Time to think about what’s next

Be Back Soon sign

You’ve probably noticed I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks. Well, I’m taking a little break. I know I want to create a brand new blog, and I’m not sure if I’m going to keep this one. So, I need a little more time to decide.

But, I promise, if I do continue with this marketing blog, it’ll be better than ever.

Thanks for reading and sending me your comments both online and offline. I really appreciate your support!

Coreen

Forget Resolutions, Choose Three Words for the New Year

Now that we’re in a new year, let’s forget about resolutions, which often end up being disappointments, and focus instead on goals–in three words. What are three things you want to be, do or attain this year?

A Little Background

Two years ago, I decided to start the year with three words that summed up goals I wanted to reach. My words were: healthy, secure and fulfilled.

I had no idea that Chris Brogan has been doing the same thing for even longer and has built a “Brave New Year” motivational program around the concept. (Not a surprise that Chris took this such a big step further. That’s what he does.) So, in the same spirit, I decided to share my three words.

Anyway, this year I wanted to go bolder, brighter even. And I encourage you to do the same.

Create

My first word was inspired by this photo I saw the other day:

The earth without "art" is just "eh"

All my life, I’ve been a writer and an artist (of sorts). As a kid, I was always writing stories and poems and drawing pictures. The art eventually fell away while I was in college. I didn’t have the time to squeeze in studio classes. I write for a living, but there’s so much more I still want to do–and I haven’t been pursuing it.

What have you always wanted to do but aren’t taking any action toward? That could be your first word.

Enjoy

Fun at Longwood

One favorite trait of mine is that I remain a sort of child at heart. But I haven’t set aside enough time to play. I don’t take enough vacation, explore enough of the world or spend enough time with friends.

Instead of putting pressure on myself and framing this as a resolution, I’m opening up my options by simply saying I want to “enjoy.” Enjoy my work, enjoy my time, enjoy my hobbies, enjoy my friends, enjoy my family–the list goes on and on. And, as long as I’ve spent more time enjoying myself by the end of the year, I have succeeded.

What resolution of yours can you turn around and open up like this?

Love

Boy and dog looking out window, with boy's hand on dog

This word is all about continuing to improve relationships and approaching every day and every person with love in my heart. I worked for a CEO once who used to say, “Always assume positive intent.” Sometimes in the stress of a hectic workweek, tempers can get short and relationships with coworkers and customers can be strained. It’s easy–too easy–to go negative and assume the worst.

Note, in the photo above, the simple gesture of caring. It’s often the smaller, simplest things that mean the most.

Making sure that I’m always acting from a good place takes the power away from any external negativity and gives me a better chance to improve outcomes. Those outcomes can include a better work product, stronger working relationships, more long-lasting relationships with customers. And, of course, it applies to my personal life as well.

You might not choose “love” as your word, but I’m guessing you could probably use more positivity in your world too. What word would that be for you?

Three words…that you could do anything with. Three words that could help you in your personal and professional life. Three words that open up far more options that any limited resolutions could do.

So, in 2013, what do you think? Are you going to cling to the same old resolutions or go for the power of three and choose three words?

Shifting Perspective & Finding Purpose to Make an Impact

Me hanging upside down with the words "Practice shifting your perspective"

Don’t you love when a book wakes you up and inspires you to improve? The Impact Equation by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith did that for me.

So I’m changing things up.

I admit, I have not been doing things the way I should online. I’m not half-assing it, but I haven’t been purposeful with my interactions online, like blogging and social media.

I’m very good at advising clients on social media and content marketing strategy and execution, but I haven’t been following my own advice as closely as I should. And for that I am sorry.

Blogging

My blog has probably been the better part of my online efforts, mostly because I truly want you to enjoy what I write. But I started blogging for rather selfish reasons: (1) I was starting to plan my exit from my job and wanted to be sure to have writing samples online. (2) I needed experience blogging to help me find the type of job that would be a next step for me. I wanted to educate, inform and entertain, but I never really refined the strategy for my blog–other than what I expressed in my original About page.

From now on, my efforts will have more purpose. I’ll still talk about marketing, advertising and social media. But I will also refine my strategy to focus more on giving to you, making sure there are points to learn from in my posts. It’s not an accident that my Allstate Mayhem blog post is my most popular. I structured it well, I examined why the commercials work, and offered information you could potentially apply to your own work.

