Chelle Summer

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Kate Spade: The Initial Inspiration for Chelle Summer

Michelle Rusk
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Quite honestly, I'm not sure where to begin. Two of my worlds collided today with the suicide of Kate Spade.

What most people don't know is that I stopped buying Kate Spade products partly because she had sold the brand and each time Greg and I went into one of the stores on a trip, we agreed that things didn't look new and inviting.

However, there was a bigger reason than that: I had started to create my own brand, Chelle Summer. Initially I had wanted to call Chelle summer "Michelle L." and when the lawyers came back and told me that Fossil owned "Michele" with one L, they were clear that I could never win against such a large company. I was so disappointed that I had to come up with a new name but at some point I thought of Kate and how awkward it must have been (even though she had chosen to sell it) to see a brand with her name on it while she might not have always liked what the new brand had to offer. Chelle Summer was born and I quickly realized it was a better name than Michelle L., while also allowing somewhat of a separation from my own name.

When I look back on the time when I purchased my first Kate bag (in this photo), I was facing many challenges of my own trying to move forward after a divorce and two moves across the country. What I didn't see then was that in looking at what the brand offered and her style of which I had been aware of for so long (but couldn't afford to buy), I was slowly realizing what I would want my own brand to be. Kate was the initial inspiration for Chelle Summer (with Trina Turk taking the lead later). Kate made me feel that I didn't have to settle for what I saw in the marketplace, that I could create my own items and I also could choose to wear bold prints and colors.

I obviously don't know what led her to take her own life, but with vast experience in suicide over the past twenty-five years I know that there is never just one answer. It was probably a combination of events and thoughts that made her believe ending her life was her only way to find peace. The irony of this is that early this morning on my walk as I was contemplating my own life journey that's following my surgery this past Friday, I realized that for a period of time I'm not going to find peace as much as I would like to. I'm working to embrace some challenges ahead of me (mostly writing related) to fulfill the prayer to God that I've been asking to help me go forward and be the person I'm supposed to be.

I also understand how as a creative person it can be challenging because you're in your own world where sometimes you can think too much. It's why I work hard to balance my life of running/walking early in the mornings where I have several people that I chat with and why I host so many pool and dinner parties. Those keep me balanced while also allowing me to have that time create and be alone in my thoughts.

I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around her suicide. That's the honest answer. But I also know that life is hard and overwhelming at times. That's also one of the one reasons I post so many blogs and photos about moving forward. I see it that if I have something in my life that helps me go forward, maybe it can help someone else, too.

Clinging to Hope

Michelle Rusk
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It's easy to feel hopeless but I believe that when we do, it's because we've fallen away from what matters most to us.

There is a fire inside of all of us, although sometimes it only feels like an ember, barely lit. It's up to us to find out how to make it burn brighter.

Some days it's easier than others and part of the reason much of what you see me post on social media is what I create is because that is one of my symbols of hope. Being creative makes me happy. Just as writing does and hosting a party.

While I had planned to write this blog before our party today, after it was over I was thinking how helpful it was to be taken out of my head. It's easy for me to think too much and doing something for others (even opening up my home and making everyone ice cream) and spending time my friends reminds me to be in the moment and just enjoy laughter and good conversation. 

A good ice cream cone doesn't hurt either.

Forgiveness and Sending Love

Michelle Rusk
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One disappointment we often face in life is the reality that some people we feel close to or cherish aren't supposed to remain in our lives. There are a variety of reasons why it happens but the reality is that it doesn't matter. What does matter is how you move forward without the people with whom you believed you were supposed to travel with through life. If it feels painful to think about them, then send them love.

Yes, that's exactly what I wrote– you saw right. Send them love.

That may feel counterintuitive when you feel so much pain (after all, it is a loss to your life) but you'll be surprised at how much better you feel because you sent them love. 

And if this is someone who hurt you– yet you can't seem to let go of them despite all that hurt they caused– sending love is better than hanging on by continuing to contact them when they don't want to talk to you. Or when they cause you pain each time time you talk to them. 

Finally, sending them love doesn't mean you forgive them for how they treated you or ended a relationship or whatever the story may be. Forgiveness is about freeing our own hearts to move forward. We don't control what others do, just what we do.

So next time thinking of someone brings you pain, no matter what the reasons are for that, send them love. And free yourself to move forward. 

