By Jill Parshley-Cardillo
Happy New Year From all of us at Chooseafamily.com
We wish you many blessings for 2023!
By now you’ve hopefully settled into your membership exploring a variety of new friends here, and updating your photos and profiles as you potentially make new special connections.
Life is about connection. As you delicately choose the “family” you create here, it’s understandable if you feel shy as you dive into the unknown. Just know you are not alone. The recent holidays and new year are a sensitive time for many of us.
At this time of year, during these special occasions and the dawn of a new year, you may be triggered as the nostalgia relives challenging experiences of the past. You may be experiencing stress. Some of us are dealing with unfathomable grief, or PTSD, depression or anxiety. You may yearn for a substitute family member as you are faced with illness or disability. Now that the old year has come to a close, memories of loss which may have brought us to Chooseafamily.com in the first place, could also be paralyzing us now that we are here. Pain is the touchstone to all growth. We hope you allow yourself to be gentle with the process of choosing family figures and most of all, give yourself permission to choose. That is growth.
You may have heard this time of year being compared to the “Bermuda Triangle”. The Bermuda Triangle is a triangular area in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean where, legend has it, ships and airplanes have disappeared into the unknown. Thanksgiving, Christmas (Hanukkah and other holidays in between) and New Year’s are like the three points of that triangle. I myself go into October still soaring from dazzling summer sunsets. I imagine the autumn festivities ahead…carving pumpkins, picking apples, planning what pies I will prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas, decorating our home, setting ideals like volunteering at the homeless shelters, clearing clutter to donate coats and boots. Then, all of a sudden…I, along with November, December and January, slowly sink into the unknown depths of the mysterious Bermuda Triangle, drowning in the stress of meeting 4th quarter deadlines, decorating, baking, paying year end bills, finding the perfect gifts, wanting to decoupage my heart away making homemade holiday gifts for all the kids I know, then…never even lifting the glue gun. We make the most pleasant plans, often drizzled with pressure to hopefully find the time to do it all. In my case, all of a sudden it was halted with fighting COVID, and Long COVID, my husband getting COVID, loss of work, loss of time, loss of breath! Quarantining into New Year’s, mixed with the deaths of one of my dear aunts and two friends, made me want to put the covers over my head.
With each new year, we have new choices. So just for today, I choose to start my day with gratitude and a pause to breathe. When I meditate before I start my day, I inhale faith and exhale fear. What better time than now, the first few weeks of 2023, to start over with gratitude in our attitude, acceptance, and letting go of our pain and fears, to begin again with faith.
We here at Chooseafamily.com want you to know that if you feel like you are sinking into the abyss of the Bermuda Triangle, let us be your life boat, let us be your life preserver, let us help keep you afloat while the tides are high.
During the Bermuda Triangle, I think of the loss of both of my parents. This year in particular, I thought of my late father. Here is a short story from my childhood I will share with you about how my happy new year became not so happy in 1983, and how with support, and seeds of faith, we can still endure.
I recall the long exhale from my eight year old lips and the roll of my blue eyes when he asked me, well, more like made high demands, on the morning of Thanksgiving 1982, “Put on a nice outfit today, we’re getting dressed up.” Daddy’s voice was chipper. “Come on everyone, it’s a special occasion, we have so much to be grateful for.”
The last thing I wanted to do was to put my hard suede penny loafers on, with my navy and brown plaid dress hovering over my knee- high cotton socks that kept sliding down my little calves. The burden of brushing my hair, my teeth, and finding my lost barretts to keep my unkempt bangs from tickling my long eyelashes, seemed like such daunting tasks.
But that’s just what I did. Despite dragging my feet the whole time, after looking in the mirror and seeing myself dressed up dapper in clothes other than my monotonous school uniform, I actually felt a little pretty. A little pride snuck up to ride on my smiling face. I became happy and chipper myself, like…maybe Thanksgiving is an important day afterall.
Mommy let me ride on the end of the shopping cart through Scaturro’s supermarket early that morning gathering last minute essentials for our dinner: Cheese Wiz, Ritz crackers, pumpkin pie, whip cream, unsalted butter, gravy mix, and mini-marshmallows to bake in the canned sweet potatoes casserole. I’d giggle when my mother called it the Stupidmarket. Little did I know it was from all of the stress shopping put on our empty pockets.
