Chelle Summer

Carson the Wonder Dog

Michelle Rusk

I have been prepared for the day that Carson would die since he came to live with us nearly fifteen months ago.

He was fifteen, the oldest dog in the city shelter, and no one– the shelter people, his foster guardian, nor us– expected him to live more than a few months. When we went off to California this summer, I fully predicted that in July I would be seeking out a new dog to fill his spot.

Carson had other plans though. While he no longer takes morning walks with Hattie around the park– he much prefers to sleep in– and his back legs are failing, he still attempts to chase Lilly around the backyard and shows up for the “peanut butter spoon” after the blender starts whirring away in the morning for my breakfast smoothie.

Yet in that steady decline, we also know he won’t live forever and Friday– after watching him fall backward into his poop twice in twenty-four hours– I felt maybe it was time to let Carson go. I made a vet appointment for the afternoon, took lots of photos, spent time with him, and fed him too much cheese. I was fully prepared, even in my sadness, that Carson wouldn’t be coming home with me from the vet.

When we showed up at the vet, he refused to go inside. I was convinced it was because he’d been dumped into the city shelter at age fourteen and there was no way that I could convince him that I wasn’t leaving him behind.

I’ve never seen Carson so scared and upset and by the time the vet appointment was over, the vet declared that he had too much spirit and quality of life that he deserved another chance.

We went home with a bottle of Rimadyl (dog ibuprofen) and he slept the rest of the afternoon.

I have been to the end with several dogs before, I know when they’ve given up and are ready to move on– Daisy, Gidget, and Chaco all stopped eating and drinking– but Carson? No, he’s not ready. I believe that he finally found a good life and he’s not wiling to let it go just yet.

As I write this, he’s curled up snoozing under my desk. Happy as a clam. I know he wishes he could run like Lilly and the four year old he once was, and that he’s glad to still be here.

I realize the day will come, but Friday was confirmation it wasn’t time yet, and for now, we’ll enjoy all that we have.

I can see for miles and miles

Michelle Rusk

There is a place as I’m driving to downtown Albuquerque from my house that is at the top of what doesn’t look so much like a hill until you realize how much you can see heading west to the mesa where the city ends.

(The photo above is going the opposite direction– up the steady incline toward the mountains).

I was driving that way to 12:10 pm mass recently– which means it was early enough that the day still felt fresh and crisp– especially because the temperature was going up to 90 degrees in the afternoon and it wasn’t hot yet. Everything felt new. And hopeful.

I had lived right there in a studio apartment during my first year of graduate school when I moved to New Mexico when I came to Albuquerque with no car. That meant I biked south to campus. And when I found a high school cross country coaching gig, I biked several miles north– and about two miles east– via the bike path to the school.

Growing up in Illinois and attending college in Indiana, seeing for miles– especially when it wasn’t a cornfield– wasn’t something I to which I was accustomed. Quickly, I found the views inspiring and reflecting back I see how lucky I was that I had the opportunity to bike it daily. The wind wasn’t so fun but until fall kicked in, I felt as if I hit the jackpot every afternoon.

As I drove that way to church last week, I realized how much that view was hopeful to me. And then I recalled the many times I’d made the trip on my bike when I first moved to New Mexico. Then as a 22 year old who uprooted my entire life and being to become part of the desert landscape. It wasn’t an easy time as my younger sister had just died eighteen months before, but I can look back now and see how coming here was part of my hope.

Continuing to live here with these vistas and sunny days is part of where I still find my hope and inspiration.

Where Everything Collides...and Finding Hope

Michelle Rusk

It's National Suicide Prevention week and I thought it would be a good time to give what has become my yearly thoughts on the topic. I've been a little more immersed in it recently because of writing and speaking opportunities– plus a suicidal person the outer ring of my life and several people in my life who have lost loved ones recently to suicide. 