The Rearview Mirror: Twenty-Five Years Later

Michelle Rusk
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I wasn't going to write about the twenty-fifth anniversary of my sister Denise's suicide (which was Sunday) mostly because I don't feel the need to acknowledge it. But a funny thing happened yesterday and it made me realize that passing the anniversary of her death is so much like much of what else I experience in life: I'm not supposed to write or talk about while I'm going through something but rather after it happens. The writing and sharing for me comes at a different point of the journey rather than in the midst of it. 

While there is always much anticipation with the anniversary of a death, I wasn't feeling that at all. All I could think was how I couldn't believe twenty-five years have gone by. I know a lot has happened, it just doesn't feel possible that we have reached such a milestone. And it is a milestone because I realize many people out there who have experienced a suicide, especially recently, are thinking, "Will I ever get there? My pain feels so unbearable right now I can barely think about the next minute."

And that's where this post comes from because yesterday morning I got up and went for a run with my dog Lilly and it wasn't until about halfway through it that I remembered what day it was. As Lilly and I kept running (up a large, imposing hill, I might add), I also realized that Denise's suicide is separated from the life she lived. While there was a time when her suicide was at the forefront of my mind or even my thoughts of her, it's no longer there because when I think of Denise, I think of everything we shared together. And those shared life experiences are where I focus my life today: writing, creating, sewing. 

Then during my run, I heard one of three songs that I believe Denise sends to me– "Harden My Heart" by Quarterflash. Laugh all you want but this one brings back happy memories of roller skating in the basement of our house on cold, snowy Midwestern days when we couldn't do it outside. Instead, we'd skate circles upon circles across the concrete floor while listening to the radio.

Sunday was a good day, I got a lot done, there were some good basketball games from the NCAA Tournament playing in the background. And somewhere along the line a mantra stuck in my mind:

"Keep writing and you'll get where you want to go."

A message from my sister on the anniversary of the day she might have ended her life, but on a day that reminds me how meaningful she was and still remains to my life. And how much hope I have for the future.

 

The Building Blocks of Coping Skills

Michelle Rusk
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In the last week, I received several messages from friends who were in some way affected by a recent teen suicide and/or attempt. In November I spoke with a reporter The Naperville Sun– the very newspaper for which I wrote a column on good causes several years ago while I was living in my hometown for a short time.

I'm not going into specifics but there have been multiple suicides at my high school over the last year and much as been said about the concern that the students are feeling too much pressure to succeed and feel unable to live up to that.

In the article above (which was then reprinted in the Chicago Tribune a few days before Christmas) I gave my opinions as someone who grew up in Naperville and whose younger sister died in the same town. In my first book about sibling suicide I cited the environment as what I have always believed to be a factor in my sister's death: the pressure wasn't something she coped with well.

Denise and I were two very different beings, beyond the fact that I had blonde hair and she had brown hair (and that by the time I graduated from high school– which was the end of her freshman year– she also was taller than me). I won't say that I did well under pressure because all the pressure came from myself which is another story for another day. But I thrived in the busy environment of having multiple tasks to complete– school, running, writing and editing the school newspaper. I was involved with the activities that interested me and I believed were important to creating the life that I wanted to have.

But this isn't just about Naperville. Our suicide numbers are up. Way up. We have more resources, we have better medications, we have more crisis lines. And yet we are losing more people to suicide.

So once again I'm hopping back on my soap box.

There's a long list I could go down of which I still believe coping skills are missing from the diets of many young people. Couple that with social media and either a self-indulgence of oneself or the feeling of inferiority that one isn't good enough next to what others' lives appear to be. And don't forget to sprinkle in the lack of personal communication– texting has replaced actually sitting down and having a conversation with the people around us. 

My husband who is a high school teacher and coach and I had a conversation last week and he said, "It's not just coping skills but building on coping with challenging situations." 

Something challenging happens in our lives, especially early like maybe we fall off the bike before we finally actually are able to ride it successfully. Learning to do things and learning how to cope with disappointments (we didn't win the essay contest we thought we had surely nailed), help us the next time we are faced with something especially as they get seemingly bigger and more integral to our lives.

I have often said that high school running taught me much about how cope with disappointment. That pressure I put on myself that I mentioned earlier caused a lot of disappointment early in my life. Now that I'm older (and hopefully wiser) I can see how I have used those disappointments as building blocks to each experience I've been faced with since then. 

