Check out this blog by Emily D’Annunzio, which outlines her involvement with the YouSpoke Dance and Art Show,”Not Alone” on 03/04/12:

Current Collaboration with YouSpoke

I am 13. It happened a year ago, while I was 12. I have been through what many people my age dread even thinking about. My father attempted to commit suicide. Suicide; yes you heard correctly. You may have also noticed the attempted part.  My father did not succeed at taking his own life.  Yet instead he challenged himself with some of the toughest times a person could create.  He ruined his face, the bullet went right through the roof of his mouth, and shattered in his nose. His tongue-gone, his teeth- only a few could be saved, his jaw-broken to the point of no return. My heart-shattered-I did not know how to handle what life has just thrown at me. No one wrote me an instruction book on my life. Just as I thought I would never meet the real man my father was, this woke him up in a way that astonished me. I would like to believe his suicide attempt was a cry for help, although he nearly took his life. After this accident, I met my father again. He was a complete different man, with a whole new outlook on life, with different goals and dreams.

There were months to his recovery, 6 to be exact. I finally felt like I was living again. My father was always around me, supporting all my choices, and picking me up when I was down.

April 14, 2010 started off as any normal Wednesday. Mom sent me off to school, I continued to succeed in my academics.. I socialized with the best of friends… Until in Spanish class the phone rang, and I was ordered down to the office. As I rounded the corner, I saw my mom and grandfather talking with the assistant, who was a close family friend. My heart raced, and I had no idea what was going on because this wasn’t normal.  My grandpa patted me on the back, and through his tears he told me to get my stuff, and hurry, dad was in the hospital. I did as I was told. I yelled to my teachers I was leaving, because my dad was being rushed to the hospital. I choked hard, but the tears kept pursuing through. What is going on?!?!?!? I was so angry, scared, and sad at the same time. When I got in the car mom reached for my hand, and told me she didn’t think dad was going to make it. WHY?! WHAT?! I needed to scream, holler, deny it. We got to hospital, after what seemed like hours. All of my family was there, crying, balling. Everyone came up to me to hug me. I started crying. I knew he was gone. Just. Like. That. NO!

I had never cried so very much in one day as I had on April 14th. Dad passed away in his sleep. Peacefully. When mom noticed he wasn’t breathing, she called 911, and performed CPR on the man she loved most. She tried, she tried to revive him.

I never thought I would ever be normal again. I didn’t think I would ever laugh, or smile, or enjoy life anymore. After 6 more months, I have proved myself wrong. I have come to believe he was taken from me because he was still in pain, and the greater power believed cure was not meant to be. I had complained there was no time to say goodbyes, but I never say goodbye, but rather see you soon, because I know we will always meet again.

I know my dad will always be watching over me, and protect me, because thats what dad’s do. This has been the hardest thing I will ever live through at my age, but I believe I have proved that if someone like me can get through it, anyone can. Everyone can find the power to live through whatever they please. The grieving is brutal, and can tear you down for a while, but I believe I have found a stronger person in myself. I believe I can live through anything, until the greater power thinks it is time for me to meet my father again. I believe suicide is the wrong answer for everyone, and I am positive anyone can find it in themselves to retrieve help.

05.20.11

May 20, 2011

Tonight . . . a dance in four parts. It is healing and celebratory in nature and means unique things to each of the dancers involved.

To me, this is a physical work of art that represents the spectrum of emotions that I’ve experienced since losing my father to suicide.

When the music cues for this performance I am immediately brought back to the moment of dark discovery– my dad, my hero, had departed without a goodbye. No note, no ‘best of luck, I’ll be thinking of you’, nothing. I was left with profound feelings of anger, confusion, and betrayal.

Then, as the dance transitions, we come to a crucial turning point in my life –the realization that I needed to make a conscious decision to heal, and that the world did not end with my father’s death. This was a time of gathered courage, strength, and determination, and it is depicted through the celebratory movement of African dance.

Then, we enter phase III, the metamorphosis period . . . the time where I began to flourish in my healing. Through ballet and contemporary dance we portray optimism, acceptance, and growth. We as artists embody the healing components that kept me moving forward as I came to terms with my father’s death.

Lastly, we find ourselves in a unified moment of enlightenment. This is a celebration of life, a commitment to expressing ourselves so we can feel better, no matter how difficult this journey may be.

This is me remembering my father for who he was and not how he left us.

This is me keeping my father alive through our love of dance.

This is me staying committed to the healing of others through the beauty that is YOUSPOKE.

