Anatomy of a breakdown about to happen

I’ve always been an emotional person but this depression is a first. It is emotional torture so powerful it takes on shape and form yet is still effervescent and fleeting. Impossible to grasp. You cannot tear it apart, throw it away or smash it against a concrete wall.

I feel stifled. My breath is insufficient to nourish me. My throat is dry and painful and my eyes feel like they are permanently swollen. My tears hide under my lids but come flowing unbidden and without warning. They flow after my chest feels a tightness, a constriction that caused my stomach to churn as if I had ingested something rotten and have to retch. The sadness feels like a second skin, with an adhesive so strong I feel like rubbing myself raw to clean myself. Sometimes I scratch my face and head so vigorously I feel like I am going to literally tear myself apart. The pain is soothing compared to the embrace of frustration. Its like an itch that you cannot scratch but this time it is a pain you cannot soothe.

There are days when I have to lie down on the cold tiles of my bathroom floor because it soothes the searing heat of my body. Sometimes I feel like tearing my hair out because it feels tangible at least, something concrete to grasp, something real to battle. My muscles complain as if I’ve been working out for hours even if all I’ve done was try unsuccessfully to get some sleep. I feel stretched out like an overtuned guitar string.

In the mornings, my heart pounds frantically with a terror I cannot explain. It is so strong I shoot straight up and jump out of bed because I fear that  if I stayed lying down it would choke me. I need to shake my extremities to get rid of the pins and needles that send warnings of their arrival. There is a pressure in my chest that grows. It is like air pushing down on my lungs instead of through them. I could almost hear screaming in my head, there is that incessant droning sound.

My eyes feel so tired and heavy lidded all the time. I look out through them with difficulty. It feels like a white veil has been put over them and sometimes things take awhile before they register before me. I have to blink and close my eyes several times before the blinding brightness goes away. And when it does, I feel the stickiness left by tears that I must have shed even while I was asleep. And when I look in the mirror, the image is distorted. I can see every single flaw in my face, the unflattering curves and bulges on my bloated body and I feel like collapsing inward. I am constantly on the verge of falling asleep but don’t really get to sleep. I know because after 5 hours of sleep I wake up feeling even  more tired than ever.

My taste buds seem dead. It is tiresome to even eat but I do anyway. I eat a lot because it breaks the monotony. Something else that enters and exits my body other than poisonous thoughts. But everything tastes the same.

Everything feels wrong. It feels like my body is not my own and I watch things hovering beside, behind or above myself. I fidget a lot and pace, as if moving would shake off the choking sadness the way I could shoo away a pestering fly. The thoughts come in and out of my head and they irritate me.  Sometimes that is exactly how it feels, like an insect fluttering about me with that grating whirring sound of little wings. If I could I would put my brain in my hands and handle it like I would a ball of clay, pounding it tightly until it was packed, solid and hard then throw it through a sheet of tempered glass.

I am a writer but my words fail me. One must experience to understand. Am I going insane I wonder? I do not know. I know nothing. I feel everything. I want it desperately to stop.

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Am I in danger of suicide? — Joiner’s Theory

There are very important things this article discusses which I can absolutely relate to right now: The feeling of thwarted belongingness, perceived burdensomeness and the desire to just end it all (see Dead Man Walking posted on this blog). What a very educational and interesting read.

This article can be found originally published on: http://www.psychotherapybrownbag.com/psychotherapy_brown_bag_a/2009/03/joiners-interpersonalpsychological-theory-of-suicidal-behavior.html

Joiner’s interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior

M.Anestis Photoby Michael D. Anestis, M.S.

There are few, if any, more troubling phenomena in the world than suicide.  Recent data suggests that suicide is the 11th leading cause of death overall in the United States, 8th for males and 16th for females (American Association of Suicidology, 2005).  Each year, approximately 30,000 individuals die by suicide in the United States alone, which computes to an approximate total of 80 per day and one every 18 minutes.  For every completion, there are approximately 25 attempts, meaning there are approximately 750,000 suicide attempts annually in the United States (American Association of Suicidology, 2005).  This heart-breaking phenomenon reflects a significant amount of suffering among those who complete suicide and leaves in its wake an unfathomable number of mourners.