However, I should also add that my parents allowed me to make mistakes. They didn't run off to the school and fix everything. In fact, they fixed nothing. I would have been embarrassed if they went to the school to complain about a teacher or situation. That was up to me to figure out.

Finally, it's why my social media is filled with what I create, what inspires me, what makes me happy. Many days can be challenges for a variety of reasons (as I type this I have a bag of frozen popcorn resting a hurt knee– I haven't been able to run much in the past three weeks– one of my seemingly life-sustaining activities). 

As I said in the interview, life is hard but it's also great. We have many opportunities and we never know what's around the corner which is every reason why we should hold on for tomorrow. And we all have an obligation not to just to learn that for ourselves but to pass on what we've learned to others particularly people younger than us. That in turn gives us purpose. 

 

The Holistic Health Plan

Michelle Rusk
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From the outside, I know that my lifestyle looks like a lot of work. I am up at 4:30 each morning (although do sleep until about 4:45 on weekends– I know, it's very late compared to the rest of the week!) to run and run-walk my dogs. I do a five-minute morning prayer before I shower. I plan most of the meals in the house and make a concerted effort to make sure that we're eating enough vegetables and keeping it as balanced as possible. I go to mass nearly every weekend and spend an hour with a priest at a monastery here once a month for spiritual direction. And each day I try to spend some time doing something I enjoy even if it's just a short time reading. This morning I had my yearly physical and blood work done. I go to acupuncture with my Chinese doctor twice a month where she works to me balanced with a slew of needles, cupping, and burning moxa while I rest.

But there's a reason for it: three years ago I had a group of fibroids removed from my uterus, including one that was the size of a golf ball. It was at that time that I realized I needed to make changes in my life. Outwardly all looked well, especially because I was just a few months from getting married. But clearly something was wrong inside my body.

While I have been running since I was twelve, there were a series of life events that had taken a toll on me: my sister's suicide when I was 21, my parents' unexpected deaths (among other close losses in my life), and then my first marriage where my then-husband was hit by a drunk driver and suffered a head injury. While running– and also walking the dogs– helped me through that, I now see that it wasn't enough and that's when I believe the fibroids began to grow.

Instead, I thought the way to cope was to do more: remodel the house, add more dogs, add a pool, get a doctorate, write more books, educate the world on suicide and grief. None of that I regret, I just look back now and see it was all a way of coping. By moving forward, I could manage the drama that surrounded me and keep it from suffocating me. There was no way to completely emotional cope with the roller coaster of living with a brain-injured person and my body instead resorted to doing it physically.

Just taking care of one part of ourselves is a start but it's not enough. We are holistic beings– and if you were in Maz's health class at Naperville North High School I know you learned this well. Although I admit I neglected all but the physical for a long time– and if we want to be healthy we have to work at it.

Don't think I jump out of bed each morning because I don't (and Greg will attest to that). But I will be the first to admit I love to be out in the quiet darkness, looking up at the still-night sky which is often clear here in Albuquerque. It's there that I start my day in prayer, in gratefulness, as I ask for help to make the most of the daylight hours ahead of me. I learned a long time ago that a new day, as the sun comes up over the mountains, is the same as the chalkboard being wiped clean; I can start over again.

What looks like a lot isn't in the scheme of my life. It's nothing compared to what the alternative would be if I chose not to work so hard at staying healthy holistically. I wouldn't choose it any other way.

When the Journey Isn't Clear

Michelle Rusk
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I have to laugh. I couldn't think of a topic for this week because my life is very quiet right now. I realize that isn't a bad thing but I'm a person who is used to many irons in the fire and running from place to place. I know this time is a gift to write and create– which is what I'm doing– but it seems like many times I have written over the years about what it's like to not feel as if the journey is completely clear.

I have been at many points in my life where I felt complete clarity of the journey but doing things like working on a degree or writing a book with someone else gives you smaller goals along the way because you're not on that journey alone.

This time is different though. After I finish this blog, I will go and write a few pages on a manuscript I've started and then I have a slew of aprons to finish that I had cut out some time ago. While a few of them are custom orders, most of them don't have "homes" yet (translation– they haven't been sold) and I don't know if any will when I post them later in the week. 

So it's a strange place to be– I am working hard, I am making things happen...but yet I don't know what the end result will be. However, I do believe I am on the right road, even if that road doesn't always feel so defined or that I'm following someone else's directions (like in the photo attached). 

