death, Suicide

Do You Know How Another Person Feels Inside?

Bow tie memorial. Photo by Robin Zielinski. Shortly after installation, the tie was stolen then found. It has not yet been re-installed. For full story see:
Bow tie memorial for Miguel Silva. Photo by Robin Zielinski. Shortly after installation, the tie was stolen then found. It has not yet been re-installed. For full story see:

Recently, a beloved former councilman, Miguel Silva, age 55, committed suicide here in Las Cruces. What a shock to us all because Silva was known for his outgoing personality and fun-loving ways. He wore outlandish hats, performed magic tricks and had a rowdy laugh.

He often wore a bow tie, to me, a symbol of jauntiness. Accordingly, the community paid tribute to him by commissioning a local artist, Scott Murray, to design a bow tie memorial. They attached the tie to a tree in Klein Park, located in Silva’s former district.

The bow tie belies what Silva must have been feeling. The cravat masked his heartache, which is why we all were so stunned by his death.

Unfortunately, I have had many close-at-hand encounters with suicide. One relative attempted it in my living room. Although he was unsuccessful that day, years later, he succeeded. Another relative’s about-to-be ex-wife alerted us to her husband’s suicide threat, so my husband and brother rushed over, intervened, and brought him home to sleep over. I had a restless night listening to his moves up and down, fantasizing about what he might be doing in the bathroom.

A work acquaintance once called and asked if I would invite him to our next party. I promised to add him to our guest list but nothing was being planned for the next month or two. After I discovered that he committed suicide, I felt mortified.

I would never criticize a person who committed suicide, but I would counsel that it leaves survivors with a lot of guilt. Is that part of the intent?

I had another friend who took his own life. Later, I learned that so had his mother and sister. Was committing suicide genetic? Or was it a learned behavior? Regardless, suicide is a terrible legacy.

Once, of my daughter’s friends arrived at the door and claimed he was suicidal and would we help him commit himself at County General Hospital? We called the hospital that advised us to bring him in Sunday, the next day. Meanwhile, we felt helpless. It was a Saturday night and while my husband, Harold, distracted him in the living room, I went into the den and called the Suicide Prevention Hot Line. Guess what? The line was continuously busy and I never got through.

Decades ago, my insightful four-year-old granddaughter admonished me, “Do you know how another person feels inside?” I had to admit that I didn’t recognize her pain. And that is a life lesson. We never know how another person feels inside regardless of outward demeanor.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who treasures every day of her life, especially now that she is closer to the end of her journey.


aging, friendship

Guess Who Just Sent Me A Facebook Friend Request?

Fred Fox, An Almost-102-Year-Old French Horn Player From Los Angeles.

Amazing Fred Fox, who will be 102 on July 16, 2016, who still drives, lawn bowls, three times a week, and for whom the University of Arizona has renamed its music school, The Fred Fox School of Music.
Amazing Fred Fox, who will be 102 on July 14, 2016, who still drives, lawn bowls three times a week, and for whom the University of Arizona has renamed its music school, The Fred Fox School of Music. © Norine Dresser, 2016.


That tickled me so much, and I instantly accepted his request. That a person his age was reconnecting with an old friend across time and space ELECTRONICALLY, stunned me.

Coincidentally, this past week, Ed Breeding, an Independent Documentary Filmmaker, interviewed me for a project, “The Wisdom of Grandmothers.” I stressed that we must continuously enlarge our circle of friends. And Fred’s reaching out to me was the perfect example of this.

If we are fortunate enough to live long, we will experience the loss of mates, family members and others who are close to us. What good is it to just sit back and bemoan this law of nature?

As a pragmatist, and it may seem even cold, we need to replenish these losses with new people (but not necessarily mates). And it’s even more valuable to establish friendships with those who are younger than ourselves, maybe even younger than our children.In that way, we have more up-to-date ideas to stimulate us, make us stretch intellectually.

As I told Breeding, when I was a young mom, my children were in a nursery school that required parents to work out on the playground as well as help with fund-raising activities.

One day, I phoned another parent who couldn’t have been older than in her mid-twenties. I pitched her about attending a forthcoming dinner event enticing her with, “And it will be a great way for you to meet new friends.”

“Well, we already have our friends,” she retorted.

This shocked me. As if friendship were a closed circle with no room to let in any more?

We learn so much from our friends, Fred Fox, for example, taught me how to use my diaphragm when singing, something I used to do with his late wife, Frieda. During the 1960s, Frieda and I used to sing together performing folk music on guitars. Fred also taught us to program our concerts in the way that Xavier Cugat insisted upon when Fred was on tour with him: “Fast, slow, fast, slow.” Frieda and I took that as the gospel.

One day, when Frieda and I were practicing, my 10-year-old son, Mark, excitedly arrived home from school with the following offer: If parents would commit to providing private music lessons, the school would loan an instrument for only $6 per semester.

Mark wanted to know what instrument he should choose. Frieda, a former professional trumpet player, analyzed the offer. She noted that because Mark was very tall and sturdy, he would have strength in his fingers.Thus, he should be a string player, and because of his height, the string bass, would be a perfect fit. Frieda’s advice paid off, for Mark has been wed to that instrument for more than 54 years.

We folklorists are keenly aware that informal learning experiences profoundly affect our world views and values — around the dinner table, goofing around with friends, riding in the car with our parents.This is not to negate the power for formal learning at all. That, too, enriches lives.

But honestly, when do I ever think of what I learned in high school geometry? Only when I want to take a shortcut does this theorem come to mind: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who cherishes her friends and all that she has learned from them.Perhaps, they have learned from her, too?