Given the magnitude of the situation, the need for a theory capable of providing a framework within which to understand suicide and to develop systematic interventions would be impossible to overstate. In 2005, Thomas Joiner of Florida State University put forth such a theory, the interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior.  The theory states that, in order to die by suicide, an individual must develop high levels of three specific variables: a sense of thwarted belongingness, a perception of functioning as a burden on others, and the acquired capability for suicide.  The first two variables, thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness, comprise the desire for suicide.

Evidence indicates that, when individuals die by suicide, they often feel disconnected from others.  This feeling can reflect a sense on the part of the individuals that nobody truly cares about them or, alternatively, it can reflect a sense that, while others might care, nobody can relate to them and understand their situation.  Both sensations leave individuals feeling intolerably isolated.  In reality, individuals who die by suicide rarely, if ever, truly lack others who care about them, but the dysfunctional automatic thoughts that are characteristic of mental illness skew the individuals’ perceptions of the world around them.  The second description – the sense on the part of some individuals that, while others care, they can not relate to their experience – is a potential partial explanation for suicidality in returning veterans who re-enter civilian life after the experience of war.  In such cases, individuals can feel estranged from others who did not experience the same overwhelming events, regardless of how close they had been prior to its occurrence.

Perceived burdensomeness, like thwarted belongingness, is generally driven by distorted automatic thoughts.  Individuals experiencing elevations in this variable have the sense that they are not making any worthwhile contributions to the world around them.  They not only feel as though they are not assets, but in fact believe that they are liabilities and that others’ lives would be improved if they were to disappear.  Again, such beliefs are rarely, if ever, true, but they are nonetheless a common cognitive tendency on the part of individuals after experiencing particular types of events.  Losing a job, missing a promotion, transitioning into retirement, and failing a course are several examples of types of experiences that could prompt a sense of burdensomeness.

Both components of the desire for suicide are suitable targets for therapeutic interventions.  Cognitive behavioral approaches such asbehavioral activation and cognitive restructuring can help such individuals increase the amount of positive experiences they have while diminishing the tendency to view their environment through distorted lenses.  Setting specific, graded goals with clearly defined paths towards accomplishing them can serve to increase an individual’s sense of self-sufficiency.  An empathic and scientifically-minded therapist can help to make individuals feel as though somebody is listening and there are reasons to seek a better outcome.

A somewhat more difficult point for intervention and a less familiar concept to the world at large is Joiner’s (2005) concept of the acquired capability for suicide.  The interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior argues that, in order to enact lethal self-harm, an individual must habituate to physical pain and the fear of death.  Self-preservation is our natural instinct and this instinct is extremely strong.  In order to overcome this, an individual must become accustomed to pain and fear and be able to tolerate them in significantly higher than average doses.  This process of habituation occurs through repeated exposure to painful and provocative events.

Just as a loud, unexpected noise is frightening when first heard, but becomes less noticeable when it occurs repeatedly, physical pain becomes less pronounced over time when our body becomes accustomed to the experience.  A large collection of empirical studies have provided compelling evidence supporting this point.  For example, Nock and Prinstein (2005) found that individuals who frequently self-injure experience pain analgesia – the absence of pain – during self-injury episodes.  Additionally, a lack of pain during self-injury episodes has been shown to predict an individual’s number of lifetime suicide attempts (Nock, Gordon, Joiner, Lloyd-Richardson, & Prinstein, 2006).  Orbach, Mikulincer, King, Cohen, and Stein (1997) developed a particularly compelling study that expanded further upon this idea.  They found that individuals admitted to an emergency room immediately following a suicide attempt exhibited higher pain threshold (when they first feel pain) and tolerance (when pain becomes too much to bear) than did individuals admitted to that same emergency room following accidental injuries.  Here, not only did the experience of pain appear to impact the manner in which pain was perceived, but the effect was stronger when individuals had intentionally self-inflicted pain.  In another study, Orbach and colleagues (1996) found that individuals with multiple past suicide attempts could tolerate more pain than could individuals with zero or one past suicide attempt.