I invite you to come watch this meaningful piece at the Revamped Fashion Show tonight at the Bridgeport Arts Center. Doors open at 7:00, show begins at 9:00. Proceeds benefit EarthShare.org. Learn more at: http://www.earthshare-illinois.org/revamped/

In July of 2008, the man I had referred to as my “other half”, killed himself.  I’ve written about this in past blogs here.  Mike and I were no longer together when he killed himself.  We had been writing to each other just the week prior, about seeing each other again.  When Mike killed himself, I changed.  I learned things I could not have learned any other way.  I had no idea what grieving was before he did this.  I believe that sharing these stories will help us heal and that is why I am writing today. What follows is something I wrote last year, about a year after Mike’s death, coincidentally.  I came across this on my computer today and I think it’s very important part of this story to share

As it happens, it’s a year later:

I’ve finished, I am done. I’ve finished grieving.  I have found myself; I have heard myself saying this more than once.  And I know it can sound abrupt, but I want to be honest about how this all feels.

Bare with me, perhaps I should preface, as a sort of protection…being “done” doesn’t mean Mike is forgotten or unloved by me or didn’t mean anything to me.  What it means to me is I’ve stopped beating myself up about this.  I’ve let go of my unhealthy attachment to him.  I’ve let go of all the expectations I had for us.  I’ve stopped imagining he will show up.  I’ve stopped trying to figure out what I could have done.  I’ve stopped imagining ending up with him, as I thought we were supposed to.

Most importantly, I’ve stopped believing I’ve lost my other half and have come to this beautiful place where I believe that we complete ourselves and that romantic notion that somebody else completes us/is our other half can actually harm us.  Believing we are incomplete without somebody else does ourselves a huge disservice and leads to codependence and attachment and expectations and pain. Since I was 15 years old, I believed Mike and I were supposed end up together and the affect that has had on my life is an unhealthy one. I spent a long time feeling that I was waiting for my other half to come back, for us to finish.  That left me in a place where it was hard to feel whole, for a long time.  And when mike died it left me lost and wondering what it all had ever meant and how was I supposed to go on without him.

Sharing your life with somebody else should be a beautiful addition to you life; a bonus.  Not something that is imperative to your existing happily.  Not a necessity for survival.

I’ve stopped believing he and I were supposed to be together.  He’s not here, so, apparently not.  I’ve stopped believing that the dogs (jack and tommy) are mike’s dogs.  They are my dogs now.  I’ve stopped attaching them to him.  I used to get very upset if I thought about re-homing them; I would feel like I was leaving mike all over again and/ or like I was letting him down and failing.  Yes, they were his.  They aren’t anymore.  They are my dogs and this is my life, as I’m living it.  I had been feeling like I was taking care of somebody else’s dogs and there was always a sad connection that I felt towards them.  That sad connection had disappeared, that interim feeling I was having with them, “should I keep them shouldn’t I?” and all the emotion that I was attaching to that are gone.

I feel that I can love completely, without feeling like a part of me is missing, is with him and unavailable for loving somebody else completely.  I have learned to let go in a way that I did not know existed.  I have tried to project to this point over the past year and I had no idea this is where I would be.  (and it is just a coincidence that this all comes about a year later.  I came to all of this about 2 months ago).  I tried to imagine what I would feel like, moving on.  Every time I tried I just got upset and felt like I was abandoning Mike again (did I ever abandon him?  Those were the tortures I was putting myself through).   Then, finally one day as I was driving to work, I felt this wave of awareness come over me.  A wave of wholeness.  A wave of feeling better than I had ever felt.  Yes, ever.  I had been enjoying my job in a way that was new, and wonderful.  I was more present than I felt I had ever been.  I realized that the feeling was a feeling of wholeness.  I felt amazing.  I felt strong, I felt complete and ok with me being me and wholly responsible for being me and all I do.  I felt happy.  I felt free.  I felt like I had done a good thing.  And I waited, after realizing all that, to cry.  I waited to feel bad, because I had realized that I had let go of mike.  I had let go of that attachment.  I didn’t cry.  It felt right and good.  It felt like he understood and that it was good and he was happy for me.  It was as if I’d been set free of living a life with a blanket of sadness over me.

I already feel it, my need to defend the idea with beauty.  I want to assure anybody who is not here yet, that this does not mean I am not still sad that Mike committed suicide, or that I am simply “over it”.  I believe I have come through it, I have accepted what has happened and have found a way to live through it.  It feels like I’ve been given some sort of grace.  I have come out of the fog and the torture.  It is something hard to describe, but it is good in all the right ways, good in a way that allows me to live, learning from every moment, loving him and thanking him for all he gave me.

