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Heroes

5 lessons I learned after 5 friends under 30 died in 5 years.

A good chunk of my mid-20s revolved around funerals.

That's not how I usually like to start conversations, but it's the reality I live with. In under five years, I lost five friends around my own age to suicide, cancer, diabetes, heart failure, and addiction.

It was rough. It was always unexpected (except for the cancer). It reached a point where my boss at the time accused me of using the "funeral excuse" as a lie for skipping work, which was really not a fun conversation to have.


But after suffering through so much grief in quick succession, I learned a thing or two (or five) that might come in handy if this happens to you.

1. Death never ends.

Maybe it's because I was going through a breakup around the same time that Mike lost his life to suicide, but I was definitely expecting there to be some kind of "getting over it" moment — like when someone breaks your heart and you're consumed by that sadness and your friend who's been through a serious breakup pulls you aside and says: "Hey man, you'll get over it. Maybe not today, but someday. You'll be OK."

Except ... that doesn't happen. When people die, they're gone for good. And that's really hard to fully grasp until you're there yourself. There is hope, of course. You learn to live with whatever scars are left behind. But you never quite "get over it," and that's OK.

Me and Mike in... 1998?

2. Every death is the same.

My favorite funeral memory — because yes, it reached a point where I could have a "favorite" — was at my friend Layne's wake. In the far corner of the parlor, there was a video tribute playing on the wall, crossfading through images of her life. Every three photos, there was a brief palate-cleansing interlude of stock footage of a babbling brook — with the watermark still imposed on the video — and the whole thing was set to a terrible plunking MIDI version of "My Heart Will Go On."

To be clear: It was awful. But also oddly fitting.

Me, Layne, and our roommate Paul at our college apartment in 2006.

One by one, my friends and I made our way to the corner to watch this video, standing in stunned silence as the painfully corny montage flashed by. And then, as if on cue, all six of us erupted into laughter. Her father yelled from near the casket: "You guys watching that stupid video? She'd $%in' hate it. It's great." He wiped the tears from his eyes and laughed along with us.

I don't know. Maybe you had to be there.

The point is there are a lot of cliche aspects to the mourning process. Lots of repeated lines like "s/he would have liked this," accompanied by synth-string covers of sentimental pop songs and collectible trading cards adorned with Bible verses and airbrushed photos of the recently deceased. Sometimes these platitudes sound hollow and generic — which, maybe they are. But they also offer comfort. And in the moment, that's what you really need, corny or not.

3. Every death is different.

This is why the mourning rituals above can get so frustrating. Everyone is unique, and we all want to mark the passing of our loved ones in a way that resonates with whatever made them special. But even when you think you know what's coming — when you've memorized that funeral script and finally begin to understand your own bereavement — death will still surprise you.

My wife and I included our departed friends at our wedding. Photo by Bethany and Dan, used with permission.

By the time my wife's best friend, Crystal, died in 2012, I had been through the grieving process so many times that I almost felt like an experienced veteran, specially equipped to help her through her sorrow. But my wife and I have polar opposite ways of dealing with things. I would try to cheer her up in my way, and she would tell me that I didn't understand — which made me even more upset because at that point, I had already lost Mike, and Matt, and Layne.

But I hadn't lost Crystal before. And her death was different because every death is different. And so is everyone's own way of mourning.

4. It doesn't get easier. But it does change.

If mourning never really ends, and if every death is unique, then it stands to reason that every awful experience will be different. Maybe over time you'll learn to deal with it differently — but even when you think you know what to expect, tragedy always finds new ways to surprise you.

For example, Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" is kind of a trigger song for me. I used to just think it was a terrible song, but it was also Layne's favorite song — and the first thing I heard after I got the call about her death. For a while, the sound of those opening piano chords would immediately reduce me to a sobbing lump of flesh on the floor. Eventually, I learned to contain myself long enough to slip out of the room for the duration of the song.

But after my friend Scotty passed away, a group of us shared all the mixtapes he'd made us over the years. I listen to those things constantly because they're really good. Though they remind me of Scotty, the music never makes me sad.

