Archives for category: family

I hereby proclaim this Zombie Christmas! It’s amazing! Every person coming in the store or meet in other stores, banks, etc. have NO Christmas spirit this year! NONE…especially me.
I expected that knowing it was my first Christmas ever without Mom…and I’m not just talking about her being alive all my life…but present. Mom, Carl, Ava and I always had Christmas together even those rare times that Abe and I went out of town. We celebrated Christmas Day with Mom and then left knowing another family member would be with her while we were gone.
Now that all three of my closest loved ones are gone, the “spirit” of it all feels empty, shallow and hard for me to connect. The traditions which once were so very important…family, advent wreath, scripture readings, snuggling while watching old movies, making that special gift for special persons, sharing the love…gone with the passing of that wonderful woman.
I’m not being morose…just honest. I’m not more depressed than I have been for the last 4 years or so but this year is more empty without Mom. It’s normal to feel this level of grief during these holidays and I’m embracing this tsunami as I tell others to do. I’m not wallowing in it; I’m waxing my surfboard to find my life after…after Carl…after Ava…now, after Mom.
I’m trying to dream of buying a small RV and traveling again. I often push myself toward that end…sometimes harder than others…sometimes…not at all but that’s all a part of my normal.
That’s what I preach to those who will listen about our mission at Ava’s Corner…define YOUR normal and create ways to maintain it when life kicks you upside the head. That’s all I’m doing right now and it’s all I have energy to do.
To my friends who celebrate the reason for the season, I wish you all much love, joy, peace and happiness during this most sacred time to celebrate the birth of our faith (regardless of the subsequent “pagan” influence) and to take hope in the future of the New Year (regardless of the current & upcoming most “pagan” world issues).



Every DAY is Mental Health Awareness DAY here at Ava’s Corner…as we try to help those of us who are challenged with our brains’ alternate states to define “normal” one person at a time…and often one minute at a time.
YOUR best normal is what you should strive for (not someone else’s definition of that) and, when life throws you a curve ball, find that new normal for you to try to maintain.
My normal before Ava Kauffman’s death was being on the phone with her any time of the day or night helping her stay focused on completing her degree and encouraging her to think past the moment of depression into a positive future. However, my life after that horrific phone call at 6:00 AM on March 23rd changed my “normal” forever. I now struggle with PTSD as a result of 40 years of cumulative angst, pain, anxiety and struggle to help my son help himself to stay alive (he was murdered), help Ava stay alive (she killed herself) and, finally, help my 90+ year old Mom stay alive in her last years.

Carl, Ava and me April 1984

Carl, Ava and me April 1984



Mom watching fireworks from my deck in 2011…before the world stopped spinning. 

The difference? As a mother, you ALWAYS have HOPE that prayers, hard work in helping your children, etc. will help them see a brighter tomorrow. When ALL fails and the most important people in your life are all gone…critical support team, best friends, loved ones…some of us struggle.

People who don’t really “know” me think I’m strong and dumber ones have asked me if Montana was one of those “fake” service dogs. That’s about the time they might just find out exactly why I have her! Word of caution! Don’t ask that!

Remember, you don’t always “see” who we are but that doesn’t make us whole! It makes us in a constant state of healing. The trick is finding YOUR very own way of creative coping and healing!


Montana doggie park 10-10 taken by Maya

Montana is MY creative coping mechanism. I could leave the house without her!

Ava and Jake. He is a very special and holds dear a special place in my heart forever.

Ava and Jake. He is a very special and holds dear a special place in my heart forever.

Ava loved animals of all kinds and people of all types. She definitely would want to take in this beautiful animal if she could. After all, she adopted Jake, a wolf mix who could be quite challenging.

Please read below about Alejandro. He’s bilingual! He takes commands in English and Portuguese! He needs plenty of room to play and run as well as a strong pack leader.

I’ve been coaching Stacey on some Alpha training skills to use with him and he’s responding well but still needs a new home!


Stacey got a frantic phone call from a friend three years ago saying that she HAD to go see this pure bred white German Shepherd pup who was going to be killed just by the breeder just because he didn’t have perfect ears. Stacey’s big heart which reminds me ever so much of Ava’s, couldn’t stand the thought of a dog being destroyed for such a reason and, without a second thought, took the pup in. She massaged his ears to help them grow straight and loved him unconditionally.

Stacey lived in an apartment complex which was known to have problems and Ali protected her from harm on several occasions just by being in the apartment and letting would-be burglars know of his presence.  After all, that’s what German Shepherds do best…protect and defend…and that’s exactly what he did for the last three years.

Now that Stacey has moved in to live with Mom to help our family, Ali can’t be inside any more sleeping at the foot of Stacey’s bed. He’s outside and adjusted well but there’s no fenced yard and he needs more attention than she can give. Also, Stacey is helping her son take care of her young grandson which Ali tends to play too rough for the little guy.

Even though Ali responds well to authority, structure and exercise , it would not be good for him to be around young children or the elderly.

Ali has just received all his shots for the year and his next vaccinations will be due September 30, 2014. He has the heart worm shot that will be due in March 2014. He also has 7 months worth of flea and tick protection. He has been neutered and he has an active microchip implant and is crate trained (which would come with him).

It hurts her to have to re-home him because she does love Ali.

Alejandro speaks Portugese!