I have always been fascinated with the mustard seed. Walking down the stupid market aisle where the McCormick spices sat, I’d stand on my tiptoes to reach for the powder packets to help Mommy make the turkey gravy. I’d gaze past the mustard seeds. I knew garlic for her tomato sauce, and I knew the celery salt for the tuna fish sandwiches for our brown bag lunches, but I did not know the mustard seed. I heard about them in parables at school, but I never actually saw the mustard seeds. There I stood in awe of their size. They were so small. Like me. With Christmas around the corner, I was practicing Jingle Bells on our wooden electric organ with the lime green foxtrot button, learning the lyrics to The Rose in front of the mirror, fascinated with the idea that a seed becomes a flower. Even more fascinated with the fact that I, like a mustard seed, will grow one day to be a big something or another. Would I be more like a rose or whatever a mustard seed grows into? I quickly ran to the Encyclopedia Britannica to see what the Mustard Seed grows into and was dumbfounded by what I found. “How could something so tiny grow to be so big?” Maybe one day, I imagined to myself, “I will be big. I will matter.” I loved the little black and white drawing on the page showing that the leaves of the Mustard plant were as big as elephant ears and how under their protection, little squirrels and birds are kept from the beating hot sun and other harsh elements. The Mustard plant’s leaves hung huge and were durable.
I imagined being like those leaves, able to protect something or someone like that someday. I imagined myself becoming big, everyone reading my famous poetry and performing on TV… maybe even Star Search one day!
That winter, the pressure of the accomplishments from the past year that were still left undone, the pressure of the old year ending, family visiting, gifts, our parent’s bills, the cost of winter boots, fears of burning the gravy, and the holidays fast approaching… it all trickled down to us kids. So much so, that I would diligently write letters to Santa pleading with him to help buy my grandmother, who was in the nursing home, a nice necklace because my allowance of ten cents for drying the dishes just would not cut it.
Getting dressed up for Thanksgiving dinner that night long ago was worth it. New Year’s Day 1983 began a long slew of hospital runs. Little did I know that five months after that Thanksgiving, my father would be permanently gone. That that third Thursday in November 1982, would be our last Thanksgiving together. That the following Easter in April 1983 he would die of malignant melanoma skin cancer at the ripe age of 37.
He knew. He had already begun going to the doctor to remove a suspicious mole on his back from years of sunbathing without sun protection. It was too late. It was too late by the time they removed the mole; the base of it had already grown roots which tore off at the tips and traveled to his lymph nodes. As it metastasized, his gratitude grew. He was faced with the wisdom of how life was precious treasure and each moment a gem which could be held and loved with immeasurable amounts, or possibly crushed and mixed in with a sandy beach and long forgotten. He chose that Thanksgiving day when I was eight, to make that memory a gem.
For my whole life, up until that year, Thanksgiving was just the beginning of what felt like one huge exciting three month holiday. But after my father’s passing, that first Thanksgiving without him was unbearable. He wasn’t perfect, (who is?), but as a bright eyed daughter who forgave him his tresspasses, the holidays had actually become wonderful before he died.
So, the first three Thanksgivings without him crushed my growing heart. The empty chair to my right, nobody to pass the sweet potatoes with marshmallows to, and my champion charades partner, gone. And the four Thanksgivings after that were swiped under the rug. I’d quickly come late and leave early to go to the movies with classmates and new boyfriends. I felt empty inside, keeping myself just busy enough to blend in a large crew to help suffocate my feelings as I habitually buried my grief. Soon it would tear me apart along with a slew of other teenage woes.
This all became a recipe for disaster. My anxiety and depression grew fiercely worse and I refused to get help when it was offered to me. Eventually the pain would resurface and I would be drowning in tears or suffocating in fears. There were no smartphones, no internet to surf, no streaming movies back to back to get catatonic in the night.
So, finally eight Thanksgivings later, after my father died, and my mother’s spirit died along with it…after eight years of imploding, I began to explode. I thought it best to do the unthinkable, what I felt at the time to be the only option that made any sense to me. It was to disappear forever. To take my own life. There was no other choice, I thought, but to escape a world that became too heavy with disabling grief and a life that had lost its purpose and luster.
