Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘suicide’

I Carried Them With Me

geigerExcerpt featuring Nicola Geiger. From Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

Born and raised in Germany, Nicola Geiger lived in a young girl’s dream world; a luxurious home, close friends, material goods and parties galore. By the end of World War II she was homeless, without possessions and absent her loving family. Her father, mother and one-year-old son died shortly after the war began. When she was eight months pregnant with her second child she was raped. The child died at birth as a result of the trauma. She was interrogated and tortured in Poland, lost many close friends, and her dear husband Rudolf disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Since her losses during the war, Nicola persisted in reaching out to others. Immediately after the war she worked with the International Red Cross and assisted refugees. After studying in England she moved to the U.S., met her second husband, fought against McCarthyism and became involved in the civil rights movement. When they moved on to Japan, she became active in visiting the atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima, waged campaigns for world peace, and fought for the rights of Koreans who had been enslaved and abused by the Japanese. When her husband died she decided to move to the Philippines. There she fought for democracy and the overthrow of the Marcos regime.

Ms. Geiger:

First of all, my two children died. One was a baby and the other was when I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant and was raped by twelve Russians. The child didn’t survive. It died right after birth. Fortunately, they found me in these ruins in Berlin. A lady heard me when I cried out for help and she took me to a Red Cross hospital. Then my husband disappeared and I never knew what happened to him. My father died a horrible death at the beginning of the war, which was said to be an accident, but it wasn’t – his legs were cut off while he was visiting a factory. Friends died and the absolute, total destruction of everything from the bombing. It was an enormous amount of simply taking in the losses.

Such losses can never be replaced. You’re totally wiped out . . . your associations and surroundings . . . furnishings that were two hundred years old, furniture, everything . . . so then you realize you are totally alone.

I was very active in helping refugees after the war. I moved to England where I studied theater. I came to America at the time of McCarthyism, where you were better dead than red. I was not going to stay in America one day longer with such attitudes and wouldn’t have if I hadn’t met my second husband. He was a scientist who’d worked on the Manhattan Project. He was really an extraordinary person.

I was very involved with anti-McCarthyism and the civil rights movement. I had never been told, “This is a Jew and this is a German.” I grew up in a socialist family and my father was extremely enlightened, as was my mother. My father was a Buddhist. He sat in the room where I was born and had prepared a meditation mat next to him so I could be put beside him upon birth.

I was very involved in the civil rights movement during the fifties and sixties and I worked a great deal with children in theater in order to empower them. I find theater to be a tool that is very useful. During the Vietnam War I continued in the civil rights movement. We lived in Philadelphia. There were sit ins from Baltimore up to Washington, women strike for peace and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. I was really involved with my whole heart then. When my husband went on sabbatical we went to Hiroshima Japan where he did research on atomic bomb victims, whom I worked with as well.

The Japanese had resettled two provinces in Korea and brought Koreans to Japan as slave laborers. In 1905 America and Japan made a treaty in which America took over the Philippines and Japan took over Korea. The Koreans were very badly treated, so I worked a great deal with Koreans in the Hiroshima area and in Kyoto after my husband died. I worked extensively with the Japanese peace movement and with the liberation people in Korea. For a couple years I moved to the Philippines because of my health. I lived with European journalists there and entered into the movement to oust the Marcos regime.

There was never a time when I wasn’t involved. It hasn’t been from an intellectual place. It really came from my own deep understanding of what life is about. The work I did was because I wanted to be in this world. I wanted to live in that light which takes away the occasion of all wars cruelty and control. I really understood, through my Buddhism, that I am the one that must work on myself . . . my ego. This is what I successfully did, in great part because of my experience with suffering.

Two of the major exercises which were brought to me when I was young, were to go over my day at night and decide what was harmonious and what was not. My parents did not speak of bad and good; they spoke of harmony and disharmony. They presented it in a way, because I was very small, that I was very much empowered. If I had done something, thrown a stone or fought with someone, I could go to that person and make it right or more accurately, harmonious.