LinkedIn and Google+

I give seminars on LinkedIn, yet I just finally improved my summary a few months ago. I still need to update my newest position, but I’m waiting to clarify a few things first. I definitely do not devote enough time there to joining in discussion and giving advice where needed. That is changing.

I have an idea to start a Copywriter mentoring group on LinkedIn, but I see there’s already something close called The Confident Copywriter so I joined that instead. (Let me know if you think I should go forward with my idea anyway.)

My Google+ presence needs more attention too. I think the problem there was that it was so new, I had trouble deciding on a direction. I wanted to be more personal, talk about more things there, but that resulted in a lack of focus. I will fix that too.

Everything I want to do will take a little time, especially because I want to be thoughtful in my approach. So please be patient and feel free to give me feedback along the way.

In the meantime, later this week (on October 25, The Impact Equation’s launch date) stay tuned for my official book review of the book that inspired my change. Hopefully, it will inspire you too.

Sign on front yard saying Vote 2012

Misinformation Age: Marketing’s Great…Just Not in Our Elections

Sign on front yard saying Vote 2012

We’re doing it all wrong. Getting elected has become all about marketing. And each season, there is less and less truth in this sort of advertising. It’s time to take the “campaign” out of politics.

Being President—being any elected official in government—is serious business. In this Internet age, there’s no excuse for why we continue to dump billions of dollars into the election campaign waste can.

To decide who should hold the most important office in our nation, we need substantive information, not marketing slogans, pretty posters and propaganda. We could absolutely get rid of money in politics and draw more genuine public servants to offices of all sorts—national, state and local.

Marketing has its place in business, where companies of all sizes want to sell us something. But I don’t want someone to “sell” me on who should be president. Do you?

I want substance. I want facts. I want an easy way to find the truth about whom I’m voting for, and political advertising surely won’t give me that.

An Online Solution

Imagine instead that we have a website for presidential candidates that’s filled with bios, voting records, tax records, issue statements and, heck, even birth certificates, if you insist.

We could have debates, town halls and Q&As, on TV, online and in person—with smart moderators who ask important and relevant questions to both candidates, not always in debate format, with no questions reviewed beforehand. Heck, let’s give them pop quizzes and put them on Quora.

Think of the substance and wealth of useful information and insights we’d have to make our decisions.

The amount of BS we’d have to wade through would require mere tiptoes instead of full-fledged wading boots, because we’d eliminate the propaganda and the pundits and the propagandizing pundits!

Not So Friendly Skies

A coworker of mine recently likened being president to being a pilot—the person we elect should see the office as a responsibility to deliver us all safely to where we want to go.

We, the voting public, have a responsibility in return—to push aside the marketing BS and seek out untainted information that tells the truth on each candidate’s character, views and intended policies. But with all the marketing crap out there, it can be hard to discern what’s really true.

Too often, in our current system, we jump on a plane just because it’s red or blue and the pretty pamphlets told us exactly what we wanted to hear. Then we find out the pilot we’ve chosen doesn’t really care that our lives are in their hands, and he’s going where he wants to go whether we like it or not. And if the plane encounters turbulence and goes down, he and his copilot are the only ones with parachutes.

Aren’t you sick of this?

The Solution Is Staring Us in the Face

National, state and local websites can house the facts we need each election season—for all candidates. We can make voting easier for everyone—even those who are not online. It’s time. It’s past time.

With technology where it is today, we can bring elections into this so-called Information Age and say good riddance to the political misinformation age.

Marketing’s great—it can be creative, inspiring, and fun. And some political ads are very well done…but that’s how they get you. Because once you buy the marketing, you don’t even realize you don’t have the truth.

Many people suffered and died to give us all the right to vote. We owe them a system based on truth.

***************

This year, you can go to FactCheck.org to find out what messages are true and which are not.

Even Abe Lincoln Likes Google Plus

Screenshot of Hangout with Spielberg, Gordon-Levitt & fans

Tonight, after a busy day, my plans got changed and I ended up home a little before 7pm. Lucky me, I remembered that Google Play was hosting a Hangout with Steven Spielberg and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Marketers, Google+ is the place to be if you want to throw some cool events and interact with fans. This particular event was to promote Spielberg’s upcoming film, Lincoln.