I can't help but shake my head when I look at the numbers and see how much they've increased in the years since I've been speaking and writing about it. And the more I spin it around, I see clearly that we're not making headway not just because suicide is so complicated but because we're not tackling it where we need to.

There are a bunch of reasons I could write about that I believe are the reasons that the numbers of suicides have increased, however, mostly what I see is a lack of hope. Our technology-laden world has changed not just how we interact but how we spend our time. I've come to realize that the more I watch people on their phones, the less time I want to spend on my mine.

This isn't a fix all for suicide– I'm not saying that– but what I do see is that we've become too reliant on something outside of our inner cores to make us happy and give us fulfillment. While I am clearly an advocate for social media– that's why you're reading this, right!?– I find the more time I find off my phone, the happier I am. It's become a bad habit to pick it up and look at apps or whatever. 

I've been thinking back on my early teens and where I learned how to fulfill myself through what made me happy– through accomplishing goals I set, particularly through running, and through spending time with the people who meant something to me. In some ways I'm trying to take the me of today back to those aspects of my life that brought me joy rather than finding them in technology.

It doesn't mean I stop posting or looking at what other people are doing. Instead, it means I'm working at balancing how technology fits my life so that it doesn't steal time from what really matters.

For suicide, we need to take a step back and see how we got here. What's missing? What are we doing wrong? Why are we missing people even in a time where we talk so much more about seeking help? There isn't one answer that will "cure" suicide, but by looking inward at ourselves it's a step in the right direction.

The Goal I Didn't Set: Leading the Grief Journey

Michelle Rusk

I was laying practically upside down on the chair and ottoman by my pool, of all the silly things, trying to lighten up the underside of my hair. After taking biotin for three years, I've grown a second head of hair and I've spent the summer trying to get it all into one shade of blonde with Sun-In (not that I'm having much luck).

It had been a quiet Labor Day and I was working steadily through a stack of magazines that that alluded me. I picked up my phone randomly and found a message from one of my closest friends from my early teen years that she had lost her brother to suicide recently, the second of my friends from my adolescence to lose a sibling to suicide in the past two years. 

I am reminded of the song lyric, "these are the people who raised me" about a group of friends from the singer's adolescence. These two friends of mine who have been so instrumental in my life of who I am today, of the creativity that I share, and now sharing the pain that I never would have wished upon them– or anyone.

Never could I have predicted in a million years that anyone close to me would experience something similar to what I've been through, maybe because I've met so many other sibling survivors of suicide over the years that I didn't think it would include the friends from my life when my sister was still alive, the friends who then walked that road with me, an uncharted road of loss for anyone of us.

My road takes me forward but there are still ways I'm contributing, even when I don't write about them– the suicide article I'm writing for a national magazine, the two keynote conferences talks I have coming up. And for these two friends, leading the grief journey and hoping that in some way my experiences will bring them hope that they will survive their heart break, their sadness, and know that their siblings are still with them as they continue to live their lives.


The Secret No One Should Keep

Michelle Rusk

As former high school teacher and coach, there's something that always strikes me when school starts in the fall and we stumble upon National Suicide Prevention Week in September: the reminder to teens that no one should keep the secret of the suicidal friend.

Sometimes teens (and kids, too) share with each other what they're afraid to tell their parents or any other adult. Sometimes they think adults aren't aware because everyone is busy and more caught up with what's going on their phone rather than around them. 

Instead, teens might share in passing to friends that they are thinking of killing themselves. Whether they are or aren't isn't the question here, instead it's about making sure that secret isn't kept by the person who has become a keeper of it.

Teens should know to always reach out to an adult they respect and trust, that if they are suciidal it's okay to get help. And if a friend has confided in them, they should share the secret rather than  holding it inside and worrying what might happen to the friend.

They are surrounded by adults, maybe not their parents who are dropping them off at activities after school and picking them up and taking them home in time for dinner, homework, and bed, but also coaches and other mentors. In there somewhere is someone they respect and know will help.

