Joel's note: Greta Friedman was the art director of our LOG - the 1955 class yearbook.
At this point in our lives, no doubt all of us have lost others dear to us - parents, relatives, friends. Some have lost a spouse. Many of us have white-knuckled ourselves through our children's experiences and misadventures, avoiding the thoughts of something terrible happening to them. On this page,
Greta has courageously chosen to offer us words from her book about the personal tragedy of losing her daughter. "It's fine with me to place the excerpt from my second book and share it. If my words help anyone that is what it's all about for me."
Thank you Greta!
from Amazon.com
Surviving Ellen by Greta Eichel
Editorial Reviews - Kathryn Ceceri, The Post-Star, Glens Falls, NY
A MASTERFUL STORY "A heartwarming story of love and humor in the face of great tragedy, and a wonderful read."

Book Description
Greta Eichel’s Surviving Ellen is part autobiography, part memoir, part eulogy. With unflinching honesty, Eichel searches her own history for the seeds of her daughter Ellen’s suicide and for signs of life after Ellen’s death. With prose so free of artifice that it becomes a poetry of clarity, with images so sharp they often hurt, Eichel struggles with heart and conscience as she renders the ferocious pain of loss. Not an imitation, but life itself, this deeply moving, affective testimony reminds us how the dramatic and the ludicrous are inextricably tangled in the lives of ordinary people. Surviving Ellen unlocks the secrets of the heart.

About the Author
Greta Eichel was born in Brooklyn in 1937 and lived in New York for thirty-two years. Greta, her husband Stuart, and their two children moved to Knoxville, Tennessee in 1969, where they lived for thirty years. After graduating from Pratt Institute in New York with a BFA in 1959 Greta worked as a freelance artist for thirteen years. Seeking a change of pace, she worked as a publications designer for the University of Tennessee and retired in 1995. Greta and Stuart now live in Saratoga Springs, New York. Surviving Ellen is her first book.

ADAPTING

A month before Ellen’s death, Stu and I had been driving home after having dinner with our friends Dorothy and Milton. Dorothy and I had met in Knoxville, and by coincidence, we had both graduated from James Madison High School in Brooklyn. I said to Stu, because I was thinking about high school, “You know who I would really love to see? My old friend Arny.” I had not seen him in more than thirty years, although we had written letters to each other sporadically.

When we were seventeen, Arny Werner and I had spent six months working together on James Madison’s yearbook. Arny was the editor-in-chief and also did much of the photography. I was the art editor. For years after we had graduated from high school, Arny and I remained good friends, and he often visited Stu and me when he was in medical school. He has just retired from teaching psychiatry at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, where he and his wife Elizabeth live.

The day after I had told Stu I would love to see Arny, we received a postcard from him. He told us he’d moved to a new house and gave us his address. I wrote to him that very day and invited him and his wife, whom I had never met, to visit us in Knoxville. I told him how weird it was that I was talking to Stu only the evening before about seeing him. Arny wrote that he and Elizabeth would love to visit us and we made plans for them to come at the beginning of May. A month before they were supposed to arrive in Knoxville, Ellen died.

I wrote to Arny, told him what had happened and said I wasn’t sure I’d be up to their visit, but would let them know. We agreed to play it by ear. I was trying to pull my life together, going to work, going to dinner, going crazy. I thought having a true friend who was also a psychiatrist might help me when I really needed help. Stu had withdrawn and would not talk about Ellen and I needed to talk. I wondered if Arny would be able to give me some advice on how to survive. We decided to go ahead with the visit.

In spite of my sadness it was a joyful reunion. I loved Elizabeth and, although we had never met before, we hugged each other and bonded instantly. We all went for walks. Arny and I looked at our James Madison yearbook. Arny took lots of pictures of us. We went to the Ramp Festival in the Smoky Mountains and listened to country music and ate barbequed chicken. We went to the ballet, but I cried throughout the entire performance. I couldn’t stop thinking of Ellen dancing. Arny told me that I would adapt. I was shocked. I thought, there is no way I’m going to adapt to the suicide of my daughter.

While he was in Tennessee I had told Arny about the problems Ellen had experienced for what seemed like her entire life. I had asked him if I could have done anything to stop Ellen from killing herself.

This is part of a letter that Arny wrote to me after he returned to Michigan:

I think you may not be able to help second-guessing the situation with Ellen, and I can appreciate that, but she did have awful mood instability and she went through bad periods before and came out OK. When it all collapsed, I recall that she was actually doing OK. Had she been hospitalized before, it may only have helped for the period of hospitalization and the tape would have resumed playing when she got out. I know this sounds bad, but sometimes there is little we can do to prevent a bad outcome. So much is dependent on variables we have no control over. It’s not as if Ellen was not getting help. I’m afraid there may never be a clear answer as to why she ended her life when she did. Sometimes these things occur in such a fleeting moment. I have seen that more than once. That’s why I hate guns. They are so certainly fatal and so quick to use. Sometimes a few minutes are all that are needed for the impulse to fade.

Ten years later

The first year after Ellen’s suicide I cried every day whenever I thought of her. I didn’t know how I could endure her birthday or the anniversary of her death. It was impossible to keep my composure when I had to tell someone, who didn’t know, that she was dead. I woke up and went to sleep (when I could sleep) with a hard knot in my stomach.

I cried for the stupidest reasons. I cried passing a “Dead End” sign when I went for a walk. I cried hearing a woodpecker tapping on a tree because I remembered the way Ellen made everyone laugh imitating Woody Woodpecker. I cried seeing the weather report on the CNN nightly news claiming it was raining in Seattle. Once, I broke into tears at Food City when I saw an Easter display of marshmallow Peeps.

My friend Arny was right. I have, in many ways, “adapted.” I go for walks and don’t cry when I pass a “Dead End” sign. I can hear a woodpecker in a tree and smile. I can read this letter once again, that we received six weeks after her death from a friend of Ellen’s, and not weep:

May 17, 1993

Dear Stuart and Greta,

My name is Mark Horwitz. I live in Nashville, TN and just learned about Ellen.

We became very good friends and I gave her piano lessons for about one month. We shared being Jewish together, she told me about her grandmother in Detroit and I told her about all of my grandparents who were from Russia.

I always admired Ellen’s wit, common sense and intelligence. She showed a number of pieces that Stuart painted and I was in awe. She was one of the most generous people I ever met.

We stayed in touch every few months after she moved to Seattle and I last spoke to her sometime around February. She sent me a cassette tape with music she thought I would enjoy.

I and everyone I know was very shocked, hurt and misses her very much. I will always remember her beautiful face and smile. Know that Ellen was a giving person and that the world was made a better place by her Spirit while she was here.

Sincerely,

Mark Horwitz

Moving on

In the year 2000 Stu and I moved from Knoxville to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York. The summers are cooler. The city is small and beautiful. We are still close to mountains. It is a new start. Ellen’s old boyfriends have no idea where we are––I may never get another phone call from one of them asking where she is, and I am grateful for that.

One night we went to a concert. Stu pointed out a woman who was sitting in the row in front of us. She was not quite as pretty, but was the image of Ellen. She moved the same way. Her expressions were the same. So was her hair. The way she moved her mouth. It was hard for us to take our eyes off her. We almost had to leave. Just when we thought we had gotten it together there was always something that could blindside us. It will probably happen for as long as we live.

Epilogue

Sometimes I think of my daughter with pain. Sometimes with pleasure. While writing this book I realized that I did not want to blot her from my thoughts, as I had tried to do after her death. Ellen will always be a part of me.