HV046- All Happy Families

Marjorie Sharrow holding up her handHearing Voices from NPR®
046 All Happy Families: Love and Loss
Host: Larry Massett of Hearing Voices
Airs week of: 2010-02-10 (Originally: 2009-01-14)

“All Happy Families” (52:00 mp3):

Tolstoy wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” But sometimes it’s hard to tell who is and isn’t happy:

“Crossdressing Family Man” (12:33) Eric Winick of Yarn Audio Works

After decades together, the Nadeaus find their husband/father has a secret. This story, told by family friend, come to us from Transom, which has a longer version, with photos and family history. [Music: Bach Six Cello Suites performed on viola performed by Patricia McCarty (Ashmont Music), Stravinsky “”Apollo” Three Greek Ballets performed by London Symphony Orchestra (Naxos).]

“Love Life” (24:11) Larry Massett

Steve Fugate roams the roads of America, walking thousands of miles with a sign stuck over his middle-aged head that reads “Love Life” — because of what happened to his son; recorded by Mark Baldwin, produced by ). Follow Steve’s writing and walking at Trail Therapy. [Music: Stravinsky “Agon” Three Greek Ballets performed by London Symphony Orchestra (Naxos), Bach Six Cello Suites performed on viola performed by Patricia McCarty (Ashmont Music), Dolly Parton “Silver Dagger” The Grass Is Blue.]

“After the Forgetting” (10:45) Erica Heilman

We follow an evolution of relationships revealed in conversations between Greg Sharrow, his mother Marjorie, and Greg’s husband Bob Hooker, as Marjorie’s dementia progresses. Produced with the Vermont Folklife Center. Transom has the original longer version, with photos. [Music: Karinne Keithley.]

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Comments (20)

Many people who heard Steve Fugate’s story emailed him at his site, Trail Therapy. Steve and the emailers gave us permission to publish their letters. One email came with this:

I am attaching one of my first expressive oil paintings of my mother’s suicide and my experience. it’s called ‘letting go’. She letting go of me and her responsibility as a mother, and my letting go of my anger. –Margot

Emails to Steve, including Margot’s, are below…

Comment added by BG on 01.20.09

–Original Message to Trail Therapy
Subject: visitor’s comment

I heard your interview on NPR this morning and was so impressed with your experiences and journey that i came to your web-site. I so enjoyed your stories of the people who were in pain that stopped you on your walk. The experiences of your walk are such a source of healing, encouragement, and hope. I trust that you have the opportunity to tell this story before love audiences. We need to hear more of this side of humanity in our news. Thanks, Ann

Comment added by BG on 01.20.09

–Original Message to Trail Therapy
Subject: Hey heard you on NPR

I love your story. I would walk, but I have 4 dogs. They are the only thing that matters to me in my life. My family basically abandoned me when I told them I was gay and moved to San Francisco in 1980. I’ve lived in NYC since 1989.

Your story, I don’t know what it was, but i walked thru the snow this morning with my dogs, a little lighter, a little freer, and a touch more hopeful.

May God watch over you and take care. I hope to maybe someday have courage and not wearing my fear. I am amazed by people who can just trust and let completely go and be so free of fear. That’s living life. I’m envious.

I wish you well. Your message is beautiful. I feel a bit better today hearing it on “hearing voices” on NPR (one of my favorite radio programs).

xoxo Brian

Comment added by BG on 01.20.09

–Original Message to Trail Therapy
Subject: visitor’s comment

Your story has made a difference in my life.


Comment added by BG on 01.20.09

–Original Message to Trail Therapy
Subject: Just heard a broadcast on public radio…in santa fe ‘hearing voices’


You have the gift… a wonderful gem of a heart! I heard this broadcast and was taken by your sense of humor, honesty and your love of life. Really.

I too have lost through suicide a family member — my mother. She attempted suicide throughout my childhood… and my mantra throughout my young life had been to save her, make her happy, to stop her from hurting herself. But as time moved on, her attempts and her drinking/use of pills and self destruction took it’s toll on me. I doubted my love for her.

It was in 1976, I got a letter in the mail from my mother… who lived just a few blocks away. Odd. Opening it up, my heart started beating, I started welling up… and then… calm overtook me and I called the police. The letter was a suicide note that stated ‘by the time you read this, I’ll be dead’. She listed all of her belongings and really blamed me in the letter for her suicide.

The police met me at her apartment. I opened the door, and we found her alive. There was a suitcase nearby with jars and jars of seconal and tuinol pills. What she had planned on taking to kill herself.

