Chelle Summer

moving on

Forgiveness and Sending Love

Michelle Rusk

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

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.


Starting Over and Over and Over....

Michelle Rusk

There is no such thing that says we can't start over. More than once.

The new year has passed us by and my guess is that many people have left their resolutions in January, long forgotten, especially after attending a Super Bowl party last night. And next week Ash Wednesday pops up on the 14th, starting us on forty days of Lent, another opportunity to make change in our lives. So why not start over?

Every day I have certain goals I strive to achieve and, well, I don't always do a great job making them happen. There is the five-minute prayer that I often find myself distracted (I believe this will be better when I'm back outside sitting with my feet in the swimming pool and not near my laptop which makes it too easy to open my eyes and see who is texting me). But every day I strive to listen to the silence better because I know I'm missing a lot of messages by being so easily distracted.

One of my other goals is that no later than 11:00 am (if I'm not running errands, on a call, etc), I try to leave my laptop/ipad/phone and go work on sewing projects. Again, easier said that done because there are so many distractions. 

However, each day I tell myself I can try to do better tomorrow because I know that practice eventually does make perfect. After you've made over 100 handbags, you get to be pretty good at it. Trust me, this I know. My mom played piano and her words about practice often echo in my head. I know that if I keep at it, eventually I'll get there. Not every day has to be perfect either. By making an effort I see myself forging forward and the easier these new tasks become.

As I start over again.


A Little Disconnection for Creativity's Sake

Michelle Rusk

One of my constant challenges is that I am not where I want to be professionally. Soon there will be some changes in my daily life that I'm trying to remember are the universe's way of helping me to move forward even though it doesn't feel like it in the present moment. It's like I'm stepping backward so that I can take more steps forward.

However, the hard part is making sure I don't think too much because that can easily become paralyzing of all my worries. Instead, my motto seems to be, "Create more, think less." I have a slew of projects and ideas and I have to keep myself from being derailed from worries about money, (will we have enough?), about rejections from my query letters to find an agent (is this really a good manuscript or should I scrap it?), and about wondering if I am on the road I'm supposed to be on.

Social media has been huge for me to be able to share with the world what I create– and also to help other people work through suicide, grief, and feelings of hopelessness. But recently I have come to realize that it's taking up too much of my time and it's also stifling my creativity.

I am not going on hiatus at all. In fact, the only person who will probably notice a difference is me. As I will actually have to spend less time at my laptop in the future, it just means I won't be seeing all the notifications right away Essentially, I'll choose the times I look at my phone and laptop rather than looking at them what feels like all the time. In the past week I knocked out one bad habit I developed when I worked with people overseas– checking my email when I get up in the morning which then led to also checking Facebook and Instagram, too. Now I don't look at them until I'm totally done with my workout and running/walking the dogs. It gives me a few extra minutes in the morning and I've come to realize I'm not missing anything by looking at them so early (especially because most of my email anymore is advertisements).

By disconnecting a bit– and looking less in the evening so I can read more– I will be creating more and have more to share with the world. Again, what looks like a few steps backward is really going take me forward faster. After all, I have swimwear to create and a new manuscript that is waiting to be written.

Positive Thoughts Only

Michelle Rusk

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.

Where do I go?

Michelle Rusk

I'm not very good at standing in one place. I see that there is too much to do, too much that I want to do. And yet sometimes life holds me in places which quite honestly don't make me very happy. I keep working hard, I try not to let it get to me, but then I reach a point where I'm not even sure if I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. 

This might be where I'm supposed to be. I might be questioning everything because I'm confused while standing still, but that also doesn't mean I have to like it. I remember once in a conversation with a priest about something similar to this. 

"You can tell God you don't like it," he said. "That doesn't mean it'll change."

There are times in our lives where we feel like everything is moving forward– maybe not perfectly as nothing ever is perfect– but we can feel the people mover under our feet taking us forward as we also walk forward. And yet there are other times where we maybe don't feel like we're in darkness, but instead at that time right before light appears, before the sun comes up, and yet, there isn't any sun. Yet.

Yes, that's where I am at with many aspects of my professional life. I had long thought that this part of my life would be in a different place than it is right now. And so I continue to create, continue to make the most of each day, and believe that something will breakthrough and major– positive– change is coming. 

