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March 23, 2006

Edition: Final
Section: News
Page: 7A

Three years after tragic spring, a sense of renewal blooms

Author: Tina Griego


Sydney Solis lives in a comfortably worn neighborhood in a comfortably worn house with a picture of Frida Kahlo on the front door and a sandbox full of toys in the backyard. She used what was left of her husband's life insurance money after the creditors took what belonged to them to remodel the home. It's not anything like the sprawling house with the white carpet in the upscale neighborhood where she used to live, but it suits her and the remodeling struck her as a symbolic act. Renewing. Reviving. Restarting.

Her husband, Frank, was a well-known businessman in town. He killed himself three years ago this week. Shot himself in the heart in the parking lot of a fire station a couple of days after a blizzard blanketed town. That week, like this one, a wet snow ushered in spring. The weight of it snapped the branches of an old tree in their yard. That, too, seems symbolic to Sydney.

Frank's death was a shock. A guy who came from nothing and seemed to have everything kills himself. Five hundred people attended his funeral. Many emotions were expressed in the following days: guilt, anger, betrayal, sorrow.

I wrote about Frank's suicide. He was a big shot in Hispanic advertising, a pioneer. I didn't know him well. I'd never met Sydney. But I keep a picture of their kids pinned to my cubicle wall. Sydney's sister once worked at the News and she's sent me a couple of photos over the years. The one on my wall is a studio shot. Paloma, 2 years old, baby teeth grin. Alejandro, 5 years old, slower, sleepier smile. He is the image of his father.

I'm not sure exactly why I kept the pictures except that Alejandro and Paloma came to represent many children to me and I didn't want to forget them.

I didn't realize three years had passed until last week when Sydney sent the paper an e-mail saying that Frank's suicide has led her to work with people who are stressed out, anxious, depressed. She couldn't help Frank, she said, but maybe she could help others.

"Humans don't get by on the head alone," she wrote it in her e-mail. "The heart must be heard in order to survive."

I went to see her. I'm more interested in the personal than the business and we talk for about 30 minutes - about healing and peace and how she combines yoga with storytelling to teach people how to take care of themselves - when I wonder how this laid-back woman ended up with an aggressive businessman.

She laughs. One of her college professors introduced her to Frank. She interviewed for a job at his advertising agency. Frank, polished and pressed in his extra, extra heavy starched shirts. Sydney, casual in a woven Ecuadorian jacket, stockings sagging at the ankles. Woodstock meets Wall Street. It was never an easy relationship.

The morning Frank killed himself, Sydney woke to see his briefcase on the floor, a note addressed to her. He'd sent out an e-mail to friends and there were frantic telephone messages: "Frank, don't do it!" Two months later, Paloma asked Sydney why she didn't have a daddy.

So, they celebrate Frank's birthday and make him cookies on el Dia de los Muertos. Sydney keeps a shrine for him to help both her and the children grieve. They leave him talismans, letters, one of the Atkins bars he was always eating. It's important to Sydney that her children feel free to talk about their father. "It's the holding it in, the inability to express feelings that becomes suffering," she says. They still go to family counseling.

"Why?" people asked after Frank killed himself. Sydney has no answer other than she knows the reason went "deeper than 'my company is bankrupt.' "

"He had a big heart and he was such a hard worker. He just gave it all," she says. "It was hard for him to just keep going and he didn't take care of himself. He had no inner life. When the head is just go, go, go, it becomes psychosis and he couldn't sleep. He couldn't sleep for as long as I had known him. He was having so many difficulties; it wasn't just the business. He couldn't let go for reasons I don't really understand."

She knew they were overextended. She didn't know by how much. The banks took almost everything. Social Security and a small life insurance policy kept them from ending up penniless, she said..

"I was just so traumatized. For two years, I was in survival mode. It was just keep going, keep going, and I felt I had never dealt with it. And, again, if you don't deal with it, it'll show up somehow, a lot of the time in violence."

Last fall, she went through a grief ritual with about 40 others. It reminded her again of the need for people to share and connect with each other. The personal has led to the professional. To the yoga classes Sydney offers called Storytime Yoga for kids and Mythic Yoga™ for adults. To a newsletter and self-published book and to workshops she has offered here and abroad.

"Depression, suicide, addiction, they are all stigmatized in our society," Sydney said. "I think it's scandalous that in our schools we are cutting arts and music and counseling, all the stuff the soul needs to survive."

I finally met the kids. They burst through the front door, beautiful, rosy-cheeked. Paloma showed me her new Slinky toy. Sydney stroked Paloma's face before the kids went downstairs to play.

I asked Sydney for a story before I left.

There once was a Sumerian queen of heaven named Inanna, she says, who descended into the underworld where her sister, Ereshkigal, reigned. In a rage, Ereshkigal killed the favored Inanna. When Inanna did not return, a god of wisdom created beings neither male nor female from the dirt beneath his nails and gave them the water and food of life. He sent them into the underworld where they listened to Ereshkigal's moans and wails with compassion. In gratitude, she granted them a wish. They asked for Inanna's body and sprinkled it with the water and food of life. From darkness, Inanna was reborn.

In this story, Sydney sees a lesson: "In the greatest depth of darkness you can find your light." In this lesson, Sydney sees herself.


griegot@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-892-2699
Copyright (c) 2006 Rocky Mountain News

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