Life usually isn't spelled out for us, especially when we choose undefined roads. And even though we aren't always sure how we'll get there, we know the journey will be worth it when we arrive.

Turning the Holidays Around to about Others

Michelle Rusk
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My mom worked hard to make sure we had great birthdays. While they were nothing compared to the over-the-top parties I see parents do for their children now, she invested a lot of time in making big signs that she hung in the kitchen and coordinating our birthday parties.

But what she couldn't control were the emotions of my dad whose unhappiness in life constantly enveloped our house and often ruined Thanksgiving because they would have an argument about something. And there were extended family get togethers on my mom's side where too much drinking too place. You know how it ends– even if you've never experienced one yourself, you've heard the stories from others. Everyone gets mad at everyone else. 

When I was married the first time, my then mother-in-law, visiting from Texas, once got up and left the dinner table right smack in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, my then father-in-law running after her out the door. To this day, I don't think we know what made her mad.

So holidays haven't always been the happiest occasions for me. Until I figured out how to make them about other people.

When Greg's entire family (all nine!) decided they wanted to spend Thanksgiving in Albuquerque with us this year, I was happy to cook because it meant I could create something for others and enjoy that process. I'll admit I was tired by the time ten days ended and the last of the family returned to the east coast. However, it was an uneventful holiday– there was no drama and everyone enjoyed the company of each other. What more could you ask for?

When my birthday rolls around next week, it'll be the same. I'll go to 12:10 pm mass to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe and then Greg and I will gather with a group of friends at a restaurant for dinner (tacos for all!) to celebrate not just my birthday but Guadalupe's feast day. 

I don't have the expectations I used to have of my birthdays and holidays. I try to think of something fun to do, something that will make me happy while in some way giving to others.

And that makes them happy and memorable days for us all.

Thanksgiving

Michelle Rusk
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Before my friend Bonnie died– just three weeks after my dad in January 2006– each time I would go to her house, she usually had something to share with me. She was in her late sixties when I moved across the street (although I got to know her better in the years after I had moved a few miles away) and I would often spend evenings with her sewing or working on some other crafty project. One time she had my first husband bring back nautical rope from a trip to Portland, Maine (he worked for a company based there) and she gessoed the yellow rope white and we made shell wreaths. That's the sort of things Bonnie liked to do.

Often she would have pages in marked in Martha Stewart's magazine for me look at or family items pulled out to share stories about her family or her husband Greg's family. 

The tablecloth above was given to me after she died by her daughter Sadie who wasn't into giving dinner parties and had no use for it. I'm not sure the last time it was used– or the matching napkins. Bonnie bought it in Middle East (most likely Saudi Arabia) during the time they lived there because Greg worked for an oil company. 

When Bonnie was dying of cancer, I spent as much time as I could with her and at some point she started to ask me which of her things I might like to have. Or she offered certain things she knew Sadie wouldn't want (sadly, Sadie– who has since died, too along with Greg and Bonnie's son Gordon)– had a prescription problem and just about everything Bonnie gave her was sold to pay for drugs, including many quilts that Bonnie had made. 

One afternoon as we sifted through fabric she asked me if I would like her dining room table. There was one reason for this, one thing I really wanted was a table that would fit twelve people around it. I have no idea who those twelve people would be, but I just liked the idea of having that many people around one table. 

It was never mentioned again because she died not long after that and I didn't bring it up because it wasn't my place to. I'm sure she never mentioned it to Sadie, simply because she was on a morphine drip and didn't always remember what we had discussed. The table got sold, but the tablecloth and napkins were given to me.

In the nearly eleven years I've had them, I've never used them. My current table doesn't fit that many people and with the many losses in my family, I haven't had reason to put that many people around the table. Any family events I had before my mom's death when I was living in Illinois were at her dining room table (now in the loving hands of my sister Karen) with a tablecloth of mine or Mom's. Bonnie's tablecloth always was pushed to the bottom of the drawer.

However, on Thanksgiving this week, I will gather the entire David and Delcia Rusk family at my dining room table (we'll be bumping my desk– which is my parents' kitchen table and a leaf for it) up to the dining room table. I'll cover it with Bonnie's tablecloth and we'll use the napkins that match it.

We'll top the tablecloth with Greg's and mine wedding china combined with Delcia's mother's china from Argentina. 

