Alchemy. It is something that the medieval philosophers and magicians were quite focused on. The practice of turning everyday objects into gold was a subject of much debate, and was the forerunner of modern day chemistry. This pursuit of turning everyday or unwanted objects into gold, however, was a hot topic for more than simply the fact that something unwanted could be transformed into an object of value. There was a spiritual component, a symbolism, at work: How do we perfect the spirit? How do we transform our souls? How do we take the heartbreaks and tragedies of our lives and turn them into something for the Higher Good? Ultimately, one could argue that there are examples of Alchemy in our daily lives. They are in the form of the people whom we witness overcome insurmountable grief, turning it into hope and purpose.
I don’t know of any better example of spiritual and psychological Alchemy than a parent who has lost a child, but still manages to get up everyday and find a sense of purpose. They are walking miracles. How do they find hope? What messages of wisdom do they share with us, that we can take with us on our daily journeys? To answer these questions, I turned to two of my friends who have lost children in the most tragic of ways. This is part one in a two-part article about the lessons that they have to teach us. The first lovely person that I interviewed is a woman named Anne Moss Rogers.
Anne Moss Rogers is a pretty blonde, spunky and charismatic. She works in the journalism field, she is persuasive and bold. From the outside looking in, Anne Moss has everything that a woman could want: looks, smarts, charm, humor, a successful career, a loving husband. Yet Anne Moss has suffered an unthinkable tragedy. Her beloved son, Charles, died in June 2015, by suicide. He was only 20 years old.
Charles was a gifted and talented young man, who had “star quality”. He was a rap artist whose tunes were available on I-tunes. He was sensitive and very, very popular. His mother tells us that “He reached out to others. He could see the pain in others. He would reach out to people who were ostracized and bullied by others. He let others know that they mattered”. He had a remarkable sense of humor. He was extremely loving toward his family and friends, and had a “real deep” love for them.
It is the ultimate irony in this world that those who really have a heart for others, the sensitive and kind, the artistic, are at a high risk for suicide. Perhaps it is the fact that they take on the pain of others, or perhaps it is hard to find the same compassion for themselves. We know definitively, however, without a doubt, that Charles was suffering from depression and chemical withdrawal, a potent recipe for suicide risk. In June of 2015, the depression and withdrawal took his life.
I don’t know how she survived this. I don’t know how she woke up the next morning, and found the strength to go on. I fear that had the same thing happened to me, I would have crumbled in despair. But not Anne Moss Rogers. . The day after the dreaded call came, letting her know that her son had died from suicide, she kept the appointment that she had previously made with her realtor to look for a new home. When asked by the realtor if she had any children, she answered honestly and forthrightly: “I have one child and he is 26 and he is doing well. I have another son and he was 20 and he died from suicide yesterday”.
This was a turning point for her. It was a moment in time when she did what many of us survivors of suicide find so hard to do: tell the truth! At that moment, she gave herself license to not only acknowledge her son’s death, but to acknowledge the painful circumstances behind it. She recognized the value in not only operating from a place of truth, but the value in the opportunity to shed a spotlight on suicide, thus fighting the stigma and shame. She took that philosophy and has transformed it into a mission to fight suicide.
It is a mission in which her accomplishments are astounding. She runs a website, annemoss.com, in which she tackles the stigma related to mental health, suicide, substance abuse, and suicide-related grief. In just approximately one year and a half, she has 127,000 followers/views! From someone who herself writes a blog, I can tell you that this is beyond awesome! Anne Moss also provides a forum in which she invites other survivors of suicide loss to openly and unabashedly share their loved one’s story and their personal grief by posting a “Grief Heart”. The bereaved supplies a graphic or picture of some type of an everyday object in the shape of a heart. Regularly, she posts a new Grief Heart through her “Grief Heart Project”. The hearts and the stories behind them are shared on Facbook and Pinterest. I have had the honor of sharing one for my brother Joey. The project is so important because not only does it give individuals who are grieving the loss of a loved one by suicide a voice and an opportunity to share their stories, it comes with an invitation for us to fight stigma. Anne Moss says it is time for survivors of suicide loss to give ourselves emotional permission to unashamedly tell our loved one’s stories and share our grief on a daily basis, and in each and every interaction that we have. This is fighting stigma in action, and it is refreshing.
Oh, and it doesn’t stop there…. she also hosts live events on Facebook in which she interviews various experts in the fields of mental health and addictions. She does so on Sunday nights. She discusses topics such as keeping items in your medicine cabinet out of the hands of our youth, the heroin epidemic in teens, detecting the risk for suicide in our relatives and friends, etc.
When Anne Moss talks, people listen….
So what would she like us to know, what are some words of wisdom that she has for her fellow parents out there? She says, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. I hear people complain about things (regarding their kids), like getting bent out of shape about their GPA.” Anne Moss reminds us that our kids will get into a college if they want it badly enough, it may not be their first choice, but they will get in somewhere, and it’s all going to be okay academically. She reminds us that our child’s mental health is just as important, if not more important, as their GPA.
Anne Moss would also like parents and society in general to be less judgemental toward one another. She had a particularly poignant blog post that I once read, conquering the subject of the stigma that parents feel when their child has a mental illness. Other parents can sometimes “come off” as if their child didn’t/doesn’t have a mental health issue because they were/are better parents. This is simply not so. As parents, Anne Moss and her husband pulled out all the stops to help their child get the help that he needed. They did so without hesitation and tried everything that they knew. They embraced the psychological and medical help available to their child, and did so admirably. Besides, mental illnesses don’t discriminate.
Anne Moss Rogers also emphasizes that spouses who have lost a child must look out for one another. She is particularly concerned for men, as society shames them for expressing emotion, and it can sometimes be difficult for men to find someone to talk to. It may be difficult for them to grant themselves permission to grieve. She shares that there are support groups available that can be a lot of help for grieving parents, such as “The Angel Club”, “Grief Circle”, “Compassionate Friends”, and groups hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
So, there you have it. She has turned her grief into an opportunity to prevent suicide for others. She has turned Grief into Gold. For hundreds of years philosophers and chemists set out to discover Alchemy. They searched far and wide to find it, to no avail. All I had to do was meet Anne Moss Rogers…
In Memory of Charles. Rapper extraordinaire. Funny. Loving. Caring. An all-around-cool-guy.
Anne can be found on http://www.annemoss.com/