Bottom line, teens don't always have to share with their parents what friends have told them. It's okay to reach outside that circle to another adult as long as the secret isn't kept. After all, the friend might be reaching out to the teen because he or she believes the cry for help will be heard by that person.

Mom's Decor Lessons

Michelle Rusk

I bought this mug for less than a dollar at an estate sale about a month ago and I haven't been able to move it from this spot on my desk. We didn't have the same exact mug (this one has FTD Flowers stamped on the bottom) but we had a similar one growing up. In the bathroom.

Mom decided at some point that the upstairs bathroom, the one us four kids shared, called "the hall bathroom" was going to have a rainbow theme. This was the late 1970s, long before our world in the Midwest associated rainbows with the gay movement. Rainbows were everywhere including all over my elementary school life– on back pockets of jeans, printed across t-shirts, stickers galore. And our bathroom.

She bought a rainbow shower curtain, made rainbow curtains with fabric she bought from a local fabric store, and filled the two-shelf wicker unit above the toilet with rainbow items like this mug (I also remember a rainbow bar of soap).

Mom was good about finding inexpensive but creative ways to decorate. We didn't go to garage sales or estate sales– that would come to me later in life when I moved to Albuquerque– garage sales were something we held at our house so Mom could unload things like crock pots and blenders that never got used (two items that I use often in my house). 

My intention was never to have my house filled with furniture from my childhood but it's worked out that way because as I got older, I began to see what great mid-century taste my mom had (and I probably should give my dad some credit here because they picked out the furniture together). The desk I'm working at right now is the kitchen table we ate off my entire life, bought when they built their first house in 1964. The couch I watch television on each night has had new cushions and been repainted but it's the one we sat on in the basement of the house. The coffee tables in the my living room are the pieces– also refinished– from our family room. In one of my guest rooms is the stereo, one day to be repurposed, but for now looking just fine in a corner of the room.

What I see now is how much she taught me, without outwardly teaching me, about having a sense of style and making something that's your own. I am lucky to have these pieces because they not only hold memories and fit well in my house, they are better made than much of what one will find in the market today.

Over time I've figured out how to merge the past with the present, putting my own spin on it, but I've only been able to do that because she taught me not to fear finding small, new pieces to make changes. Decorating isn't just about running out to the store and buying everything new. It's about working with you have and adding pieces that bring it together. It's a process to figure out how to do that as I have learned from my own experience. Then one day you realize it all fits. 

Including a rainbow mug.

The Forward Path

Michelle Rusk

I have been spending much of my thinking time this year devoted to understanding how I got where I am, to who I am, to what motivates me, and what inspires me. This morning while I was out walking Hattie, it struck me why I write the kind of fiction that I do– characters that take adverse circumstances and turn them into something positive– because that's how I've chosen to live my life. 

I've been a high school teacher, a track/cross country coach, a speaker, and you could say I've been an educator on many levels. I've watched people face many challenging circumstances. I've watched people set goals to move forward. What I find most interesting is that for all the self-help information out there, people still stumble, mostly by their own choosing.

I could make a list of the many challenging life experiences I've had, but what I can't exactly say is how I learned to hold my head high and move forward, to show the people who didn't support me, didn't like me, or whatever, that I would accomplish more than they could ever dream, that I would be the best that I could be, that I would never let them get me down.

I tend to believe I'm an old soul and while I am a late bloomer in many aspects of my life, I can look back and see where these lessons were being taught to me. Of course I didn't understand them then but as the years went by and I was faced with other situations, I could pull on those coping strategies and push myself forward.

This isn't to say that I didn't recoil for some time. Of course I did– every time something happens to us that changes our lives in some way (I'm talking particularly here when people leave our lives), it's a loss and we have to mourn that loss. But somehow in that rest period I allowed myself, my inspiration, motivation, and strength would return. Ultimately, I am stronger each time because I've used these building blocks of life experiences to grow.