It feels more significant than ever to recognize Bonnie in my life. My mom was the one who instilled my creativity in me, always encouraging me to write/draw/create/sew, but it was Bonnie who took it to the next level teaching me so much more. As I continue to forge my lifestyle brand– Chelle Summer– forward, all that Bonnie taught me is going to yet another level.

Using her tablecloth is a way of saying thank you.

Longing and Gratitude

Michelle Rusk
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On Friday morning, shortly before 8:00 am, I was driving toward the mountains to Four Hills, for an estate sale. If you've read my book, The Green Dress, that's the area of Albuquerque (although not called that in the book) where Sally's house was. 

While I don't feel sadness now for the deaths of my parents and my sister, I do sometimes just simply miss having them here on earth. As I was driving I was thinking about them and I looked to my left where the Sandia Mountains sat, looking a bit hazy in the early morning sun. As my car took me towards the mountains, I could see the rocks that make up their jutted mass on the eastern edge of the city.

And it was in that moment that I began to feel grateful to see such a cool sight, a beautiful sight, of nature. The longing quickly passed and I found myself lifted up in that moment. There was nothing to be sad about. I quickly remembered that my parents and my sister are still with me, all is well, there is nothing to long for.

Once again, a little gratitude topples any any emotions that might hold us back from truly being in the moment. Where we should be. 

Be Fearless

Michelle Rusk
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While I don't know why, I have let fear drive much of my life. I can see it when I travel back on my memories of various events. In particular it cost me being a better runner and it was after high school that I vowed I wouldn't ever let fear hold me back again.

But I know that I have still done it and now as I undergo a change in my work situation, I'm finding myself remembering how often I have worried about various things and how I worried endlessly only for them to work out. And then I've wondered why I put so much energy into worrying. 

Why do we worry so much? Is this a life lesson we're supposed to learn? For me, I believe it's more about learning to trust, to have faith, to know that I don't have to soak up my energy into fear. Instead I need to be fearless.

I know that life is short, it's something that drives me daily to make the most of each day. The less the fear we have, the more authentic lives we are living.

Don't wait. Don't let fear hold you back. Be fearless and make whatever it is you want happen. That's exactly what I'm doing.

What keeps you going?

Michelle Rusk
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When I was a senior in high school, I remember going through a challenging period that spring. Without looking back into the extensive journals I wrote, what I can best recall is that I was a little worn out on the routine. There was a long day of school and homework and then track practice. And while I was learning how to set goals, work toward them, and accomplish them, it felt a little monotonous.

I remember feeling attached to a television show called "Island Sun" (Hey, I can hear those snickers from here!). It starred Richard Chamberlain as a doctor in Hawaii and I believe he had a son. I couldn't tell you anything else about the show except that those were the days when we had to wait another week to see what happened next. There was no bingeing on anything like we take for granted now.

My wise track coach Marty Bee told me that if that was the thing that kept me going, that was okay. And since then I have always asked myself that during times when I feel depressed, bored, or challenged in some way. There must be something small that keeps us going and we can use that to propel us forward until life starts to feel more hopeful or happy or peaceful (whatever it is we believe we are lacking).

I have always said that I believe we all have an ember of hope burning inside of us. Unfortunately, many times that ember doesn't seem to be burning because of the constant barrage of life events we are faced with. But in times of challenge we should always take a step back and look around us. There is always something we can see or think of that keeps us going. Symbols of hope– that's what I called them when I doing talks about moving forward through grief.

What are your symbols of hope? I asked people. We often forget that it's the little things in life, the sunshine, the change of seasons, the time we spend with people, that keep us going. Sometimes we get caught up in the challenges and difficulties and forget what's right in front of us. 

And once we let go of our challenges and focus on whatever is keeping our ember burning, we realize how much better we feel. And hopeful. We can feel the ember burning brighter.

 

 

Positive Thoughts Only

Michelle Rusk
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There is a reason I post very little that's negative here on my blog or on social media. It's not about anyone else, but about me and how I realized the negative posts made me feel. 

Some years ago I had a run-in over a payment with the group that handled our health insurance. It was during my first marriage and my then-husband was a sales rep and owned his own sales organization. That meant we didn't qualify for other insurance providers at the time, but there was a state health alliance where we could get insurance and something happened with a payment and to say I was mad was an understatement (I don't remember all the details– testament to how much I try to let go of negativity so it doesn't simmer and boil over). It was during the early days of Facebook and I posted my anger there. 