Scotty, grinning on the left.

Even after you've reached the point where you're not actively aware of the glaring lack of that person in your life, you'll probably find that their absence still lingers in unexpected ways. You'll also probably react to their absences in many weird, unexpected ways — and that's OK, too.

5. We need to talk about it.

I struggled a lot while processing all of these emotions when they were still fresh because I didn't know how to talk about them. I couldn't go on a date and say: "Oh yeah, my friend just died. Let me tell you about it." I definitely tried to bring up that hilariously awful tribute video one time at a party, and I got lots of weird, pitying looks and awkward pats on the shoulder.

I wasn't looking for pity, though. I just didn't want to feel alone. And that's why I'm talking about it with you right now.

I keep collectible cards from each of their funerals above my music workstation.

Naturally, I hope you don't have to deal with any horrible losses in your life. But if it happens, know that you should never feel alone.

Death is a part of all of our lives. It sucks, it's terrible, it's awful, and I hate it, but it's true. We can't stop it, we can't cure it, we can't utterly abolish it. All we can do is talk about it.

I always have Mike, Matt, Crystal, Layne, and Scotty in my thoughts, even if it's not a fully conscious action every day. Their memories are a bittersweet inspiration for me to go above and beyond in everything I do. They're no longer around to leave their own marks on the world, so I take it upon myself to make that impact for them — which is sometimes just as simple as singing a little louder whenever and wherever I can.

Image from Pixabay.

Under the sea...

True
The Wilderness Society


You're probably familiar with the literary classic "Moby-Dick."

But in case you're not, here's the gist: Moby Dick is the name of a huge albino sperm whale.

(Get your mind outta the gutter.)


There's this dude named Captain Ahab who really really hates the whale, and he goes absolutely bonkers in his quest to hunt and kill it, and then everything is awful and we all die unsatisfied with our shared sad existence and — oops, spoilers!


OK, technically, the narrator Ishmael survives. So it's actually a happy ending (kind of)!

whales, Moby Dick, poaching endangered species

Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Basically, it's a famous book about revenge and obsession that was published back in 1851, and it's really, really long.

It's chock-full of beautiful passages and dense symbolism and deep thematic resonance and all those good things that earned it a top spot in the musty canon of important literature.

There's also a lot of mundane descriptions about the whaling trade as well (like, a lot). That's because it came out back when commercial whaling was still a thing we did.

conservation, ocean water conservation

A non-albino mother and baby sperm whale.

Photo by Gabriel Barathieu/Wikipedia.

In fact, humans used to hunt more than 50,000 whales each year to use for oil, meat, baleen, and oil. (Yes, I wrote oil twice.) Then, in 1946, the International Whaling Commission stepped in and said "Hey, wait a minute, guys. There's only a few handful of these majestic creatures left in the entire world, so maybe we should try to not kill them anymore?"

And even then, commercial whaling was still legal in some parts of the world until as recently as 1986.

International Whaling Commission, harpoons

Tail in the water.

Whale's tail pale ale GIF via GoPro/YouTube

And yet by some miracle, there are whales who were born before "Moby-Dick" was published that are still alive today.

What are the odds of that? Honestly it's hard to calculate since we can't exactly swim up to a bowhead and say, "Hey, how old are you?" and expect a response. (Also that's a rude question — jeez.)

Thanks to some thoughtful collaboration between researchers and traditional Inupiat whalers (who are still allowed to hunt for survival), scientists have used amino acids in the eyes of whales and harpoon fragments lodged in their carcasses to determine the age of these enormous animals — and they found at least three bowhead whales who were living prior to 1850.

Granted those are bowheads, not sperm whales like the fictional Moby Dick, (and none of them are albino, I think), but still. Pretty amazing, huh?

whale blubber, blue whales, extinction

This bowhead is presumably in adolescence, given its apparent underwater moping.

GIF via National Geographic.

This is a particularly remarkable feat considering that the entire species was dwindling near extinction.

