Disorganization

Today, I got an e-mail letting me know that one of the mentoring programs I signed up to do is being delayed — for the second time. It was initially scheduled to begin in mid-October. In October, I was notified it would be delayed to mid-November. Now that we are at the end of October, we’re being told it will begin sometime in January, and that the lead apologizes for the delay but hopes the wait will be worth it.

And when I went to the AFSP Walk event on Sunday, not only did no one know where the walk signs were, but no one knew where the photos where of the people the walk was being done in honor of. Chris had to run around to look for the sign that said “In Honor of” my brother’s name, and the photo with his name on it. Not only that, but when I went to sign in after already pre-registering online (hence, having an online donor drive), when they got to the page with the last set of last name W, the page was missing! I told them that I’d raised over the minimum for an event t-shirt, so they gave me one anyway. And if they didn’t believe me, I’m sure I could have pointed to my name on the “Top Fundraisers” sign.

I can’t really blame non-profit organizations for being disorganized — they are underfunded and under loved, and very likely completely under staffed and over worked. The worst part is knowing what they are trying to achieve in the world relative to all these for-profit organizations, and how little they get compared them.

Wellesley connection

A former classmate from college reached out and Facebook messaged me today. She is the former roommate of my best friend from college. We never really talked much for some reason or another. She studied art history while I studied economics and women’s studies. She and my friend rarely hung out outside of their dorm room or the dining hall, so I never really got to know her at all. I rarely see her posts on Facebook and almost forgot we were even Facebook friends.

She messaged today to say that she’s been following my recent Facebook posts about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and my brother, and she wanted to let me know how sorry she was about what had happened to him. “I had no idea,” she said, “But I want you to know I really admire what you are doing.”

We will probably never see each other again or be friends or be connected in any other way other than being Facebook friends and fellow Wellesley alums of the same year, but it felt really good to know that someone who I believed never thought much about me actually is in awe of something I am doing with my life.

Yet another visit

Maybe Ed was so excited about seeing all the activity around the Out of the Darkness Walk and fundraising for the suicide prevention cause that he decided to come pay me a visit. I’ve had trouble waking up the last two mornings and have been sleeping in, much to my annoyance. This morning, I slept in, wondering if he would come back yet again.

In my first dream, I’m at the dentist’s office, and my dentist tells me that I have a cavity that needs to be filled. I’m annoyed at this thought because I can’t even remember the last time I had a cavity… I was probably 10? He then makes sure to tell me that I have some extra “tub” on my stomach that may be contributing to the cavity. That makes absolutely no sense, but I have to remind myself that I am in dream mode.

In my second dream, I’m sitting outside a house that I cannot identify, and out of nowhere, Ed comes walking towards me. I immediately get excited, as I always seem to do in these situations, and I get up and start running at him. I then jump on him and cause him to fall over on his back, and he starts yelling at me to get off of him. I tell him that I refuse to get off of him or let him go. “Why did you have to leave?” I yell at him while I start sobbing. “Stay here and don’t leave me again. Please stay.” He starts patting me on my back and says that he is here. He is here.

Well, Ed, if you are here, then why did I have to do a suicide prevention walk in your honor?

Awkwardness

I’ve been really grateful for all of the donations and support I’ve received for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Out of the Darkness Walk fundraising I’ve been doing. While I know that not everyone cares that I am doing this, nor does everyone care that I lost my brother to suicide, I’ve been trying to focus on all of the positive aspects of this endeavor — the fact that people are willing to talk to me about this (like my colleague who has dealt with suicide in his own family), and the fact that others are willing to donate and reach out and say encouraging words. These are all things I appreciate a lot. For those who don’t reach out or say anything or donate or help in any way… well, that’s fine with me as long as they know I don’t care about them, either.