Alejandro speaks Portuguese!

Please contact me via this post or at if you or someone you know is interested in helping our family out find the right fur-ever home for Ali.

And, thank you  in advance for your consideration and concerns.

The last photo taken of Ava and me when we were on our camping trip summer, 2011.

The last photo taken of Ava and me when we were on our camping trip summer, 2011.

How is it possible for time to crawl in microsecond intervals during that first year of loss of your child yet fly with the speed of light?

It was twelve months ago, almost to the day when I first started writing this blog. A year ago, I felt as if I was a part of the “Bodies” exhibit where all the skin has been stripped from my body. To say I was raw, vulnerable, humbled and in great pain is an understatement. Yes, Ava was my only daughter and only surviving child but she was my best friend in the whole world. We shared secrets to the very end. I had every expectation to believe she would be there the next morning when I called her to tell her I loved her even though she’d promised to not fail on her next attempted suicide.

For her whole life, she struggled to get the confidence she needed to live a happy life through numerous therapists, psychiatrists, physicians, therapists (both group and individual), food modifications, purification, yoga, cleansing, books, education, medications, relationships and family but there just was never enough love,  support or positive direction for her insatiable appetite which was conjoined with her innate fascination with death and fatalistic nature.

She was consistently misdiagnosed by some of the most prominent psychiatrists in Atlanta whose only directive was to keep giving her a cocktail of drugs hoping it would help her instead doing a better job of digging deeper into who she was to find the truth. A “mere” therapist was able to pinpoint  her BPD in 2005. His diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) hit the nail on the head…one which has no magic pill and only the intense Dialectical therapy to help cope with the symptoms.

No psychiatrist took the effort to get past her veneer to see the truth under the surface. If it had been their child, would they have treated her the same?

The problem was that there was no research for this brain malfunction (as I term it) readily available until more recent years. A little too little too late. From my understanding, it wasn’t a popular brain malfunction to receive funding for so the woman who did the most groundbreaking research on it had to slant her research toward the Bipolar side of this very complex disorder. BPD can include combinations of other brain malfunctions including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Bipolar Disorder [both I and II] (BD) and Narcissism, just to name a few. People with BPD typically have severe separation anxiety, very sensitive, intelligent, artistic and musically inclined.. To say they don’t detach easily from failed relationships is a gross understatement. Ava exhibited all of these characteristics from day one yet only ONE professional dug deep enough to recognize the complexities of her brain malfunctions and name it. Yep. I’d say the mental health care system chronically failed us.


Newborn Ava holding her head up at birth!

Newborn Ava holding her head up at birth!

Minutes old Ava began this world by doing a push-up and turning her head from side-to-side as if complaining about the process she’d just been subjected to, the bright lights or all of it. She was immediately expressive…her face, her highest-possible-pitch screams (Lord, yes, her C above high C), her grunts, arm gestures and more. She’d scream like I was killing her when I’d wash her hair and would go into full blown panic attacks when I stepped out of her sight and into the shower. Her sleep patterns were never normal and I now believe she may have also had autism and dyslexia.

The second they brought her to me in the hospital, I worked hard trying to find patterns which triggered her strange behavior. For example, I thought she was afraid of the sound of the shower until I took her into it with me out of desperation and she loved it! That’s when I realized it was being away from me which triggered her full-blown panic attack. She was six days old. I asked the pediatrician and he said I was spoiling her. I was outraged with his stupidity and he was a highly recognized doctor! I was spoiling a six-day-old baby by feeding and changing her. I knew I was on my own.

Ava always wanted to be sitting up…from birth…only relaxing when nursing.  Once she was strong enough, I’d prop her up with pillows, sheets and anything else in an upright position just to gain time to do two-handed chores as I soon figured out that I had to carry her on my hip. One afternoon, six-week-old Ava was so propped in her swing watching the Muppet Show on in the next room while I cooked dinner. Ava laughed out loud! I ran into see if there was something wrong. She was deeply engrossed in their antics kicking and laughing! All I could think was, “Thank goodness! I found something that makes her happy!”

Happy Baby is a sleeping baby. I always thought this should be a mattress commercial.

Happy Baby is a sleeping baby. I always thought this should be a mattress commercial.

She was born loving animals (especially cats) and her big brother, Carl.

Her dad brought home a kitten we named Tigger (that’s T-I-double GOO-ER, thank you). As Tigger sauntered through his domain, Ava, sitting in her walker, squealed in delight as she reached out for his tail. It wasn’t until her second fall season while learning to jump in leaf piles that she mastered the art of kitten capture and torture! This was another stray kitten her father brought home for us to find a home for. He ended up moving next door.

She had an innate love for cats...and cat torture!

She had an innate love for cats…and cat torture!

Ava ruled the world and we let her. She was good at it. She would never be ignored…EVER!

She had her way of not being ignored!

She certainly had her own way of not being ignored! I was taking classes at GSU and had just gotten home…exhausted…when she decided I’d been away too long!

She always had her own sense of style from the minute she could sit by herself and figure out where things were supposed to go. If I dressed her in something she didn’t want to wear…off it came…even at six months old!

This day, she decided her dad's shoes were just what she needed to complete her ensemble. She wasn't walking yet but that didn't matter!

This day, she decided her dad’s shoes were just what she needed to complete her ensemble. She wasn’t walking yet but that didn’t matter!

