Thursday, June 29, 2017

3 (or 13) Reasons Why Not: From One Left to Survive a Non-Fictionalized Suicide

by Beth Saadati

While perusing at Barnes & Noble, I noticed the girl on the swing. I picked up the prominently displayed novel, scanned the back cover, read the included author’s interview. Suddenly a single thought overshadowed everything else: I never want to read this book.

Not because it wasn’t relevant. Not because I wanted to bury my head in the sand and pretend you and I live in happily-ever-after land.

Rather, because Thirteen Reasons Why was, to its author, fiction. Truth be told, I wanted to fling the novel across the room, because I hated knowing this FICTION was my—and way too many others’—nightmare…my nonfiction reality.

Nevertheless, curiosity got the best of me—it was an international bestseller, plus I wanted to see what the YA literature had to say—and, well, I always want to muster up enough courage to face the hard in life. (That run towards the roar thing.)

So, a few days later I pulled the book off the library shelf, snuggled into a cushioned chair and, without moving save an occasional blink, read the story from beginning to end.

That was thirteen (pardon the irony) months ago. I’ve been processing it ever since. 
  •  Is Thirteen Reasons Why a page-turner? Obviously.  
  • Do I agree with the theme—we can go to school with classmates for years and never really know them—that Jay Asher shared when I briefly met him and heard him speak? Sadly, yes.
  • Am I glad the novel encourages a conversation about tough topics that have, for far too long, been silenced and stigmatized? Definitely.  
  • But…Was I emotionally wrecked and, admittedly, physically sick after completing the book? You can’t imagine the extent.
Why? Despite some positive aspects of Asher’s work, the message it, perhaps unintentionally, communicates about suicide—whether through the Netflix hit series or the novel—is severely wrong in three major ways.  

Friday, May 12, 2017

The 4-Word Motto I'm Choosing to Follow

by Beth Saadati

The quick glance out the window was innocent. Unintended. A lazy Saturday morning thing. But it was enough to view what I by no means wanted to see.

In the middle of my backyard stood an uncommonly large, Edgar Allan Poe raven-like crow. Beside it lay a coiled mound.

I squinted to focus my nearsighted eyes then called for my husband, Komron, and asked him to step outside. 

As we stood on the patio concrete, I pointed to the pile. “What is that?”

Part of me hoped he’d lie and let me live deceived. Instead, he minced no words.

“It’s a snake,” he said. “I’ll be back.”

A snake…take a deep breath…it’s just a snake. (For the record, “just” NEVER belongs in the same sentence as “snake” as far as I’m concerned.)

Needless to say, the internal monologue failed to persuade my scaredy-cat self. My heartbeat escalated to 200 beats-per-minute as I waited . . . paralyzed.

[A responsible blogger would insert a picture of the snake here. But was photographing that nemesis anywhere on my radar at the time? Heck no.]

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Confession I Haven't Wanted to Make: For Those Who Fight Depression or Know Someone Who Might

by Beth Saadati

The downward spiral started with a TV interview. At least that’s what I think. Not with speaking—an insane amount of grace covered that—but with reclining in the comfort of my home, seeing myself on screen, and hearing the story of a daughter’s death.

Everything about it seemed impossible. Surreal.

How can that be me? screamed a voice inside my head. That's not the story I EVER wanted to be given to share.

Or maybe it goes back to June. To all the graduation ceremonies—to celebrate my students, who were also my daughter’s friends—and seeing, at the final one, the chair marked with an unworn cap and gown where Jenna should have been. 
Then again, perhaps it’s about a prayer I’d prayed a couple months before. That I would UNDERSTAND what in the world had gone wrong four years ago. I know. That request is right up there with praying for patience. No Ph.D. degree required to know what happens when we ask to grow in THAT.

Regardless of what it was, depression set in. Big time. (Regretfully, I’d stopped doing several of the things that had previously helped me keep it at bay.) For the first time since Jenna’s death—where a wave of grief crests then recedes approximately once a week—it clung to me and refused to leave.

Call me blind, but at the time I had little idea why. Looking back—because hindsight is (sometimes?) 20/20—I can better see the triggers that encouraged depression to obnoxiously worm its way in:

  • The gloom of winter. Shortened days. Lack of sun. Less vitamin D. Trees without leaves. And women wearing scarves—the implement that ended my teenager’s life. Need I say more?
  • A guest speaker. His story was powerful. I hung on every word. But after the church service he told my husband it took eight years before the sting from his young-adult son’s suicide left. A counselor had told me it’s typically four or five. Eight years means I might only be halfway there. (And oh...oh, Bon Jovi, I’m livin’ on a prayer.)
  • Driving home with a former student/longtime family friend. Hearing his stories, stopping for ice cream, laughing, catching up. The drive back from Clemson University was, hands down, the highlight of my week. But I awoke at 2 a.m.—painfully aware that MY should-be freshman wouldn’t be coming back for Christmas break, that her collegiate tales wouldn’t be filling my home, that once again I’d we’d be missing out—and couldn’t return to sleep.
  • Christmas trees. I used to love them. Someday I will. But in my final memory of Jenna, she’s standing beside our tree and saying she’d be back soon before walking out the front door never to return.
  • A stack of Christmas cards. Talk about bittersweet. While I’m honored that friends would remember to send family photos when I no longer do--please keep sending them!--and I delight in seeing their beautiful families grow up, it’s one more reminder that my family will never (on this side of heaven) be complete.
  • The holiday season. Vivid memories of my final weeks with my first-birthed girl come rushing back each year—of singing carols and opening presents and life being happy and right…until, without warning, everything changed on that one horrific night. And I replay them all.