Barring these few centenarian leviathans, most of the whales still kickin' it today are between 20 and 70 years old. That's because most whale populations were reduced to 10% or less of their numbers between the 18th and 20th centuries, thanks to a few over-eager hunters (and by a few, I mean all of them).

Today, sperm whales are considered one of the most populous species of massive marine mammals; bowheads, on the other hand, are still in trouble, despite a 20% increase in population since the mid-1980s. Makes those few elderly bowheads that much more impressive, huh?

population, Arctic, Great Australian Blight

Southern Right Whales hangin' with a paddleboarder in the Great Australian Bight.

GIF via Jaimen Hudson.

Unfortunately, just as things are looking up, these wonderful whales are in trouble once again.

We might not need to worry our real-life Captain Ahabs anymore, but our big aquatic buddies are still being threatened by industrialization — namely, from oil drilling in the Arctic and the Great Australian Bight.

In the off-chance that companies like Shell and BP manage not to spill millions of gallons of harmful crude oil into the water, the act of drilling alone is likely to maim or kill millions of animals, and the supposedly-safer sonic blasting will blow out their eardrums or worse.

This influx of industrialization also affects their migratory patterns — threatening not only the humans who depend on them, but also the entire marine ecosystem.

And I mean, c'mon — who would want to hurt this adorable face?

social responsibility, nature, extinction

BOOP.

Image from Pixabay.

Whales might be large and long-living. But they still need our help to survive.

If you want another whale to make it to his two-hundred-and-eleventy-first birthday (which you should because I hear they throw great parties), then sign this petition to protect the waters from Big Oil and other industrial threats.

I guarantee Moby Dick will appreciate it.


This article originally appeared on 11.04.15

Identity

Do you have a 'gay voice'? Here's how to tell.

Have you ever wondered if you have a “gay voice”?

Photo pulled from YouTube trailer "Do I sound gay?"

For anyone who's wondering if they have a gay voice and what that actually means.

This article originally appeared on June 5, 2015


Have you ever wondered if you have a “gay voice”?

If you're anything like me, the answer is yes. Many times.

For anyone who’s laid awake wondering if your voice is just as gay as you are, I've created a rigorous test for you to finally get some answers. Follow the chart below to see if you, in fact, sound like a homosexual. ***(Image needs to pulled from Robbie Couch who wrote the article.)


Temporary pic pulled as a place holder

Temporary pic pulled as a place holder******

Yes, that's correct: You do not have a "gay voice" — because a "gay voice" is not really a thing.

Unlike humans, voices do not identify as certain genders or sexual orientations. They're just ... sounds. (Crazy, I know!)

Stereotypes about what LGBTQ people sound like lead some to think their gay-dar can accurately sniff out queer folks in a crowd based on voices alone. However, research shows we actually do a pretty poor job at guessing another person's sexual orientation solely using our ears.

Even if we do wear our queerness on the tips of our tongues, though, why should it matter?

Some LGBTQ people fret over their voice, fearful their queerness is on display every time they speak. And that concern is understandable. Sometimes, it's not a matter of accepting yourself, but a matter of survival: When your voice outs you as an "other" in an environment that's hostile toward gay, transgender, or otherwise queer people, personal safety becomes a priority.

“A lot of gay men are self-conscious about sounding gay because we were persecuted for that when we were young," LGBTQ activist and media personality Dan Savage said in the 2014 documentary "Do I Sound Gay?"

CNN's Don Lemon, who is openly gay, also chimed in on the topic. Has he ever felt insecure about "sounding gay"? “I’d have to say, if I told you ‘no,’ I’d be lying," Lemon admitted in the documentary.

But we should never let a bully's bigotry convince us our voices should be silenced. You sound perfect the way you are, honey — and don't you forget it.

Checking out the documentary "Do I Sound Gay?", available on multiple streaming platforms. Here's a look at the trailer:

This article was written by Robbie Couch and originally appeared on 11.5.15

@geaux75/TikTok

Molly was found tied to a tree by the new owners of the house.