Today, I had an annoying interaction in the kitchen with a colleague I am Facebook friends with (because that is now a type of “status” in life now thanks to Mark Zuckerberg). I was preparing my tea this morning, and this colleague walks by me and says hi, and says, “So I saw that you did that walk over the weekend.” I responded and said, yes, it was yesterday. He goes around the corner and leaves the area. He never comes back. To make sure he knew I knew he was being a jerk, the next time I saw him a bit later, I said with a smile, “You still have until January 1st of next year to donate!”

Sometimes, it’s fun to be a jerk, especially when others are jerks to you first.

Into the light

Today was the day of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Out of the Darkness Manhattan Walk. Over 900 people registered to walk and fund raise for this event, and while $160,000 was the original target goal, we collectively raised over $171,000 as of this morning. Of that, my fundraising campaign made up $2,365 of that. When I originally set my $1,000 goal, I wasn’t sure I’d even hit that amount, but to know now that the goal has been met 235% still overwhelms me.

During the walk today, it felt comforting to meet other people who have shared in the pain that my family and I have experienced in losing Ed. It was incredible to hear how passionate people are years and years after losing their loved ones about how they want to help others and continue raising money and awareness. Even after months, years, and decades of a loss, the pain will always be there. The void will still persist, especially in moments and days when the the next great victory or tragedy occurs. Some days are easier than others as they say.

I don’t want this to be a one-time event for me, though. I want to continue helping the cause and keep Ed’s memory alive. I can’t keep him alive, but I can keep his memory alive in me and what I do. Honestly, I wish I didn’t have to do any of this. I wish he were still here. I wish he were here and healthy and happy and independent and living a good life. But maybe he served his purpose in life and felt it was finally his time to peace out, and in leaving, it had to serve up a lesson to me, as well.

There were a number of moments I had today, listening to other people speak to me, listening to the chatter around me and seeing the big fundraising sign with my name on it as one of the top donors, where I could feel my face get hot and my eyes begin to water because this entire event was so overwhelming, yet oddly comforting. Seeing a big sign waiting for me that read “In Honor of Edward Y. Wong” was yet another reminder to me that yes, Ed isn’t here. He’s dead. That’s why you are doing this. This is all real. It still hurts, and I hate seeing his name anywhere near anything that is about death. But it’s my reality that I have to face, and the only healthy way I’m going to continue dealing with my pain is by making it into something that can help others, and hopefully make him proud of me — wherever he may be now.

Surprise

For the last two months, I’ve been holding back telling my mom that I’m fundraising and volunteering for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In general, she’s never been a fan of charity and has always disapproved when my dad has given monetary donations, or when I have volunteered my time to organizations I’ve believed in. Why would you volunteer time to help other people when you could be helping your own family? she would always ask. In the case of this particular organization and cause, it’s even more sensitive and touchy because she doesn’t like people knowing how Ed passed away, nor does she want people knowing any details of the mental illnesses from which he suffered. The majority of her Jehovah’s Witness congregation have no idea my brother is not alive anymore or how he could have died. Her own living sister in Vietnam has no idea, nor the very few relatives on her cousin’s side in Southern California. It is still a big secret.

Two people in my life have insisted that I tell my parents — Chris, and his cousin’s girlfriend. It’s not about whether they will agree with what you are doing or care about the cause, they said. It’s about them knowing what’s important to you and what you are choosing to do with your life. It’s ultimately about facing the truth. I really didn’t want to, and I’ve been terrified of saying anything about it, but this evening, I finally decided (after being pushed) to tell her.

It was actually a bit shocking how my mom responded. For once in my life, she surprised me. She asked me how much money I had raised, and was astonished when I told her how much. How did you find out about this? When did you start this? She had a lot of questions and said she had no idea that these organizations existed. My mom said she was happy I was doing this, and that more needs to be done for this problem in our society. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

It’s amazing when the most predictable people in your life become unpredictable and surprise you in pleasant ways.

Ebola in New York

For such an educated, ambitious, and high income city New York is, sometimes, people here think and say the stupidest things possible.

