If you have ever taken a class
with me you may have heard me tell the story of
"Chief Joseph and the New York Executive." This is
a story I wrote years ago with the message of how we
can turn tragedy and despair into healing and love.
I had the privilege last year to
have a student in one of my classes who is a true
life example of this. With his permission I have
summarized his journey below and reprinted it again
in this month's newsletter. It is excerpts from
three papers he wrote about his experiences. The
second half of this summary below contains his
experiences a few months after he started to seeing
someone to help him navigate his journey of grief.
If you have, or are currently experiencing a
difficult time in your life, I know Ron's message
will help heal, inspire and deeply move you.
This is a difficult time of year for many people.
The holidays bring joy to many. For others it
brings sadness. Hold on to hope. Read
the message of hope below and know that you also
will find this peace in your journey some day.
For now, just trust and believe.
"My son, Miguel,
was born just before my 18th birthday. Miguel
looked like his mother mostly, but had many of my
traits. He was also a gay man, who was afraid of
people finding out and hating him. He hid his
sexuality from me, and from his grandmother who had
raised him since his mother's death in a motorcycle
accident when he was only 2 years old. I was unable
to take care for him as I was in the same accident.
I was left in a coma for some time and was badly
injured. Miguel was a loving and caring young man,
who loved to make people happy, make them laugh and
just see people smile and be serene.
In the later part
of 2000, he found out that he was HIV Positive and
from what I have been told he went into a major
depression, used drugs and drank a lot. He shut
himself off from most of the family and I rarely
heard from him.
On the night of
May 23rd, 2001, Miguel at age 20, put a double
barrel sawed-off shotgun to this throat - aimed
upwards toward his head and pulled the trigger. He
left a note that said he was, "Lost." There were
three letters that he had written before he killed
himself, one to his grandmother, one to his brother,
and one to me. The note he left for me to this day
breaks my heart.
I had a lot of
guilt in me because of the accident that left him
alone, and because of my former drug use and
excessive drinking. Since then, and mostly because
of Miguel's death, I have tried to be there for the
rest of my family. I have become much more a family
oriented person. I value my friends more; I listen
more and really hear what people are saying to me
now. I have to admit, I have thought about suicide
since that day, many times, but I realize that it is
a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
I had a traumatic
event happen again just recently that has reaffirmed
my dedication to loving and caring for my family and
friends deeply. On July 29th, 2007 my partner was
savagely and brutally attacked and Gay-Bashed. He
had a knife held to his throat while he was being
beaten by two men, inside our car. I came back in
time to see my partner get out of our car and walk
toward me - pouring out blood. He came close to
being killed that night, and I came close to losing
the man that I love and who is a family member to
me. That attack brought back many memories of my
son's death and how I feel like I failed him.
Part Two (written two month
"Let me start by
saying this has been the best learning and healing
that I have experienced. It hasn't been that long
that I have been seeing my Doctor, but I am feeling
better and am able to communicate with my partner
about issues much better. I mentioned that I
started to write a letter to my son in one of my
classes and my Doctor suggested that I continue to
do this and write about why I was not able to be
there as much as I would have liked to be. She also
suggested I write about how I felt about the letter
that he left for me. I told Miguel that even though
I was not able to be there in person that every
single day I thought about him and his brother. I
told him how much I loved him and how badly I missed
him back then and now. At the end of the letter I
said that I loved him and that I always would. I
forgave him for taking his own life and I apologized
for not being the father that he needed and wanted.
I did the best that I could at the time. After all,
I was only 18 when I became a widower, lost a child
and was almost killed myself.
We then took the
letter and put it in a plastic water bottle and we
walked down to the Connecticut River. At the river,
I burned the letter in a bowl and then poured the
ashes into the bottle. I put the top on the bottle
and then prayed as I let the bottle go into the
water and start to float away. I felt some relief
and sadness all at the same time, but I felt better,
like I was lighter. In some way I feel Miguel will
get that message and that he will also feel better,
and that makes me feel better.
On my last visit
to the Doctor I had written more of my original
letter. This time we went back down to the river
and burned the five pages that I had just written
and instead of putting the ashes into a bottle, we
poured the ashes into a balloon. We inflated the
balloon, I wrote Miguel's name on it and set it
free. We watched as it rose toward the sky and
floated away. I said a silent prayer. It was an
experience that I had not expected nor anticipated.
I felt such relief and peace afterwards. I still
have that peace.
I have also done
some meditation that both you and the Doctor have
recommended and I was invited to visit my friend's
Uncle in a sweat lodge. This is an experience I
will never forget. We sat there in the darkness
except for the light from the fire in the middle, so
totally silent, and calm. We closed our eyes and
he started to chant and took hold of my hand. He
had told me to focus on my son and what I would like
to say to him. I did that, and after some time he
told me to speak to my son without opening my eyes.
I said all the things that I wanted to say to
Miguel, and I felt like he was there listening to
me. Afterwards we sat there in silence and then he
started to chant again. It was so calm and quiet,
peaceful and relaxing. Damn, I felt so much better
afterward, like I was lighter, free, less stressed
and less conflicted that I have been in a very long
I am still
continuing to see my Doctor and my friend's Uncle
has invited me to return. I am feeling so much
better and have learned so much from both these
people, that I can't even begin to explain it all.
I have not felt this good in a long time."
Note: Ron shared this story in a
formal presentation to a group of students and
he included information about Suicide prevention.
His story deeply moved everyone that day and it had
the ripple effect of preventing a suicide due to the
information he shared. With the encouragement of
others he now sees that his purpose in life is to
help others through their journey of grief. He is
pursuing speaking engagements in high schools and
continues to reach out to others as well as seek
more healing for himself.