My parents always used the bell. (She rings bell) The bell was used for settling down. My mother was not a Buddhist, but she saw how its values worked and she and father’s parenting was always together. There was also an enormous group of friends with whom we’d celebrate the change of the year. People would come together. Every weekend there would be music and poetry. It was an extremely interesting and wonderful life I grew up in.

I don’t really know how I managed to survive (the war), but I can tell you what happened. When I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, I thought, “I can change the world!” Don’t we all think that? I was nineteen when my father died on September 6, 1939, just six days after the war began. Then there was the attack on Poland and a few of my friends were killed. Then began the registration of food and nobody could travel on trains. Everything was regulated. My father was against Hitler and had voted against him in the election. Did you know he came into power with only thirty-three percent of the vote? A year after Hitler became chancellor he assassinated five thousand people, many who were homosexuals, gypsies (and political opponents). Five thousand people in two days! They were all rounded up.

When these things happened I really understood that I had no power; that I had been living in a fantasy; thinking my life could make a difference. I really understood that I was quite powerless, even though I knew many important people. I could go to them but they could not help me. I couldn’t say, “Let’s stop the war.” Then from my own view of the world, because of Buddhism, I really grasped, not so much understood, it really was a grasping, that I was responsible for myself and how I would live and what I would do in the midst of all that was going on. From 1943 on, when the totally destructive air raids came, I really lived day to day.

Why didn’t I have any feeling of revenge? I think this is fascinating. I thought it was futile to do so. I felt that to have these emotions were only hurting me. They didn’t give me any peace. I had feelings, not so much of revenge, but of anger and more anger. I wanted to lash back. But I began to understand very quickly, to grasp, that that would only hurt myself. I had to fight to really center down and my bell helped me with that. I centered down and did my Metta practice every day. Metta is a Buddhist meditation for loving-kindness. That was the thing to do. In many ways it’s a great mystery that I could do it. I think it had something to do with all the wonderful people I’d encountered through the years. The German people were not bad people. The people I’d been born in to were fine people. In human kindness and helpfulness I encountered many wonderful people.

So, I did my Metta practice. I didn’t deny my grief. Indeed, I felt it! I tried to commit suicide on my birthday on August 3rd, 1945. I took pills and my friends with whom I was staying came back home after I’d taken them. Luckily they’d forgotten something. I don’t speak of it very often. I was tired. I was so tired of knowing about evil. I was so tired that I wanted to rest forever. It’s really amazing all the things that went on around the world.

When I recovered, woke up and was back in the present, I was really grateful that I had lived! My time was not yet up. Indeed, I realized that I had a task. And each time someone died that was close to me; I carried them with me in their spirit. It’s like they’re marching with me. I’ve demonstrated and manifested in my life what most of the people who died would have done.

Post Script: Nicola Geiger died peacefully, after a long illness, on July 31, 2006.

More inspiring stories at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

Girl with the Crooked Smile

0988465620.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_Girl with the Crooked Smile: Stuck in a Moment. . . and the Pearls of Wisdom That Pulled Her Through It
by Darah Zeledon
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans
New York Journal of Books

For writer, speaker, and “Warrior Mom of five” Darah Zeledon, life’s joys and calamities have been abundant and enlightening. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons, this woman has found a way to make fertilizer out of a truckload of shit.

Armed robbery, a suicide, complete financial ruin, an accident that almost took her life, and a brain tumor while pregnant with her fourth child are but stepping stones and mere folly for this matador of life.

There is no bull in this story, only honest and brutal reality with doses of humor and insight gushing from its depths like a glass of refreshing clear water to quench the thirst after travel through the desert.

