… from the bungalow

Take Care of Each Other, Goddammit: A simple, three-step guide to maintaining your sanity (Blogger Idol Week 8)

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[This was my post for Week 8 of Blogger Idol. The assignment was to get on our soapboxes and write about something we feel passionately about. The original post was shared over 160 times on Facebook, received hundreds of views and received a perfect judges’ score.
Enjoy the post.]

Two-thirds of my immediate family live in another state. Three-fifths of my mom’s immediate family are deceased. I have a few friends, but most of us have moved to different towns. So when I do need help, it feels like asking too much of the few people who would be in a position to offer it, and that’s only if I suck up my pride long enough to consider asking for it. I wrote a post on this subject a few months ago called Where’s My Village?. I admitted to more than I really wanted to in that post, but for me it was worth it.

But why is that? Am I afraid of appearing weak or incapable? Why should I have so much pride? I know I’m not alone in this kind of behavior. We don’t want to be the runt of the litter, we don’t want to burden others, people have their own lives to worry about, etc.

Wait, did I really just say that? Their “own lives”? This is part of the problem. As a society, we have become increasingly independent and proud, but independence can turn into isolation. We want to be seen as strong, like we’ve “got our shit together,” but people sometimes lose their shit. And, usually, no one even sees it coming.

Ben Barnhard-AP

An undated photo provided by the Barnhard family shows Ben Barnhard. (AP Photo/Barnhard Family)

I’ve read two articles in the past handful of days about parents of kids with special needs killing their child. Murdered. And I wasn’t seeking out these articles. They just came across my desk, as it were. The first one, which I talked about in Tragedy in Maryland, was a murder-suicide. This psychiatrist and single parent to a boy with ASD couldn’t handle life anymore and decided to spare her son the trauma of losing his mother to suicide. The second article I read was about a man who decided just a few days ago to decapitate his 7-year-old son who had cerebral palsy, then left is dismembered body at the curb for garbage pick-up.

I have felt so sick and angry this past week because of these two articles, especially as a dad to a 7-year-old boy with special needs. My personal malaise anguish is partially due to how disturbing it all is, obviously. But I am equally–if not more–disturbed by the fact that these tragedies could have been avoided. Someone should have seen something. Parents–people in general–who are so mired in desperation that murder/suicide appears to be their only rational/remaining option can’t usually even see that they need help, let alone ask for it.

On the flip side, it’s possible that someone did see something, and simply didn’t do anything about it. You may have heard of this woman, Kitty Genovese, who was attacked and murdered in the 1960s by a man who was later found to be necrophiliac. At least a dozen people witnessed the attack, and not one person called the police. Not. One. Since then, people have come up with theories about why this sort of thing happens, calling it the Bystander Effect, talking about diffusion of responsibility (“surely someone else has already called the police”), etc. Listen, so what if someone else “might” already be doing something about it? The more the merrier, and safer.

Compassion stained glassI’m fed up with avoidable tragedies. It’s up to us, folks. You and me. Yes, I have my own issues, and I don’t always know when to ask for help. But it’s the same for a lot of people: your family, your friends, people you work with. Someone you know needs help and doesn’t want–or know how–to ask for it. Are we so disconnected from one another that we make ourselves oblivious to the lives of others? Is it apathy? Is it a self-serving mentality? Because, I’ll tell you, nothing is more self-serving than helping someone else.

Let me put that another way. Connecting with and helping others is one of the most uplifting acts we can engage in. Compassion. Empathy. Living with purpose and integrity. They all lead to increased happiness. And here’s another little not-so-secret: when you help others, it’s usually reciprocated. You need help? Help someone. You want love? Love somebody. You need to vent? Lend an ear. We’ll call this Step One: Invest in Relationships.

Moms Who Drink and SwearStep Two, then, is Be Proactive. Find ways to feel connected. You might not want to run out and pay a Psychiatrist $50/15 minutes or sign up for a support group at your local church or library (although, that’s not a bad idea), but you can start with things like Facebook. Social networking has never been easier. For example, I’m not specifically a mom, but I am a parent, and I love the Moms Who Drink and Swear page and group. I have the occasional moment when the complaining seems like too much. But here’s the thing: Nikki started that page because she’d rather commiserate and laugh than feel alone and lose her sanity. She’s obviously not alone. Her page currently has almost 172,000 “likes.” Sure, you don’t want to dwell on the negative, but it’s really OK to bitch once in a while.