We all crammed into a police car and took her to Long Island College hospital in Brooklyn, where I just wanted the emergency doctor to admit her overnight while I went home to try to find her a good psychiatrist who would commit her and get her some help. The doctor exited the room with my mother saying that he could find no reason how she was a danger to herself or society. My mother apparently had convinced him that she was either fine or had changed her mind. Even with the police there with me, the suicide letter in my hand. I couldn’t believe it. How could this be? The system didn’t work then, and I’m not too sure it does today.

I walked home with my mother. I remember the moment that I had to make the decision to either go to my apartment and call a psychiatrist and get that person over to her by the crack of dawn. Or do I go with her back to her house and stay there with her. She seemed rather belligerent, as she had many times before when I aborted her attempts. (this was the 3rd or 4th attempt).

I went home… and frantically called and did find someone to be there for her the next morning.

Morning came with the buzzer from downstairs. It was the police officer that went with us to the hospital. He walked up the stairs to my door and didn’t have to say a word to me. I saw it, I felt it. I said to him… you found my mother dead. He said yes. She had gone to a hotel room in Manhattan, bought some razor blades and had slit her wrists in the tub.

I live with this to this day. The guilt of not staying with her that night… taking the blame for it. And then were the feelings that I resented her, she had been selfish and had not cared about my feelings or my future. I felt sorry for myself.

Now, I feel that I wouldn’t have changed anything about the situation. It has made me strong, and I have used my pain to spirit my voice as a painter. I am a painter in oils and tribute my work to my mother. I have chosen not to be her victim.

Thank you, for your insight and your spirit. It is wonderful!

God Speed.


Comment added by BG on 01.20.09

–Original Message to Trail Therapy
Subject: spreading the love

Hi Steve,

I was completely captivated by your voice and your stories that I heard on NPR today on the program “Hearing Voices”. Your love for life and your openness to it, with its joys and piercing pains, brought me to tears, but made me feel happy and made me love life just a little bit more today. So, I just wanted to say thank you.

If you are coming through the Atlanta area in the spring maybe you could stop by here. I live in a neighborhood called serenbe. I think you would enjoy seeing it. We are trying to create zoning to preserve the bucolic land that is so close to the major city of Atlanta. We have an organic farm. We are all loving life very much here.

My best to you in 2009. And best of luck with the book. Just sit down for a set number of minutes each day and put something on paper. Writing is all about revision anyway.
Best, best wishes to you,


Comment added by BG on 01.20.09

I love your program, but your website is frustrating as all get-out. I stumbled upon the tail end of the XM radio broadcast of Steve Fugate’s story while in the car this weekend and wanted to hear the mp3/podcast of it in it’s entirety.

After countless clicks through circular links on this page, I guess I’ve concluded that the episode must not be available to hear online. I only wish that that announcement was a bit more forthcoming. Pity.

Update: Had I read the whole write-up I would have seen that the program will be posted on 1/21. My apologies.

Comment added by Kevin Sprague on 01.20.09

Steve, Your compelling story really has touched my life in a beautiful way. Thank you so very much for carrying the sign to remind people (truly) to LOVE LIFE. If even one person can be saved by this beautiful message, then the walk of 21,000+ miles has purpose and great beauty! I am extremely sorry about how you also continually have tremendous pain from your son’s suicide. You see, I lost my dear brother-in-law, Richard, to suicide (shortly before Christmas), and the entire extended family was Devastated by this for many years, and is still in constant pain and guilt. I only wish that Richard could have, and would have, received your message before taking his own life.

I will pray for the continued success of your mission, to get the message of LOVE LIFE (especially with our troubled economic times) … I worry so much for the less fortunate members of our society.

Thanks from the bottom of my heart!

Ed, from Warren Ohio

Comment added by Ed, from Warren Ohio on 01.23.09

My Brother!!!!
What a joy to hear your voice and thank you for the laughs and the tears. You, John and Liz are 3 of my favorite people and even when things are at the worst I will always think of you and LOVE LIFE
I watched the movie Into the wild the other day and it inspired me ( though I do like showering and eating) and boy I miss my American Express card! Ok whatever happens in my life I will be walking the trail with you this year my friend

Comment added by Will Roth on 01.23.09

I have had the pleasure of meeting Steve on his journey and he truly is an amazing person, it was great hearing his voice again,god bless you on your never ending journey Stevie I hope to see you soon.

Comment added by Anthony Brigs on 01.25.09

Godspeed, Cousin. You are a spirit for the ages.

