6/11/18, In Loving Memory

 

Hi Everyone,

 

I’m on one my usual three city/two country treks, with 10 suitcases and three Chihuahuas, visiting two daughters midway, and meeting another when I arrive at my destination. So I was going to take a week off from the blog, since I’m traveling, and send you a “Gone Fishing” message. But recent events are too serious to ignore, so I’m sitting down to write to you. The events I am referring to are the suicides of Kate Spade, the fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, the famous chef and TV personality, in the last week. Ms. Spade was 55, and Mr. Bourdain was 61, both much too young to have left this world, both immensely talented and greatly admired and respected.

 

As most of you know, I lost my son Nick to suicide (resulting from bi polar disease all his life) at 19, so I have lived the fall out of suicide at close range. Several of Nick’s friends followed that same path, and his very best friend, a wonderful boy, with everything going for him, great family, nice girlfriend, successful career, bright, charming, intelligent, kind, an incredibly decent person, and he committed suicide in his 30’s.  It came as a shock to everyone who knew him—more so than when my son Nick died, since he had battled with bi polar/manic depression all his life. Others among Nick’s friends have done so as well. Each of my children has had friends who have committed suicide. And tragically, I have been to more funerals for young people than for my own contemporaries.

 

I did not know Kate Spade, although several of my children knew her and her husband, and one of my sons is/was very close to them, and crushed by her death. Nor did I know Mr. Bourdain personally, but several of my children are his ardent fans. Many years ago, one of my children’s friends was on vacation with us, when he saw on television the news that his famous actress mother had committed suicide, and then not long after, his father. He was 14 at the time, and we shared his grief with him. And I knew Robin Williams for 16 years when he died. We met through our children, because one of my daughters and his son were boyfriend/girlfriend devotedly all through high school. I came to know Robin then, and was always impressed by what a wonderful father he was, and how much he loved his children. At his funeral, his friends were devastated, and his three children were absolutely crushed. Knowing what a dedicated and loving father he was, all I could think was how devastated he would have been if he could have seen how broken hearted his children were. It takes an immense driving force for someone to commit suicide, and I suppose it blinds one to all reason—-in their own agony, they don’t realize how their death by suicide will affect those who love them. We had a wonderful caretaker and advisor on psychiatric issues for the last 5 years of my son Nick’s life—she was a talented, brilliant, warm, sensible woman, and a wonderful mother to her three children, with a loving husband. She was so depressed by my son Nick’s suicide, that she never recovered herself, sank into a terrible depression, and three years later, she committed suicide too, at 36, with three young children, who were the ones to find her, given the circumstances in which she did it. We were all heartbroken by her suicide too.

 

I don’t know of Mr. Bourdain’s family circumstances, but Ms. Spade had a 13 year old daughter, who is left to survive her mother’s death, and our hearts go out to her.

 

Some people believe that people commit suicide out of weakness. I doubt that, and I suspect it must take enormous strength to commit such a devastating act. Most often it is the result of severe depression and some form of mental illness. I hear terrible circumstances through our foundations every day, stories which break your heart. Children as young as 5 or 6 commit suicide, some have left suicide notes for their parents in crayon. (I heard a speech on the subject in the Senate that tore my heart out, when I was asked to address the Senate on the subject too). Children who have been bullied commit suicide, or abused. In many states it is against the law to list a child’s death as a suicide, if they are younger than 13 (to avoid the stigma)—-so our public statistics and records are not always accurate. In spite of that, we do know that suicide is the 2nd most frequent killer of young people up to the age of 25, the 1st one being road accidents. I don’t have the statistics for adults at hand, but I have been told that suicide is on the rise among adults. We donate considerable money through our foundations to organizations dealing with suicide prevention, with hot lines, and therapy.

 

There has always been stigma attached to suicide, religiously, and just in the public. We are aware of it now, but do we do enough to stop it, to improve the statistics? Most people seriously bent on suicide are very intent, often secretive, and many give no warning. My own son attempted suicide three times before his final ‘successful’ 4th attempt. And after one of them, he looked at me sadly after we had saved him, and he said “Mom, if I want to do this, you won’t be able to stop me”. Sadly, he was right. He picked a slim window of time, when we thought he was safely sound asleep in bed, and instead he took his own life. He was determined—-from the time he was 11 years old, until he finally died at 19. It was a race against time, trying to stop him, and to manage his bi polar disease so the worst didn’t happen. We got him 8 years longer than he intended, but not long enough.

 

As an aside in all this, I have a personal war against texting. It eliminates real human contact and exchange. Young people ALL prefer texting to phone calls these days. It’s their primary form of communication. Relationships start and end by text. Too much happens by text. At the funeral of my son’s best friend, at least a dozen young people around me said “But I texted with him today….this morning…last night”. My thought was that if they had talked on the phone and not texted, they might have heard something in his voice, or some sign of how depressed he was, and could have talked to him about it, maybe even gone to see him. Maybe that little bit of human contact would have made a difference. I have done a lot of volunteer work with young people with mental illness, and I once spent a night talking to a 16 year old boy, after his 3rd suicide attempt. He received excellent treatment after that night, and he is one of the success stories. That was 15 or 20 years ago, and he is now a healthy, well-adjusted, productive young man, who writes books and gives lectures. I think people who are truly suffering need human contact, compassion and caring. You don’t get that by text.

