I don’t think I am alone here. When you reach a certain age and stage in life, you come to the table with a certain level of common sense and experience that you think backs up your values, beliefs and opinions. So, there are many areas of life that I have experience in but I am not a professional. I take my combined experience — mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, lawyer, teacher, book lover, movie and theatre lover— and I use it all when I process the world around me. Situation dependent, certain parts of this experience may overshadow others. Many have seen my mama bear take charge; others the lawyer, teacher, friend etc. Whichever controls, I universally try to follow the signs.
I’m on overload this week. The sudden unexpected death of my daughters’ theatre teacher and mentor, my friend, Micah Greene, set these wheels in motion. Saturday, the words at Micah’s funeral and the family events after, just keep bringing me back to signs. Not signs of depression and suicide, but the overall esoteric every day signs that cross our paths to tell us where we are heading. Sometimes we understand the signs, sometimes it takes time.
The WBHS theatre department creates Show Tags for every show they perform. The students wear these Show Tags accumulated on a lanyard to identify their connection to the show and the drama department. Natalie, my daughter, a junior at WBHS who is the student producer for WBHS theatre, keeps those show tags on a hook on the bulletin board in my kitchen. She has a bundle— every drama, musical, children’s and MIFA show since she started in this position literally days into her freshman year at WBHS after being chosen by Micah for this rare four year responsibility. She pulls them down and wears them with pride whenever a show is presented. Saturday she wore them to Micah’s funeral.
The show tags represent pride and commitment to the WBHS drama family; a community culture of hard work and humor created by Micah Greene but nurtured and maintained by the students, parents and staff. Like many other high school drama departments I suspect, this community is a haven for many students who move to the beat of their own drummers, like Micah. We all knew that, like his kids, Micah was zany, bright, unique; we didn’t know his struggles, nor should we have. He was very familiar with our kids, but he maintained boundaries. We now know he struggled with depression, a disease that took his life.
We need to honor that knowledge through teaching and understanding, but not letting it define Micah’s legacy. I sat at Micah’s funeral and listened to his Priest, Father Mark Rutherford of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Williamston, MI, speak with more candor about depression and suicide than I have ever heard in my life. More candor than our drama students have heard at school in this tumultuous year where Micah is the fourth suicide in our school community. Micah’s family had the courage to ensure that the eulogy include this life lesson, to help our community — their community — understand this illness, to plant seeds of knowledge that depression can be lethal (like diabetes or cancer) to ease our pain; to possibly prevent others’ from suffering as Micah did, and as we do now living with his loss.
The lesson Saturday was also about stigma. When we are frank and open, we begin to remove the stigma attached to depression and suicide. This seems so simple but has also been elusive.
Micah left a legacy. That legacy is the lessons learned in his forum, his classroom and travels. The lessons learned in his weekly message during the production process which always included not just the rehearsal schedule, but also life lessons connected to the art, the themes and connections between shows and life, memorialized in show tags.
Shortly after my family got in the car to drive home, Natalie looked down. Her lanyard and show tags were gone. The devastation was palpable. We drove back to where we were parked in silence, but filled with hope. We found the open lanyard, ITS pin and Show Tags attached (a bit dirty and wet) in a puddle of melting snow where our car had been parked. “A sign!?” Natalie shared with her more typical panache breaking through her sadness. A sign indeed. A sign we will endeavor to use to share Micah’s legacy, all of it. To honor him, learn, heal, and move forward.
Photos by Susan Ashe