Lincoln movie ad

Five lucky people got to actually ask questions and chat with Gordon-Levitt and Spielberg. Three used their personal computers, while two others joined from Times Square–where the Hangout was also broadcast. (Think possibilities here, marketers.)

We saw the trailer for Lincoln and got terrific insight into the film from both director and actor. Spielberg called it “One of the most compelling experiences I’ve had making a film.” As Gordon-Levitt pointed out, that’s no small statement coming from the legendary director.

And for those of you who don’t normally like historical films (kind of like me), this film seems to have quite a bit of resonance for today. Spielberg was asked what he wants audiences to take away from the film. His answer was to understand “the burden leadership requires,” which is something we often forget.

“The country fell apart,” he added, “and Lincoln had to put it back together.” Much of what he said sounded like things we could say about the state of the country today. Very compelling indeed.

I could go on with my review of what I think looks like a fantastic film, but my point of all this is that many marketers could really use Google+ to their advantage. You can actually talk to your audience–in a fun, casual way.

As Spielberg said:

“It used to be hard to find an audience…It might still be hard to get them to the movie…but it’s easy to start a conversation.”

Marketers, the more conversations you start, the more people get to know, like and trust you (if you’re being genuine and other-centered). Get on Google+, start using the tools there, and be creative in how you engage.

Who knows? Google+ could become your favorite place to hangout. What are you waiting for?

***************

The video should be available online soon. Check back at Google Play’s Google+ page. As I post this, it says the video is private, so they’re probably still processing it.

Never Forget: A Tale of Two Tuesdays and a Broken Promise

I can’t write about marketing today because it’s Tuesday, September 11th. But in a way, I will be talking about a tagline of sorts—Never forget.

Never forget: A flag, bald eagle and twin towers

It wasn’t meant to be a tagline. “Never forget” was meant as a sentiment…a promise.

None of us will ever forget what happened exactly 11 years ago, when that beautiful Tuesday morning turned to horror in New York, in Washington DC, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

We’ll never forget the heroes of that day—the firefighters and all the rescuers that went into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon when everyone else was running out, the passengers on Flight 93 who decided to stop terrorists themselves, even though they knew they would not make it back alive.

But what we have forgotten is that promise we made to never forget. We weren’t promising to never forget that day. You don’t forget a day like that. We promised to never forget that we are one—one country, one people. “United we stand”—remember that?

Remember that feeling? Remember how politics, partisanship and pettiness disappeared for a little while?

“Never forget” was intended to honor all those who sacrificed that day, all those who came together that day regardless of race, religion or social stature. Our behavior toward each other changed in those days. We pulled together and helped each other out.

Other countries, even some who hated us, held moments of silence and even sang our National Anthem. There was no more clear message that this world really could be one and could act more like it if we could do one thing—never forget.

And yet here we are, 11 years later, captivated and polarized by “news” channels that spew divisive rhetoric and outright lies decorated as truth.

We watched a woman (Nancy Pelosi) be named Speaker of the House, only to proclaim “We won!” Anytime a Congressperson says “We won,” it usually means the people lose. She forgot.

We watched John Boehner take over as Speaker and show off a giant gavel he brought on his first day, promising that his goal as Speaker was to make sure President Obama was not re-elected. He forgot too.

Does that honor those we lost on September 11th?

Pretty much all of Congress, most or all politicians have clearly forgotten the promise we made that day, and many citizens got sucked in and forgot too. Sadly, divided we stand.

Today, forget everyone else for a minute. Think about the way you talk about politics, religion, homosexuality, gender, etc. Ask yourself if you have forgotten that promise.

It’s not too late to revive it you know. How do we honor those who we’ve lost? How do we learn from lessons of our past?

Come together. Put people first. Help each other, don’t tear each other down. United we should stand.

Obviously, we’re all human. We’re not going to be perfect. Just imagine a world—even if it’s just your own little world—in which you live honoring others and never forget. See what you can do to live up to that promise.

It’s not too late. Never forget.

***************

A special thank you to all who serve—firefighters, police officers, National Guard, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard—you truly deserve more than we give.

A Merger, a Merlis and a Melee: 4 Lessons Your Business Can Learn from Abington Hospital’s Mistakes

The fate and future of Abington Memorial Hospital suddenly is in doubt. After decades of building a reputation as the community hospital of choice in the Philadelphia suburbs, a decision made behind closed doors has torn that community apart.