Here is an example of what she says after being diagnosed with a brain tumor and previously being told she will either lose her baby (at five months in utero) or her own life, a neurosurgeon (who says he can save both) offers her some choices:

“Hmmm.” Darah writes. “What were my choices again? 1) High likelihood of facial paralysis and probable deafness on the left side, or 2) guaranteed left-sided deafness with a high probability of no droopy face, or 3) a degree of unconfirmed damage to either of the above-mentioned plus God knows what else. Wait a minute. What the hell am I doing—choosing toppings on a pizza?”

The book takes place in several locations (New York, Panama, Barcelona, and Florida) and hops from one situation to another, but it doesn’t seem choppy or discombobulated. Somehow, like the author’s thought process, it all makes sense.

Her “pearls of wisdom” at the end of each chapter aren’t poetic spiritual New Age bits of gibberish, but practical suggestions congruently arising from her experience. For example, at the end of the chapter about her brain tumor and all the chaos and decisions that entailed, she writes “Be true to yourself and resist peer pressure. Come clean about what you believe. Recognize blessings. Trust your instincts.”

Girl with the Crooked Smile is a real kicker. It has wit, cultural insight (Latin American, Jewish, Floridian), and a warmhearted embrace of life as it is—not as we wish it to be.

Darah Zeledón is a gifted storyteller equal parts psychologist, teacher, mother, philosopher, partner, and friend.

Read this review and others at New York Journal of Books.

Superb Story and Scribe

0670026638.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans
New York Journal of Books

“Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being is one of the best novels of 2013—and will surely inhabit that position for years to come.”

However you envision or conceptualize life, you will never see it quite the same once you’ve read this brilliant story. “Brilliant” is a strong and suggestive superlative, but it fits this story like the insistent tolling of a bell calling for one’s attention.

Down to earth and intellectual. Filled with judgments and acceptance, separateness and interdependence. Complicated, yet simple. Ms. Ozeki’s characters question their thoughts, feelings, and actions—even how they respond to suffering. They ask whether their choices and lives make a difference, what is the meaning of conscience, and how to explain the nature of existence—and they do so in the pages of a beautiful tale of families struggling to survive, understand, and share their love.

Ruth, a novelist who lives on an island in British Columbia with her husband Oliver, happens upon a diary she finds in a sealed lunchbox she discovers among some kelp that’s washed to shore. The diary is that of a sixteen year old in Tokyo, Japan, named Nao.

As Ruth begins to read the diary—which describes Nao’s family, her thoughts of suicide, and her close connection with her 104-year-old great grandmother Jiko (who is a Buddhist nun living in the area of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami)—we are pulled into Ruth’s thoughts and feelings about what she is reading as well as its impact on her, her husband, and others living on the island.

Every person, animal, life form, building, city, town, and forest in this story feels real and congruent. You can almost reach into the book and pet the cat, yell at the bullies, shake Nao’s father, hear the wind, see the crow take flight, and feel the ancient, chilly, wooden temple floor beneath your knees as you bow.

There are so many exquisite lines of prose within A Tale for the Time Being, that it is difficult to choose a few that will give readers’ a taste of this sweet, caustic, entertaining, and captivating novel. Nonetheless, here are a few morsels.

When Ruth first reads the diary, she describes the letters. “They were round a little bit sloppy (as she now imagined the girl must be, too), but they stood more or less upright and marched gamely across the page at a good clip, not in a hurry, but not dawdling, either.”

Nao writes of a moment when she is holding Jiko’s hand. “I was still thinking about what she said about waves, and it made me sad because I knew that her little wave was not going to last much longer and soon she would join the sea again, and even though I know you can’t hold on to water, still I gripped her fingers a little more tightly to keep her from leaking away.”

Ruth speaks of time and how it interacts with attention. “At the other extreme, when her attention was disengaged and fractured, she experienced time at its most granular, wherein moments hung around like pixels, diffused and suspended in standing water.”