 

These very public suicides are something to think about, or any suicide, or even an attempted suicide, by a child or an adult. This is a warning bell to all of us, to look around us, to listen, to hear, to be aware of our fellow man, to reach out when we can, to encourage people to seek treatment, and to seek treatment ourselves if we are at risk.

 

Suicide is a heart breaker, it leaves children who will be marked forever by the loss, and families shaken to their roots and forever altered. Those who commit suicide do not go gentle into the night, they rip out our hearts, and take a piece of us with them. We are all affected by the loss, even when we don’t know them. My heartfelt condolences to the Bourdain and Spade families, my heart aches for them, and for all of us, for these terrible losses, and a world that has become so hardened, lonely, and stressful for some that they see no other way out. I hope that in future we find better ways to help these people who are in so much pain. May they rest in peace at last, and may those they left behind heal as soon as they can, with our love, help, and compassion.

 

Have a peaceful week,

 

love, Danielle

 

 

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10 Comments so far
  1. Rob Scott June 11, 2018 9:05 pm

    Danielle,

    Thank you for talking about suicide tonight on your blog. Yes, talking about it, so that it raises awareness and saves lives. I read your book about your late son, Nick. I even read out of it to my former sales team back when I was the district sales trainer in the mental health field.

    My grandfather committed suicide and my family covered it up. Then my mother took all her anger out on me perhaps because I reminded her of her father. I lost her love after that event and attempted suicide two years later in college because of it. I can’t imagine your pain of losing a child. But I can tell you losing a mother’s love has taken down the best of them including me.

    I went on to become a crisis intervention and suicide prevention counselor for LGBT youth for a period of time. Danielle, your signed photo and letter from your typewriter hung next to me while I helped others. It gave me strength. Thank you.

    My grandfather’s suicide was confirmed by my cousin who works at a large PR firm last year while I was in Mexico. She then hung up on me after she told me over the phone. She wrote off all her family because of the few who so poorly represented our family. I had to go and teach school that afternoon after feeling like the wind got knocked out of me. This suicide destroyed our family. I have not heard from my mother in years and have fallen into incredible hardship because of it.

    My love for God is what sustains me now.

    For me, faith and spirituality is an unobstructed path to HOPE. Why Hope? Because Hope is the major weapon against suicide. Your writings are filled with finding hope and healing in the heart of darkness.

    No, I don’t think people who commit suicide are cowards. I understand the hopelessness and pain. I also understand the destruction suicide can leave behind on the survivors. Please, whoever is reading this blog reach out and tell somebody and ask for help if you are having thoughts of suicide. It takes courage to ask for help.

    Thank you for this post, Danielle. You will always be connected to Nick through love!

    May God bless us all and the people we serve.

    Truth, Wisdom, Love, and Sincerity, to ALL Mankind.
    Rob Scott
    ABQ, NM

  2. Laura June 11, 2018 9:26 pm

    Thank you for bringing to light the mental health crisis we have in our country. We need to do more to eliminate the stigma associated with all forms of mental illnesses. We all have family members, friends, coworkers that cope with some kind of mental illness and we need to know how to support them.

    I agree that texting has taken away our ability to connect with people in ways that touch and warm the human soul. In appreciation for all that you do. Much love and respect to you.

    God bless, Laura
    Watsonville, CA

  3. Camille June 12, 2018 3:33 pm

    Dear Danielle,
    It had been 20 years you created Nick foundation to help prevent ” suicide”. But challenge is still huge.Yes lately within couples weeks 02 famous persons committed suicide: Kate Spade a renowned fashion designer and Anthony Bourdain a celebrity chef. We probably had others cases of suicide we did not hear about. It is very painful when we lose such valuable people. What can we do ?
    Most of time people in general do not understand or try g to understand what can make people commit suicide. It is a deep psychological issue ; when a person can not feel anything around himself or herself ; when a person lacked motivation to do anything ;when a person brain could not think about anything ; when a person felt hopeless , shame , etc…people just think that the last solution is a “suicide”. We do not need to judge people who commit suicide. Our goal should be to help go through their difficulties.
    We need to put our efforts together in order to minimize or put a stop to that painful issue.
    We will not giving up the battle until we win this battle… It is very important.

  4. Kerri June 15, 2018 8:31 am

    Danielle,

    I’m also an ardent fan of Anthony Bourdain. As I understand from reading online, his family circumstances is as follows: he is survived by his ex-wife, his mother, his wife (whom he split from 2 years ago but remained on good terms with), their 11 years old daughter, and his younger brother. He was dating Asia Argento at the time of his death so I’d include her in the list of his survivors.

    Suicide is a tragedy that can be prevented if people have bothered to tune in to the depressed person’s feelings. We need to do more, and I agree with you that texting and social media have played a major part in the rise of suicide among teens and adults.