Life isn't supposed to get us down even when it's easy to feel that way. I still believe that inside each of us an ember burns– even one that can be barely seen for some people–  but it's there. And while I do believe everything we do should be because it makes us happy, there's no reason not to use the experience of hurts from others to motivate us to go forward.

The Desert of Prayer

Michelle Rusk

I hadn't seen Fr. Gene, the priest with whom I do spiritual direction at the Norbertine Monastery here, since my surgery two months ago. When I met with him Friday, after talking about how the surgery had gone, he asked me if I had felt God with me. The answer was no but not for reasons that might be obvious.

The day before my surgery, Fr. Marc at our church had given me the anointing of the sick and it was the last piece to my pre-surgery puzzle. Not everyone knew I was having surgery, I mostly told the people in my immediate circle and those whom I knew would not just say they would pray for me but would actually do it. 

The morning of the surgery I went through my usual prayer routine and then I let it go. I knew that I had what I needed and I had to let the fly away. By the time we arrived at the hospital still in the early hours of the day, I was distracted but not in a bad way. I had done all I was supposed to. That was a good thing. There was no hurried, "Help me!" 

Yet when the surgery was over, and all had gone well, there was an emptiness regarding my spiritual life that would stay with me for several weeks. You could attribute it to the anesthesia and chemicals run through my body for the surgery and the fact that I didn't feel like myself for some time. I went to church several times, mostly to light candles, and felt distanced from the spiritual piece of me even though I returned to my prayer life. My prayers felt empty, God felt far away. It wasn't that I didn't feel God, it just felt like he and I were on different planets.

At some point in July, things started to slowly shift. I returned to writing and sewing even when I didn't feel that great. By the time I saw Fr. Gene on Friday I could explain that while I felt I had changed in more than a physical way since my surgery, the other pieces were still unfolding in my life and I wasn't sure how they would completely play out.

It was then that he explained to me that I had just traveled through the desert of prayer, not unusual for any time or point in one's life. We continue to pray even though we don't feel anything– and I have finally come to understand that often my prayers aren't answered when I ask for what I need but at different points, often when I least expect anything. 

Life is an ebb and flow of so much that doesn't make sense as we travel through it but– if we are open– there is much opened to us if we choose to keep the door cracked. Personally, I keep them wide open because I don't want to miss a thing. I might not get to go though them when I want to, yet suddenly something happens and I realize it's because that door has been left opened, that prayer given away, and there's the response right there in front of me.

My Daily Three Halves

Michelle Rusk

I didn't think much about it when I took I took this photo at the library Friday– I simply thought it was a fun photo with a Chelle Summer handbag. But then I began to think how in many ways this at least partially describes my day. 

I don't have one single project or job that makes up my day. My work is part time and around that I use the hours that I have left to work on the projects that I believe are most important to moving my life forward. It took me a long time to figure this out and some days are easier than others but there is a balance to what I need to accomplish each day.

While I don't talk about it much, my writing is still very important to me. However, along this path, I found that the more I discussed my writing on social media, the less I did of it. I also know that writing isn't really something you an share on instagram– it doesn't lend itself well to photos especially because it takes such a long time to create on manuscript. I have writing goals and I try to devote as early morning hours as I can to them before my day gets away from me.

The sewing and creating part of my life is the one I'm sharing most these days, particularly because it does lend itself well to photos. But these projects also tend to be smaller and I can throw out process photos as well. It's also the part of my day that I sometimes don't get enough of because other items come up that I have to tend to.

Still, the daily goal Monday through Friday is to divide my time as much as I can by three which allows me not just what I need to accomplish (for the job that pays the bills) but also feeds my creative soul that I hope one day will pay the bills instead.

A Place for Longing

Michelle Rusk

Sometimes we find that we long for a person, a place, another time. Or we might long to have a different job, a different experience. The list goes on. Then sometimes longing for whatever it is takes over our minds and we feel a sadness that we're not where we want to be, we're not with who want to be with, or we're not experiencing what we want to. 