And I want to be sure to tell you that this didn’t just come to me.  I really believe that I worked hard at this.  I really believe that the way through grief and mourning is to face it.  It is to look at it and admit what is happening.  I feel like I picked up every piece of me and looked at it and asked why.  I believe that I allowed myself all the feelings I had. I allowed myself to break down and cry on the floor helplessly.  I believe we have to get that out even if we don’t know why it’s come over us at this moment.  Often, it’s through the crying that we gain our breath again, that we gain a little information.  We are letting some of the pain out, and it needs to get out of us.

Admit that you are in a fog.

Admit that sometimes it feels like you’ve just been punched in the gut.

Admit that sometimes you just find yourself standing somewhere not knowing how to step in any direction.

Admit it all to yourself.

Admit that it hurts you entirely.

Admit that you feel lost and confused.

Admit that you have no idea what to do now or in the future.

And ask yourself why.  Ask yourself why you feel all these feelings, and be honest, even when it may hurt and you may be embarrassed.  If you’re not honest with yourself it will be harder to get through this.  And don’t feel bad that you are trying to get through this.  Remember that getting through grief and mourning does not mean you are trying to forget what happened or that you are trying to forget the person you have lost.  It is figuring out how to live.

I could not have imagined this point.  And I hope you can get here.  It is a place of peace not of forgetting.

Love

Kory

YouSpoke.org would like to thank the author of this beautiful blog for letting us share it with our readers. To check out the original website in which this blog was posted, visit: http://www.jurgennation.com.

In Memories, In Finality

 

I struggled with my words, tripping and slamming into walls. “You know he loved you, right? And that in doing what he did the last thing he wanted was to hurt you?” She nodded yes, my youngest cousin with whom I’m closest, her lower eyelids barely preventing waterfalls of tears. I don’t know the right things to say. I’m struck by the disconcerting fact I cannot articulate anything I feel – everything is just a color, a feeling, a hybrid of the two, names of feelings for which the English language is woefully inadequate. I feel grey and red and cornflower blue. Muted, while frenzied at my core. I’m a fraud, I thought to myself. And I repeated that in my head over and over and over again.

I’m a fraud.

How can I be in the funeral room and stand among the grieving when I have attempted suicide, to get out of my smothering, exhausting life? It makes me feel fake somehow to grieve, like I’m the devil’s advocate for committing suicide. That my past actions have somehow exempted me from grieving for loved ones who made that choice for themselves.

“Maybe he just honestly felt so depressed that he thought he was doing the right thing for everyone by leaving,” I offered hesitantly, stumbling yet again as words fell out of my mouth.

Fraud. I’m cribbing from my own handbook.

**

The more I fretted that I was a fraud in there, the more I felt it seep into my bone marrow – it should have been me, not him. Not someone who brought so much joy to so many people, who was young enough where he could do anything he wanted.

Being suicidal is a bit like an addiction in that you may recover completely, but you’ll always be a part of that group, you’ll always remember, you’ll never be immune to thoughts in the future, of what They call “ideation.”

It strikes me that I’m an honorary member of many clubs in which I’d rather not have membership. It’s like making a political donation. You give something once and they fucking follow you everywhere, forever relentless in their reminders that there are things larger than you, things more important. Don’t forget me, the fliers shout through printed, carefully chosen language.

Suicide is similar in its insistence, just less articulate.

How am I not a fraud when I (sometimes?) view suicide differently than others, when, for me, it really was the best option to stop the daily struggle to maintain myself? That I, when thinking those thoughts, considered it brave and courageous to make such a decision – it’s not an easy action to carry out. But I’ve been on the other side of suicide before, too. I have grieved, cried, tormented myself with guilty thoughts that I could have done something if I’d been given the chance. I *was* given the chance once, when I was 18 and my close friend and college dorm suitemate dropped by my room one night for no apparent reason. I was studying, my back to the door. “Hey,” she said from the doorway, “what’re you doing?” “Studying,” I replied, likely cursing our shared math class and the TA who taught us.

And I never fucking turned around.

I never turned my head or body to look at her. Her voice was normal; I’m a pretty good detector of sadness and pain and I didn’t hear anything to suggest she was in a state. FAIL. I either did not sense it or I ignored it stupidly, but I didn’t smell the stink of her determination to end her life when she closed the door behind her. FAIL.

I never looked at her.

Fail.