Let’s suffice to say, the mission was not able to be completed, God intervened, and I’ve never been more grateful for not following through on something.
Fast forward to now. As careful as I was for the last 2.5 years, I still contracted COVID, ironically over Thanksgiving and Black Friday hugs this year. I was home deathly sick by the first week of December. I refused to go to the hospital because of my underlying health conditions in fear they’d become worse, instead, I kept in close contact with my Primary Care Physician and my Pulmonologist following doctor’s orders. After a few days of severe coughing, sleeping, wheezing, lots of medicine and hot herbal teas and soups, I finally mustered up enough energy to flip through the news on TV. In the midst of my maelstrom, I was shocked to learn that Stephen ‘Twitch’ Boss, the talented dancer and choreographer from the Ellen DeGeneris Show, committed suicide. We were days away from Christmas, it was the 5th day of Hanukkah, and 2023 only ten days away. I was heartbroken. I watched the weekly talk show Ellen daily for many years. Seeing Twitch dance and his bright smile, the perfect sidekick to Ellen’s comedy, cheered me up and allowed me to live vicariously through each day of his new choreography. Why did Twitch choose to leave this earth? Did he have a choice? Are the grips of clinical depression so heavy that he lost the power of choice? Did he feel he had no one left to be his “life boat”? He was married with three children. He left so many loved ones behind.
Many TV personalities were perplexed and torn by Twitch committing suicide. Carson Daily, from the Today Show on NBC, shared with his viewers on 12.15.22, “…People have to just stop assuming that when you see people on television or you see them in social media, that they’re okay…We have to stop assuming, it’s taking us away… when we sit on our phones, we go, ‘She’s okay. She’s okay.’ Everyone is propping up the best part of themselves and it’s taking away from real conversations happening. What we do know about mental health, is that from the onset of the first symptom, the time that elapses for the average person seeking any form of help is 11 years, 11 years. It tells us that people are suffering in silence.” Hoda, Daily’s co-host at the Today Show shared, “…I remember when he was on the show, he talked about his plans. He wanted to do a talk show. He said, ‘Do you think I could do it?’ This was a person with dreams and hopes and plans.” Co-host Savannah Guthrie ended the segment with a very heartfelt reminder to everyone outside of TV land, “You are loved, and wanted in this world.”
At the time of my life when I was so down, after my father passed away, after many challenges I was faced with in my twenties, as I mentioned earlier in this piece, by a miracle, my higher power intervened just at the perfect moment changing the course of my life. I’ve since been able to experience healing and self-discovery through many rewarding outlets such as therapy, doctors, journaling, reading, writing, teaching, cooking, art decoupage, helping stray animals, sober living, poetry, volunteering, yoga, meditation and loads more…including Chooseafamily.com!
It’s one step at a time, and one season at a time. But, how many others have not been so fortunate? How many countless lives have been lost to suicide? Sadly, I have lost friends and family to suicide. A handful of close friends throughout my life who grappled with untreated alcoholism and addiction, lost their way and slipped into oblivion…some by accidental overdose, some by choice.
Suicide rates actually decrease during the holidays. It is commonly thought that holiday stress increases suicide attempts, but that simply isn’t the case, says Dr. Dale Archer in Psychology Today back on December 24, 2014. Actually, the lower incident of suicides is now thought to be related to family time and the support this generates. Psychology Today points out how important family time and support from family is. What if there is no family? This was part of the inspiration when my big sis, Kim Parshley, started Chooseafamily.com. With the loss of both of our parents and grandparents, and family moving away, we had many empty seats at the dinner table during the holidays. Kim’s empathy led her to create this community for those of us who want, or need, familiar connections. If some statistics show there are fewer suicides during the holidays because of the support which comes from time spent with family, then it makes sense, how, with the absence of my father and my mother’s illnesses growing over time, the family time and support melted away for me and my sister.
With quarantining, and overwhelming loss during this pandemic, online virtual connections are imperative.
