Even after all this time I still cannot fathom the words I am about to write – my sister-in law, Howie’s sister Jeri, died almost exactly two years before Howie did.
Their deaths were not at all related, two completely different tragedies. But Jeri’s death, along with Amanda’s struggle, have made me very much aware of how horrible it is to suffer from depression.
The first time I met Jeri was when Howie and I were dating. He said he wanted me to meet his sister, who happened to live right near me in the city. She had a boyfriend at the time so the four of us made plans to go out for dinner. We met at her apartment first. I walked in and could not believe that this girl was his sister – she was absolutely beautiful – stunning. She had a fabulous apartment, a great job working in a beautiful hotel in Manhattan, and her boyfriend seemed like a great guy. This girl seemed to have it all. To say I was intimidated is an understatement.
Looking at her, I expected her to be the biggest bitch. Many girls who looked like that would have been. But she was the exact opposite. She was so warm and inviting to me and I could see how she absolutely adored her brother.
For a while I only saw this perfect girl, as I’m sure the rest of the world also did. But little by little, I got to know the real Jeri. Still beautiful, and still sweet and loving. But she wasn’t the perfect, happy girl that she appeared to be. There was a sadness in her. At first it was hard to see, but as time went on it became more apparent. It was almost like this tiny little sadness inside her got bigger and bigger over the years until it took over. It was a horrible thing to see.
I am certainly not a doctor, and I knew much less about depression back then than I do now. I could not understand how or why this amazing girl was so sad. Now I know that she didn’t want to be, she just was. She did get help, but I guess it wasn’t enough.
But Jeri of course had great moments and that is what I like to remember about her. I remember sitting on her couch, drinking wine and laughing with her when I still lived in Manhattan. I remember her as a bridesmaid at my wedding. I remember this amazing friendship that she and my sister formed on their own – they had a connection that had nothing to do with me and I loved that. I remember the way she and Howie argued – like any brother and sister do – always with love. But what I mostly remember was the amazing aunt she was to my daughters. She adored them and they adored her. When Amanda was born, she quoted Monica from “Friends” and said to her, “I will always have gum”. She always had more than gum for both of them.
Jeri’s birthday is December 24th – Christmas Eve. I will always picture all of us out in some restaurant in the city to celebrate her. As bad as she may have been feeling, she always seemed to have fun. I think of her all the time, but especially at this time of year. I like to imagine that she and Howie are celebrating together somewhere.
Depression is an illness. I know that many people don’t see it that way but it is. I am not going to try to give advice on it because I am certainly not knowledgeable enough. But if someone you love shows any signs, please urge them to get help. Even if it’s someone you would least expect.
Last December was one of the hardest times of my life. I felt like I was really falling apart after four very difficult years. I knew that either I had to get myself together and try to move forward or I was going to have a real breakdown. I have to say – it came pretty close to the breakdown.
I was lucky – I had a great therapist who tells it like it is. I also had support from friends and family. I also thankfully have a will inside of me that was not going to let that happen.
I think that the timing that I almost fell apart is very telling – December, holidays, school break, New Year’s Eve. We always hear how the holidays are hard for some people, how more suicides happen at this time, how we should feel for those who are alone, etc.. People make lovely posts about this on Facebook, and they try to say the “right” things – they mean well when they do this. But actually going through it is a whole other story.
We look on TV and social media and see joy and happiness. Some celebrate with beautiful family gatherings around beautiful tables and amazingly decorated trees. Others fly off to exotic islands and gorgeous beaches. Then there are those who do neither.
I disliked this time of year even before Howie passed away. But not always. Growing up, Christmas break was fun even though we didn’t travel that week. I had two weeks off from school, and back then most of my friends were not away either. It was a great time to just hang out. And there was of course always a special New Year’s Eve celebration that I would attend. At one point, I had a boyfriend who celebrated Christmas and I really enjoyed celebrating it with him, something I had never had before. But it changed once I was married and the girls were born. Not depressing, nothing bad – just not my favorite week. We never went away during that break and it was always a little hard when it seemed like everyone else was away. There was one year when Amanda had mouth surgery during break – and she ended up developing an infection and a fever. Now that was a fun week!
After Howie died, December became beyond depressing. Holidays are always a reminder that someone is missing. Plus, New Year’s Eve completely sucks when you are alone. There was one year that for the first time in my life I was home alone. I spent the night watching a “Shark Tank” marathon because I didn’t want to notice when it turned midnight. I am not trying to have a pity party – just want to show how this time of year can be really tough.
So last year I almost lost it – but I am grateful that I didn’t. Things have turned around for me, partly because I did what I could to make that happen. This December will still sort of suck. We will still be in NJ and endure the beautiful, happy pictures of other’s fabulous holiday seasons. But for me it will go back to “regular sucks” instead of “ultra sucks”. I do have much more happiness this year – this year I am good.
Speaking from my own experience, this month can be very depressing. I am not making a blanket statement “the holidays can be hard for some”. The holidays ARE hard for some. I’ve been there, others have been there and still may be. Not everyone’s life is a perfect Facebook picture.