Rhonda Cagle

Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’

Mom’s Gift Keeps Giving

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2014 at 8:44 am

My latest column for the Arizona Republic is really a letter to my best friend Susie. It’s also a birthday wish for my goddaughter Shaelee.

Suz & Shaelz


The morning of Shaelee’s birthday, I texted Susie to let her know I was remembering and celebrating “our girl.” The truth is that I would have given anything to have texted or called Shaelee to sing her “Happy Birthday” and tell her how much she is loved.

She’s not here to receive those Birthday wishes so I’m sharing them with you, instead. I hope you’ll take the time to read and share with others.http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/southwest-valley/2014/08/27/mental-illness-took-shaelee-soon/14698813/

Making Peace With the Pieces

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2012 at 9:50 am

It’s a conversation we don’t like to have. We avoid talking about mental illness and suicide. But when we do, the victims – people such as my goddaughter and my best friend – suffer in silence. That’s why I’m talking about it in my column in The Arizona Republic. I hope you’ll join the conversation.http://www.azcentral.com/community/swvalley/articles/2012/05/07/20120507cagle-sometimes-lifes-pieces-never-fit-leaving-shattered-peace.html


Shaelee (left) and Megan wearing matching Mickey Mouse t-shirts on a visit to Disneyland at the end of First Grade.

Puzzle Peaces

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2012 at 4:27 pm

I find them everywhere these days, these pieces to a puzzle. Little bits of colorful cardboard, their uneven edges speaking of a picture that is incomplete – missing. Each of them serves as a metaphor for these past few days and I find myself trying desperately to pick up the pieces. Fit them together. Make sense of the colorful chaos. Give to grieving parents, family, and friends – to myself – a picture that makes any kind of sense. But key pieces are missing. And no matter how hard I try, I can never find or replace them – never complete the picture. Never answer the questions of “why” and “what if.”

Shaelee, my goddaughter, loved jig saw puzzles. Her mom, Susie, and I are best friends and our daughters – our only children – have been best friends since they were five. Susie and I would often find our girls in Shaelee’s bedroom, lying on the floor, working puzzles together. Their little brows furrowed in concentration, their attention would center on a hole in the picture, and their fingers would move piece after piece, trying to find the right fit.

Little girls grew into young women. Little difficulties grew into large problems as Shaelee and her parents grappled with a new puzzle known as mental illness. Each diagnosis of a new disorder brought new medications and new psychologists and therapists. Susie’s hands never stopped moving as she worked to help Shaelee put the puzzle together, trying to find the corner pieces that would give some structure and stability to a picture that had yet to emerge. It never quite did.

One last time, Shaelee laid on the floor, surrounded by her puzzle. One last time, she tried to put the pieces together. One last time, she gave up in despair – the gun in her hand forever ending the possibility of completing the puzzle.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Shaelee’s room these past few days. Her grieving parents have wanted pieces of their daughter back – pieces of her life. The ruby necklace passed down from her grandmother. The new dress she had just bought and her favorite pair of shoes – something to bury her in. Her iPod and phone charger so they can listen to her voice and her music one last time.

The room remains just as it was when Shaelee left this earth. Standing in the midst of it, it’s not the blood and carnage that holds my attention. All I can see are the pieces to her puzzle, outlining the area where she last laid, symbolizing the jagged pieces she could never quite make fit in this life.

I wish to God we had been able to help her put the pieces together here on this earth. I know with equal certainty God now holds her and has helped her complete the picture that eluded her in this life.

But there’s still a mom who will never again hold her baby girl. There’s still a dad whose last image of his child is where he found her body, surrounded by pieces to a puzzle left unfinished. Shaelee – her beautiful singing voice, her blue eyes, her laughter, and her impetuous quest for life – are now missing pieces in their own life puzzles. And there are so many pieces now scattered and strewn about.

There is only so much a best friend – a godmother – can do. Planning a funeral and meals, calling family and friends, only goes so far. All I can do is pick up what I can. And I can pray, asking God, in His mercy, to help them make peace with the pieces. It’s not enough, but it’s all there is.

Dark Waters

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm

It’s the cloudy days I love. Gray, overcast skies with clouds that billow and swirl make me think I’m watching the tides of an eternal ocean from the underneath. If I peer intently enough, I might just catch a glimpse of the toes of a sainted loved one wading and splashing in the tides on the sunny shores that lie just on the other side.

These were the thoughts jumbling in my mind as I set off for a quick walk around Friendship Park on a rather overcast day. Rain was threatening but my need for fresh air outweighed my need of staying dry so off I went.

As I walked I took in the sight of empty sports fields, their grasses withered with our Southwest’s version of winter. Come the weekend, the fields would come alive with the energy of soccer and football leagues, but for now the yellowed grasses were a good fit for their barren condition.

Continuing my stride, I made my way to the pond and I stopped to peer into waters darkened by the weather. Usually the Valley’s endless sunlight skims the surface, throwing sparkling diamonds upon the waters like a benevolent king. But today those waters were dark and brooding, their surface still.

My mind turned to several friends who are facing dark waters in a season of life defined by foreboding gray skies. Cancer has claimed a husband and father. His wife and young children find themselves awash in stormy seas, with grief rolling them over and under in its powerful tides. Another friend, self-employed and self-insured – the only provider in her family – has just been diagnosed with cancer. Surgery and treatment and its staggering costs swirl in the waters as dark, cold wetness laps at her soul. Marriages coming unraveled, RIFs and pink slips causing financial crisis, and sons and daughters facing mental illness and addictions evidence the ominous clouds of this winter season.

A mom and her daughter making their way to the edge of the pond interrupted my thoughts and I stopped to watch their movements. With the delighted abandon known only to a young child, the little girl began throwing breadcrumbs to the ducks and geese living in these dark waters. In an instant, the darkness parted thanks to dozens of webbed feet breaking the surface of the waters and moving frantically toward the direction of the child’s shrieks of happiness. She giggled and laughed, watching the gaggle of life swimming and diving amidst a pond of darkness. Oblivious to the storm, she became my ray of sunshine to a gray day of introspection.

I’m determined to be the emotional equivalent of that little girl in the lives of my friends. I can’t change the seasons or the dark waters. What I can do is stand at the edge of the darkness, throwing breadcrumbs of hope and help to attract to the surface the life that still swims amidst watery midnight. That’s what I can – and will – do. That, and look up; knowing if I peer long enough, I’m likely to see the saints and the sunshine that lie just above the clouds.

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