That’s all it took for things to get, well, dark. For my words—both written and spoken—to dry up. For bitterness to root. For hopelessness to overwhelm me. For that nagging question—how can God redeem this?—to mock the faith that’s carried me through.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Please Stay

by Beth Saadati

I never want to forget Jenna's smile that lit up my world for fourteen years. If you can spare a few minutes to watch and remember with me, I'm almost certain you'll be glad you did.

Choose to live. Hope remains.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

It's Got to STOP: Bullying...Through the Eyes of a Sister Left Behind

by Beth Saadati and Christa Saadati

“To the peers at school who bullied and hated on me (you know very well who you are): FYI, words are painful, in case that never occurred to you. People’s feelings are not something to be played with. Overall, it’s not your fault that I’m gone now, but all of you played a huge role in it.  
Being kind, or even vaguely amiable, can literally save a life.
–Jenna Saadati, from the suicide letter she left behind

For this month’s blog post, let me introduce BITTERSWEET’S first guest writer, Christa Saadati, my middle daughter. She shared a room with Jenna and, despite a four-year age difference, was one of her sister’s closest confidants and friends.

In October, Christa turned fourteen. She’s almost to-the-day the age Jenna was when a peer delivered cruel words at school that altered her perception of who she was. As a result of those spoken lies, a few months later Jenna chose to end her life.

Christa was recently assigned an essay to write for composition class. She chose a topic not on the list. Bullying. I’ll confess . . . when I found out, I cried. Because I know the reason why.

But I’m proud of Christa for facing her loss instead of running away. Although she struggles to forgive the wrong that’s been done, she speaks with objective wisdom—wisdom birthed from a place of pain mixed with fond memories of the older sister and BFF she loved and adored.

Without further ado, here are Christa’s words. They’re worth being heeded and heard.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Before Giving Up, Consider One Thing--Please: The Impact of Suicide on Family and Friends

by Beth Saadati

Suicide. I hate the word—hate hearing it spoken flippantly in conversation and mentioned casually in songs. Because, when you’ve lived through it, you know what it is.

Suicide is the real-life horror of That Night. Of facing the unexpected without time to prepare. Of the words no parent should have to hear: “Your daughter is dead. She took her own life.”

It’s waking up the next morning (if any rest came) and realizing the nightmare is here to stay.

It’s a dad who does all he can to protect his firstborn from harm. Then has to tell his children their adored older sibling won’t be coming back home.

It’s a ten-year-old girl who adopts her sister’s stuffed bunny and, for years to follow, clutches it tightly each night.

It’s a young boy who fears becoming a teen—“that’s when people bully and boy-girl things get confused”—because a sister he looked up to didn’t make it through.

It’s a mom who scrolls through her newsfeed and LIKEs others’ milestone events. Then swallows hard and wipes away tears, aware that, for one girl, those moments won’t exist.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Princess, a Villain, and the Story a Suicide Stopped Too Soon

by Beth Saadati

“Every story has a villain because yours does. You were born into a world at war.”
–John Eldredge, Waking the Dead

Once again I googled Jenna’s name.

Stop torturing yourself, I thought. She’s been gone for a few years. You’ll never find anything new.

Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

In wonder I stared at the screen then clicked on the link.

There it was. Brightshadow. An early forty-page version of Jenna’s book I hadn’t realized she’d published online. The precursor to the unfinished 58,000-word sci-fi/fantasy tale my fourteen-year-old girl would download from her laptop to mine the day before she died


Without hesitation or concern about cost, I grabbed my credit card and ordered printed copies my remaining family could keep. Then, sight fixed on the manuscript before my eyes, I skimmed pages to read the words Jenna had written in my real-life once upon a time.

                On any other day, Morgan would have fought back for all she was worth—but on this day she didn’t have any weapons besides her fists, and she wasn’t stupid enough to think she could overpower Keathan by sheer strength. Screaming for help was definitely an option, but something kept her silent. Unlike some people’s perception, Morgan wasn’t all sharp corners and harsh justice.
            “Go ahead,” she replied, her now-gentle eyes piercing through every layer of Keathan’s heart. “But if you really want to find true courage—and I believe you do—then I can swear to you on my life that hitting me until I’m half-dead isn’t it.” As she pulled herself to her feet, the last rays of sunlight glinted off her hair and face. Standing in front of her, Keathan halted his fist in midair. Light flickered over her slender form, and he wondered why he hadn’t seen just how beautiful she was before.

More than 2,000 viewers had met Keathan, Jenna's composite character of the boys who’d bullied at school. And the protagonist, Morgan, who was . . . her.

                “I bet you know how it feels when you want to cry yourself to sleep but you don’t because you think you have to be strong,” she replied. Keathan turned towards Morgan. “I’ll bet you know how it feels when you have so much pain that it settles down into a knot in the bottom of your gut and stays there for weeks at a time. I bet you know what it’s like when everything hurts so bad that you try to cry but you can’t.
            You know. The heart knows its own sorrow. And I’m sorry for calling you a coward that one time. You do have courage and you do have honor, but you don’t let anyone see it. It’s like you have a wall around your heart.”
            Morgan spoke quickly, for she feared her time to talk was short. “Something happened that hurt you, so you built a force-field around yourself so nothing could touch you anymore. But that’s not going to help in the long run. Because if you don’t take the risk of letting things hurt you, you’ll never be able to let anyone in to help.”