These findings are all consistent with Joiner’s (2005) idea that individuals must acquire the capability for suicide before a completed attempt is likely to occur.  This explains, in part, why there are so many attempts for every completion – most individuals who attempt have the desire, but not the capability for, suicide.  Repeated attempts, however, contribute to an individual’s acquired capability.  Additionally, experiences that involve witnessing pain and violence, even in the absence of physical pain, are believed to be capable of contributing to the acquired capability, which might explain why physicians in emergency room settings and soldiers who witness injuries but are not hurt themselves are vulnerable to suicidal behavior.

Recently, in addition to the findings mentioned above, a series of studies have been undertaken that have directly measured the acquired capability for suicide using a self-report measure entitled the Acquired Capability for Suicide Scale (Bender, Gordon, & Joiner, 2007).  Van Orden, Witte, Gordon, Bender, and Joiner (2008) found that the number of previously experienced painful and provocative events predicted individuals’ levels of the acquired capability.  Additionally, individuals with higher scores on the measure of the acquired capability demonstrated higher levels of physiological pain tolerance and had a greater number of prior suicide attempts.

So why are theories such as Joiner’s (2005) interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior so important?  By understanding the underlying mechanisms that leave individual’s vulnerable to suicide, researchers and clinicians can design optimally effective treatment interventions that aim to quickly diminish the symptoms that contribute to risk.  Additionally, understanding the variables that increase risk allows for systematic risk assessments that take the guess work out of determining whether an individual is in imminent danger.  Also, by clarifying the true nature of suicide risk, we can hopefully diminish the pervasive reach of misinformation on this topic.  Suicide, as it turns out, does not need to be a mysterious and poorly understood phenomenon.  It is capable of being understood through research just like any other health concern and the efforts put forth by the researchers mentioned above and countless others contributing to this cause will serve to bring clarity and hope to a behavior that has troubled mankind since its inception.

Dead Man Walking

Today marks 2 months from the day my life was pulled out from under me. I expected to be somewhere else by now. I feel I’ve put in the requisite effort. But I am still running on the same treadmill and I am going nowhere.

Loneliness has set in. And it is a loneliness that words fail to describe. There are people around me but I don’t really feel like I belong anywhere anymore. I feel disjointed and out of place. I’ve told others as much. I referred to it as feeling like an appendage to other people’s lives. Beau and I had a life of our own. We had each other and to me that was what I owned, my personal treasure. I’ve written about the guilt that I feel about what my presence reminds people of.  My presence prevents people from moving on with their lives, his family especially, because my holding on to them for support inadvertently pulls them down to where I am — frozen in place, frozen in time, frozen in pain. I don’t say anything new. My loss of belonging heightens my guilt at being a burden to others. Beau was the only one who vowed before God to care for me and now he has left me in the middle of nowhere, forcing others who come along to let me hitchhike on their lives.

Beau abandons me repeatedly. I do not mean only that the event of his suicide repeats itself in my mind daily but that even his memory has begun to fade from my consciousness. The image in my mind, even aided by hundreds of photos of him, does not come close to the reality of him. Others may say this is actually a good thing, that it is a sign that I am letting go. But it is not. Thinking of him, in a twisted way, allows me to escape my own pain. The first few weeks after his passing I was saved from thinking of myself by all the activity I put into understanding what happened to Beau. Now I am faced with the task of understanding myself and I’ve begun to feel that this is the real tragedy here. I am in the now. I live, if breathing and eating alone constitutes living. I have become a living, breathing nightmare.