Logo for Stop the Abington Hospital MergerDoctors aren’t happy. Patients aren’t happy. Donors aren’t happy.

What should the hospital do? And what lessons can businesses learn from Abington’s mistakes?

The Situation

Abington Hospital CEO Laurence Merlis agreed to a merger with Catholic hospital Holy Redeemer to form a new regional health system. The problem? He didn’t tell anyone, including his doctors.

One of the stipulations of the merger is that Abington must stop performing abortions. You’ll hear many people mention that, but don’t get caught up in that polarizing topic. The real issue is that a secular hospital now finds itself wondering what Catholic-imposed rules doctors and patients will have to follow. This includes abortion, fertility services, stem cell procedures, end-of-life decisions and more.

Lesson 1: Think of not just the benefits but the consequences your decision will create.  How will your customers, your employees and your community feel and react?

 

Transparency & Authenticity: Missing in Action

It’s funny how fast trust can fall away. Just last year, Merlis was highlighted in an article titled, “How Laurence Merlis Unifies Employees around His Vision for Abington Health.” The article stated:

Two of the most critical things a leader can do when formulating and promoting a vision is to listen and measure. It’s something that Merlis has made a top priority at Abington. He wants his leadership team to get input on the future direction of the organization from all involved stakeholders — the board of directors, physicians, medical staff, office staff and support staff. Then, once the vision and strategy are formed, he manages by what he can measure and communicates that data back to employees to facilitate an ongoing dialogue.

Sounds good, right? Seems like Merlis forgot his own rules. He said he wanted “to keep the entire work force engaged in the process and also empower employees to hold management accountable for their leadership decisions” adding “We share that in an effort to stay as transparent as possible.”

Oops! Where did that transparency go?

Doctors and the community are now trying to hold those leaders—Merlis—accountable for their decision, yet the hospital is very slow to respond.

Lesson 2: In Merlis’ own words: “You need to be sure that you are measuring yourself by what you said you would do.” Be authentic. Don’t claim to be transparent if you plan not to be.

Facebook Frenzy & a Wave of Bad Press

In this social age, delay in response is dooming. Leaders at Abington Hospital clearly dropped the ball. Did they, in arrogance, assume that people would acquiesce to their merger decision with no problems?

That would be idiotic. In a community with a good number of Jewish and non-Catholic families, many of whom have contributed to the hospital, it’s a major slap in the face to suddenly turn their hospital into a Catholic one.

I know, Merlis insists Abington will stay secular. But his actions say something different. And even his own doctors no longer trust him. One doctor, Dr. Philip Rosenfeld, who has been with the hospital for over 40 years hammered this point home, saying after all that’s transpired “I have no confidence in any statement of the Abington Hospital administration.”

Doctors stand in solidarity against the merger and so far:

Lesson 3: Respect your audience. Act quickly to at least acknowledge that the doctors and public have a valid response. Prove you are listening. Understand the problem you’ve created.

Stopping the Wave

So far, Abington Hospital’s response has been minimal and ineffective.

Meg McGoldrich, AMH VP for Administration, reached out to the Facebook page owner, Rita Poley, to see if an “accommodation” could be reached. Her proposal? To establish an off-site facility for abortions. Completely missing the point.

The danger of a subject like abortion is that people hear that word and choose sides, not paying attention to the other items at stake. This isn’t just about abortion.

The issue here is that a CEO who claimed he was committed to transparency and valued his employees’ opinions made a decision that greatly affects them without any consideration as to their opinion or how it would affect them. All this despite a year earlier claiming:

Our philosophy here is the staff are experts in how to get things done…We look to them for advice and recommendations on how to make things better when it comes to making ourselves a place for patients to receive care.

He also disregarded the community his hospital serves. Right now, people who want Catholic services go to Holy Redeemer Hospital. Others have a choice that is now, in a sense, being taken away. Now, women and doctors don’t trust (and don’t want) this new Catholic influence on their care.

Lesson 4: Know when to fold ‘em. Stop the merger for now. Listen to your audience and if you choose to go forward with the merger, incorporate the needs and concerns of your constituency.

