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“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” (Isak Dinesen)

For reasons I don’t fully understand, suicide is shrouded in secrecy. Like other secrets, can’t we refuse to keep the secret? How can we ever heal if we hide?

Last week, a friend of mine jumped off a downtown high-rise building to end her mental torture and free herself from the inner hell she’d lived for the past few years. My friend Mary and I would often go many months and not see or talk to one another. It was just that kind of friendship. Sometimes distant, still ongoing, and long term.

I first met her about twenty years ago, right before she was pregnant with her first and only child. She left behind many friends and acquaintances, and a nineteen-year-old daughter, a play date for my oldest girl when they were both little. Their sleep-overs at ages five and nine meant on any given morning they’d have kid-baked pizza for breakfast and afterwards in Mary’s back yard, sky high trampoline flights and landings closer to the spine-breaking metal spring edges than I could bear to watch. These memories stand out for me as much as Mary’s ending.

Her suicide carved the deepest of pain in my soul yet somehow in this last week since her death, I still feel her presence as if butterflies, fairies, and elves float around. Kooky concept I know but I’d rather sense this mystical in the air than other images left behind.

Over time I’ve lost several friends and also a family member to suicide. I don’t know the kind of torture and prison they must have lived, for my instinct drives me to look up and glance around when I’m in the dark. I ache for anyone who loses hope. So far it’s never happened to me. Maybe it’s because of my extreme beginnings in prison but as long as I can look up, around, and beyond myself, then I can get up. I hope it stays that way but I’ve learned there’s no guarantee. When the options are insanity, institution, or death, who knows what we’ll choose until we’re there.

What’s helped me a little is to learn about “the secret.” I’ve learned it goes way back. The earliest recorded suicide was 1046 BC when Shang Zhou, the last king of the Shang Dynasty of China, set fire to his palace and remained inside. Suicide touches a lot of us, with

• An estimated 4.5 million survivors in this country. (AAS)

Mary, at least, is out of her living hell but what about the others down the road who will make the same choice?

  • There are twice as many deaths due to suicide than HIV/AIDS. • An average of one person dies by suicide every 16.2 minutes. (CDC, AAS)
  • There are four male suicides for every female suicide. (CDC, AAS)
  • There are an estimated 8 to 25 attempted suicides to 1 completion.
  • 1 in 65,000 children, ages 10 to 14, commit suicide each year.
  • The strongest risk factor for suicide is depression.

As a several-times-over survivor left after suicide, not much helps me grapple with it other than talking, and also silence and private meditation, and a wide umbrella of friends and family. Mary still lives in a part of me. Mary, a name I now feel in my bones, which I’d never thought much about before this. It was my given middle name at birth, Madlyn Mary, before my adoption when I became Deborah Kate as a toddler.

Besides a personal association with her name, Mary left me two unexpected legacies. One, a coincidence. Or maybe not. Today I dug around looking for a file on a shelf packed with miscellaneous folders and I came across the box where I’d stored my pen and ink greeting card line, which I created many years ago and since discontinued. Dancers in Tutus. Somehow I know Mary wouldn’t mind my tutus along side grief. The coincidence lives in the two I found, mourning, and secrecy.

The second legacy she left to me has altered my world. My outlook on life changed from the second I learned of her suicide. I have no idea how this happened. I’m not the most patient person sometimes, but since her death, nothing annoys me. Not one person, place, or thing can spark any anger or irritation from me right now. This might change but for now my priorities about what matters have shifted.

Along with the deepest of grief and anguish about how Mary’s life ended, I’m left with an interior calm I can’t explain other than she handed it off for me to carry. No “What if…” and “If only…” Only mourning, and doing what I know to survive. Write, dream, draw, talk, and seek silence.

I don’t need answers about anything right now. My friend doesn’t either. I honor her freedom from her living hell. May her memory be for a blessing.

Already I’ve received a blessing. I haven’t felt one teeny bit of criticism about anything or anyone from the second I learned of her death. Not one.

I hope it lasts.

The Veiled Lady

  Veiled Lady, 19th c. marble bust, Raffaello Monti

For  years I’ve loved the illusions and magic in this sculpture, one solid piece of marble. Whenever and wherever I can, I visit this Veiled Lady.

She’s inspired my story, Except for the Sea,  micro-fiction posted here on Fictionaut .

I’d love to read your comments on the story. Thanks for reading.

Tutu Brain Power

They say games increase brain power, so why not tutu games? And besides, you know about the research related to play and fun, right? Fun boosts morale and self-esteem, not that any of us have a problem with these but just in case, have a little fun once in a while.

I’ve created several tutu games … not because I have so much extra time while I write my memoir book proposal. Truth is, I need the distraction since I’m near completion. I think I need a tutu chapter in my memoir about the battle of tough vs tutu.

You can read more about The Tutu Project on Huffington Post in my latest article, Who Says Tough Girls Can’t Wear Tutus?

Have fun with these two tutu games, and expect more to come. Click each game, print and play. Let me know how it goes, and if you want a more “advanced” word find and more complex mazes.

Enjoy, all in the name of tutu brain powerword search tutu

play games tutu life balance

tutu brain power

The unPrison Project: Freedom on the Inside

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is my journey now, to walk out of silence and secrecy and use my voice. Not always easy for one like myself who spent many years silent, sometimes mute, and always with a secret held from the world: my prison birth, one of many secrets, many stigmas which I thought made me less than others.

Not anymore though. I’ve come to believe that we create other prisons for ourselves and my story just happens to be one of extremes. I’m hard at work on writing my memoir so that I can share my journey with you.

Fast forward a few years.