Brothers - S&FStep Three: Be a Friend, Goddammit. Once you get your shit together and you’re feeling good about the way things are going in your life, make an effort to connect with people. Ask your neighbor how they’re doing, and actually be interested in what they have to say. Listen to them and listen to your gut. If it feels like they could use a little help, offer it. I wouldn’t go around signing blank checks or anything, but you know what you’re able to offer, so do it. If they don’t need your help, they’ll let you know. You’re not going to offend someone if you’re coming from a place of empathy.

The bottom line: Connections. Connect with your family, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, the old lady at the grocery store, the kid on his skateboard. Connect with yourself. “Who, me?” “Nah, your Aunt Tilly. Yeah, you!” Know where you stand at any given time. And most importantly…

Let’s get together and feel alright. One Love.

~ Chris, from the bungalow (https://fromthebungalow.wordpress.com/)

Judges Comments:

“I really liked this post! I can feel what you are writing. It breaks my heart when people give up and give in to the “easy” way out. It really is an important thing to seek out others. I ejoyed reading that you had ways to help people. I like how you added the song too! Amazing post! 🙂 ”

Erica, from Good Job Momma  

“Wow, this is a powerful post. You can feel the passion that you have in this post and for someone that was removed from this topic in the past it makes me compelled to learn more. I have heard the song that you added here in the past and I have to say that it was a perfect choice. Great post! ”

Chris, From Dad of Divas 

“Okay, I don’t even know where to start with this…lol.  First, I am crying right now.  This hits home in SO MANY ways at this very moment.  It is impossible to emphasize how important it is to have a good network of support.  When I first started reading this post, one of the things that popped into my head was after I had Willow.  I was a crying, sobbing, emotional mess. We had saved my placenta to encapsulate it, but hadn’t done it yet.  Arick knew that the placenta pills were supposed to help ward off post-partum depression, so he took it upon himself to encapsulate them, and make sure I took them.  But right now, as a family, we have an issue that is on a much larger scale, and we are in a hole that I don’t see a way out of.  But I’m sure that having a bigger network would make it a heck of a lot easier.  I could go on and on about this…. forever…. ‘All you need is love”… blah blah blah….’Imagine’…. you get the point, I’m sure…  This was an amazing post.  Thank you. ”

Heather, from My Husband Ate All My Ice Cream

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Author: Chris

A dad with a self-evaluation complex. Also a music therapist, college enrollment administrator, and hippie-nerd.

11 thoughts on “Take Care of Each Other, Goddammit: A simple, three-step guide to maintaining your sanity (Blogger Idol Week 8)

  1. Pingback: Avoiding Tragedy: 6-year-old girl rescued by neighbor | Sapphire and Rain

  2. One of your best posts ever. In case you didn’t already know that and all.
    I love you.

  3. I am Ben’s dad and Margaret’s Ex husband I am still reeling from their loss. I did what I could to intervene in my sons life. Maryland child protective services said my Ex had sole custody that I was meddeling, I had an axe to grind and my complaints were unfounded. I knew something was wrong no one would listen. All three of my complaints were dismissed. I knew their was a problem no one would listen I left the marrage because she was abusive. I didn’t think she would hurt Ben. I was in a fight with both hands tied behind my back and thrown under the bus. She trumped up lies to try to get a protection order had expert witnesses testify against me. Stated she feared for her and Ben’s life that I intended to kidnap him. I’m not a Doctor or lawyer I don’t have much money but I was a good dad.
    Jamie Barnhard. / seakatt1@aol.com

    • Jamie,

      First let me tell you how sorry I am for your loss. I cannot begin to imagine how you must be feeling these days. I’m sure devastated, angry and depressed barely scratch the surface. I cannot imagine how I would handle this kind of situation.

      I’m also very appreciative that you took the time to make a comment on this and the other post. I hope that you do not feel that you have to defend yourself in any way. These two posts that mention Ben were intended to point out the flaw in our society: this “every man for himself” perspective.