What we often don't realize is that maybe that feeling of longing is a nudge to take our life in a different direction or to take it forward in another way. It's not meant to be something that stifles us and yet that's what it usually does.

Maybe we won't ever be with someone certain but instead it's the universe's way of saying, "Hey! Take this opportunity to make yourself the best that you can be. One day maybe that person will come into your life or maybe– just maybe– I have someone out there who is better for you!" 

If we long for something to be different in our lives, then how can we make that change? Breaking big goals into small goals will help us get there but there is always a place to make that first step. 

Longing doesn't have to be negative. We can use longing as a stepping stone to something new, to creating new opportunity in our lives. It's like longing is poking us to make change. We want to live happy, meaningful, productive lives. Every moment of our lives won't feel that way– that's reality– but there is often much we can do send it forth that way.

What would I say?

Michelle Rusk

For the past few months I have been working on a project that takes place in the 1980s. While I'm not ready to reveal what it is that I'm doing, I somewhere stumbled on this photo of me taken in June 1986, when I finished eighth grade and prepared to start high school.

I originally had planned to simply post the photo partly because some people knew me in those days while other people have little idea of what my teen years were like. But in the time that the photo sat on my desk and I've been working on this project, it made wonder something, if I could go back and talk to the fourteen year old me, what would I say to her?

Many times I have heard people talk about how if they got a chance to go back in time all the advice they would give their younger selves to make life different, perhaps easier, perhaps more fun. 

I spent some days contemplating this and during that time I also began to think about how I might have lived those years and my college years differently. I can't remember exactly what I had been reading at the time but there was a part of me that maybe wondered if I hadn't accomplished enough or taken advantage of enough opportunities. 

This was the part where I had to shake my head and remind myself that– especially in light of my sister's suicide when I was twenty-one and in the midst of my college years– of everything I had done. I had taken just about every opportunity that either I sought out or had landed in my lap and run with it. Sure, I could have gone in different directions but it was just that, different directions. I doubt I would have accomplished more, instead just different things.

That's when I realized that I wouldn't tell the younger me in that photo anything. Yes, I can give you a laundry list of what I could have done differently, what I should have done differently, but I know that had I told her any of that, it would have meant she experienced life differently and that wouldn't put me in the place that I'm at now. It doesn't mean that her life would be any better or worse, just not the one that I'm reflecting on and living now.

At each day passing I find myself filled with an immense awareness of how my life has led me to where I stand now. While there are still never enough hours in the day for everything that I want to do, I can see that everything is as it's supposed to be, that I'm where I'm supposed to be in the journey. I just need to keep running with not just the oportunities that come my way but the thoughts and ideas that stream through me, too.

Forging Forward

Michelle Rusk

It's hard to believe that it's July. While I am healing well from my surgery a month ago to remove my uterus because of fibroids, there's a part of me that feels like I lost an entire month. And yet I know that's not true but it's because I'm not where I had hoped to be as we traveled from June into July.

I felt as if most of June was spent just trying to keep on top of my life and there was very little room to move forward. There were days– because anesthesia and I aren't friends and clearly never will be– that I found myself overwhelmed at the idea of multitasking. I longed to feel normal again, to feel not just inspired (which isn't usually a problem) but to do something about feeling inspired. 

When I had the surgery, it was like I had hit the pause button on my life but what I realized a few weeks later when I began to feel the effects of anesthesia that I had to press pause again. The 4th of July is always a time when I think about what I haven't accomplished yet now that summer is already half over (after all, in my world, Greg will return to school and soccer as soon as August begins).

I've hit the play button again but I'm doing it with a gusto to put in the forefront of what's important to me to do before Labor Day comes running by and heads off into the sunset. It's not different than any other time of life. Time is fleeting, life is fleeting. We only get one shot. Take it and run with it.

I know I am.