It didn't take long for me to realize that I actually felt worse by sharing it. Usually we think that by sharing something, we can let go of it. Not always. I felt worse and I realized it wasn't what I wanted to put "out there." 

My life is far from perfect, but I choose to share what I believe are the most interesting aspects of my life: what I create, the fun things I do, enjoying being with my dogs, what it is that makes me happy. We all have good days and bad days and I found that by sharing what makes me feel good, I actually feel better. I might start a day feeling awful because I didn't sleep well (a normal occurrence for the bulk of my life), but by posting a positive message, I feel better.

It's the same when I am feeling tired, but need to run errands. Interacting with people, talking about the weather, just being connected gives me energy I might lack if I had stayed at home trying to keep myself interested in what I need to do.

Many times I've also found that after I've been through a challenge, that I share it here and talk about how I worked through it. I usually don't need to share what I'm going through, however, at some point I might post what it was and how I managed the challenge. That I also believe can be helpful to others.

We all have reasons for what we choose to post and for me it's about helping myself keep focused, inspired, and motivated. I do that with positive thoughts. And positive postings. And know that they can inspire others to be positive and feel hopeful and happy, too.

Life

Michelle Rusk

I know it's been a while since I've written.

I think about blogging; it's on my desk calendar where I write my daily tasks. But then I don't do it. And I don't do it because I haven't felt like I've had a lot to say. No, that's not true– I get ideas but then I think maybe I wrote them before. Or I think that maybe they aren't good enough to spend the time on. 

And there you have it– my life is a challenge to figure out how to best spend my time. I have so much I want to do and time often feels fleeting to me– I believe partially because of all my losses, I know that life can change in an instant. I hate that I get tired. I get up before 5:00 am and many days I can't believe when 3:00 pm hits and I wonder where the day went.

There is much I want to do and I finally decided today that my motto should be, "Think less, do more." It's July, it's summer. I want to make the most of these warm months. I need to worry less about experimenting making clothes and having them come out badly. I just need to make them. I need to keep writing and worry less that I'm writing crap and just keep writing.

Life is short but it's also a balance of being present where we are with where we want to be. And my goal this month is have a better idea of how to achieve that by the time August arrives.

Easter Perspective

Michelle Rusk

I had taken some time on Saturday morning to photograph the dogs– Hattie and Lilly– for Easter. Neither one was happy with me (although after they ran off when I told them we were finished, Lilly hurriedly pushing the bunny ears off her head, they were easily swayed back into happiness with treats) and later I told Greg about how obvious it would be when I posted the photo on social media Sunday morning.

"No one is ever happy on Easter," he said. When gave him a funny look, he added, "Everyone is uptight about something."

Then I remembered the Easter Sundays of my childhood: we were always late for mass. I have no idea why and I never asked my mom when she was alive because she always got upset and accused me of thinking she wasn't a good enough mother. But the church filled up early and it meant we were left standing in the entry way listening to mass. For an hour. 

In that hour I had little understanding of what Easter meant. Yes, I'd taken religion classes growing up, but honestly it didn't mean a lot to me.

Then about six years ago, the same time I had returned to going to mass weekly, I found myself leaving Easter mass wanting to sing, feeling the happiness of coming out of darkness into the light. And each year since then, Easter has come to mean more to me.

I'm sure that I could argue that I'm older now and I "get" it more than I used to but I believe it's just a sense of having traveled multiple journeys of finding myself in darkness and having to seek out light. Each year Lent reminds me that there is hope, that we can get to the light, to the sunshine, that we don't need to be scared.

And a beautiful, cloudless sky– like we had in Albuquerque yesterday– doesn't hurt. 

A Reminder as the Lenten Journey Ends

Michelle Rusk

Sometimes I repeat myself in a blog. A year might go by but usually I find myself writing about something I had shared some aspect of in the past, mostly because I have realized something different about it. And I figure that if I am thinking about it, probably someone out there could use similar inspiration.

I still talk too much in my prayers.

I hadn't thought much about it in quite a while but suddenly at mass on Saturday I realized that I'm like a constant chatterbox when I pray. I'm that friend who gets you on the phone and you only have to say an occasional "Uh huh" (and you can probably put the phone down and make a sandwich without them knowing it) to keep up your end of the conversation.