Until then? Here I am making the most of it.

A Look Back, A Look Forward

Michelle Rusk

It's hard not to think about college this time of year. Whenever I hit August, I am reminded of my "anniversary" of moving to Albuquerque in 1994. But this year it's also a little different. As I'm writing this, Greg's nephew Dean will be flying to Albuquerque tomorrow night and I'll be helping him to move into his dorm room on Wednesday so he can start school as an undergraduate next week here at the University of New Mexico. 

It's brought up a lot of reminders for me not just about when I moved to Albuquerque, but also my years at Ball State University in Indiana where I have my undergraduate degree from.

I didn't start at Ball State– from high school I entered what was then North Park College (now University) on the northside of Chicago to run cross country and track as well as study. I don't remember anything about moving in the dorms. My best guess is that because we had to arrive a week early to go to camp on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we must have stored our belongings somewhere and then moved into our dorms when we returned. 

Ball State I remember clearly, particularly my parents getting ready to drive away after my things were unloaded into my dorm room (there wasn't any such thing as orientation then– it was drop your kid off and let them figure it out!). 

As I think of Becky, putting her son on a plane tomorrow for Albuquerque from their Boston home, it's not like he's going just a few hours away. He's going almost the whole way across the country, excited to start a new adventure in a place he wants to get to know better.

And I think of my friend Janet who once told me that you don't raise your children to be like you, you raise them to be their own people, to be independent. And so you send them on their way.

While Becky is letting Dean go, for Greg and I, we get to enjoy time with him (I jokingly say until he makes friends and wants nothing to do with us), helping him to explore Albuquerque and New Mexico and build a new life around his next level of schooling.

When I came to New Mexico, I was twenty-two and I had just finished my bachelor's degree. And my sister Denise had died just eighteen months before. I didn't understand then how hard it must have been for my parents to let me go, to drop me and a UHaul full of items off into a studio apartment, and head home. There were no cell phones for us and it was because I moved away that my parents joined AOL so we could email at least, providing more contact than phone calls (which still weren't so inexpensive then). Obviously I managed to build a life here because, well, I'm still here.

But when I transferred to Ball State my sophomore year, I was lucky that a few weeks into the semester, I was sitting in the Newman Center Church, just off campus, when a woman and her middle-school son sat next to me. It wasn't long in that first conversation that Pat declared herself my adopted mom.

Pat had three daughters of her own– all in college or just beyond at that time– even one also named Michelle. She lived several miles from campus and I only had a bicycle, but she gave me a connection in the community, made me dinner, too me to dinner, gave me a family to spend Easter with when I didn't go home, and an attic to store my belongings when I went home for summer break. 

She's come to Albuquerque, I've been back to stay with her in Indiana multiple times, and when I married Greg two years ago she sent us a slew of Fiestaware off our registry (me forgetting how much she liked it) and I think of her every time I pull out the yellow pitcher for a dinner party.

While I made other connections throughout my three years there, Pat was a stable family presence, one that I relished while my own family was in Chicago, and especially after my sister died the next year. The photo here is of us and her son Tim taken in August 1992. My mom took the photo and somewhere I have one of Mom and I there in Pat's backyard, but I don't know where it was. 

As I look back now, I'm sure my parents appreciated Pat more than I will ever know. 

And as Dean arrives tomorrow night, I hope that I can return the favor of all that was given to me, twenty-some years ago.


The Push and Pull of Letting Go

Michelle Rusk

Letting go is one of my biggest challenges (along with being patient!). It's not just that I want things to happen, it's also that I'm willing to work to make them happen. And yet much of the time it's not on my schedule. I'm a doer, I'm not a person to step back and let things unfold in front of me. I try to do as much as I can to make the unfolding happen.

But reality (yep, there's that again) is that there is much that can't happen if I don't let it go. If I keep something at the forefront of my mind, if I continually thing about it, what I'm doing is holding it back because I can't let it go.

I don't want to let it go because that means– gasp!– I'm giving the control away. However, I can't count the number of times that I've forced myself to stop thinking about something, stop asking for it. And the minute I turn around, my mind and work elsewhere, it reappears.