I’ll never know whether she had tears streaking down her face, experiencing her pain by expressions and not vocally. I’ll never know if I could have prevented her suicide by inviting her in companionably, closing my book to watch a movie or go on a Sour Patch Kids run together. I will never know, because I never bothered to look.

It haunts me. I was given the chance and I failed.

A friend later dropped by after I had given up my valiant attempt to study. We watched stand-up comedy and clutched our stomachs with laughter as Jessica worked out the details. We were laughing when she knotted her sash and kicked the chair out from under her feet. It seems that such intent should be detectable somehow. Instead, she died hanging from our bathroom door, willing herself for long, painful minutes to stop fighting for breath as she suffocated.

I could have stopped it, at least for the night. I might have helped her live another day. Would it have made a difference? I don’t know.

But I was given the chance and I failed.

**

I was in the bathroom, my head in my hands, talking to Boyfriend. “I need to come home,” I said shakily, internally picking up on a curious buzzing feeling of uselessness. I was being molested by unwelcome, unanticipated thoughts that made my skin crawl with revulsion and my stomach in anxiety. I knew they were wrong and invading a space entirely my own, a space that was supposed to be free and safe, but a strange, soothing feeling washed over me, quieting my worries. Ephiphanies are epiphanies, regardless of whether they’re so-called healthy or not. And mine were not at all helpful or healthy as I sat there anxiously in the funeral home bathroom.

But no one could argue I didn’t have a point, that, while my thought may be stupid and unhealthy and NOT an option, my supporting thesis claim was not inaccurate.

It consumes me and yet remains unspeakable. But I feel the buzzing. I cannot say it out loud, but there’s a dais and microphone on the stage of my brain. It is embarrassing to me that I am part of something unspeakable or distateful in a her life. I have failed her, the voice booms, echoing through my brain’s auditorium. I must die now.

**

I didn’t leave Michigan early. This trip home wasn’t about me and it had never been about me. It was about Jacob, about family, about providing strength if I could. It was simply about being there, to experience in rapid, flashing memories of his life. To sop up the love and being-ness of certain members of my family.

It’s not about me, I keep reminding myself. What can I take from it, what can I give back? The morning air trembled with moisture as I exited the final church service quietly, a bit early so as to surround myself with quiet, to avoid the heaviness of saying goodbyes to my cousins, however temporary it may be. I went through the motions of returning my rental car, checking my baggage and presenting my boarding pass under a translucent veil of solemnity and quietude, and my plane cleaved through the grey sky as it transported me back to California, back to life. I wished for a thunderstorm, for turbulence to rock the plane, just so I could feel something. Wrong of me, really, but I was numb and I needed to be reminded of feeling, of life.

I got my feeling back when I walked toward Boyfriend, tears slipping free and trailing down my face toward my heart, and into his arms.

I wish for nothing more fervently than for Jacob to have reminded himself that he was forgetting how to feel, that the end to his numbness was not his life, but on the other side of a hug. And while I don’t necessarily believe in any sort of afterlife, I do hope he was there in spirit to understand how much he was loved, how much he’d be missed. It would have shocked the hell out of him. I can imagine his shy blush as realization flooded him. And he’d have joked and averted his eyes shyly to the ground, but he would have known.

And I hope he does. The pain may have been unbearable, but there is always a way out other than death. It may come in flashes or intermittently, but it’s there long enough to prove that life is more than pain and discontent. It’s about feeling, and he forgot.

Some of us forget to remember. And so life comes grinding to a pause and dark comes too soon.

 

The YouSpoke Unity Dance  – By Stefanie

Today is a special day for YouSpoke. Today is our first dance performance. . . the first one of many.

The piece is entitled “Unity”, and it is dedicated to my father, whom I lost to suicide in 2006. Growing up, my dad always nurtured my love for dance. As it flourished into a serious passion, it became something that he and I were able to celebrate together throughout the years. I value this time and experience with him so much.

After the loss of my father, it became difficult for me to reflect on the dance performances that I knew he would miss. There are so many moments I wanted him to be present for. This inspired me to create the YouSpoke Unity Dance—a piece so perfectly catered to my father, that his spirit and love would be inevitably felt during the performance on some level. It uses the upper right hand corner of the stage as a focal point, as this is the place where my dad used to stand with his video camera during my childhood recitals. It features a Simon and Garfunkel song that I know my father loved, and elaborates on an idea that he so fully supported—unity. This concept will be expressed through dancers of very distinct styles that come together as one at the end.