Which makes me wonder if God is making sandwiches as I pray– or even keeping tabs on several prayers happening at the same time (more likely). 

The reality is that we were taught to say prayers, to ask for what we need/want/desire. There are unlimited numbers of prayer cards and prayers available to us. We were taught to memorize certain prayers growing up.

So how would we know the importance of silence during a prayer?

No one taught me that it's just as important to listen in our prayer as it is to ask. I'm too busy with my list that I forget to listen, too. And while I know that often the answers don't come during prayers, instead we usually find the answers present themselves to us at moments when we least expect them to. It can happen when we are in the middle of something unrelated (perhaps, cooking dinner) or when our minds have time to wander and we aren't thinking about anything in particular.

But if we don't listen– as difficult as that can be because our minds tend to wander when we "rest" during prayer– we'll never hear the answers. It might feel dry to listen during prayer, but remember that it's part of the give and take of the conversation. We don't give God a chance to give to us if all we do is keep asking.

 

A Different Kind of Lent

Michelle Rusk

For about six years I've used Lent as a time to work on strengthening my prayer life and letting go of what I can't control. March has become a challenging time for me because even though time marches on and my life is great, imprinted in the back of my mind are the anniversaries of the deaths of both my sister and my mom. I had decided that this year I would focus on strengthening my relationship with Our Lady of Guadalupe– whose feast day and my birthday are the same day– so I knew I needed to find something different to do for Lent.

I have a stack of spiritual-based books that I have started to read and haven't finished. And I had just picked up a new one at church (because I needed a book like I need a hole in my head!)– My Life with the Saints by James Martin, SJ, so I thought Lent would be a good opportunity for me to read his book and hopefully one other. Fr. Martin writes about how he has become to know the saints in his life, something I am interested in as Our Lady of Guadalupe has become more important in my life. While I read two newspapers a day and have several magazines subscriptions, reading books is something I haven't done much of since graduate school (I blame all the article reading I did). I see Lent as a time to challenge myself to make myself better and reading these books is easily part of that journey– while also making me a better writer along the way– after all, there is a correlation between reading and writing.

The second part of my Lent involves the driving range. Yes, you heard right– the driving range. My golf game has gone by the wayside since my mom's death three years ago and an injury to my shoulder after an accident with my now-deceased dog Gidget. And I have a tendency to work too much– because there are certain goals I want to accomplish– and not slow down as I should. Forcing myself to the driving range once a week does that and also connects me to God in the sunshine and learning to be patient with myself. I admit though, having taken a trip a week ago and having another one coming up has made this a harder task to accomplish than reading, but hopefully tomorrow afternoon I'll make it out there.

It's not an ordinary Lent, but this isn't ordinary time either! To me, Lent isn't about what I can give up– over twenty years ago a priest told me not to focus on what I could give for Lent because I'd lost so much with my sister's death– and now with my mom's death added into the mix, I definitely see it as a time of working on making me a better person, on strengthening my spiritual journey. And as I already have a more extensive prayer life than most people, I knew I needed to add something different this year. 

And so it is: reading and the driving range. 

The Path to the Future Through the Past

Michelle Rusk

I don't believe my deceased family members could have been any closer to me than they were this weekend when I took a trip back to my hometown, Naperville, in the Chicago suburbs.

My friend Karen graciously co-hosted a Chelle Summer Open House with me at her house. We both invited our friends for a Sunday afternoon of prickly pear punch, sangria, carob cookies, and an overwhelming selection of Chelle Summer handbags that I had made. 

I found a penny the day before I left and then on my first morning in Naperville– on my run– I found a dime. My dad. Later that morning, a Cardinal kept flying around the backyard, another sure symbol of at least my dad. Some time after I graduated from college, every night a Cardinal flew into the garage and stayed there, my dad waiting to shut the garage door (after his last smoke of the evening) when the Cardinal he called, "Birdie" had arrived for the night. While I know people say Cardinals are signs of their loved ones, it's always had a slightly different meaning for me because of my dad and Birdie.

The signs continued Saturday with Mom's song "Every Rose Has a Thorn" by Poison appearing in a Facebook comment that morning and that afternoon when we sang, "On Eagle's Wings" at mass. It was like they were with me in every way but physically.

I was back in my old neighborhood staying some blocks from the house I grew up in and around the corner from the house I owned just a few years ago. I stay with people I call family, but I'll admit I feel slightly disconnected without my parents– or my sister– there.