When something we want- especially to accomplish- feels as if it's stagnant, somewhere we need to balance how much we work on it and the letting go of the rest. There is only so much I can do, and accepting that is hard for me because I want certain things (particularly in my professional life) to happen. But life is also about balance, especially balancing working hard and letting go of the rest. 

And the day I master that? I won't be the only one watching it unfold. Until then, back to balancing I go.




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.

Challenging Myself

Michelle Rusk

I always say it would be easier to stay in my box and not challenge myself. However, I know myself well enough that I get bored and that if I want to live life to the fullest (and make it more interesting), I need to continually challenge myself.

Over the past few weeks I feel as though I've stretched my brain and that I now probably need to give it a few days to catch up. 

It started with making a quinceanera dress– as close to a princess/wedding dress one can get. When I married the first time, a friend had made my dress and I had made all six bridesmaid dresses so I really didn't think it was impossible. What turned out to be tricky, however, was the fact that the pattern didn't include one piece in the directions (or the pattern pieces for that matter) and that Hannah wanted a tulle skirt. And I added a lace overlay for the bodice. I tried to stretch it out over several weeks (including a "rough draft") so that I had time if anything went badly.

A weekend ago I had planned to rest but found myself running behind and spent Saturday making a diaper bag that Saturday for an upcoming baby (another first– following the rough draft) and then working on the netting of the quinceanera dress on Sunday.

Then on Tuesday I went over to a former neighbor's house and she taught me how to make flour tortillas. She had showed me some years ago but I had long forgotten and I thought it was time I learned again, this time vowing that would practice at least once a month so they eventually look like circles and not the state of Texas.

After the tortillas had been eaten, the diaper bag arriving to a happy mom-to-be in Wyoming, and the quinceanera dress in the arms of the almost fifteen-year-old, I spent Friday on the television set of "Graves" doing background work.

To say I was exhausted that morning was an understatement. I felt as if I needed some rest but I also knew that rest was around the corner (although I didn't realize it would be fourteen hours later). I ended up with several "jobs" we'll say in the filming, but in one particular part I would be walking directly in camera view, queued by the production assistant– who was watching on a screen around the corner– when to go both times. As I stood there waiting to go with a clipboard in hand (after all, I am a doctor but I play a nurse on television), I found my mind drifting off a bit. I thought about how easy it would be to mess up. And how easy it would be not to be there. If I hadn't accepted the call, I could be home in bed, not worrying about tripped over a cable as I walked across the hallway in the hospital.

No no no, I reminded myself. Then what stories would I tell? How would I grow? And so I walked across the set in as many takes as it took, probably equaling the number of challenges I've created for myself over the past few weeks. It was well worth it.

Seeing Past Darkness

Michelle Rusk

The photo of this beautiful sunset was taken in my backyard a few weeks ago. I never posted it on social media because no matter what angle I took it at, I couldn't escape the pole or the countless electrical, phone, and cable lines that come from the pole. On social media, we have the choice to choose how we portray our lives and I am honestly embarrassed that my house has one big detractor: this pole. 

My house was built in the 1950s and the city of Albuquerque has never buried these lines. So each time I go outside to take photos, I am constantly trying to find way to avoid the pole and the lines. 

But I know that reality is that I can't erase this pole from my life (at least until we move to a different house) just as I can't erase any darkness I have experienced. It's part of me and part of who I am today. I choose to post photos of what I create because that's what inspires me and keeps me going, being creative. My life isn't perfect and there are challenges I choose not to share because I don't see any reason to share them. I work through them and I stay hopeful that my frustrations will turn into something better. And I keep working hard even though I feel like I'm on a very slow road to get my life professionally where I'd like it to be.

I have written and spoken many times about how I have found hope in the sunrises of Albuquerque, how when I'd ben out run-walking my dog Chaco and– despite the darkness I'd endured the day before particularly of then having a spouse who suffered a head injury– it would feel like the sunrise was a clean slate to a new day. Hope. Darkness can't last forever a friend once said. The sun has to come back some time. 

Several years ago I was reading my high school journals and was surprised to find how much mental pain I found myself in as a fifteen year old experiencing a stress fracture in my foot that kept me from running much the spring of 1987. I have no recollection of having feelings of wanting to end my life, but there they were written in my hand writing. I don't believe that I would have done anything about the feelings, it was just an escape from the frustration I felt and not understanding that the injury would eventually heal and I'd be able to run again (which I happened by that summer).