Next Steps

After Merlis stops the merger, which is the only (sane) thing to do at this point, he will have to work very hard to rebuild trust. Because he’s waited so long to address the issue with the doctors, employees and community, I’m afraid the only step for Merlis to take is to resign—with no golden parachute to ease his fall.

Then Public Relations and Marketing will have to get into high gear working to undo the damage. My suggestion is to commit to transparency this time and make every next step obvious, public and in the best interest of the patients and the community.

***************

UPDATE: July 18. Abington and Holy Redeemer Hospitals announced they’ve called off the merger (short statement in the Philadelphia Inquirer).

IMG_0592

Walk for the Wounded: A Good Cause but a Tough Sell

How do you promote an event that’s for a good cause but makes people uncomfortable, for political reasons or personal reasons?

This is the challenge Operation First Response faces every year in putting on the Walk for the Wounded.

3 Myths That Keep People from Participating

Myth 1: Wounded soldiers don’t need my money because the government pays all their bills.

Many people assume that our government takes care of our military when theyVietnam vet escorting Iraq/Afghanistan vet on mortocycle are injured, and unfortunately, that’s not true. Though wounded soldiers do receive care in military hospitals, they still have mortgages and other bills to pay and not much money coming in. On top of that, spouses and other family members often have to quit their jobs to help care for the wounded soldier.

Money raised in the walk goes directly to help soldiers with these extra bills, for rent, food, clothing, etc. And believe me, these funds are very much needed and appreciated by these soldiers and their families.

Myth 2: Listening to the soldiers and their families talk will make me cry.

This one is true. But don’t let it keep you from coming to the event. I’ve been going now for the past three years. Yes, I’ve had tears in my eyes, but overall, I leave feeling uplifted. I leave with perspective that makes it easier to deal with everyday problems. Speaking at these events often helps give the families and soldiers relief from their pain and grief. The brotherhood between the soldiers and the close relationship built by the organization’s volunteers and the soldiers is truly heartwarming and inspiring. Photo of the Phillie Phanatic

Plus, this year, the event includes more live music and a car & motorcycle show. And, for all kids and Phillies fans, the Phillie Phanatic will make his usual appearance.

Myth 3: This is just another event for pro-war speeches or political propaganda.

No. It’s not at all. You’ll hear only pro-soldier speeches and you’ll be amazed by the strength these men and women have. There are no Republicans or Democrats trying to push an agenda here. I consider myself anti-war but pro-soldier, and regardless of political affiliation, most people are there simply to support the soldiers.

Many men in my family have served in different branches of the military and my friends have served in the Army, Navy, Marines and National Guard. One of my friends did not make it back from the Iraq war, so I initially went to this Walk to honor him. I keep going back.

Last year, I volunteered and sold t-shirts for the first half of the day. A woman bought a t-shirt and then lingered. She seemed like she wanted something more but didn’t want to ask, so I asked if there was anything more I could do. She started telling me about her son Matt, who was wounded in the war and was not well enough yet to get around. Tears sat in her eyes and her voice quivered as she asked if I’d take a photo of her in front of a Walk for the Wounded sign so she could show her son.

It was the tiniest little task, but to her it meant so much. These are the types of things we can do for military families on a daily basis. It’s not hard to make a difference.

These soldiers, they’re doing a job—a job many of us would never want to do. They follow orders and sacrifice much, yet they never ask for anything in return. So, I’m asking.

Operation First Response is a fantastic organization in which a small number of people do everything they can to make a difference in the lives of wounded soldiers. They become these soldiers’ friends and family as a result, often helping with money out of their own pockets.

Please consider doing this small, honorable task and donate to the Walk for the Wounded. Or better yet, go to the event and see what I mean.

Thank you!

Walkers in 2010 Walk for the Wounded

Picture of Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno & Reputation: A Lesson for All of Us

Picture of Joe Paterno

When Joe Paterno was fired from Penn State Football and used as a scapegoat for the failings of several Penn State administrators, I stayed quiet. This blog was not the place for that discussion.

Now that Coach Paterno has died, I feel like I must say something. His story gives us valuable lessons in character and in reputation (or what we marketers call brand). What’s scary is his story also teaches us how forces much greater than ourselves can disrupt and seriously damage your brand, your reputation, and you may not be able to do much about it.

That’s why character and consistency matter most. Stay true to who you are at all times and people respond well to that, especially in crisis.