And yet, although I only get "home" about once a year now, I still believe that it's important to remember where you're from to see where you go in the future. You must know who you came from, what has influenced you, and the path you took, to see the journey ahead.

There are some aspects of my life I'm not totally secure in for the future– I know what I want, but that journey isn't quite clear. And yet I know that by taking a step into the past somehow it's taking me several steps forward.

Honoring Quietly

Michelle Rusk

About fifteen years ago, I remember sitting in the local support group for the suicide bereaved, this several years after my book for sibling suicide had been published, and we were talking about ways to honor a loved one who had died. A man who had lost his mother to suicide said– as he shook his head– "I have no idea what to do."

I responded, "That's okay. You don't have to know right away." 

Many more losses later I am well versed in this. For me, figuring out how I will honor them is how I move forward, but I also realize that we don't have an answer to how to do that right away. 

However, what I choose to do today is much different than when I lost my younger sister nearly twenty-four years ago. While it wasn't instant, I knew I had some need to help other sibling survivors of suicide, mostly because the world was different (the internet was very limited and there was no social media); we couldn't connect to each other like we do today with a simple Google search. That turned into a book which launched a speaking career and traveling around the world, educating and helping people both with suicide grief and suicide prevention.

For my dad's death eleven years ago, I was still deep into suicide work and inching my way toward a doctorate. I didn't have the time– or energy– to figure out what else I might do. But after my mom's death in 2014, my perspective had already begun to shift and I saw where it tied me back (as I have written recently) to the person I wanted to be growing up.

But also in this time, I have watched people launch foundations in loved ones' names, hoping to raise funds to help people or causes, or where they do walks and run, with the goal of doing the same. 

Recently I saw something someone was doing in a loved one's name and a thought struck me– I don't have the need to be so public about saying, "I'm doing this because of my mom." And then  at a party last weekend a friend and I were discussing this, how my journey in that way has become more private: I don't need to share it all with the world.

And yet what I still share is what I create– my writing, my sewing, my painting. I know that pursuing a creative life is honoring the three family members I traveled with in the station wagon (long after my older brother and sister stopped taking family trips with us). I also know that getting my education (particularly before I married– per her instructions) was a way to honor my maternal grandmother who couldn't go to college because she had to help her brothers financially get college degrees. It was never something I talked about, more something I did. 

Today the journey is about doing without having to say why I'm doing it every minute of the day. Sure, there are aspects I share, especially when I particularly know how they inspired something, but mostly it's about taking time each day to pursue what makes me happy is what honors them and makes my life an authentic one.

 

My Identity

Michelle Rusk

For so long I had such a need to identify myself as a first, a suicide survivor, and then as the language changed, a suicide loss survivor. It was clearly part of my grief road in the early parts of the past twenty-four years. But I have found myself not disconnected from it, but like the surface of the road beneath me has changed.

I know there are people who will read that and be dismayed that I'm saying that. However, it's a good thing that I say it. I have found that in the years since I have moved on from doing suicide-related work full time, that often people are upset that I am not doing it. But to me, I am showing that you can still have a great life despite all that happens to you.

Traditionally, parents who have lost children have been the ones who have been the loudest voices (and I say that with a  positive note to it!) making suicide prevention a prevention and organizing support groups for those left behind. What I have realized over the years is that they had many years of life before their children died. I was only twenty-one when my sister died and now, as I come up on twenty-four years since her death, I see that I didn't have much life before being hit with the loss. I find today that I don't want my life to be consumed by it. As a friend said to me recently, "You don't have a need to wear the black armband." For a long time, I did feel like I needed to– or wanted to. 

Instead, I see the road much differently today. As my life continues to be filled with losses and the world feels a bit challenging, I'm working to stay focused. Each day I pray that I continue to be creative, to write and sew, and that my sister and my parents help me to stay inspired.

What I couldn't see in all those years of helping others– which taught me so much– that there would come a day that it would swing back to me and remind me of the person I always wanted to be. It's as if I have traveled through the loss to be able to find my way back to my relationships with each of my deceased family members. Now they can help me– although not in the same way as if they were here– continue to create, to sew, and to write. There is only love where they are now, no pain of anything that happened here in life. But it was my journey to get where I could see beyond the pain so that the four of us could have a relationship without it causing a block on my end.

And they could remind me of who I always wanted to be. And help me make that happen.