I’ve seem to have lost all sense of hope. I’ve heard it all of course and I know them to be true; all the loving reminders to look at the glass half full rather than empty, to count my blessings, to learn from the suffering of others. I have no defense and I will not even try to explain why I am unable to do all that. My reality is simply different and my looking glass is stained. Maybe I am not even trying hard enough, after all, I am my own responsibility. Perhaps I do not even want to get better.

I’ve begun to feel cursed instead of gifted. I should be thanking God for the ability to process and analyze and understand, but my truth is that is burdens me. To know what I should do, what is right for survival, to see where I am at and why I am there, it provides little comfort. My intellect pushes me to search incessantly for answers that are not there. It drives me the way a cruel rider whips a horse to run faster. I wish I could stop but I gallop at ever increasing speed. Stubborness is the psychedelic drug that feeds the intellectual frenzy. I have been given expert advice that my writing is counter productive to my healing. But it relieves the pressure in my brain that threatens my sanity. When I write and read what I write it gives me the assurance of rationality. And in that, I see a small glimmer of hope for self preservation. I only hope I don’t manage to create a rational excuse for self destruction. Otherwise I would whip myself until I am foaming in the mouth and drop dead from pure exhaustion.

The loss of belonging has made me double in on myself and what a powerful other curse it is. I feel overly self centered and it shames me.

Even writing is so self-indulgent isn’t it? To write and expect to be read, to impose my thoughts and feelings and publish it for the world to see is such an egotistic exercise. I write on this blog to feel connected without having to actually be with people. The keyboard shields me from my shame. It also shields me from rejection. It keeps me from sending messages to individual people who may feel obliged to answer, and it shields me from the sensitivity and pain that I feel when those I do reach out to do not reply.

I feel I am not even uniquely special to my therapists. No matter that I actually pay them to pay attention to me. If I feel like others perceive me to be egregious and notoriously flagrant in my grief, to them I am nothing exceptional. I am a commonplace specimen that falls into one of many neatly labeled sterile boxes. To them I am a statistic, and nobody really cares about individual numbers. It is only taken as a whole that such numbers have significance. Alone I am insignificant.

Those of you who read this may at this point begin to judge me. You may wish to shake me to my senses and tell me to look up and smell the roses. I am my own worst critic. I fear judgment so much I sentence myself even before anyone has actually said anything. And each time I do that I know I doom myself to my own squalid prison. How ironic that I write and share making myself vulnerable to the world. It is me saying with certainty that I know you judge me and I write to defend myself. The truth is I judge myself. Judgment is a vile, maleficent thing, especially when coupled with paranoia. And what escape is there from ourselves? Aye, a question again without a palatable answer.

I do not like myself very much. I’ve always known that about myself. Even when I impudently announce it to the world, in the hopes that someone would give me a palliative from the pain of self loathing, it is hidden by the “gifts” that were given to me by some power that strangely disappears during moments when the shade of ugliness overshadows all beauty. Not that anybody really cares. The world does not revolve around me. Everything is just insecurity, and arrogance, and vanity. Oh, the list of noxious adjectives goes on. The stench of my self-pity is nauseating. It is a slick, black, sticky tar that transfers like a virus to anyone who dares to get too near. Beau washed me clean and now he has gone and I am back swimming in it.

I’ve been told to learn how to let go. I’ve told them I do not know what that means. I do not know how to do it. But this bare-faced nakedness my writing expresses, this is as raw as it gets. It is despair. It is hopelessness. It is terror. I fear.

I seem to have started walking on my own green mile. I am a dead man walking.