A close friend, and former volunteer suicide hotline counselor in 2005, has helped me incredibly throughout my years when there were struggles. I sought their wisdom while writing this very blog…their words were encouraging. “If you reach out to someone and they are not available, keep reaching out, keep reaching out to someone else until you find somebody, because eventually someone will listen. Immediately reach out to a help line if there is no one at all. It could make all the difference in the world. Don’t be afraid to get professional help. You don’t have to carry the burden alone. And if you are the other person wanting to be of support, look for people talking about feeling like they have no purpose anymore, saying things like, ‘I just don’t know why I’m here anymore,’ people who are withdrawing and isolating. Oftentimes we miss the signs. But don’t feel guilty about not being able to be there because it is very hard to tell.”
Dr. Archer from Psychology Today continues, “There were 38,364 suicides in the US in 2010….Suicide is often associated with depression, which is very treatable. Suicide is not a sign of weakness and it isn’t about seeking attention or being selfish, yet these myths continue.”
So what about now, in the post-pandemic era? Family units have decreased rapidly during COVID. Statistics reported on the John Hopkins’ website, (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/region/united-states) report that in the United States alone, there have been 1,092,456 deaths due to COVID. And since 2010, suicide rates have increased in 2020 and grew even higher in 2021. According to the CDC.gov, “The new provisional data shows the number of suicides increased from 45,979 in 2020 to 47,646 in 2021.”
There were 9,282 more suicides last year in 2021, than there were in 2010.
These statistics show how family is imperative and actually crucial in an individual’s lifeline. When Kim created Chooseafamily.com, this was the exact thought that crossed her mind and heart. “How can we simulate “family” for those who may have some, or none?” Yes the old adage says, “You can choose your friends but not your family,” thankfully that statement does not hold true today. It is fluid and it must be, because so many families are now broken.
The suicide hotline volunteer continues, “Sometimes just knowing that we are not alone can make all the difference. But let’s be honest, sometimes there’s just no one to talk to for whatever reason. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988 or go to www.988lifeline.org. They care deeply and are there for you 24/7. Make an appointment with a therapist. For those who wonder how they can best support: Listen. Don’t judge. Ask what has helped in the past. You yourself can call the suicide hotline to learn how to help your loved one.”
If you or someone you know is affected by any of the issues raised in this story, or any thoughts of hopelessness or suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
One of my friends turned to religion and a God of their own understanding for purpose: “This is us trying to play God. A lot of us don’t want to feel our feelings. It’s not that I want to die, it’s that I don’t want to wake up. Driven by perfectionism, when I give up that terminal uniqueness, and I think about how big God’s love is for all of us, I feel happy.”
I personally find joy amidst darkness by giving, by listening, loving unconditionally, and sharing my experiences to help others. If I ever get so down again that there is no place else to go but up, I remember the mustard seed. I remember how small the mustard seed was and the belief that one day I could grow as big as its leaves to protect others and that once that seed of faith is planted, it can grow forever. I know many of you can agree that we cannot do this thing called life alone. Connecting with family figures on Chooseafamily.com has been a hopeful highlight for many. Have you been able to find any connections here that have helped you through this year’s “Bermuda Triangle”? If so, please email me any of your Chooseafamily.com success stories at Info@Chooseafamily.com I would love to hear about your journeys.
I will leave you with a loving supportive message I listened to on Twitter from Rosie O’Donnell after the tragic loss of Twitch: “It’s life and death, and people struggle with it every day, every day and it’s impossible for some people to get through it. And you have to meet them with compassion and understanding. You have to find somebody else who has been through it and you have to find community with them. Reach out for help, people. When you are at the very end, when it seems like there’s not the possibility of you to recover, there is. There is. And life is worth living for each new sunset. Take care of yourselves. Take care of your family. Hang on. It gets better. Life ebbs and flows like the ocean…while you are here, love the best you can, and the most you can, and for those who can’t do it, like Twitch, forgive them, please.”
Happy New Year…enjoy it one breath at a time.
Jill Parshley-Cardillo is a freelance journalist for several east coast publications. She is a published poet, recent graduate of Yale Writer’s Workshop, and a blogger here on www.chooseafamily.com. You can follow her on Facebook “In Between Brooklyn & Queens” and Instagram @jillparshley.
(My Chooseafamily.com member username is “Jabberwocky”)