. Maybe I didn't need spirituality (my chosen word for it– I see religion as more meditative and choose to use the tradition aspect of it that way) then but it was there when I needed it.

And when my younger sister died two years later, I had a church community to fall back on because I was attending church fairly regularly at that point.

I believe that things unfold the way they do for a reason and that had I learned the lessons I wish had been taught to me (especially about letting go of my worries and giving them to God/the universe), my life journey wouldn't be where it's supposed to be today. A good example of it is writing this blog at this particular time. The whole idea probably never would have occurred to me had I never doubted my faith.

However, I also see that I was questioning my faith early in life when some people might be faced with the same questions later in their years. But as they were early for me, it's allowed me to explore and do other things I might not have been able to without the previous journey.

Our life journeys aren't interstate highways that often stretch for miles in what looks like a straight line (like through Western Oklahoma or any of the other Great Plains states!). Often we can't see where we are going which can be frustrating but that's the key part to trusting the journey.

I can't say that every day I am filled with complete faith but I understand the importance of trusting the journey, the universe, God. There is only so much I can do and life has taught me that by letting go of what I can't control and keeping my focus in the here and now and what's right in front of me, makes all the difference in the world to my outlook on life.