Alone after the home run

I thought we would have learned how to live with each other now, this alien band of brothers that have come to visit. I knew it would be an extended stay but now I fear my guests are bent on overstaying my forced welcome. I’ve tried to get to know them all, they who have come knocking at my door. Grief, Depression, Guilt and Loneliness. They’ve hung around for so long I swear their faces had begun to morph into one another. I can hardly tell them apart and it hardly mattered, given that they’ve all wrought the same devastation on my once peaceful spirit. I’ve engaged with them, maniacally so, trying to understand how they’ve managed to convince my husband that he had nothing to live for. As the days passed I’ve come to understand the conversation they had with Beau and where it brought him. But the longer they stay with me I am beginning to dread where I would be, if, when and how I manage to push them to leave.

I’ve let myself go because I could not let him go. I drink too much coffee, smoke too much, exercise too little. I eat nothing but indulgent poison — the most luxurious of desserts, laden with gargantuan amounts of sugar, chocolate and butter; evil disguised in swirls of happy colored icing, beautiful bronze baked goodies that promise familiar highs, only to be sunk back into an even more dismal abyss when the sugar rush disappears. I need a haircut. I’ve moved back in with the ‘rents and need to start organizing the mess of my life which I had brought with me. I am on a deadline, the time I’ve borrowed from sympathetic employers was running out too fast for comfort and I seem to be on pause. Indeed, time waits for no one and life is in an ironic rush. What does it matter that life as I knew it had changed drastically and without warning?

In the beginning I had gotten on that same train of mad, frantic activity. And everyone was there, cheering from the bleachers as I rushed to cover all the bases. And I did just that.

I tried to understand what happened. I researched, read, consulted, conversed and concluded. Beau was a victim of suicide. The end result of a long fight with major depression likely caused by a genetic predisposition. He could have possibly been bi-polar or had borderline personality disorder; complicated by the trauma of losing a father at an age when he was only beginning to learn about the relationship of “cause and effect”. Freud had discovered it, the construct of “learned helplessness” where a child, unable to process the traumatic event, learns that there are things that happen in this world that are beyond our control and therefore, when challenges come up, no matter how small, he would be powerless to fight it. He told me once before that he had watched his father burn. A child watching a cremation is a nightmarish tableau. Whether it had actually happened is of no consequence. For Beau, it was his reality. Had he agreed to seek professional help he would have discovered he was suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome as well. My own therapists say it would have been a textbook diagnosis, what with the death happening the day after his birthday and the constant reminder of his father’s ashes in the family home. There were other reminders, other questions, too private to share, that had left wounds that festered. He had grown into the body of a man and yet, somewhere inside him, an 11 year old boy continued to stare into the flames.

Apparently there had been prior attempts to take his life before I had even met him, usually triggered by a relationship gone awry. He feared rejection and magnified abandonment, attaching all sense of hope to relationships that he perceived in his mind to be all that he had in his life. I had saved him twice he said, having talked him through the demise of two of his past romances. He had always threatened to end his life at the end of his relationships. I had always thought he meant I had saved him figuratively. Now I know better, too late.

Even if I had known his threats to be true, I would have thought marriage would have put an end to the suicide ideations. After all, the promise of forever keeps the threat of abandonment at bay. And for all intents and purposes, as far as I knew, we had been the giddiest kids on the marriage block. But I suppose all marriages have its own challenges, and the monster that lay dormant inside him waited for the opportunity to rear its ugly head.

I had always envied him for his freedom of spirit. I was jealous that he had built a life of simplicity doing what he loved. But even before we had gotten married he had always talked about wanting to do something else, to find his fortunes elsewhere and to keep climbing as a hobby rather than his career. It had been frustrating for him, and I knew that the conservative man that he truly was, he wanted to prove that he could provide for me somewhat. There was never any pressure on this front, at least not outwardly, and not that I was consciously aware of, although I know that sometimes circumstance itself could create them. I had tried to control the situation at any sign of insecurity, although if there were any, he was such master at keeping them from me that despite my vigilance, it was only in the last three months of his life that I recognized any discontent. I had supported him by asking him to simply pursue what he was passionate about. There was much trial and error but in the end he had still hoped against hope that he could make something out of the sport that he loved. I believe it was his failure to make this happen that was the trigger for his last and final episode.