This dance has manifested into something profoundly healing for me. It is my way of continuing the celebration of dance with my father, nearly 4 years after his death. I feel honored to have found such a talented, passionate group of dancers that have helped turn this vision into a reality. I feel thankful for the enlightenment that has come from this project and dedicated to replicating this feeling for others. If you feel inspired to submit your story, whether it be art, music, dance, literature, textile, and beyond, visit http://www.youspoke.org!

This dance will be presented at the start of the EarthShare.org Revamped Fashion and Art show TONIGHT at Salvage One located at 1840 w. Hubbard St. Chicago, IL. Purchase tickets and find out more about the event here: http://www.fanfueled.com/revamped

List of dancers and choreographers (in order of appearance):

Stefanie Cary

Nicholas Moore – hip hop

Melissa Johnson – contemporary and gospel

Annie Christianson – modern

Ajay Bedi – tap

Nico Rubio – tap

Lauren Parets – African

Special thanks to:

Jenni Guarascio

Jaclyn Jones and the Indigo Studio — http://www.theindigostudio.com

Kathleen Sullivan

Rich and Kathy Brooks

Dee Moore

Steven Hill

Lori Crosthwait

Travis Rime Brooks

Kory Salajka

UPDATE: Check out a video of this dance performance here: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=549400694528&ref=mf

Dear Dad – By Stefanie

March 11, 2010

Dear Dad,

It has been one of those rough days, and it’s moments like these when I find myself missing you the most. Times where I would have gone to you for guidance, for assistance, and your comforting knowledge.

And so I feel compelled to write you, to see if I can guide myself to a better place, letting your ideals lead the way.

I wonder sometimes, and hope, that you are watching me. Watching me devote my days, my time, and my energy to YouSpoke. It is interesting when people ask me about the driving force behind this organization. Not because I am unaware of the answer, but because the answer is so profound that I find it difficult to articulate.

And then it comes to me in waves.

That this is fueled by my growing anxiety about the suicide rate. And that I want more than anything, for people to remember you for the unbelievable man that you were…and not the way you left us. Then I realize how addicted I am to this feeling of helping people, and providing them an outlet to let it all out…an outlet that you never had. And then I realize how aligned my heart feels since starting this, and how I will stop at nothing until I pursue this full-time, so I can continue this path to healing that I’ve created for myself that has brought me to an entirely new level of enlightenment.

The driving force behind YouSpoke is all this rolled into one.

I want to thank you for making this little girl feel empowered. She turned into a confident young woman because of it, and this enabled her to start YouSpoke. You are the beauty in the breakdown, and I thank you for living your life for your family, and for me.

In fact, you lived your life so selflessly, I can see how it would be hard to fathom how you left us in a way that some consider selfish. But I want you to know that this is not the way I look at you, and this is certainly not the way I look at people who have attempted and survived. It makes me realize instead, that depression is an incredibly consuming, difficult, dark place that we must try harder to understand.

I know this because you wanted to be there. You wanted to see me become a competent, successful, independent adult. I know you wanted to watch me meet the man of my dreams and the see the family we created, so you could play alligator with your grandkids and hear them laugh the way I did so long ago. You wanted to be there. And I know you tried.

But I understand that the pain in your heart and your brain became too much for you to handle…and that you felt you had exhausted your resources. And I want you to know that I am trying to build new ones for you, Dad, and for others who are standing in your shoes.

Let me help you show others that this isn’t an easy pain. That good people we love face the most difficult of times. I know it was hard for you to talk about, and I often wonder if this is why you didn’t leave a note. Because you had never talked about the struggle before, why and how could you put it on paper and stare at it straight in the eye before you did it?

I want you to know that I forgive you, Dad, because saying that I didn’t would be like saying I didn’t understand that you were in pain. And in all honesty, I never felt that forgiveness was necessary in the first place. One looks for forgiveness when someone has done them wrong, and you did the exact opposite.

I will look depression straight in the eye for you. I will show people that this pain is real. It is complex, it is profound, and it stole you away from me. I am not mad at you, I am mad at the condition that left me to pick up the pieces without a father.

The way you exited is not your legacy. The way you lived your life is. Your actions were your message. One that I recognize and appreciate more than you know. You have given me a gift that is the mission that backs this organization.

And for this, I thank you.

Love,

Stefanie

http://www.youspoke.org

Read more about Stefanie’s story and watch her video at: http://www.youspoke.org/founder.html

If you have been affected by suicide and would like to share your story, visit: http://www.youspoke.org/contact_form.php