Today, all I could hear or see were people commenting on how the first person in New York to get Ebola should be treated and cured — then arrested and thrown in prison for thousands of years for “attempted murder” — as in, potentially spreading the Ebola virus to other people in New York. This New Yorker who has Ebola — he came back from Africa, risked his life as doctor to treat Ebola patients there, and then suddenly gets demonized for coming back and trying to lead his own life. According to the reports I have read, he followed the exact protocol that the CDC outlined for those who come in contact with Ebola patients. If anything, people should try being rational and blame the CDC and their protocol for failing us. Another thing people should read is how Ebola is actually contracted, as it seems that a lot of people think that you can just get Ebola by breathing the same air as an Ebola patient.

Cultural traditions around death

One of my best friends is living in Singapore with her husband’s family, and she just told me that her husband’s paternal grandmother passed away on Tuesday after a number of health problems. She was 88 — seems like a nice, long life to me since no one in my family who has passed has even successfully made it past 80. As per the cultural tradition, the four days following her death are a long wake, during which family and friends come and pay their respects at all hours of the day to view her body. Someone from the family has to be there (and awake) the entire time, so the close family members take turns staying awake until the day of the funeral, which is this Friday.

There are so many cultural traditions around death in the world that are so diverse and complex. I know I probably couldn’t personally handle most of them. One of the traditions Chris told me about was that in Maori death custom, if a mother passes, her daughter must stay with the dead body for 48 hours straight.

When I heard that, I thought, I don’t even think I could go even a fourth or a fifth of that with Ed’s.

LearnVest event

A colleague of mine has a friend who works at LearnVest and was able to give away friends and family passes to their annual LearnVest workshop event this year, so she invited me to come with her tonight. There were over 2,500 people who attended the event, the majority being young working professional women, who LearnVest originally targeted when they began in 2009. There were a couple of good speeches around happiness, what defines it, and how money fits in, but for the most part, the topics being discussed were already things I was aware of and have been actively doing.

I guess I take for granted a lot of the things I learned in my money workshops during my college years, as well as advice I’ve been given from my dad as well as finance books I’ve read shortly after graduation. Given all of that learning, I just always thought it was the normal thing to do to at least contribute 10 percent to my 401K and retirement funds, to spend no more than 25 percent on housing and rent, or to have at least three to six months of ‘emergency funds’ stowed away in the sad event I’d lose my job. I always knew that once I would have children, I’d buy additional life insurance right away in the event that I’d tragically die prematurely. I guess these are the things that I have no idea about when it comes to what the average other person is doing. In some way, I live in a money bubble because I feel out of touch with what the average person does with her money. I cannot relate at all to people who live paycheck to paycheck, and I can’t relate to the women who think it’s the norm to buy at least a pair or two of shoes a month.

It was a good reminder to hear today, though, that there’s really no such thing as having “enough” money. It’s always relative, and we tend to never think we have “enough.” People with a million dollars think they need three times that to be fully satisfied. People with $3 million think they need $9 million to have enough, and so forth. We get settled into our new “status,” and nothing ever becomes enough. And if you asked me today if I thought I had “enough” money to afford a child, I’d say no. Nothing seems to be “enough” no matter what your net worth or salary. It’s really true among people I know.

Too close

A third colleague donated for the walk after seeing my Facebook post today. He’s relatively new, as I believe he started at my company about two months ago. We’ve had friendly chatter here and there in the kitchen, and I could always tell he had a more sensitive side than other men at my company. After I saw the donation notification, I messaged him to thank him, and he told me that he was very sorry to hear about my brother. He said he could relate to how I feel because he’s actually lost two immediate family members and a former college roommate to suicide. “I’m glad that you posted it on Facebook,” he said. “It’s something that more people should be aware of because it’s far more common than anyone thinks.” More people need to acknowledge and talk about it. Why must we make the issue worse by not giving it its needed attention?

When someone dies from suicide in this country every 15 seconds, it certainly is more common than the world wants to acknowledge. I was so shocked to hear that not just one but two of his close family members took their own lives. How do we seem so together for individuals who have dealt with such horrible losses?