He loved bouldering. And the competition which had been named after him was his pride and joy. He had attempted to put up the event a year into our marriage. It had pushed through but at great cost. He had taken it hard, given that I had to step in to bail him out. He declared he was done with the competition, done with climbing in general and moved on. or so I thought. A year after he announced he was going to try to put the event up again and against my better judgment, I supported him once again. This time, despite his constant assurances that the postponements and delays with sponsorship contracts were just minor snags, the event did not push through. We argued about it for a day or two and I thought that was the end of it. But apparently he had again talked to some people about taking his life out of shame and embarrassment. I thought he had gotten over that particular hill, he had decided to embark on a new challenge — to get certified as a personal trainer. But now I know this only added to the weight he carried. He had put all his hope in that basket, telling me repeatedly during those days when his frustration and stress were poisoning our marriage that it was all he had going for him. I tried to refocus his thinking and emotions into positive things, to the dreams we had created together for the future, but he was incapable of looking forward and insisted on collapsing into the past. In retrospect I know now that nothing I said would have made a difference. Unless he was given the medication he needed, he was spiraling out of control towards his own self destruction.

You would think that all of the above would absolve me of my guilt. It does not. A psychiatrist would describe him as a textbook case and any diligent researcher armed with an internet connection and a laptop would agree. The illness is what killed him. It was not anybody’s fault. He was psychologically disturbed and did not have the skills to deal with life’s challenges. Cerebrally it all makes a lot of sense. But as his wife, I look at what happened with different lenses. And what a different story my heart can see.

I remember a man excited for a future. I remember a husband narcissistically proud of a happy marriage. I remember conversations about the children we were going to raise, the trips we were going to take, the long bucket list of things we needed to do. My heart cannot accept what all the research and professional consultations have logically confirmed. I have hit a home run with all the bases loaded. But now the bleachers are empty, the game is over. Everyone has gone on to their homes and life continues on. The numbers on my blog have dwindled. The hundreds of likes and comments of support on my Facebook page have all but disappeared. Very few ask how I am anymore. And I sit in the ball park alone, enveloped in the blackness left by the shut down of the stadium lights.

They wait for me, my unwanted guests. Grief, Depression, Guilt and Loneliness. They took my husband away and now they await me. I am beginning to dread where I would be after all is said and done. Because as of now I am back on first base. Bleachers empty. Alone after a cerebral home run that has done nothing to heal the pain in my heart. Beau is gone. Game over.

Heartbreak Hill

It was called heartbreak hill for a reason, that stretch of road on the fringes of the university campus. For neophytes, the short steep uphill was a cardiovascular nightmare. Only pride and willpower could overcome the pounding of the heart and shortness of breath that initiate the novice runner into a route more challenging than the academic oval where most recreational runners can be found. It had been quite some time since I’ve last been here. And now that I am, my heart began to break for an entirely different reason. Heartbreak hill marks the beginning of a route my late husband Beau used to run with me. And now, a few weeks after his death, for the first time, I run the route without him.

It is the first training day of Team Beau, as we had taken to calling our motley crew. The jock that he was, his brothers and I, along with the rest of his family had committed to honor his memory by continuing his athletic pursuits. Now, it was the members of his family that flanked me.

Chey led the pack, being the most experienced and most consistent runner among us. He shared Beau’s love of the outdoors. In fact, it was through his influence that Beau found his greatest passion, rock climbing. With Beau gone I ran behind Chey now, allowing him to set the pace. I remembered it was my husband who had convinced his brother to start running. Chey reminds me the most of Beau because they really did enjoy the same things — climbing, running, boxing.  I can see my husband in his brother’s face, the same proud nose, the same lash-fringed eyes, the same rise and fall of mellow notes when they speak. Only a few weeks ago, Chey finished his first full marathon. In the agonizing last kilometers, when pushing to reach the finish line felt more torturous rather than victorious, Chey told me he remembered something Beau used to say: Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever. That buoyed him to the finish, a finish that made Beau inordinately proud. Beau had immediately sent a message to his eldest brother Mao, telling him to congratulate Chey for the accomplishment and pushing him to join next year’s race. Beau’s pain must have been unimaginable. It must have felt permanent. Otherwise, he would never have quit.