Life Realities

Michelle Rusk

While the suicide of Kate Spade hit me hard because she had been such a big inspiration in a very challenging point of my life (when I divorced and was redefining my life and where the new journey would take me), what doesn't surprise me is the seemingly befuddleness (if that's not a word, it is now) that I'm reading and hearing from people of the recent high-profile suicides. I could give a list of reasons why this doesn't surprise me (although frustrates me because I'm not seeing true change happen) but there are two major messages I've had on my soap box for several years now and they continue to fall on deaf ears. So here they are again.

It's okay to feel bad.

Life is hard. I'll be the first to admit that I learned a long time ago (even before my sister's death and probably from my dad) that life wouldn't be perfect or easy. I believe this came from his own struggle with finding happiness and peace. I'm sure there moments after drinking when this was said in sarcasm but I believe mostly he was saying, "Suck it up and keep moving forward. You won't be flying high on clouds daily." 

Most people have suicidal thoughts at one time or another. That doesn't mean they have any intention of killing themselves. It means that they used these thoughts as escapism. It means they had a bad day or a bad week or longer. It means a whole bunch of things. And instead of standing there in the darkness with them, allowing them to feel the pain wash over so it can go away (like a storm standing by that needs to drop rain before the sun can come back out), we tell them they have a great life and they have no reason to feel bad.

Let people feel bad. There are days when I say to Greg, "I don't feel so hopeful today." It happens occasionally and I find ways to work through it, but sometimes saying it Greg– or writing it in my journal– is enough to help the feelings dissipate and I can move on. I remember once that my high school journalism teacher had said of my sister Denise and I– she had Denise in English class– "The difference between you two is that when you have a bad day, you bounce back. She doesn't."

While I'm not saying this is a complete answer to more complicated issues around mental health, I wonder if maybe she didn't feel she had a place to express her feelings and I did. I was able to go forward while she stood there stuck in place. It might have been that everyone wanted her to feel good and tried to shower her with messages of love that she couldn't feel while I was in the corner writing all my crazy feelings into a journal and then running through them later that afternoon.

And that's the second point– when I was moving on from the field of suicidology I saw so much work in warning signs and so little on the reasons to live. I still believe we need to spend more time asking people what keeps them here and how can we help them reach inside themselves and find them and use them.

Late yesterday evening I was doing something in the kitchen when I heard the old tv show "The Jeffersons" on the tv in the next room. Quite honestly, I was enjoying seeing the clothes and furnishing of the mid-seventies. And the comfort of the thought of watching the show in another life (in syndication mostly, around dinnertime). I thought of Kate Spade who was not quite ten years older than me and I wondered about those things in her life that had brought her that kind of happiness to think about, the very things that I know she wasn't thinking about that morning two weeks ago when she died.

And then I wondered, where do dreams get lost? 

Kate Spade: The Initial Inspiration for Chelle Summer

Michelle Rusk

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.

Surgery in the Rearview Mirror: Reconciling Who I am Supposed to Be

Michelle Rusk

Three years ago I was supposed to have ablation (where the uterus lining is burned out) which meant any inkling of having kids was over. However, because there was a golf-ball sized fibroid in my uterus that didn't show up on the ultrasound and because the sodium levels in my body were rising too high after the large fibroid was removed, my doctor didn't have enough time for the ablation. However, he believed that was causing most of my problems so I went on with my life with few problems, happy that I had taken care of it.

This past January I knew something had changed and we gave it a few months to see if it was a freak thing or not. An ultrasound in late April proved it wasn't– two golf-ball sized fibroids this time. My choices were to do nothing or to have my uterus removed. Because then it made sense that I was always running to the bathroom (the fibroids were pushing on my bladder), I opted to have the uterus removed this past Friday. It turned out I made the right decision because my uterus was full of fibroids and my doctor told me that once he saw all the fibroids in my uterus that it explained all my symptoms. 

But this surgery wasn't just about the physical problems I was having. I found out on a Saturday evening what my options were and on Sunday morning I was driving to early mass when I asked God to please help me learn what I'm supposed to from this experience (a blog I had recently written about) so I could move on from it.