Comment added by David Payne on 01.26.09

–Original Message to Trail Therapy
Subject: visitor’s comment

I am sitting at work in my cubicle, crying my eyes out, having just heard your story and thoughts on NPR. I lost my best friend to suicide at age 17, and then two weeks later, my little brother attempted the same. Luckily, my mom found my brother in time. I don’t know exactly what to say, but I wanted to let you know how much you mean to me, even though we have never met. I often think people are horrible, selfish, greedy creatures, and that there is no hope, and no one has a good heart. But you remind me that I am wrong in those times, that there are people who love and people who love life, no matter how painful it can be at times. I am going to share your story with my husband, who attempted suicide before we met, to remind him how much I love him and how blessed we are.


Comment added by BG on 01.31.09

[…] the HV hour All Happy Families we featured our interview with Steve Fugate. Now his story is being told in film, “Love Life: […]

Pingback added by Love Life film : HearVox on 05.30.09

Dear Steve,
A friend sent me your story and I listened to it this morning on my computer. So many things you talked about have been my own experience. My heart broke just like you said. Every time I tell my story to myself or others I fall apart all over again. My first loss was when I was 9 when my daddy died in a car wreck. Both of my beautiful sisters committed suicide, just like you said, with that damn gun. In 2007 my beloved, my former husband and friend, ended his life the same way. Thank you for telling others that “your life doesn’t just belong to you.” I wish I had said that to all my dearest ones who did not have the Love of Life that I am blessed with. My heart goes out to you. I know about that guilt and that pain of senseless loss. I admire your journey.

Your friend, Suzanne

Comment added by Suzanne O'Bryan on 06.07.09

“Love Life,” was a disturbing story for me. The account of suicide and loss of one’s children is heartbreaking, and I genuinely feel for Steve Fugate over such devastation. Even so, I find myself upset with his mindset.
Suicide is a very difficult subject, but one should never judge another for having commited it. Out of the emotions of loss, one may say things disrespectful against those who have intentionally left, and that is understandable. What is not understandable, in my personal opinion, is the hypocrisy of Steve Fugate. He called his children selfish in the story, and at this comment my face turned red.
I see Steve Fugate as grieving, yet ultimately selfish in this situation! His daughter, at the death of Steve’s son, told him he should have spent more time with her brother; she told him he should have loved her brother as much as he loved life. Somehow Steve didn’t get the message, and instead left her to grieve on her own, so that he could support himself! He could have learned to love his family by staying and healing with them in some way! He could have loved them as much as he “loved life” but did not choose to do so!
Steve calls his children selfish for what they did, though suicide is much more complicated than that, and he also says, “You don’t have the right to commit suicide because your life is not your own;” and I translate this differently. I see he is just as “selfish,” if not more, and since his children’s lives were his also, he should have spent time loving thiers. He is not without guilt… I think that was his daughter’s message.
(I realize he loved his children, there is no doubt, but I also realize he did not see to love them the way they needed, he was blinded by his own ambitions).
Thank you for a place where I could vent my own opinion!

Comment added by Gin. on 02.14.10

Gin, I understand there is no way you could know the deal my son and I worked out together. We decided he could run my business while I did the Appalachian Trail and keep all profits so as to make some much needed money for himself. And after I finished the trail he would do the trail and I would orchestrate his hike as he was doing for mine. Unfortunately, the plan didn’t make it that far. As for my daughter, she and I planned my walks; she helped orchestrate all my walks but the last one… which was called my “Shelly Walk” in honor of my little girl. She was diagnosed with MS, but her death a few months later was ruled an accidental drug overdose. However, led by my wonderful son-in-law, there is a new investigation going on concerning some of the drugs she was on for the treatment of the MS. You obviously have never encountered my family or me. If you had, you would not have made the comments you made concerning my love for them and my time spent with them. You are absolutely correct Gin, we must not judge one who commits suicide and we must forgive them completely. They are totally blinded by the pain they are feeling at the time. So blinded in fact, that they are not able to see how self centered they are being. That they are not considering the pain and total devastation they are about to bring down on their loved ones. It is absolutely a self centered act. They are centered in on their own personal problems to the extent they do not see the horror they are bringing on their family. We need to educate others and make them aware that they are being self centered, that they are not considering the ones being left behind. We all need to be aware that our lives most definitely do not belong to just us alone, that others have an investment in us. The largest of those investments is love. Bottom line Gin, I want no other parent to go through the horror I have had to face. I want to keep young people alive!!! This is my creed, I want no other person to stop loving life long enough to do what my son and possibly my daughter, did. This is my message Gin, “You can do anything you want in this life as long as you hurt no one else. That being said, Suicide goes way beyond just hurting, it totally devastates all left behind! You do not have the right to take your own life it does not belong just to you!” Gin, there have now been 34 people that have told me those words caused them to change their minds about taking their own lives. I know in my heart that my children are very proud of me and I will continue doing exactly what I’ve been doing in my efforts to keep young people alive. It is working!