I’m now in high gear for another prison tour, but then, when aren’t I? I’ve named my prison tours The unPrison Project

If I don’t have 5-10 women’s prisons waiting for me to come and speak, then at least this many call every few months to say, “When can you visit? Our women want you here.”

When I get this call, my heart turns a flip. Yes, I love to go into prisons and work my hardest to offer any inspiration I’m able. I work hard to let the women know they are valuable human beings, who they are, just as they are. Then I suggest, why not consider making a few changes for betterment? I share my story as evidence of how a person such as myself can transform from a gun-toting angry con artist drug addict into… whatever I am today. Not the former, that’s for sure.

It took me a few years, more like all my life, to get the secret out that I was born in a prison. Then, it seems as soon as I admit this to the world — and myself, most of all — the calls start for me to speak about my journey, from prison birth into some years of Wild Mind, aka drugs, crime, and violence. Now my Wild Mind is all about creativity.

At long last I quit resisting what seemed like my destiny — to speak in prisons and other places and share my story and offer what I’ve learned, how I  overcame a multiple of challenges, some still with me today. More on this later.

Still once in a while, I think: is my life’s work really about going into prison after prison after prison?

It doesn’t seem to matter what I think.

This just in. I can resist all I want. The Universe doesn’t pay attention to my resistance.

I accept the calling. At least for today. In that, two prison requested I speak for Women’s History Month this March. Bedford Hills Prison in NY, and CIW ( the California Institution for Women.)

For more about this, you can watch this video, sort of Deborah-in-a-nutshell, more like a 5-minute memoir, a few references to the gory details, and more references to what’s hopeful and possible. I’m still at work on my memoir to get you the full palette of gory details and even  more about the climb up into this life of light that I’m so lucky to live today.

State and federal budgets rarely provide for a budget line item to bring in a speaker.

Please support The unPrison Project and donate what you are able. Any amount, and easy via Paypal. Thank you!

I’ll report here, on Facebook, and Twitter about my progress and also write while on the tour to keep everyone in the loop.

Thank you always for your words of encouragement, your support, and for your belief in my vision and work. ♥

The Mother Who Waited

The week of Thanksgiving, and I pause to recall the five days of solitude I took years ago at a retreat run by Franciscan nuns. I also joined them in their vow of silence for those days.

I committed myself to frequent silent retreats then, to write with more seriousness, by now relieved to end my long-lasting rebellion against my parents and their careers, both English professors and writers.

This particular retreat, in the dead of winter in Wisconsin woods, landed me in a one-room cabin heated by a wood stove. I’m a city girl and had to learn how to keep the wood dry and ready to stoke the fire. I loved the challenge, and rather than write that week, I meditated about my mother and our battle of a relationship.

This is the mother who endured a few decades of my rejection as I reminded her she wasn’t my “real” mother. This is the mother whom I plotted to gas to death, and also the woman whose face my fist grazed before it punctured sheet rock, my every bone shattered in my right hand.

This is the mother who stood by me no matter what, the mother who waited, as did my father, for me to come out the other side of hate, fury, and pain.

My parents adopted me around three or four from foster care. Before foster care I’d spent a year with my other mother in prison. When authorities removed me around age one, I unconsciously held out for over twenty-five years for my prison mother to “come get me,” held out without knowing it.

Fast forward through a disturbed childhood and a more troubled life as a teen and adult, a life of drugs, crime, and violence. When my mother was in her 70s and I was thirty-something, I finally “hired” her as my Mother. At last the girl my parents adopted, turned into their daughter.

This is the mother I never mention on-line. I don’t Tweet about her, or blog with stories about us (the way I do about my prison mother.) Not exactly a Facebook status update kind of woman.

At last I learned to release the past, to accept what I imagined for years would never happen — my return to live in prison with my other mother. At last I opened my heart to the woman who loved me day in and day out, even when, and probably especially when, I’d been estranged and absent for years.

Along with acceptance, gratitude replaced anger. Compassion and forgiveness healed our wounds. I learned the art of forgiving. I forgave my mothers, forgave myself.  The journey to achieve our redemption, my own and ours as a family, is the story of the memoir I’m working on.

For the two years up until this retreat, almost every weekend I flew to visit my mother, now in chemo treatments for ovarian cancer. I had to catch up for a lot of years. We’d sit and read magazines, watch TV, and nap together. I massaged her swollen feet, puffed from cancer now in her liver. We talked, something new for us.

I flew in on the Thanksgiving after my silent retreat in the Wisconsin woods and my mother sat, almost a pile of bones, in her wheelchair through the whole dinner. She scolded me when I tried to force feed her whipped cream. Some hours after I arrived that day, right after our family feast, my older brother wheeled her back to bed. She died in my hands, my father and brother on the other side of her hospital bed.

I’m grateful for our victory, the six or so years of our mother-daughterness. Without this, I’d be a different person, not a woman speaking in prisons, not a writer. Probably not a mother myself. She’s the woman who taught me to see humor even in the darkest of moments.

I’m convinced my mother waited until Thanksgiving, waited for my arrival, to die. Every Thanksgiving week I honor her, my mother’s stamina, her maternal endurance to wait for me for thirty years to accept her.

Sometimes attachment takes a long time. This is the woman I call Mother.

R & R: Rebound and Recovery

We all need to replenish and renew ourselves. This is a working list for ways I know  to nurture a depleted mind, body, and spirit. I’ll continue to add as I think of things.

What did I leave out?





Cranial sacral therapy

Therapy (who hasn’t put some therapist’s kids through college?)

Beach, sand, sun, ocean

Korean salt massage

Thai massage

Good food

Healing ritual in water

Work out



What else?

These aren’t  necessarily in any particular order and if they can all happen in the sun on a beach, even better!


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