#HoldOnToTheLight is a depression awareness/suicide prevention/mental wellness blog campaign during September/October featuring dozens of SFF authors writing about related topics.
Today I’ve got a guest post from my friend and fellow author Mindy Mymudes.
Joseph Fern, age 27, of River Falls, died Jan. 10, 2012, at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 13, at St. Bridget Catholic Church in River Falls. There will be a visitation 1 hour prior to the service at the church. Burial will be at St. Bridget Catholic Cemetery. — River Falls Journal
Doesn’t say much about the life of my foster child. The kid that chased my dog Quark around the University of Wisconsin-River Falls campus. The kid who learned how to play chess and beat me, legally, after the fifth game. The kid who followed my husband around like a puppy.
Nothing about his becoming a landscaper, just like I was.
Nothing about how he ended up being mine because Quark, like every dog, needed a boy.
I was in the living room, watching the puppy through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Two children walked up to the front door and knocked. One of the kids had ginger hair, and was maybe ten years old at the time. The younger one might have been about eight years old and looked like Kenny from Southpark. He was hanging onto the older one’s hand. I opened the door and waited for them to talk. The ginger boy asked if his brother could play with my puppy.
“Why doesn’t your brother ask?” I wondered.
“Because we aren’t supposed to talk to strangers,” the older kid said. He didn’t look much like his younger brother.
I thought about it. “Just a minute.”
“He just wants to play with the pup.”
“And he can wait.” I went into the dining room and wrote a short note with my phone number on it. “Give this to your mom and have her call me with permission for your brother to visit.”
The older boy ran off, leaving his brother behind. I wanted to have him come in, but without permission, I didn’t think it was a good idea. It wasn’t that cold, just below freezing, and he was dressed warmly. He still hadn’t said a word, just stood there watching the puppy play in the snow. His mom lived across the street in subsidized housing, so it only took a few minutes before my phone rang.
She gave permission without asking any questions and I invited the boy, whose name was Joey, into the house. I brought in Quark, and let my Springer Spaniel jump all over him. They were great friends from the start, racing around my open-concept house, screaming and barking the whole time.
Every day, Joey would come over after school, go home for dinner, and come back to do homework and play with my crazy dog. Joey was a hyper kid and, while brilliant, he didn’t do well in school. When the students bullied him, his teacher suggested he bring Quark to class. I suspect she didn’t believe Quark existed. Joey was frustrated because the teacher thought the dog was an invisible friend. I gave permission for Joey to bring Quark to class, under my supervision.
Joey had Quark do his tricks, and afterwards the kids asked me their questions. I had Joey answer them and the kids’ attitudes changed a little bit with each question. I wish I could say Joey became popular, but that didn’t happen. His grades did get a bit better and I think he was more comfortable with his class. Later, he gave me a thank- you card he made with a picture of Quark, mouth open exposing his sharp teeth.
Quark was a brilliant English Springer Spaniel, and when he smiled, he never showed his teeth. Except when Joey asked him to. I think maybe Joey needed the feeling of protection the teeth gave him.
My husband and I became foster parents for Joey that summer. His mom didn’t have time for him and realized it. She asked if we would consider it and there wasn’t even any discussion before we agreed. He tired Quark out, and Quark tired the hyperactive boy out.
As Quark grew up, we discovered the dog had a weird sense of humor. He stole the roofer’s lunch, having had no trouble climbing the ladder up to the one-story high roof. He would break out of my house, come to my greenhouse on the University of Wisconsin—River Falls campus and snore in the back of my horticulture classes. He intercepted and stole famous quarterback Joe Montana’s football. He got me in all sorts of trouble. And Joey loved every story whether he was in them or not.
By that time, I’d started sharing Quark’s stories on the Internet. He was one reason people would read dog lists—his stories were unique. Even if they weren’t, they reminded people of their own dogs.
I was asked to put together a book about them, but there was never time. I moved, Joey went back to his family, and things changed. We talked occasionally, but not often.
When I finally decided to consider writing their story, bad things started to happen. At eight years old Quark started having epileptic seizures. We tried everything; drugs, gold bead implants, and acupuncture. To keep the seizures under control, we had to put him on increasingly stronger doses of Phenobarbital. My vet would call me late at night after reading the newest studies. Quark was just that popular.
After a year, we had to let him go. Quark went out in the worst way possible. He was taking so much phenobarbital what should have been the lethal dose didn’t work. He fought it off, and it took three doses for it to work. My husband had never had to euthanize a pet and he couldn’t handle it. He left the room. To this day, we and many other people miss that crazy dog.
Years later, I received a call from Joey’s biological mother. Joey had committed suicide, a result of too much alcohol and breaking up with his girlfriend.
Now I could never write their story. The ending was too hard; no one would read it. The story was supposed to be light and funny. Instead, it was dark and there was no happy ending.
Still, twenty years later, people wanted Quark’s story written out.
I didn’t want to share what had happened.
I was working on an article for Dog Fancy and realized that the story I was writing wasn’t about dog training. Instead, it was the beginning of a mystery, from the point of view of a basset hound—a Quark-like Basset Hound. Each scene in the story, from finding human bones, to climbing trees, was based on something that Quark or another of my dogs had done.
That’s how I learned I could step away from the pain and remember the good, separating it from the bad. Now the story made kids and adults happy. GEORGE KNOWS came out of my pain.
People say it’s selfish to commit suicide. I disagree. The pain of the people surrounding the victim is great. The pain of the victim is horrendous.
I know. I have been there myself, with the evil voices in my head pushing me to kill myself. Quark ‘talked’ me out of it and I got help. Joey didn’t get that support. Would it have made a difference if I had known of his pain and had gotten my former foster son help? I don’t know. Like most of life’s painful times and events and experiences, I’ll never know.
I do know that I’ll never forget either of them. Writing gives me the chance to recall the best memories from that time.
Thank you for having the courage to share that story, Mindy. If there’s anything that I can say to follow that up, it would be this:
To those of you that are out there struggling – you are not alone and help is out there.
Time: 8:20am – ish
Music: None. I’m observing a few moments of silence for those we’ve lost along the way.
About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to