It sounds like Haiku poetry when Jiko is telling Nao about her son (Nao’s great uncle) who died in World War II. “A single frog croaked, and then another. Jiko’s words dropped like stones into the silence in between.” Jiko explains to Nao (who had told Jiko about it feeling like there were fish flopping around in her stomach when she felt grief or was being bullied) that the loss of her son was like a whale in her gut and she was learning to open her heart so the whale could swim away.

A Tale for the Time Being is more than a lovely piece of literature; it also explores science, philosophy, nature, history, psychology, biology, physics, Japanese culture, and the nature of consciousness. There is also a healthy dose of Buddhism and meditation thrown in with subtle precision integrated into the characters and storyline without dissemblance or force.

Read complete review and others, at New York Journal of Books.

Nicola Geiger: Peace In Hell

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

Events that can and often do, devastate us emotionally, can also be used for personal transformation and growth. Some individuals find hope and opportunity in the midst of adversity. They reach out to help others find comfort and healing. Some succeed to change laws, institutions, policies and assumptions.

Born and raised in Germany, Nicola Geiger lived in a young girl’s dream world; a luxurious home, close friends, material goods and parties galore. By the end of World War II she was homeless, without possessions and absent her loving family. Her father, mother and one-year-old son died shortly after the war began. When she was eight months pregnant with her second child she was raped. The child died at birth as a result of the trauma. She was interrogated and tortured in Poland, lost many close friends and her dear husband Rudolf disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Since her losses during the war, Nicola persisted in reaching out to others. Immediately after the war she worked with the International Red Cross and assisted refugees. After studying in England she moved to the U.S., met her second husband, fought against McCarthyism and became involved in the civil rights movement. When they moved on to Japan she became active in visiting the atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima, waged campaigns for world peace and fought for the rights of Koreans who had been enslaved and abused by the Japanese. When her husband died she decided to move to the Philippines. There she fought for democracy and the overthrow of the Marcos regime.

Ms. Geiger: (In picture above, holding photo of husband)

First of all, my two children died. One was a baby and the other was when I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant and was raped by twelve Russians. The child didn’t survive. It died right after birth. Fortunately, they found me in these ruins in Berlin. A lady heard me when I cried out for help and she took me to a Red Cross hospital. Then my husband disappeared and I never knew what happened to him. My father died a horrible death at the beginning of the war, which was said to be an accident, but it wasn’t – his legs were cut off while he was visiting a factory. Friends died and the absolute, total destruction of everything from the bombing. It was an enormous amount of simply taking in the losses.

Such losses can never be replaced. You’re totally wiped out . . . your associations and surroundings . . . furnishings that were two hundred years old, furniture, everything . . . so then you realize you are totally alone.

I was very active in helping refugees after the war. I moved to England where I studied theater. I came to America at the time of McCarthyism, where you were better dead than red. I was not going to stay in America one day longer with such attitudes and wouldn’t have if I hadn’t met my second husband. He was a scientist who’d worked on the Manhattan Project. He was really an extraordinary person.

I was very involved with anti-McCarthyism and the civil rights movement. I had never been told, “This is a Jew and this is a German.” I grew up in a socialist family and my father was extremely enlightened, as was my mother. My father was a Buddhist. He sat in the room where I was born and had prepared a meditation mat next to him so I could be put beside him upon birth.

I was very involved in the civil rights movement during the fifties and sixties and I worked a great deal with children in theater in order to empower them. I find theater to be a tool that is very useful. During the Vietnam War I continued in the civil rights movement. We lived in Philadelphia. There were sit ins from Baltimore up to Washington, women strike for peace and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. I was really involved with my whole heart then. When my husband went on sabbatical we went to Hiroshima Japan where he did research on atomic bomb victims, whom I worked with as well.