Molly, an adorable, affectionate 10-year-old pit bull, found herself tied to a tree after her owners had abandoned her.

According to The Dodo, Molly had “always been a loyal dog, but, unfortunately, her first family couldn’t reciprocate that same love back,” and so when the house was sold, neither Molly nor the family’s cat was chosen to move with them. While the cat was allowed to free roam outside, all Molly could do was sit and wait. Alone.

Luckily, the young couple that bought the house agreed to take the animals in as part of their closing agreement, and as soon as the papers were signed, they rushed over to check in.

In a TikTok video, April Parker, the new homeowner, walks up to Molly, who is visibly crestfallen with teary eyes. But as soon as Parker begins cooing, “Baby girl…you’re gonna get a new home,” the pitty instantly perks up—all smiles and tail wagging.

“We are going to make her life so good,” Parker wrote in the video’s caption. “She will never be left all alone tied to a tree.”

@geaux75 The people that sold our house to us left behind their 10yr old dog they had since it was a puppy. I was so stressed we wouldnt get the house and something bad would happeb to her. We are going to maje her life so good. She will never be left all alone tied to a tree. 😭😢@roodytoots ♬ Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) [2018 Remaster] - Kate Bush

The video has been seen upwards of 4 million times. Countless people commented on how enraging it was to see a dog treated so carelessly.

“I’ve had my dog since she was 7 weeks old. She just turned 10 a few days ago. I literally cannot imagine doing this,” one person wrote.”

Another added: “The tears in her eyes…she doesn’t understand why they could just leave her, it breaks my heart. People like that shouldn’t be allowed to be pet owners.”

Subsequent videos show Parker freeing Molly from her leash and introducing the sweet pup to her husband, with whom she was instantly smitten. It’s clear that this doggo was both relieved and elated to be taken in by her new family.

Since being rescued, Molly has accompanied her new mom and dad everywhere.

@geaux75 Replying to @ohitscourtney ♬ Lucky Girl - Carlina


“She’s sticking to our side,” Parker wrote. “She won’t stop following us around. It’s so sweet.”

Parker has created an entire TikTok channel documenting her newfound pet’s journey, aptly named “Molly’s New Life,” showing Molly enjoying warm baths, plenty of treats, cuddles…all the finer things in life.

But what Molly seems to enjoy most of all is car rides:

@geaux75 Taking Molly to get a treat! Stay tuned!! #mollysnewlife #goodgollymissmolly ♬ original sound - Mollysnewlife 🐾🐕💗

And in case you’re wondering, the kitty is doing well, too, though it still prefers to stay outdoors.

Molly also has two indoor cat siblings who instantly welcomed her into the family. The video below shows one of them, Joofus, comforting a trembling Molly with kisses during a thunderstorm.

@geaux75 We had a big storm this morning and Molly was having a hard time. Joofus got on the bed and started comforting her. It was the sweetest thing. They got snuggled up and Molly went to sleep. Animals are amazing. #mollysnewlife #petsarefamily ♬ I Won't Let Go - Rascal Flatts

It seems that Molly has gotten the safe, loving home she’s deserved all along.

We know that animal abandonment is fairly common. According to The Zebra, almost 4 million dogs are either given up to shelters or abandoned each year. And still, it’s really hard to fathom how humans can treat such innocent creatures with such blatant disregard when they provide so much pure joy.

Thankfully, there are folks out there like the Parkers who know that taking care of animals like Molly is one of life’s most precious offerings.

Stay up-to-date with the rest of Molly’s journey by following her on TikTok.


This article originally appeared on 5.31.23

Identity

High school girl’s response to ‘Ugly Girls’ poll inspires positive reaction

This brave high school student stood up to her school’s cyberbullies.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

Lynelle Cantwell had a response on her own Facebook page.

Lynelle Cantwell is in 12th grade at Holy Trinity High School in Torbay, Newfoundland and Labrador (that's Canada).

On Monday, she found out that she had been featured on another student's anonymous online poll entitled "Ugly Girls in Grade 12," along with several other classmates.