When Ava wouldn’t go to sleep, we would put her on the back of my bicycle and take turns riding around our neighborhood to get her to fall asleep. Worked  like a charm every time. It was Carl’s turn this night! She was thrilled to have him at the helm. She just laughed and played until I took the reins.

With her beloved big brother, Carl. They loved each other so much!

With her beloved big brother, Carl. They loved each other so much!

Carl loved torturing Ava as much as Ava loved torturing the cats. She understood his teasing before she could speak and giggled when he’d say those magic words…his magic words which always got her going. If he had food, she would push her walker with the tip of her toes (she was still very little) over to him and say, “I onna bi bi.” Translated, “I want a bite bite.” Carl turned it around and said back to her (every time), “You want a butt bite?” He’d pick her up and give her a big, loving brother nibble on her diaper clad bottom and she’d squeal with delight. As I said, they had their own language and love…one beyond time and earthly space.

When Ava was just six years old, her eighteen-year-old brother, Carl, disappeared without a trace.

This was the last picture ever taken of the three of us...March, 1984. Poignant, huh?

This was the last picture ever taken of the three of us…March, 1984. Poignant, huh?

The loss of him in her life totally devastated her. The last time she saw him was his eighteenth birthday. We had a little party. He was angry at life and took it out on his grandmother. He walked out the door in a rage. Ava went to tell him she loved him but hesitated. He drove off and she never got to tell him. She was sure he would have never left had he known how much she loved him. She was eight years old when she told me this. No amount of love or assurances could get her to change her mind about the powers she thought she had over life and death.

We didn’t know for fifteen years what had happened to him. Those fifteen years were full of an emptiness that neither one of us could do anything about no matter how hard we tried.

Carl came to us both in dreams within a couple of days of each other in early September, 1999…fifteen years after his disappearance. We were torn with joy of knowing what had happened but ripped to shreds after learning of his murder. She had always secretly thought I’d made him mad that last day she’d seen him and that he was staying away from us because of me. Even though her adult mind understood, her six-year-old self just couldn’t grasp her reality any other way.

Ava secretly planted this gardenia in Carl's memory at our house after finding him. She was 22. When we sold the house, we moved the plant to my mom's where it still thrives.

Ava secretly planted this gardenia in Carl’s memory at our house after finding him. She was 22. When we sold the house, we moved the plant to my mom’s where it still thrives.

It was right after this picture was taken that Ava attempted her first serious suicide. The others were just warm-ups to this one. It was 2000 and I  My instincts screamed to me that night to rush over to the house. I found her overdosed and watching “Titanic.” She lied about the number of pills she had taken. I couldn’t find a single hospital to take her because it was mental anguish she suffered from and not physical. She didn’t have insurance. She was too old to be included on my coverage at work even though she was still my dependent. My boyfriend helped me take her with us. We put a mattress on the floor in his living room and I stayed with my hand on her chest until she woke up thirty-six hours later. When she awoke, she said, “I guess it’s meant for me to be alive because I sure took enough to die.” She asked me to re-tell that event to her several times over the coming years including that day…that final day when she decided to leave.

Ava was beautiful, loved, talented, intelligent, diverse, embracing, courageous, loyal, loving, best friend you could ever have and yet, she never felt loved, lovable or wanted.

When she was in Graz 2011 studying, she went to the Presidential Palace. This peacock recognized her beauty and flirted with her immediately. Every animal felt like he did. They all recognized her embracing spirit.

When she was in Graz, Austria in 2011 studying, she went to the Presidential Palace. This peacock recognized her beauty and flirted with her immediately. Every animal felt like he did. They all recognized her embracing spirit.

You bottled up ALL your pain and kept them safe from us, yes even me,
And only let them out a little at a time for the world to see.
We thought, at those times, it was pure insanity.
But it wasn’t…it was pure humanity.

EVERY hurt stayed alive bottled up inside
And, when remembered, would all collide.
That’s what happened that fateful night…
They all came to life in your sight.
They collided and couldn’t be contained
So only your empty body was all that remained.

Now I search every day of my life
For all your hurt and all your strife.
I want to remember each and every one
Because they are a part of what made you done.
I love you dear daughter, o’ heart of mine,
I want you here so I don’t need to rewind.

I want to see you dancing in the rain,
Getting out all your pain
See you laughing in the sun
And playing on the beach having fun
Yep, I need all these things to be
And not these ashes next to me.

For more reliable information on Borderline Personality Disorder, visit these two sites:  and

There are no words for the tsunami of pain and loss which consumes you when you lose a child especially to murder and suicide. It’s our goal at Ava’s Corner, Inc. (a Georgia non-profit corporation/501(c)3 application submitted) to give alternative therapies (yoga, message, art, music, physical, homeopathic, etc.) as well as a safe  place for  people like Ava to create a support cyber-community where one can express pain without disdain or bullying. Ava had a loving community but no one same me knew she was suicidal. It takes a village.

To do that, we must have funds to provide full-time monitoring to prevent inappropriate dialogue and posts as well as additional programs, web space and personnel. We have starting a fund raising campaign at

Please visit our campaign and search your heart. We need your support for this very important effort to help our friends, family and loved ones to find alternatives to taking their own lives.