The Japanese had resettled two provinces in Korea and brought Koreans to Japan as slave laborers. In 1905 America and Japan made a treaty in which America took over the Philippines and Japan took over Korea. The Koreans were very badly treated, so I worked a great deal with Koreans in the Hiroshima area and in Kyoto after my husband died. I worked extensively with the Japanese peace movement and with the liberation people in Korea. For a couple years I moved to the Philippines because of my health. I lived with European journalists there and entered into the movement to oust the Marcos regime.

There was never a time when I wasn’t involved. It hasn’t been from an intellectual place. It really came from my own deep understanding of what life is about. The work I did was because I wanted to be in this world. I wanted to live in that light which takes away the occasion of all wars cruelty and control. I really understood, through my Buddhism, that I am the one that must work on myself . . . my ego. This is what I successfully did, in great part because of my experience with suffering.

Two of the major exercises which were brought to me when I was young, were to go over my day at night and decide what was harmonious and what was not. My parents did not speak of bad and good; they spoke of harmony and disharmony. They presented it in a way, because I was very small, that I was very much empowered. If I had done something, thrown a stone or fought with someone, I could go to that person and make it right or more accurately, harmonious.

My parents always used the bell. (She rings bell) The bell was used for settling down. My mother was not a Buddhist, but she saw how its values worked and she and father’s parenting was always together. There was also an enormous group of friends with whom we’d celebrate the change of the year. People would come together. Every weekend there would be music and poetry. It was an extremely interesting and wonderful life I grew up in.

I don’t really know how I managed to survive (the war), but I can tell you what happened. When I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, I thought, “I can change the world!” Don’t we all think that? I was nineteen when my father died on September 6, 1939, just six days after the war began. Then there was the attack on Poland and a few of my friends were killed. Then began the registration of food and nobody could travel on trains. Everything was regulated. My father was against Hitler and had voted against him in the election. Did you know he came into power with only thirty-three percent of the vote? A year after Hitler became chancellor he assassinated five thousand people, many who were homosexuals, gypsies (and political opponents). Five thousand people in two days! They were all rounded up.

When these things happened I really understood that I had no power; that I had been living in a fantasy; thinking my life could make a difference. I really understood that I was quite powerless, even though I knew many important people. I could go to them but they could not help me. I couldn’t say, “Let’s stop the war.” Then from my own view of the world, because of Buddhism, I really grasped, not so much understood, it really was a grasping, that I was responsible for myself and how I would live and what I would do in the midst of all that was going on. From 1943 on, when the totally destructive air raids came, I really lived day to day.

Why didn’t I have any feeling of revenge? I think this is fascinating. I thought it was futile to do so. I felt that to have these emotions were only hurting me. They didn’t give me any peace. I had feelings, not so much of revenge, but of anger and more anger. I wanted to lash back. But I began to understand very quickly, to grasp, that that would only hurt myself. I had to fight to really center down and my bell helped me with that. I centered down and did my Metta practice every day. Metta is a Buddhist meditation for loving-kindness. That was the thing to do. In many ways it’s a great mystery that I could do it. I think it had something to do with all the wonderful people I’d encountered through the years. The German people were not bad people. The people I’d been born in to were fine people. In human kindness and helpfulness I encountered many wonderful people.

So, I did my Metta practice. I didn’t deny my grief. Indeed, I felt it! I tried to commit suicide on my birthday on August 3rd, 1945. I took pills and my friends with whom I was staying came back home after I’d taken them. Luckily they’d forgotten something. I don’t speak of it very often. I was tired. I was so tired of knowing about evil. I was so tired that I wanted to rest forever. It’s really amazing all the things that went on around the world.

When I recovered, woke up and was back in the present, I was really grateful that I had lived! My time was not yet up. Indeed, I realized that I had a task. And each time someone died that was close to me; I carried them with me in their spirit. It’s like they’re marching with me. I’ve demonstrated and manifested in my life what most of the people who died would have done.