Through the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of Mao, now running beside me, training for that marathon he promised Beau he would finish. Despite Beau having lived with his eldest brother before we got married, I never really got to know Mao very well before all this happened. And by his own admission, there were many things about Beau that he didn’t know either. It must be the gaps in our knowledge that bonded us now, as we ran beside each other. In the days following Beau’s death I had always felt an urge to tell Mao about our marriage, about how much we loved each other, about the truth of the days preceding his death that led his baby brother back into the family home. I yearned to help him gain some understanding, a look into his brother’s psyche to help him accept the tragedy that happened a few steps away from the threshold of his home. His eyes remain haunted. It makes me shudder to think of the images permanently etched behind them. He carries the burden of being the first in the family to see Beau’s lynched body.

I could never have survived seeing him dead on that stairwell. If one believed in God, then perhaps that was the one favor that he gave me. His family, they share my pain. I feel guilty that they had to be the ones to find him, that my husband was not with me during his last moments. There are many things I regret, many things I wish I could have done or not have done that I know will haunt me for the rest of my life. Beau had chosen to stay away from me for the past few months. He needed to figure things out for himself he said. Chey thinks he did that to save me from the pain he knew he would cause, knowing even in his subconscious, that he was no longer in control of himself. I would never know, and that, adds to the torment.

Behind me I could hear the easy banter of Bunny and Bobby, cousin and friend respectively, but brothers to Beau all the same, bound not just by blood but by a guileless love forged by time. If there was one thing the two shared with my husband, it would be the easygoing sense of humor, the carefree air that made everyone around them feel at ease. I’ve known them just long enough to know that the smiles and indulgent jokes hide their own soap opera lives and yet there they are, alive and well, running behind me while my beloved Beau had thrown in the towel before any one of us were in on the game. It left a bitter taste in the mouth. The thought that it was not even really his choice made it even more acrid. My husband was murdered, forced to take his own life by a malevolent disease that came in the dark of night.

I’ve been hanging on to them for dear life the past few weeks. I suppose its because if there was anyone in this world who shared my pain it would be them. Without children there is nothing of flesh and blood that I had left of Beau, except for his family. His only sister Rona, whom I had seen for the first time a few weeks ago when she had flown back to Manila to pay her last respects to a long missed brother, has become a daily salve. Although geographically apart, I’ve survived my morning anxiety attacks by reading her morning online messages. Love offered to me, a sister she has never really known. Love offered to a sister, whose only remaining connection with a brother is in a few bags of clothes and a grieving widow’s tears.

At times I feel overly assuming and am afraid that I might overstay my welcome. I’ve impinged on their lives, hanging over them like a black specter of death. This is the scarlet letter, the mark of Cain a widow carries. As much as I remind them of Beau, I also inadvertently, with my weeping and despair, remind them of his loss.

As I run I am acutely aware that my heart chooses this family, the same way my heart chose Beau. The future looms uncertain. I cannot even see past today. We pass over Heartbreak hill and pound our way through the route my husband used to run. I am not bound to them by law anymore. Death had released me from that. For now we are bound by tragedy, chained together by sorrow. We run together towards hope, towards love, towards a tomorrow we are forced to face because we continue to live.

They flank me as I run. Chey before me, Mao to my side, Bunny and Bob behind me. At the turnaround their wives and their kids wait for us with drinks to quench our thirst and cheers to appease parched spirits. This is the family that inherited me. And they are the shield I have around me.

I am reminded of St. Patrick’s breastplate. He declares: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

They say God sends angels to help us on our way. One only has to look with an open heart to see the magnificence of their wings.