They say that by the time you see a star twinkling in the night sky, it’s already gone. Ava was my shooting star. I was in love with her the moment I saw her at birth. My life forever altered because of her presence, brilliance, challenges, nightmares, passions and ability to love courageously.

Ava was not easy to raise. Quite the contrary. She was the most exasperating, frustrating, angry, recalcitrant, talented, complex person one could even fathom but she was MY gift. Although I am not a patient person by nature, I learned so much about true unconditional love from her presence in my life that even my DNA has been altered.

And, even in her death, she reaches across to me such that my learning continues. Well, it’s either that or give up too. Yep. I’ve considered that too these last months but she still drives me forward but, at times, backwards as well.

Ava moved to Las Vegas at the insistence of her spouse. She dragged her feet trying to avoid the 2000 mile move away from everything she knew and loved but finally acquiesced in the fall of 2008. And, on her moving day as her spouse waited impatiently in the moving truck, revving truck engine to remind her that they needed to get going, she ran back into the now empty apartment where I was for one more hug.

Ava, dressed in her cute summer dress which sweetly flowed gently around her hour glass figure, turned back toward me and said in a scared, quiet voice, “Mom, I’m afraid to move to Vegas.”

My cheerleader reply was, “Really? Why? You’re registered at UNLV! You’re gonna’ finish your opera training there! A whole new life awaits you!”

Sadly and almost like telling a secret, she said, “I’m think I’m going to die there.”

“Oh, baby. NO! You’re going to LIVE there!”

We were both right.

Three years later, Ava’s destructive six year marriage was all but over. In his mind, he was already gone. Problem was, it wasn’t in her’s and his increasing insensitivity toward this fragile being diminished her desire to continue. It was the one-two punch of his crassness with her mental and physical exhaustion from completing her degree, slammed dunked by being bullied at her first operatic job. Her spouse’s threats of abandonment pushed her ever closer to an end few imagined this bright, beautiful, playful, intelligent woman would or could ever consider…all save me. I was the one in which she confided everything…the rage, pain, doubt, joy, fear, jubilation, overwhelming sadness, hope and everything in between.

The final act began Wednesday, March 21, 2012, when Ava’s spouse announced he had a girlfriend. It devastated Ava to such a degree that she immediately melted into depression…not moving, bathing, or eating…only texting him to come talk with her personally as their eight years together deserved.

But, as usual, he doled out his doses of insensitivity and negativity sprinkled with unmoving resolve which fed her fears of abandonment, rejection and depression. A poisonous brew, indeed.

That was the catalyst for my twenty-four hour phone marathon with her for the three days leading up to the day that changed my life forever. She called crying her heart out; I sobbed with her. I tried to console her with assurances that I would leave as soon as the workers were through and I had reinforcements to help with her grandmother. I assured her, “Mama’s coming.”

I had every expectation to believe my assurances and unconditional love would continue to work as it had for the last thirty-four and a half years. When we’d come to the brink before, she had aways miraculously been there the next day finding the energy to fight back until reinforcements arrived…me.

However, the fickle finger of fate was in the hands of a perfect storm scenario that night. Instead of packing to drive to Las Vegas, I drove my ninety-one year old mom to the emergency room. Mimi, her big-sister-by-another mother and mentor was also in the emergency room in Montreal.Her best friend of eighteen years, Kimber, was also in the hospital in the last stages of a high-risk pregnancy.  All three of her lifelines were too exhausted to read the final signs.

While I was with Mom in the ER, Ava called. I put her on speaker so they could visit. It was 8:00 P.M. EST, Friday night, March 23, 2012.

I stayed in the Emergency Room with Mom until we got a diagnosis and confirmation that she was going to be admitted. Then, I begged off to get some much needed sleep. I called to check on Ava as I drove home. It was 10:00 P.M. EST.

I finally got to Mom’s took a shower, and called Ava. We talked from 11:00 PM until I fell asleep about fifty minutes later. Her last flat toned comment, “You sleep good, Mom,” rings forever in my head.

Since she left, there’s been a bright, flickering star in the night sky off the corner of my deck. It spoke to me soon after she left; that was that. It was Ava’s star. I talk to it every night. It’s a comforting thing I do, like saying goodnight in the very personal way we did her whole life. See, I miss her so much that my soul aches when I can’t “feel” her. This star connects me somehow to her energy. I can’t explain it and I haven’t lost my mind (yet) but it’s true. Her energy flows back to me during this ritual not unlike the one we have shared from her birth…an umbilical cord which was never severed.

The other night I couldn’t find her star. How could I not find it? It’s the brightest one (of course) which blinks rapidly as if signaling an urgent Morse Code message. I reasoned that it now had taken its autumnal course away from its normal spot. I stood frozen, examining the sky in the hope of finding Ava’s Star. My final logic (after some panic) was that it was probably too early and I needed to come back out when it was darker.

Around eleven, even with a black velvet darkness, I still had trouble finding it. I stared at the western sky trying (in vain) to recognize the surrounding stars. At that moment, a shooting star blazed from where I was looking straight down to the treelined horizon to show me Ava’s star. I can count on three fingers the shooting stars I’ve seen in my life. Now, there are four.


