Greatest loss, greatest gift: Diaries of endurance after suicide

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Endurance - The Sun Magazine

It was her first pregnancy. Two years later, at the end of her second pregnancy, I once again helped her through labor and delivery. Though this pregnancy was free of complications, her anxiety was high.

She agreed to be induced but tried to control what the nurses and I did. Her epidural provided no pain relief. Then a fever and high fetal heart rate developed. I should have gone home yesterday. I convinced her to try for four more hours, with antibiotics and all the pain control we could muster, then decide about the cesarean. Before I left for home, I let her know that the nurse would check her at 9 PM.

Thoroughly depleted by caring for this anxious patient on top of my usual workload, I went home.


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I called the nurse that night and learned that my patient was fully dilated and ready to have her baby. I rushed to the hospital and helped her deliver a healthy boy. The sight of her holding him erased my exhaustion. What about the endurance required of her? After an eighteen-hour flight across the Atlantic, the Alps, the Mediterranean, and the Sahara, I stepped off the plane into oppressive humidity. My dream of going to Africa had become a reality. For six months I would teach in a small college in southwest Uganda.

My suitcases were full of textbooks and handouts. Several days a week I walked down a steep road from the hilltop college into town.

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Weaving in and out of bicycles and livestock, I was greeted by children dressed in hand-me-down T -shirts printed with Mickey Mouse or gym logos. Crossing a soccer field, I passed stubborn cattle and barefoot students playing with balls made of plastic garbage bags. I saw children searching for food in mountains of trash.

I encountered women who hoed fields with babies on their backs. What I observed was persistence in the face of difficult, if not unbearable, circumstances. My own ability to endure was far less impressive. The showers were cold, the nights often pitch-black due to scheduled power outages, and water sometimes ran out for days.

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There was joy, too: A classroom full of students expressing hope. An encounter with a gorilla. Being awakened by the sound of drums. But I never got used to knowing that someone was eating out of my garbage. Where do you put the shame as you come face-to-face with starvation while sitting on the porch of a high-end restaurant?

At the gym I take a challenging class that promises strength, balance, and endurance, and I come home feeling energized. When I am physically strong, I find it easier to be mentally strong as well. I have to be, to keep up with my bipolar son. For the past eight months he has been refusing help or medication, and all of my energy has gone into keeping him out of jail or the mental-health ward. I panic when I see an unknown number on my cell phone. The other day at the gym I went through the motions but had a hard time focusing.

I was too busy wondering about the other women in the class. When the instructor reminded us to breathe, I inhaled deeply and fought back tears.

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A few days ago my son was at my house in such a state that I called the sheriff, who came to pick him up and take him to the hospital. Only after the sheriff had driven away did I break down and cry. I got to see my son in the mental-health ward over the weekend, peeking through a little window into a padded room where he was finally getting the sleep he needed.

I felt reassured yet shaky. Back in class the instructor had us get down on our yoga mats to do some final stretches. A little bit of yoga at the end of a tough workout is always good, and I released built-up tensions. That was more than I could endure. The bus pulled into the entrance just past midnight.

There were cement walls topped with barbed wire and military guards with rifles. One by one we filed off like scared cattle. The young woman in front of me tripped going down the bus steps, and I let out a nervous laugh. Within seconds the drill sergeant was inches from my face, asking if I thought this was funny.


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I laughed again. Soon I was surrounded by three more drill sergeants, all screaming at me. I stood tall. I held my breath and looked straight ahead. In a large room with fluorescent lights, we were told to stand next to our metal beds and face the lockers.

The sergeant barked at us to open our bottom drawer, take out a black marker, and write our name on our locker. I froze. Within seconds she came at me, asking what my problem was now.

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I whispered that I was missing my marker. She yanked out my metal drawer, threw it across the room, and shrieked at me to pick it up. What had I gotten myself into? One night, during our few hours of sleep, I heard someone crying in the corner of the room. I took my government-issued flashlight and went over to see her wrists were bleeding. I ran to get help. The next day she was gone. I will survive this. He leaves before daybreak on a rainy November morning, his belongings packed into his pickup. Three days later a flock of wild turkeys lands in my yard. They eat all the seed I put out for the smaller birds, tear up the grass with their claws, and leave droppings everywhere.

A week later the first winter storm blows in, bringing several inches of snow. I expect the turkeys to move on, but they stay put, huddled together with their heads down. More snowstorms come, dumping at least a foot each week. I read that the only way to get rid of turkeys is not to feed them, so I begin feeding other birds on the deck, right beside the house. As temperatures dip below zero, they stand on one leg. After months of severe weather and little food, a few of the turkeys raid the deck and clean up the sunflower seed and corn.

As soon as I go inside, they come back. Finally a monster storm blows in, burying the yard beneath ten-foot-high drifts. I assume this will mean the end of the turkeys, but the next morning they are in their usual spot.