Cantwell responded via Facebook with her own message, which has already been shared more than 2,000 times and counting.

cyber bullying, bullies, kindness

The unkind poll.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

Take a look:

bullying, brave response, community support

“Just because we don’t look perfect on the outside does not mean we are ugly.” - Lynelle Cantwell.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

Since posting her brave response on Facebook, more people have come out to show support than people who voted in the first place.

Check out some of the responses:

appreciation, confidence, self esteem, love and support

Some responses to her post.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

The School District of Newfoundland and Labrador has announced that it will be looking into the incident further. For Cantwell, the positive outpouring of love and support vastly outweighs the initial cyberbullying and is raising her confidence in new ways.


This article originally appeared on 08.20.17

Health

Artists got fed up with these 'anti-homeless spikes.' So they made them a bit more ... comfy.

"Our moral compass is skewed if we think things like this are acceptable."

Photo courtesy of CC BY-ND, Immo Klink and Marco Godoy

Spikes line the concrete to prevent sleeping.


These are called "anti-homeless spikes." They're about as friendly as they sound.

As you may have guessed, they're intended to deter people who are homeless from sitting or sleeping on that concrete step. And yeah, they're pretty awful.

The spikes are a prime example of how cities design spaces to keep homeless people away.


Not all concrete steps have spikes on them, but outdoor seating in cities like Montreal and Tokyo have been sneakily designed to prevent people from resting too comfortably for too long.

This guy sawing through a bench was part of a 2006 protest in Toulouse, France, where public seating intentionally included armrests to prevent people from lying down.

Of course, these designs do nothing to fight the cause or problem of homelessness. They're just a way of saying to homeless people, "Go somewhere else. We don't want to look at you,"basically.

One particular set of spikes was outside a former night club in London. And a local group got sick of staring at them.

Leah Borromeo is part of the art collective "Space, Not Spikes" — a group that's fed up with what she describes as "hostile architecture."

"Spikes do nothing more than shoo the realities of poverty and inequality away from your backyard — so you don't have to see it or confront what you can do to make things more equal," Borromeo told Upworthy. "And that is really selfish."

"Our moral compass is skewed if we think things like this are acceptable."

charity, social consciousness, artist

A bed covers up spikes on the concrete.

assets.rebelmouse.io

The move by Space, Not Spikes has caused quite a stir in London and around the world. The simple but impactful idea even garnered support from music artist Ellie Goulding.

"That was amazing, wasn't it?" Borromeo said of Goulding's shout-out on Instagram.

books, philanthropy, capitalism

Artist's puppy books and home comforts.

assets.rebelmouse.io

"[The project has] definitely touched a nerve and I think it is because, as a whole, humans will still look out for each other," Borromeo told Upworthy. "Capitalism and greed conditions us to look out for ourselves and negate the welfare of others, but ultimately, I think we're actually really kind."

"We need to call out injustice and hypocrisy when we see it."
anti-homeless laws, legislation, panhandling

A message to offer support in contrast with current anti-homeless laws.

assets.rebelmouse.io

These spikes may be in London, but the U.S. definitely has its fair share of anti-homeless sentiment, too.

Spikes are pretty obvious — they're a visual reminder of a problem many cities are trying to ignore. But what we can't see on the street is the rise of anti-homeless laws that have cropped up from sea to shining sea.

Legislation that targets homeless people — like bans on panhandling and prohibiting people from sleeping in cars — has increased significantly in recent years.

For instance, a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty that analyzed 187 American cities found that there's been a 43% hike in citywide bans on sitting or lying down in certain spaces since 2011.

Thankfully, groups like "Space, Not Spikes" are out there changing hearts and minds. But they need our help.

The group created a video to complement its work and Borromeo's hoping its positive underlying message will motivate people to do better.

"[The world] won't always be happy-clappy because positive social change needs constructive conflict and debate," she explained. "But we need to call out injustice and hypocrisy when we see it."

Check out their video below:

This article originally appeared on 07.24.15