Now I know I can find you in the fall sky, at least from my deck. But I also know you’ll be moving again when winter comes. I’ve been afraid I wouldn’t be able to find you in the night sky when I travel to Las Vegas to kick off to help other Las Vegas artists and performers find help and a true, accepting sense of community so they know they’re not as alone as you felt in your last minutes. But, now I know I just need to look westward for a shooting star. I love you forever.

Ava's last painting from late February, 2012. Fitting that it has stars and an exhausted blue being. She was all that...a star and an exhausted blue being.

Ava’s last painting from late February, 2012. Fitting that it has stars and an exhausted blue being. She was all that…a star and an exhausted blue being.

© All posts are Copyright protected. All Rights reserved by author. Please do not use my original photos or reprint my writing without specific written permission. Thank you.

Inside of Ava’s Memorial in Las Vegas in March of this year. There were hundreds of business people, professors, performers and artists in attendance and they were all friends. You just never know who is this depressed until you’re ready to assume all is not as it seems. Ava’s death sure screamed that to all who know and love her (present tense intentional).




Contact: Donna Friend (404) 313-3707


— launches December 2, 2012—Las Vegas, November 16, 2012—

When Ava Kaufman committed suicide in her Las Vegas home earlier this year, she added another name to Las Vegas’s disturbingly high suicide rate. The UNLV student and opera singer was a beloved friend and daughter, a tireless social and animal advocate, and a talented performer, but like so many of the creative people who find their way to Las Vegas, Ava was also struggling with borderline personality disorder and depression that she never shared with her friends.

“After Ava passed away, I learned that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for people between the ages of 18 and 65,” said Donna Friend, Ava’s mother. “I wanted Ava’s death to change that. And that’s why we’re launching Ava’s Corner.”

The website, launching on December 2, offers a safe place for Las Vegas’s creative community to share their struggles through conversation and creative works, creating a support network to remind depressed or suicidal performers that they are not alone. The site also offers resources, from suicide prevention hotlines for severely depressed visitors to local listings for music and art therapy. People who suspect their friends or family may be struggling with personality disorders or depression can also find information to help them better understand and support their loved ones. Members who struggle with bullying or on-the-job harassment can find support tools and resources. The heart of the site, though, is the ability to share with other people who are struggling with the same issues.

“ is a safe haven reminding its members and visitors that you are never as alone as you think you are and as Ava felt she was in her last days. That awful night, Ava couldn’t remember that hundreds of loving friends would have done anything to help her. At, you don’t have to phone a friend if you don’t want to; you can reach out to any venue on this site to find hope and comfort,” explains Friend.

Friend started work on with a small group of committed workers, many of whom had known her daughter in Las Vegas and, like Friend, felt inspired to build a meaningful tribute to Ava’s memory. It felt only natural to launch in Las Vegas, the city where Ava, who had struggled with depression for much of her life, found her “tribe” for the first time. The fact that Las Vegas residents are fifty percent more likely to commit suicide than other U.S. resi- dents and that so many of them pursue the same creative passions Ava embraced were also factors in the decision.

“Without performers, Vegas is just another desert,” Friend says.

Members of the media are invited to attend the launch party on Sunday, December 2, 2012 at The Olive Mediterranean Restaurant (3850 E. Sunset Rd.) from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. RSVP to Donna Friend with your name and the name of your media outlet at by November 30.

Ava’s Corner logo is taken from a cut out Ava did in 1993. It’s of a wolf (on left) and a lion. Ava always connected to the wolf and, in our family, we have lionesses. It was more than appropriate for this piece of her art work to be the website’s logo.

From her Memorial service in Las Vegas

Kinda’ weird how Thanksgiving comes on the eighth month anniversary of Ava’s leaving us but it does make me pause and try to find the silver lining in the message. The easiest one to find is that a handful of dedicated individuals came together at the first calling to help build, create, engineer and formulate what is going to be an amazing tool for hurting creative people like Ava in Las Vegas (and beyond) to find comfort in knowing others who feel as they do are there listening and caring. kicks off on Sunday, December 2, 2012 in Las Vegas thanks to these incredibly giving, loving, pay-it forward kinda’ folks.

The harder part in finding “thanksgiving” is the loss of my best friend and daughter who alternated from being a brilliant light in the night to the darkest of dark. But, I would take all the dark, heavy nightmare stuff back in a blink if I she were here again. Did I get exhausted and frustrated? Absolutely! But, somehow God gave this impatient person, flawed in many ways, the unconditional love that enveloped my soul in the form of my shooting star, Ava.

They say when you see a star that it’s really already gone. It’s true.

After Ava left, I stood on my deck looking up at the black velvet night sky where God placed twinkling diamonds for us to enjoy. There was one in particular that was brightly flickered in a seemingly meaningful pattern. It was, on that night, anointed Ava’s Star.

Every night since coming back home from Vegas in July, as Montana did her final “business” for the night, I would talk to the star and feel a connection with Ava. A real connection like that umbilical cord which was never severed that we both felt while she was here.

Recently, I couldn’t find her star in the sky. I knew it had taken its autumnal course away from its normal spot, but that knowledge gave me little comfort. I stood frozen as I examined the sky hoping to find Ava’s Star. My final logic (after some panic) was that it was probably too early and that I just needed to look again when it was darker.

As Montana has me trained to take her out when she rings the camel bells hanging from the door knob (that Ava gave her because who else would give a dog camel bells for Christmas to train their owner but Ava),  I took her out upon her signal. This time, the sky was black/blue velvet but I still had trouble finding Ava’s Star.