No More Secrets

I thought I understood the devastation that keeping child abuse a secret can cause. I had grown up with eight foster sisters, who were all placed in our home because of some kind of abuse in their home of origin and I had worked in mental health programs with countless survivors of abuse. Even with those experiences, the full impact never really hit me in the face until my wife and I became foster-parents to our then fourteen-year-old foster-daughter. The reality of her life broke through any illusions we may have previously held. I would have sworn we were prepared for her moving in and knew just what to expect. We were gravely mistaken.

Night after night, we heard her crying herself to sleep. It alternated between soft weeping to heart-wrenching sobs and wails. As hours turned into weeks, we did our best to comfort her with our presence, words and actions. She needed to know she was a person of value, strength and beauty. In addition to her physical and sexual abuse, she had also endured extreme emotional trauma. Slowly, the tide began to turn. She got involved in school, plays, attracted friends like bees to honey and appeared happy and sure of herself. But, just as all seemed quiet on the western front, a new internal assault flooded her mind and began to wreak havoc on her heart and soul.

It was midnight when we heard a loud thumping sound coming from her room; shrieks and screams followed. As we got to her bedroom door we heard her yelling, “Help me, help me, help me. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Stay out, stay out.” We tried to open the door but she’d locked it and would not let us in. We tried everything we could think of shout, beg, bargain, demand and still no luck. Finally we jimmied the lock and got in. As we entered, she was lying under a blanket, hiding in the closet. She refused to look at us, and we saw that her hand was black and blue from slamming the wall. She was having a flashback and was grabbing at her throat and clawing at her face.

That night seemed to last an eternity. After hours of holding, talking and crying, she slowly came out of her hell. She told us of suicidal thoughts and actions. We called her therapist for help and over the next few days did the best we could. A little light began to seep back into her consciousness.

And so it went. Day after day; week after week; month after month. Far from being experts on parenting and abuse, we discovered that we were more like babes in the woods.

Fortunately, our adopted daughter is one of the lucky ones. She had enough strength and courage to leave her abusive environment, break through her denial of the abuse and begin a new life. She went on to graduate from UC Berkeley, is now married, is an amazing tutor and pregnant with a baby girl. Her abuse had lasting impacts on her and those around her, but she hasn’t let her past define who she is or limit what she can become.

There are many times I still forget or choose not to think about, the secret abuse that remains in the dark recesses of thousands of lives (women and men) and is kept close to the vest and under wraps; for some, until the day they die.

Is There A Secret Formula?

Through my work as an educator, chaplain, social worker and bereavement counselor (and in the personal sphere), there is one issue that keeps grabbing me by the throat and will not let go. I have met people who are grappling with impending loss or transition and others trying to cope with the aftermath of homicide, suicide, accidents, domestic abuse, child abuse, rape, drug addiction and overdose, deaths from “natural causes” and countless other catastrophes or traumas. What I continue to find both amazing and hopeful, is the resilience, healing, understanding and constructive transitions that can become the product of such intense changes and assaults upon the human spirit.

Events that could and often do, crush us psychologically (and/or physically) can also be used for personal transformation and change. There are some individuals that find hope and opportunity in the midst of adversity. Many a day I recall listening to someone describe a childhood of horror and loss that would have shattered me, yet they have been able to find some meaning in their experience and a means to use their trauma instead of letting it use them. Conversely, there are individuals who appear to never recover or constructively adapt to the changes in their lives and let the traumatic event or death control their every thought, word or deed.

There are some obvious environmental or familial histories that provide some credence and supporting evidence to certain responses, yet to rely on such background alone to predict normal or complicated mourning can be misleading and erroneous. Some people who have come from the most secure, loving homes on the planet can still react maladaptively to grief and conversely, those who have never had much love or support in their lives can respond to the same losses with life-affirming choices and behaviors.

If we can find some common threads among those who’ve learned how to constructively use their response to adversity (specifically loss from death of a loved one), we could perhaps find which characteristics, attributes, environments and support systems should be encouraged, strengthened, implemented and utilized for others experiencing similar loss and bereavement.

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