by Madeline Sharples
I wake at 6 and get ready to go to the gym. I negotiate the huge and blinding sun as I drive east. I work out on the elliptical trainer and lift some weights and then go on to the grocery store. By this time it is sunny–much clearer and cooler than usual in southern California at this time of the year.
I have a lot on my plate so I rush home to eat breakfast, shower, and change. Then I go to my office. The stickie reminders on my desktop overwhelm me. I need to finish two website articles, write a poem for Robert Lee Brewer’s November Poem A Day Chapbook Challenge, and do my regular marketing and blogging work.
Today I also work as a volunteer administrator on Facebook’s Putting a Face on Suicide (PAFOS) page from noon until 8:00 pm. Though I feel good about doing this volunteer job, it takes a toll on my emotions.
PAFOS, a memorial page, provides education and comfort to survivors by creating personal tribute pages featuring their loved ones. Its objective is to collect 99 photos of people who have died by suicide for each day of the year. As of this writing PAFOS has 1750 faces and is on Day 18 of our 365-day project. PAFOS also creates commemorative posters and a video for each day. My son Paul is part of the Day 4 video. His music plays in the background.
My job is to either Like or respond to every comment posted. Though I’m still able to do my writing work while volunteering, I check back every few minutes so I can respond quickly. I need to keep minding the store.
I’m overcome by all the young faces on the PAFOS page–a 15-year old girl, and boys 18, 21, 16, 17, and 19. A few older faces are also there. It’s either the anniversary of their death or their birthday, each date lovingly remembered by PAFOS staff. While I look at these faces, I can’t help wondering what makes these people take their lives. How do the young ones even know how to do it?
I also have another challenge. Someone leaves a message that she would just like to talk. Unfortunately that’s not our job. I explain I’m a survivor and volunteer, not a therapist. I suggest, if she is in trouble or distress, that she contact the National Hope Line Network 1-800 784-2433 (SUICIDE). She thanks me. I still worry about her.
My son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 21, and he took his life at 27. Ever since I’ve worked to remember him and help erase the stigma of mental illness and suicide. I also find writing a way to heal. I turned to writing during his illness. A few years after his suicide I created a memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On (Dream of Things, 2012), in hopes that others will find it useful in surviving their own tragedies.
Madeline is the author of Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide (Dream of Things) and Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press). She co-edited The Great American Poetry Show and wrote poetry for The Emerging Goddess photography book.