I stared at the western sky trying (in vain) to recognize the surrounding stars. I obviously was looking too high because, just then, a shooting star blazed from the spot where I was looking right down to the tree-lined horizon leading me right to it. I probably can count on my fingers how many shooting stars I’ve seen in my life…maybe even on one hand.

I proceeded to try to memorize the surrounding stars so I could find her even though she’ll be moving again.

I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find her when I got to Vegas but now I know I just need to look westward for a shooting star. Ava, I love you forever…my very own star.

Look for and I pray you will never need it nor know anyone depressed enough to need this site. However, it’ll be there waiting for the one life we hope to save.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Newborn Ava

I was blessed to have been chosen by a remarkable soul to be her mother. She challenged me on all levels of my knowledge, experience and capacity for love. She filled my life with drama, trauma,  jubilation, extremes, shock and awe. I was quite proud that I lived  a life outside the “box” but she took that to a whole other level as she never recognized there was a “box” at all. She broadened my horizons like no one else in the world could have ever done because she was such an integral part of my existence. I don’t know how I’ll ever continue without hearing her amazing angelic voice singing “O mio babbino caro” or just her voice on a daily phone call or a big hug from my girl.

Ava in the “Mikado” 2008

Why? Where did she go? What happened? Is she dead?

She was so sensitive, fragile, creative and unique. Yet, she was so broken by her failed marriage, exhausted from the last two semesters of  college, anxious to be recognized for her operatic talent and, finally, being bullied, that she couldn’t find her way out of her depression to see all the blessings of the next day that she took her life.

I had been arm wrestling with her for a couple of days over the painful familiar subject of suicide and I knew I was losing ground but she had pulled through rough spots like this before. Right at the crescendo, when I needed to be 100% present, I couldn’t be because I had to rush to Atlanta to take my ailing 91-year-0ld mother to the emergency room. Right when I needed to be with her, holding her hand, I had to stay in Atlanta. When I needed to be with her, I couldn’t.

I’ll NEVER forget her final expressionless words to me, “sleep good Mom”  as I passed out from sheer exhaustion from being on the phone with her around the clock for the last 72 hours and Mom’s sudden critical illness.

I wish I could remember every word she said over those last days as clearly as I remember her “goodbye” but I can’t. I talked with her about eighteen times each twenty-four hour period of those last days trying to help her cope with all the bullying she’d endured those last months of her life.

Now the questions become:  How do I carry on?  How do I let go of thinking I could have stopped her? How do I help others thinking of doing the same thing to get a glimpse of the nightmare their decision creates? How do I reach ONE person in such depths of despair? After all, I sure couldn’t reach my own daughter that last day to keep her from taking her life. It’s a reality I will live with regardless of all the platitudes used in times like these. Those words are caring attempts to comfort me in this horrendous time, but platitudes nonetheless.

I’ve been home for a month now and it has been excruciating. Everything reminds me of her. The drive home through Virginia and Tennessee only served to remind me of our trip down those same roads last year. Upon arriving home, I emotionally deflated like an old balloon and that’s where I’ve been…haunted by her smell, laugh and pain…but also exhausted, brain-dead and unable to move most days but making myself go out at least once a week. All I’ve been able to do is pull weeds, do yard work (sometimes for only five minutes) and watch French foreign films and BBC Presentations as they have helped me keep my sanity for I know I have a job to do…I just can’t do it right now.

Finally, after four weeks, I have turned a corner on that first full moon of the blue moon phase of August, 2012. Blue moon is when there are two full moons in one month and, seeing as how my moon is in Cancer, it only makes sense that it would happen on a blue moon. I’ve turned a corner. I’m not sure what corner but my hair has started growing again after four months and I’m not constantly depressed these last four days. I’m thinking again about what needs to be done for the website (although I can’t quite work on it again yet). I hear the clock ticking and know I need to move forward with my life as everyone else seems to be doing. I’m jealous they can do it while I’m stuck in purgatory. I’m jealous they have “found” happiness while I’m still in such pain. But, it’s not a bad jealousy…just a normal one.

I hope that I, too, will find happiness one day for I truly never have experienced that phenomenon and that’s been part of my depression…that reality. As I always say, however, it’s okay to recognize the realities of your existence enabling you to accept it for what it is. My resilience of spirit tells me it will come in a way not anticipated and I look forward to the surprise.

I just hope it involves writing and more back road travels.

Happy Trails!

Graduation Day – Bachelor of Music (Vocal Performance) 12-2011. The last time I saw her happy.

© Donna Friend 8-5-2012  All rights reserved.



My daughter, AVA, committed suicide two months ago after struggling on so many levels:  fighting chronic severe depression, being bullied at work, exhaustion from college, worry over money  and pushing for nothing short of perfection in every performance, especially her career as an opera singer.

As a very serious, devoted opera geek and full lyric soprano, every note, every syllable, every dialect, every language (German, Italian, French, English, Czech, etc.) had to be studied over and over and over until every molecule of her body vibrated and celebrated the aria, the opera and the passion of the moment. Truly a revolutionary woman not only in her own words but of those who were privileged to hear her perform but who love her and call her friend (present tense intentional).