  5. Camille June 15, 2018 9:47 am

    Dear Mrs Danielle Steel,
    Last week I sent you a message regarding Nick Traina Foundation to help prevent “suicide”.
    In the message I talked about some famous people that committed suicide: Robin William, Kate Spade, Carter Cooper…etc .Lo behold this week the world was shocked again with the death by suicide of the famous celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.
    This last event make think this: Is the strategy we are using to fight against “suicide” is not working or the suicide (mentality) is became something we cannot win over.
    My reasoning is simple when we have a tool to prevent or solve an issue. If after so many years the problem is still present in huge proportion despite the tool , we need to think about a different way of approaching the issue( in this case suicide ) or find out why the strategy is not working.
    I am still doing some research about this and I will let you what I find.
    We will not give up on this battle till we win over it.
    Thank you.
    Hoping hearing from you soon.

    Camille

  6. Pamela hall June 19, 2018 8:38 pm

    I look forward to your blogs they are so enlightening. Love to you and yours.

  7. Shannon Ramsey June 20, 2018 5:33 pm

    Thank you so much for your blog. I have suffered with bipolar disorder for years and there has been some very special people in my life to help me thur the really low times. But it takes us opening up and talking about it to help others understand. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Kerri June 30, 2018 3:11 pm

    This is a direct message for Camille.

    Hi Camille,

    I’d identify the dangers of becoming overexposed to a steady diet of social media as a major concern for the rise in suicides among middle aged adults. With social media and the platforms being open to free speech, we have inadvertently created a society in which bullies are allowed to say whatever is on their minds and they do not apologize for their hurtful comments directed at people they do not know.

    However, having just read the People issue from June 15, with Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain on the cover, I came away with one word that were used to describe both Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain in the respective articles covering their lives and deaths, and that one word is *neurotic.*

    With that key word in mind, I’m wondering if it is possible that these two individuals were so overwhelmed with so much things on their plates and they did not have a strong support system in place to help buffer that sense of overwhelmness? Plus, the articles also stated that both of them have experienced loneliness. That again points to a lack of a strong support system. However, the article on Bourdain went as far to say that he had never felt like he fit in with his family throughout his formative years. It’d be interesting to consider the possibility that he may have the same type of depression as Ms. Steel’s son Nick Traina. I’m not a licensed psychiatrist by any means, so speculation is purely mine to make.

    It would be interesting to see what you would make of this tragedy and the corresponding rise in suicides among people between ages 55 and 64 (according to the People article I had mentioned above). Looking forward to your research.

    Thanks,
    Kerri

  9. Jane Schilling July 9, 2018 10:00 pm

    I just finished reading HIS BRIGHT LIGHT, I want to say THANK YOU for taking the time to write this book. It was a very insightful book and I learned a lot from it.
    I am a very Danielle Steel Fan. I love all of her books I have read.
    Sincerely, Jane Schilling

  10. Janet Noble July 14, 2018 9:14 am

    Dear Danielle,

    I have just finished your book about your son Nick, and I greatly admire you for your courage and your tremendous compassion for others. Thank you for sharing your experiences so openly and honestly.

    My older sister took her own life in 1990 (after many years of mental illness). She was age 42. And a childhood friend also committed suicide in 2003 at age 50. I have always believed that openly “facing” these tragedies and talking about them openly is the best course for handling these experiences.

    Long, long ago, in 1973, when I was a camp counselor in New England, my youngest cousin was abducted in Maine and was missing for two weeks before her body was found. This horrible tragedy was something that most family members chose to not talk about (for the most part). I think my family members felt it was just too tragic to discuss. Even though I was near Maine at the time of my cousin’s disappearance, I was actually not even informed what had happened; I learned of the events from a newspaper report.

    Years later, in 1990, when my mother was informed of my sister’s death, she told me that she momentarily had the thought that this should be kept as secret as possible, but then almost in the same instance realized that EVERYONE would know and should know — and communication in our family was always so much more open from that point forward. I feel we all benefited greatly from openly sharing and helping each other work through our sadness.

    And so of course I especially admire and appreciate how you opened up to the entire world to explain Nick’s life and his struggle — and the huge struggles for your entire family.

    I wish you continued happiness and joy with your fine family!

    And if you ever wished to meet me, I would certainly be thrilled to meet you and perhaps give you a little walking tour of my neighborhood near Piedmont Avenue in North Oakland, California. It’s actually a delightful little neighborhood. My family consists of my husband and his family of two kids and two young grandsons, and as a woman who didn’t marry until age 61, I feel truly blessed to be part of such a family.

    Just go ahead and smile at this suggestion; I know that you already have so many invitations to visit that you would need several more lifetimes to have time to accept such ideas! But nevertheless, the invite to contact me is genuine! Like your many fans, I feel I know so much about you that you feel like an old friend.

    And I appreciate your blog — it’s a wonderful way to communicate with your many friends all over the world!

    With great gratitude and best wishes,

    Janet
    Oakland, CA