      I have a son with special needs, so this story hit me pretty hard. I cried at work when I read it, and again when I told a coworker about it later that day.

      This is a community. It’s small now, but it’s growing. If I can provide moral support or any kind of informational resource, please let me know.

    • Jamie, all too often the good guys who try to do things right and play by the rules are left in the dust while those breaking the rules “win” so to speak. It sounds as if all of the red flags were raised, and promptly shot down by the powers that be. While nothing will bring your precious son back to you, know that you tried to do what was best for him. The fault doesn’t lie with you, but with the system. The very system who claims to have the best needs of children in mind, the same system that promises to protect them. Making the claim is one thing, but the follow through is what matters, and the system doesn’t seem to be working and too often our children are the ones who pay the price.

      I hope someone has seen this story and it has opened their eyes. I would be screaming from the roof tops that SOMEONE needs to pay attention and open an investigation into the system – just as they have following the discovery of Jaycee Dugard being held captive by her predator. Not to compare the two cases in any way other than a system-wide failure for the children in both cases.

      I hope you are not feeling attacked, or feeling you need to defend yourself. You were not the one who took Ben’s life. You played by the rules, and hoped, no – expected, the system to work. Wishing you solace, peace and serenity. May you find comfort in your memories of your precious time with your son.

  4. What a great post. I often feel like I am asking too much when I ask for help. So usually I struggle on my own and only ask for help when completely stressed out. We all need to help each other and lighten each others burdens.

    • Thanks, Ellie. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Moreover, continue being helpful to others and you’re more likely to find the help you need before you get a chance to ask for it. 🙂

  5. I am Jamie Barnhard Ben Barnhard’s Dad I couldn’t sleep last night. So I reviewed the articles that have been published and posted about my Ex and dear Son Benjamin H. J. Barnhard. I am so sad this is my first Christmas without him. Christmas was Ben’s favorite holiday picking out a Christmas tree, decorating it, setting up his train set under the tree. This is so hard for me it’s so hard to believe he is not here. We all hurt from their loss. Margaret was a brilliant psychiatrist, physician and clinician. The world suffered a great loss when she took Ben’s and her life. My life has been a blur since this happened last August. I’m a mess people have accused me of things that aren’t true. I was approached by someone at her service and ask why I did it? I was like why I did what and she said kill them. I was floored by her comment. My beef is with the system and it’s inability to function. CPS and the Court System are epic failures in this case. They would listen or act in Ben’s behalf. I am left to pick up the pieces and try to get on with my life. All I can say is Damn you, Montgomery County what is it going to take to get you to wake up and do what your paid for…
    Jamie Barnhard Ben Barnhard’s Father

    • I’m sorry for what you’re going through, Jamie. I can’t begin to imagine the hurt you must feel. My hope for you is that you have the love and support you need from friends and family. Remember that you are not alone in losing a child, and that many grieving parents have continued to live their lives as you are. Be strong.

  6. Thank you for your kind thoughts and prayers. I just read a news clip about a mother in IL. that killed her three children her boyfriend and herself. What is going on in our world today? Why can’t people seem to cope. I spent four years in the USN working night flight operations as a troubleshooter and aircraft mechanic on the Great Ship USS AMERICA. In 1975 I was jumped returning to the ship by a group of militant blacks off my ship. They brutally beat me I laid lifeless with a fractured neck in a coma on a dirt road on US Naval base in GITMO Bay Cuba. When I came to a number of days later my body was numb and I couldn’t move. I was medavaced to Bethesda Naval Hospital it took six months to recover. We have a lawless society I didn’t do anything to deserve this. These things didn’t happen when we were kids our parents god bless them tried to instill a sense of values and good morals when they raised us. I married late I thought I had a wonderful wife. I divorced because she was abusive and I wouldn’t feed in to dysfunction. She stole our son from me and she would have taken my life too had I been there that Saturday morning to pick him up. She spoke in retells numerous times stating better enjoy the time you have with him because he may not always be around. She would say things like I love you, you will always be with us we will always be together. I now know what she meant when she said it. Her intent that day was to kill me and take me with her. Dear god give me the strength to see my way through this.

    Jamie Barnhard

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