How do I know all this? I’ve just spent eight weeks listening to every single recording of every single lesson she had over the last several years and being embraced by each of those wonderful performers who love her and call her friend. I feel more at home in Vegas with these wonderful men and women than I do in my own state.

As a public speaker, I know what it’s like to put your all into what you’re doing behind the podium or on the stage but certainly not to the level of performers who put their guts on the stage when they get up there to entertain the public with their jokes, magic, singing, comedy, acting, music, voice… They are exceptional, loving individuals and a clan of their own…a true all-for-one-and-one-for-all group the likes of which I’ve NEVER experienced before. They are not only Ava’s tribe but mine as well.

It is that reason why I am driven, yet again, to not just step outside my comfort zone but leap into mid-air off a bazillion foot cliff to start AVA’S CORNER.ORG with an associated Hotline, initially in Vegas, to be that source for these extremely sensitive, loving people who may feel the need to search for assistance regarding a concern or want a caring person on the other end of the Hotline to listen to whatever it is they need to say with understanding, acceptance and assistance.

Ava’s Corner will trump every negative site my daughter searched that fateful night. It will be the FIRST place a person goes when searching all topics related to “suicide”. It’s my belief we should always dream in terms of a perfect world and work backwards so all you website people are cringing over the task, I only know that none of my previous experience as a commercial real estate title insurance underwriting, real estate law or consulting work ever prepared me for this and I’m just gonna’ jump in with my whole being because there is a need! Tell me what you CAN do…not what you can’t do!

We’re creating an album to be called “all things AVA”. We (Ava and all who has  written a song, a poem or a melody to go with Ava’s lyrics or anything related) are collaborating our love and our efforts to raise money for our efforts to assist with mental health resources and to help prevent as many suicides as possible in the performance industry with the power of positive influence. Every performer will receive full credit for their work including a Bio with photo of each artistic contributor of this beautiful collaborative effort will help fund AVA’s Corner & Hotline.

So far, we are hoping to have AVA singing art songs and arias “Trials and Tribulations of Love”, along with Jenni Kearns orchestrating melodies to Ava’s lyrics, performances by Mirjana Milovanovic, Marisa Johnson, Carmen A. Woodruff, Susanne Knauf’s melody, Beauregard Higgins performing his original song he wrote for Ava, Vital Germaine’s poem with his painting of Ava on the cover, Scott Gordon’s poem, Charly Urso performing his original song, Mirjana performing her original song and anyone else who has an original piece written for Ava. You just need let me know so we can review it.

I want this to be a collaborative effort of all of us to share and enjoy for a long time but also to give credit to some beautiful and talented people who love Ava dearly and will always feel that way. All proceeds will go to the Trust (or non-profit organization…haven’t decided which was is best yet) which I will form when I’m back in Georgia that will fund Ava’s Corner & Hotline.

I have plenty of artists (of all persuasions) but I don’t have a person to assist in creating the website. If you need money to do this and you’re the right person, contact me and I’ll see what we can do to come up with $$. Without the website (the right one, that is) this will never leave the ground. The web creator must “get” what we’re doing and feel passionate about its creation. As the focus will naturally be Vegas, I would love to have a Vegas creator who understands performers.

We’re rapidly building our team! If you feel the callin’ to join us, please reply to this message. Even if you can’t join us but have ideas, bring ’em on! If you can’t do either, support our efforts with love and appreciation for all those performers you’ve enjoyed.

Although I’ve been immersed dealing with this unimaginable loss and with giving all her possessions away to friends, family and loved ones from Vegas to Montreal to Florida, I have one last task. Ava and I were to go camping in the redwood forest where God lives in northern California. It’s a bitter-sweet expectation. I’d told her about this place for over 15 years and, this year, was the year. I cry each time I think about not having her with me on this next Great Adventure and I doubt if I’ll ever think about it without a tear no matter how many years pass. But, rest assured, I’ll be working diligently on this project as well as the big picture of a greater good.

Ava’s last head shot taken in Austria summer, 2011.

I also tear up at how amazing each of her friends embraced me as their own family as they did Ava…how hugging, loving and accepting of us both. And, as each of you pick up the pieces of the lives you had before all this happened, know that I know you haven’t forgotten. It’s just a necessity of living. I’ll be back soon!

It’s the crystal clear blue October sky which comes to north Georgia after  cooling temperatures start its magic on the trees causing their leaves to change  into brilliant autumnal colors of red, gold, yellow, orange (and everything in  between), when the air has been swept clean by the blustery wind that  produces that particular blue  matching my son’s eyes. For the 15 years he was  missing, it was this blue October sky that helped me feel connected to him.  Strange, but not, that it was on such a day with such a sky that we buried him.

Not the best picture of his eyes but close enough for now. Can't look any more through old photos right now.

With the passing of each day of the 15 year wait to find out what had happened  to my son, I was sure that the “system” would fail him. I was not disappointed.  The system failed all of us… miserably. Not only did the largest county police  department in Georgia botch his missing person’s information on Georgia  Crime Information Center (GCIC), but they actually removed his name from  the only link I had to the world to his whereabouts. They also altered his  physical appearance on the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) when I  protested his removal forcing them to re-establish his profile on their network.