To say that it's been a crazy journey is an understatement. 

I never had children– by choice because of certain things in my life, one being that I believe children deserve a lot of time and with the goals and dreams I have, I didn't believe I could give them that. I also was married before and because we divorced and a slew of other things had happened, it wouldn't have been a good situation if we'd had kids. I've had a parade of children come through my life but they never stay for any length of time. I seem to be just part of their journey for a short period and then they can go on. 

I know many women who had their uteruses removed but they all had had children while I was only birthing books, my goal and dream since I was six years old. There has been a lot of sadness over this but deep down I never really saw myself having kids. And yet now part of this journey is completely letting aspect go of that aspect of my life. Yet another loss for me to find hope.

Finally, my parents died when I was 35 and 43 and because they were older when they had my younger sister and I, I'm not willing to take the chance of not being around later as I sometimes feel parentless now (I have lots of "second parents" but we all know it's not the same without our "real" parents). I know they are with me although in a different way.

My life has been filled with loss and I realized that the way children have come through my life is much like life was in Naperville growing up. It was a very corporate transient town and I made friends only to have them move away four years later. It's a lot of work for me to keep grasping hope in the face of loss but that's why I choose to do work that makes me happy– creating through many avenues.

But there was another huge factor to this that most people don't know– I was deathly scared of spending the night in a hospital. I had successfully managed to avoid that since I was three and had a traumatic experience having my right eye muscle tightened. Several months ago I found my baby book where my mom had written it was traumatic for me and that I'd been allergic to the anesthesia (which then also explained why I had a rash after my surgery three years ago). Today there is no one to ask about the surgery because everyone involved (my parents, the doctor, my grandfather who was a charter doctor at that hospital) have died. Once more I had find my way through a maze of questions knowing I'll never really get the answers.

I can't explain how rattled the idea of having surgery and this time spending the night in the hospital left me. I felt as if I were facing one of my greatest fears in life. Somehow I did it but it didn't come without feeling constantly wound up and more tears than I would like to admit to. 

And yet something else came to play in this journey– my writing. I wrote 100 pages in May and I have finished the rough draft of a manuscript. So while there were times when I couldn't stop thinking about things like catheters and the fear of more surprises from my uterus as has happened before, I somehow managed to refocus myself to write 100 pages (and recover fourteen patio cushions). 

This current writing doesn't relate to what I was going through; it was all sorts of creative stuff for my manuscripts (yes, there is more than one) but it felt that because I had left that door open of asking to be open, God could let the writing through. In the face of my fear, it didn't paralyze me, instead it helped me push forward because I also hope that now that I have completely shut the door on having children, a new door will open, one that's been waiting for that to happen.

I believe everything happens to us for a reason– it's one huge way that allows me to go forward in the face of loss and change– and we are put right where we're supposed to be even though much of what happens to us doesn't make sense at the time it happens. I believe this is just one part of the journey that helps me continue traveling on this road of who I'm supposed to be.

Clinging to Hope

Michelle Rusk

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.

Hitting the Reset Button

Michelle Rusk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing the Question

Michelle Rusk

Why? Why? Why?

I have spent quite a bit of my life asking that question probably about everything challenging that's happened to me. And quite honestly it's never gotten me very far other than being a way to set loose my frustration over various events and issues that I've had no control over (other than my own reaction).

Finally, I've come to realize that while I understand the importance of asking the "why" question– especially when you've been faced with a traumatic loss such as a suicide, it's part of the grief journey– I do believe there comes a point that we need to stop asking it.

I will always say that when something happens to you, you need to let all the emotions erupt. Let them flow much like a volcano, otherwise they get tangled inside you and they'll manifest in some other way (usually as a physical illness). It's also part of traveling the full journey of life events, we experience the good, the bad, and the otherwise.

However, asking "why" only gets you so far and it does little propel you forward past the event . Finally, I realized that I needed to start asking, "What do I need to learn from this so I can move forward and past what has happened?"