It speaks to my life though as I work through challenges and losses. While sometimes it's annoying (well, all the time!) that I continually experience these, I try to learn and grow from them. I ask myself what I can to do to make myself feel better. I can look back on the road behind me and see how far I have come.

Last week Greg and I went out house stalking– I had found a house online for sale nearby and we drove by after dinner one evening. When Greg realized no one was living there, he pulled into the driveway and we walked around to the back of the house to see how large the backyard was. I was immediately drawn to a view of the city toward the mountain, one they had neglected to include in the online listing.

"Look at that view!" I couldn't stop saying.

Then Greg laughed and said, "Look up. You're never going to escape it."

And right there in the middle of the view was a pole just like the one in my current backyard. 

I hadn't seen it because I looked past it, just like I look past the pain and darkness to see the light and the hope.

The Authentic Life

Michelle Rusk

I sometimes forget what a challenge it is for people to live an authentic life. And when I say that, I mean to live the life they believe they are supposed to live. It's something I strive for daily and I think that because I've worked so hard to make it happen– while not completely as I do have a full-time job and I'm not yet devoting my entire days to my writing and Chelle Summer– that I forget how much work it's taken to get where I am. And I believe that in my future I will be working full-time for myself; it's what I strive for daily.

I also had forgotten about this photo– one of a series that Lois Bloom had taken for me, I believe not long after I'd gotten my surfboard. We were talking not long ago and I don't remember the rest of the conversation but I did say to her, "You know you were the reason that I realized I could own a surfboard and make it part of my life."

It was all because after she and Sam picked me up from LAX when I flew in from Chicago (where I was living at the time) to speak at a conference, I told them that a friend had asked if I was going to surf on the trip. I said no, that I didn't have a board, nor had I brought a swimsuit. 

"Why not?" Lois asked, turning her head to the backseat where I was sitting in the car. "You can rent a board. You can buy a swimsuit."

She was right– I did all of the above, spending the next few days on a rented board after taking (yet another) surfing lesson. And from there I bought my own board. 

While my shoulder has kept me off my board for about a year now, surfing is part of my life. I worked to carve it in just a I started to carve in time to write early in the morning. And I've carved in time to working on my sewing projects and building my Chelle Summer brand. 

I watch less television, I go to bed earlier so I can get up earlier, but I've made time for what makes me happy. It's the first step to living an authentic life: just like being taught to brush your teeth means that eventually (hopefully!) it become part of your daily routine, so is making time for what makes me happy. I long incorporated running into my life and I often say it's as much as part of my routine as brushing my teeth. But teaching myself that also has helped me figure out how to add in writing and creating to my daily routine, too.

I know that none of us are promised anything. We have this moment now and we don't know what's ahead. And while we can't always control some of the responsibilities we have, we still have the opportunity find some time for ourselves because by doing that, we're creating our own authentic life.


A Short Time on My Soapbox

Michelle Rusk

I spent the latter part of last week at the American Association of Suicidology conference in Phoenix, my first conference since I handed the presidential gavel off to Bill Schmitz four years ago. I try to fill my days with creating, whether it be through writing, sewing, or other like projects. However, in the recent weeks between multiple suicides at my high school and the uproar of the Netflix television series, "13 Reasons Why," I've tried to stay out of any discussions, believing my time is best spent continuing to throw inspiration out there rather than sitting here typing opinions.

However, I found my soapbox and today I'm offering a little bit of my perspective before I put the soapbox away again.

I haven't seen "13 Reasons Why" and nor do I plan to watch it or read the book. Instead, I'm offering my thoughts about what I believe is missing in our culture– a message that hasn't changed in the four years since I became a past president of the American Association of Suicidology.

We've spent a lot of time and energy looking into why people kill themselves. Yes, it's important, absolutely, but in that same time we still know much less about how people cope and how we can help them cope when they think that the only way to end their pain is to end their lives. What I have learned from the twenty-some years since my sister ended her life and I was forced to face intense grief for the first time in my life, is that no one grieves the same. I also believe that to be true when we are faced with challenges in our lives: we're all going to work toward finding hope in different ways because we are, well, different people. 