As a former Penn Stater, I can tell you that Joe Paterno was a man of outstanding character. His name, his presence, his influence was everywhere at that institution. And he quietly gave money, time or advice to almost anyone who needed it.

For the past few months, Penn State University has been trying to destroy that brand, that man. Why? To protect their own asses and because they know the most visible man at that school is JoePa—a man big enough to hide behind. Despicable that they decided to do that and worse that ESPN, Sports Illustrated and other prominent news organizations fed the fire.

There is no evidence that Joe Paterno did anything wrong. There’s no evidence he knew what Sandusky was doing while employed under him. He was not the man who gave Sandusky permission to use Penn State facilities after retiring. He didn’t witness anything and did exactly what he was supposed to do when Mike McQueary, the actual witness, gave him an incomplete recount of what he saw. But, when you listen to the Board, to ESPN, Sports Illustrated or the news, they all focus on Paterno.

And what did Paterno do? He stayed quiet. He stayed true to his character and his focus on others and reminded people that he would be okay, just “pray for those kids.” Classic JoePa. For as much positive attention as he always received, he also always deflected it and gave credit to others or downplayed his influence.

Urban Meyer, talking to ESPN after Paterno’s death, mentioned a rumor that Paterno kept a rotary phone. The lesson? To take time, take a deep breath before you react to something. Wise advice—something Joe Paterno was full of.

O.J. McDuffie (former PSU wide receiver) recounted memories of a “father figure” who turned boys into men and remembered everything that was important in your life.

Adam Taliaferro (former PSU football player) spoke of a “caring, honest man” who “always had your best interest at heart.”

This is not a man who would knowingly let someone he knew harm others—especially kids. This is not a man who deserved to be disowned by the very institution he helped build.

Paterno had every right to lash out, to blast the Board and the school for its own inaction and for their recent decisions. Every news outlet around mentioned his name more closely with child molestation than they did Jerry Sandusky’s.

Students rioted, alumni lashed out at the Board, yet Joseph Vincent Paterno—staying true to who he was and confident in his own character and the reputation he built—stayed quiet. Even when Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post gave him the opportunity to bash his detractors, he stayed classy and respectful. One final tremendous lesson he granted us all in the days before passing away.

There’s enough yelling and finger-pointing in this world, and it’s making us all ugly. Coach Paterno knew the secret to being a beautiful human being. He wasn’t perfect, but he was perfectly true. We Penn Staters don’t worship him, we admire him, know him and love him. He earned that in word and deed.

He said, “Believe deep down in your heart that you’re destined to do great things.” I would add, “and don’t worry what anyone else thinks. Just stay consistent and true to you and your own heart.” And maybe get a rotary phone.

***************

The Paterno family as a whole has shown how full of class they are. Read their statement on Joe Paterno’s death. Note they ask that in lieu of flowers, they ask that donations be made to Special Olympics of Pennsylvania or Penn State’s THON fundraiser for kids with cancer.

Lessons from a Death in the Marketing World

Something happened this weekend in the marketing world that made me change my planned topic for this week.

Trey Pennington, a well-liked social media & marketing personality, killed himself Sunday after sending out this final tweet:

Trey Pennington's final tweet

Suicide is never the answer. Unfortunately, for people in a deep depression it often seems like the only solution.

I’m not going to pretend I knew Trey. I didn’t. I only knew him online, tweeted back and forth a few times. But I can tell you, from the interactions I did have with him, he was a genuinely nice and seemingly positive guy.

Piece of Trey's Twitter stream from Sept 3

Look at his Twitter stream, does he sound like a guy about to kill himself? No. That’s exactly the point. There is no standard suicidal person, and that’s often why suicidal depression is so hard to detect. It’s also why we need to talk about depression and suicide more—to help prevent more suicides and encourage people to ask for help and help each other. So, I hope you don’t mind, but this is my subject today.

Dealing with depression

“Depression” is one of those misnomers like “cramps” when talking about PMS symptoms—only much worse because it’s so dangerous. How many times have you heard someone say something like, “I’m so depressed because my favorite show was canceled” or “Stop, you’re depressing me”? Depression is not as easy as that. Clinical depression is a very serious illness. It’s as insidious and as brutal as cancer.