Comment added by Steve Fugate on 02.17.10


Thank you for personally replying to my comment; it was not expected, but I am grateful.

You are absolutely correct in so many things. I admire your will to help, and your mission to educate others about suicide. I also know very much that you love your children. I can not ignore the good that you are doing, I can not. I support your outreach in that your story does indeed inspire others, and lifts them out of dark places.

I have said what I have said because of a few nagging thoughts and feelings after listening to a radio broadcast of your story. The broadcast does not tell your whole story of course! I can not possibly understand your story or family life as I am only attuned to a small part of it.

I am like you in that I hold to a creed of living life without hurting others, and in turn it is not my intention to hurt you or drag you down; though I am sure, out of my own emotional splurge above, there was something hurtful for you in my statement. I am sorry for this, and in retrospect I could have refrained and reconsidered a bit. However, I feel a need to side with those who choose end thier lives. Please don’t get me wrong, I do not advocate suicide in the least! What I mean is, speaking ill (aka. putting a label on) of those who were ill indeed, just to prevent further suicide is not a tatic I think should be taken. Why? Well, because of the complexities of suicide.

People hear it all the time, “Those who commit suicide are weak. Those who commit suicide are selfish…” but does that really stop suicide? Perhaps, perhaps it may help, and probably does actually, for superficial considerations and such; but when it comes down to the illness of severe depression (among mental illnesses that put one at risk), it makes things worse for an individual contemplating suicide. Thier thoughts are clouded and muddled already and then such statements about thier being weak or selfish greatly inhances their poor self image or societal stance! There are many reasons for this! Such statements are more useful for the living, and those not quite on the edge.

See, there are those suicidal people who believe they are doing their friends and family a favor! Many do in fact consider their families, but they can not express how deeply they consider such things with any real effect because they pass on anyway. These people might feel that whatever pain they might cause, they can not help because there does not seem to be any other option. They may feel that the pain their family might experience after their death is nothing to what they might experience if they keep living. In the moments before death they (but not all, of course) further torment themselves by the thought of hurting others! It may just be what pushes them to the edge. These people might try and write wills, or apologies, but again, fall short. Sometimes, it just is, that suicidal people don’t believe, no matter what, that others love them. Saying suicidal people are selfish by following through with suicide trivializes their experience, and the whole situation. It is far more complicated than that.

Who is selfish? Those who are ill, and in pain, or those who wish them to continue living in turmoil just so they can feel better themselves? There is selfishness on both sides. At least for the healthy, there is the idealized knowledge of help, and a better life. Hopefully they do what they can to help the sick. The tragedy is, you can’t always help, and the pain may run too deep; the disease may be terminal. Would you want someone suffering from debilitating, terminal, cancer to continue in pain (in this case, without pain medication)? If so, why? For you? They can’t stick around if they can not, and the pain of death is inevitable for you. It is one of the most horrendous things about life, separation from those you hold dear.

I admire your perserverance and efforts. I like that you work to help others, and save lives. Your approach is very practical, and many well. You are a hero in so many respects. You have been though so much, and yet have prevailed, and this, regardless of my statements. I do not wish to hold you back from doing good! Maybe it is that I think the education should include other factors? But then, saving lives at any cost is most important? Some things, I still have to work out myself!

On the comments I made about your family situation, I will refrain from everything but an apology. I am sorry for assuming some things. Like I said, I do not know it all. I just was very sad at the thought that certain things may have been ignored. I do apologize for making the insinuation that you did not love your children. I did say I thought you did love them but added a “but” didn’t I?

I do hope for a swift resolution concerning your daughter’s horrible incident. And, you truly have my condolences.

I will keep you in my thoughts. Thank you for your kind understandings and for some clarification.


PS. Good luck to you out there.

Comment added by Gin. on 02.18.10

[…] Trail an got a call that his son had committed suicide. Telling the story on the NPR show Hearing Voices he says, “I shot back from the phone maybe 10 or 15 feet. I could not stop screaming.” […]

[…] Trail and got a call that his son had committed suicide. Telling a story on a NPR uncover Hearing Voices he says, “I shot behind from a phone maybe 10 or 15 feet. we could not stop screaming.” […]

[…] Trail and got a call that his son had committed suicide. Telling a story on a NPR uncover Hearing Voices he says, “I shot behind from a phone maybe 10 or 15 feet. we could not stop screaming.” […]

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