What I do believe is that we can do is help people find the start of the hopeful journeys. Give them ideas, help them begin to learn coping skills so that when life hands then a challenge, they know at least how to find hope. It might not feel like hope is there, but it is. Often it's just that the light is so dim we can't see it. We should allow them to express their pain, let them know that we know they are hurting. But then we should help lead them toward the light, even slowly.

We are all faced with challenges and difficulties, some of us seemingly more than others, but learning from them and using them as springboards for growth is what makes us stronger and helps us to someday look back at the road behind us, hands on our hips, and know that we have come a long way. And then continue forward on the road.


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.

Patience, Patience, Yeah, and More Patience

Michelle Rusk

I always believe I can get more done in certain time periods than ends up being realistic. Last year I believed I had enough time to have a swimsuit collection ready to make custom suits by January of this year, but as time crept up on me– and not because I was lounging around watching television– I realized this wasn't going to happen. And then I realized it wasn't going to happen by March (next month) either.

Writing a book is a completely different game than creating a product where you have to then create more of them so you have inventory to sell. But you also need people to buy the product so you have to spend time working on marketing. There's a whole list of other items that consume my time; I don't get to be creative 24/7. And it's not that creating is a problem for me, it's more than there aren't enough hours in the day for everything I want to do.

That then circles us back to swimwear– and this photo of my mom taken in what I'm guessing was about 1961 in my grandfather's boat (I believe that's my dad next to her– before they were married). 

Most of us aren't old enough to remember swimsuits had zippers are were made with fabrics that now would seem outlandish to use for swimwear– like flannel. None of these fabrics could stretch, would give, nor would they dry quickly. Spandex was introduced in 1958 but wouldn't make its way into the swimsuit market just yet.

Working with vintage patterns has opened my eyes to the changes in fabrics (no zippers today!). We take for granted the quick drying material we plunge into swimming pools wearing– or the fact that the fabric doesn't fade from the chlorine like it used to. 

There is a journey involved in creating a swim line that I'll be happy with. I want everything to fit well, for women to want to wear a swimsuit because it's not just flattering but also comfortable. And to do that I have to slow down the process and continue to explore and sew, making mistakes while also making new discoveries along the way.

On Friday when I met with the priest with whom I do my spiritual direction, we talked about this continued to road building patience that I am on. I have written about how life is quiet now, how I'm productive but there's not much to share. And, honestly, not much going on. 

"You'll be up to your ears in stuff before you know it," he reminded me.

I won't say it's been easy. It's much like so many other goals I've set– it always takes me longer to get there.

And I will get there. Not just yet.

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.

The Love from our Parents

Michelle Rusk

In the past few months, I've had a number of people I know lose their parents. There's been an ebb and flow, particularly in the last year, although none of my friends are the same age so it's not like we've reached "an age" where we our parents might die. It's just happening.

In the eleven years since my dad died and then the three years since my mom died, I've had some time to process and think about what their deaths mean to me and how I go forward, especially at an age when most people I know still have both their parents, or at least one. 

About fifteen months before my mom died, she told me something that has helped me, something that I believe all our parents want for us, particularly when they reach the afterlife where I believe there is no pain, no sadness, no hurt or anger over what has happened in life. In the afterlife, they want us to be happy, they want us to have the lives we're supposed to, and they want us to know we're still with them.

Mom told me that she knew I was different than the rest of the family and that I needed to go forward and be who I'm supposed to be. What Mom wanted for all her kids was happiness, to see them have the happiness she never had truly had in her life coping with polio, a not very great marriage, and all the sadness and insecurity that went with both of those. 

I didn't think much about what she said to me until after she died. In my sadness knowing that she, my dad, and my younger sister are all gone (the three people in my family I spent the most time with because my older brother and sister had moved out of the house by the time I entered junior high), I have clung to those words.

And I've also come to realize something else: she freed me from the past with her message. The memories are mine to keep but I don't have to hold onto the sadness of anything that was said, unsaid, happened, or didn't happen. I can forward without letting any of the past hold me back, instead using from my past what motivates and inspires me (much of what you see in my designs). 

It's painful to move forward in loss, especially that of our parents, because we fear we lose the past, of what defines us in some ways. But it's our choice to keep what works and helps us go forward. The rest we can leave behind. After all, that's what our parents wanted most for us: to know that we are happy and who we want to be.