Suicide kills more than 34,000 people each year, and for every suicide death there are 11 more attempted suicides. (Source)

Think of depression more like a sort of suffocation. It’s this deep, dark tunnel in which it becomes hard to breathe and function, and for each person the length of it varies. You can’t see the end. In fact, you can’t see much of anything past a foot or two in front of your face, and traveling through it is so lonely, life-sapping and sharply painful that eventually you feel compelled to create your own end. You can’t see any other way out.

The selfish misperception

After Trey’s death, I saw some tweets saying how selfish Trey was to kill himself. I’ve heard people say that many times when suicide came into conversation.

I get it. I get why people feel that way, especially if the person had kids. My cousin had two kids when she killed herself. My friend’s wife had three kids when she killed herself. It seems very selfish from the outside, from our easy seats outside of depression. But I can tell you that a person who kills herself usually honestly believes that the world—even her young, vulnerable kids—will be better off without her. The pain is so brutal and blinding that the person cannot see outside that pain.

My friend’s wife suffered tremendously for years with depression. She reached out for help and tried so very hard to get better. She had a loving husband and family that tried to help, many friends that tried to help, numerous doctors that tried to help and the monsignor at her church tried to help. Most people don’t have that much support, yet she still didn’t make it.

I don’t think she wanted to hurt anyone. She might not have even wanted to die. She just couldn’t take the pain anymore and truly thought death was the only way out. That’s not selfish, it’s sad.

Anger and blame

The rush of emotions you feel when you learn of a loved one’s suicide is unlike almost any other death, except maybe murder. Not surprising, because that’s really what suicide is—murdering oneself. So know that it’s okay to be angry. Go ahead and get all that anger out. Trust me, you don’t want to keep it inside.

I remember being in tennis class in college the day after I learned of my friend’s suicide. My fist clenched so tight around the racket in my hand and every time I hit the ball I really wanted to hit the ground instead. I could almost feel myself smashing that racket into the ground over and over again and screaming—nothing in particular, just screaming. Instead, I asked to be excused from class and walked home. I ran into a roommate who was also headed back to our apartment, and I tried to say something, but I think I was just so afraid of what all that emotion would do to me or what it would do to others around me if it came out, that I stayed quiet. Don’t stay quiet.

And don’t blame yourself. I blamed myself for years after my friend killed herself. I saw her right before I went back to college and before she went to hers. I knew something wasn’t right. I wanted to hug her (and at the time, I wasn’t a very huggy person). But I didn’t. I asked her if she was okay, but she had people waiting for her and didn’t have time to talk. She gave me only a small bit of info, and then I said the dreaded trivial, meaningless words, “Don’t worry, you’ll be back at school soon. Things will get better.”

A person considering suicide cannot comprehend that things can get better. They’re past that point. But, even if you say all the right things—and here’s the really sucky part—that person still might kill herself. It’s very tough to convince yourself of this amidst overwhelming grief, but keep repeating it—this is not your fault.

There are only two things you can do for a suicidal person (and this still might not save him or her):

  1. Listen, without judgment, and be supportive in your words and actions.
  2. Get him or her to professional help as fast as possible.

Instead of blaming yourself, learn from this. Next time you have an inkling that your friend or wife or brother may be depressed or thinking of killing him- or herself, trust your instinct. Resolve to be brave and ask your loved ones the scary questions—Are you depressed? Are you thinking of killing yourself?

Yes, the answers might be scary, but you don’t have a chance of helping them if you don’t ask.

Recovery

You cannot focus on the “if only…” and recover from grief. And, if you get stuck in this part or the anger portion of your grief for too long, seek professional help for yourself. The way the person ended his or her life will stick with you for a long time, so the key to getting to the other side of your grief is to start focusing more on the life, the person, not the mode of death.

Everything you feel is valid and you must allow all your feelings to come out in some way. For me, I write. After my friend died, I wrote a play about suicide. For you, it might be talking with friends, working in your garden, training for a marathon, or painting. Only you know what will help. I know it won’t be easy, but I also know you can recover from pretty much anything. You just have to focus on recovering—over and over and over again.

Remember that your loved one was in pain, pain you can hardly even imagine. And hope that he is finally at peace now. Have compassion for him and have compassion for yourself as you go through this very difficult time.

And don’t stay quiet.

***************

To Trey’s family and friends, my heart goes out to you and I wish you well as you try to cope with life without him. And for anyone thinking of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website for resources to get help.