We might not get the answer the first time we ask– especially because we might think we're listening but really we still caught up in frustration of what's happening– yet we should keep asking because eventually the answers will be there.

Remember, they might not be obvious, they especially might not be what you think they will be. But the answers will come if you keep focused on moving forward. After all, life is one big journey made up of small journeys and it's in those small journeys that we form the building blocks that make us stronger and make life more meaningful.

If we ask the right question. And listen.

Letters to God

Michelle Rusk

The stack in the photo is my life from 1986 until almost today (the past few days are in a brand new notebook that I forgot to include). I started journaling as a requirement in eighth grade English and I continued doing it that summer in the top book– bound by my Grandpa Linn who worked for the University of Chicago Press. After that, I always used leftover notebooks from classes.

I wrote daily for years and at some point it dropped off although recently I picked it back up because I was reminded that once I heard that all my writings are prayers to God. It makes sense to me part of the reason I wrote on my journal was to use it as a sounding board to let go of something. In my life I have found that writing is form of finding my way through something.  I just never realized that by putting it on paper I also was giving God a chance to see it as well.

I don't often reread what I wrote unless I want to see my reflections on a certain life event. And some days I write just a few lines, maybe about something in particular that is challenging me, or something with which I need help. Whatever it is, it's no different for me than actually being in a traditional form of prayer. But as someone who has loved to write since I learned to write, it now seems logical that even though I didn't feel close to God particularly for the first half of my life, I actually was writing to him all along.

And I as I continue to journey forward in my life, I see where and how he continues to respond, sometimes in my writing, too.


Choosing What to Share

Michelle Rusk

I spent a good part of yesterday working on two paintings (when I wasn't folding laundry and that I did because Greg was gratefully painting the trim on the outside of the house so I didn't think it was fair that he did that and fold the laundry). At some point I took a break from painting and I picked up my phone to check social media. But before I hit the button to take it out of sleep mode, I looked at the phone, wondered if I really needed to look at anything, and ended up putting it back on the counter where I had left it previously. Then I returned to my painting.

I am the first to admit that social media has played a huge part of taking my messages forward, particularly in my days working to help the suicide bereaved. I realize that if you lost someone to suicide today, you will have a drastically different experience than me because you can easily connect to people via the internet whereas it took me years to find other bereaved siblings. And now my messages have changed to sharing how I've moved forward through my losses by using my creativity, at least the visually creative aspects of my life (sewing, painting, cooking, etc).

However, I also know there is a line for me of what I choose to share, when I choose to share it, and how much time I spend looking at it.

While it might seem that what I create visually is how I spend the bulk of my time, the reality is that my writing is still what's most important to me. It obviously takes longer for me to share that so in the meantime (as I wrote about balancing goals last week), I share the visually creative items. I also found out in my early Facebook years that if I shared what I was writing, I never finished it.

I stopped talking about my writing because I realized it was something I have to keep to myself until it's completed. Most people in my daily circle of life don't know what I'm working on for the same reason. And yet there are many times I so badly want to share things but I know the time isn't right so I let it go (and probably post a photo of Lilly instead!).

When I went for my last spiritual direction visit with Fr. Gene, at the Norbertine Abbey here, one of things I told him was how I find that I'm not supposed to always share the journey that I'm on, that instead I'm supposed to wait until it's over when I can look back at the road and reflect more on it. It's only then that I can see what it is about my journey that would be most meaningful for others to read about.

And in that same vein, the Wall Street Journal recently published an article about letter writing. One line stood out for me where the woman said that even though we seemingly share more of our lives by constantly posting on social media, we aren't really sharing of ourselves like we did writing letters.

Writing letters was one way that I honed my writing skills early and now I'm finding that as I've pulled back in sharing some aspects of my journey, they are instead finding places in my manuscripts. Once again, it's about balance and deciding what I should share now and what I should save for later, to be shared in another way as part of a bigger project.