The irony? If my son had been 2 months younger, I wouldn’t have had to solely  rely on the government “system” as my only source to help me locate Carl. I  would have been able to use National Center of Missing and Exploited  Children to locate him. The “system” never asked me for a photo, childhood  fingerprints, dental records or anything which would actually assist “them” in  locating my son who was merely 45 minutes away from me the whole damn  time buried as a “John Doe” in a pauper’s grave.

What had happened to Carl started to unravel in the most unlikely way on  Saturday, September 11, 1999 at 8:00 AM.

Carl was sitting in my lap as I rocked him like you would a little, scared boy. I  felt his breath on my face and the weight of his 18-year-old body on my lap. I  urgently told him telepathically over and over how much I loved him as I  stared, unblinkingly, into those October-blue-sky eyes of his. I was holding  my  boy in my arms and that was all that mattered. I told him I didn’t care  where  he’d been or what he’d been doing. It was my body’s rocking motion,  tears and a mother’s pain strangling my breath which jerked me from sleep with the wonderful feel of my child’s 6 foot, 170 pound body sitting in my lap.

It was the bitter-sweet dream of my missing 18-year-old son and my immediate  conversation with my daughter (then 22) which triggered me into action once  again in search of him. My daughter told me she’d had a dream a couple of  days before where Carl had come to her as well. It was then she reminded me  of my associate at work who was dating a P.I. That was as good a place to start  as any.

I emailed my associate saying I’d had a dream and would she ask her  boyfriend, Ed, to assist us in our search for my lost son.  He called me the next  day.

From the onset of our conversation, Ed confidently said, “I think I can help you  put some closure to this. You really need closure”. Even though I knew next to  nothing about Ed, I “knew” he could and would be the only person to help  connect me with Carl again. How? 100% instinct… or God’s hand guiding me.

In our first phone conversation, I described Carl’s appearance, approximate  date of disappearance, where I’d last seen him and under what circumstances,  what I knew of his lifestyle, what I had done in my search for him over the last  15 years, etc.  And, by Thursday (9/16/99), Ed asked if I could meet him on  Saturday (9/18/99) to look at a composite drawing done by a famous police  artist to see if there was any resemblance between a “John Doe” found about  the time of my son’s disappearance in Ed’s hometown of Barnesville and my  son.

Ed had known about this “John Doe” as he’d been the Chief of Police of  Barnesville, Georgia when John Doe’s body had been found outside the city  limits in an abandoned house. Ed’s wife at the time, Rene, had been the lead    investigator of the Lamar  County Sheriff Department’s homicide    investigation team. And, in those 15 years, Ed had gladly left the area; his now  ex-wife, Rene, had gone to work for the GBI and had recently rejoined the  Sheriff’s office wherein she immediately started working their “cold case” files.

To prepare for the meeting, I needed to have the last known photo of Carl  enlarged 400% so as to accurately compare his likeness with “John Doe’s”  pencil composite drawing. All I had to work with was a picture taken by my  dad of  Carl, my daughter and me in April, 1984. This was the photo I showed  to many passersby in town during my lone search for Carl the long, hot  summer of 1984. I’d moved to Mom’s to hopefully add some stability to Ava’s 6-year-old life and so it was after I’d put Ava to bed that I’d go downtown looking  for any clue as to his whereabouts not knowing anywhere else to look. Having  to examine the photo closely was a painful reminder of my failure to find my  lost child. I had looked at it every single day for 15 years but not like I did on  this day.

Carl, Ava and me April 1984

As I pulled the photo out of my wallet, the exercise served as a painful reminder  of the lost third musketeer, lost years, lost love, lost child. Looking at it had  always brought tears to my eyes and a great pain to my heart but when I  experienced the full force of his sole image roll out of the copier in 400%  enlarged full-living color, I started crying.

I had somewhat prepared the kind lady at the photo shop assisting me by  explaining why I was in no shape to operate the simplest of machines at this  moment. As I fumbled for the  money I owed, my heart remained gripped in  pain from the after-image of seeing that enlargement of my beautiful child’s  face and from not knowing his fate.  As I left, this wonderful woman said as I  ran from the store, “God bless you. You’ll be in my prayers.” Her words echoed  through my soul as I raced to the privacy of my car to totally break down.

Saturday morning, 9/18/99, I awoke with fear, nausea, relief and pain all  shrouded in a sort of dislocated sense of non-reality (or surreal-ness – I’m still  not sure). My man-friend drove me to the pre-designated Jonesboro meeting  place with the enlarged photo of Carl staring back at me as each mile  brought  me closer and closer to knowing… or not.

Barnesville's John Doe

As I compared the pencil composite drawing of the Barnesville “John Doe” to  my son’s color image, a strange thing happened. As an art major in college  with an art  history minor, I guess, for me, it was somewhat normal for my art  history training to kick in. I kept staring at the drawing, reaching for where I’d  seen it before as if I was taking that all  important final exam… searching my  mind to identify the artist, time period and medium. Finally, when I was ready  to accept the task at hand, I was able to put the “student” aside and take the  features from each and compare  them. The hair was similarly parted in the  middle. The eyes had a slight droop on the outer edge crowned with proud  brows. The noses were the strong, straight Roman type. The ear  size and  placement was the same on the head.

“What about eye color?” I grasped explaining to Ed that Carl’s eyes were as blue as the sky on a clear October day. Why couldn’t anybody confirm eye color for me of this “John Doe”?

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