Penny Tate Shares Her Personal Story
“I Found You”
“Everything is old, while everything is turning new.
It still remains the same, just in different ways.
That’s when I found you.
Somewhere between pain and fear, you got me on my feet…just in time for me.
And then you walked into my thunderstorm, and stopped the rain from falling.
And then you made flowers from hurricanes.
You got me through.
That’s when I found you.
That’s how I found you.
I’m so glad you called…cuz I’m too blind to read the wall.
I’ll always wonder why, you taught me to fly.”
It’s been no secret that I have loved Rick Springfield since I was a little girl. I remember dancing to “The Light of Love” and actually switching the light switch on and off to the song. He was one of my first concerts. I saw him before I became a teen. I had to stand on the arms of the chair to be able to see him above the crowd.
From there, I continued to listen to him throughout grade school, high school, college, marriage, children, and beyond. I had his picture on my bedroom walls. If he was in town for a concert, I was there. I sang at the top of my lungs in the car while driving. I usually listened to him when I was HAPPY. And if I wasn’t, hearing him could instantly bring on a smile!
He’s been a part of my life for over 30 years. But the real connection transcended into something so much more at the worst moment of my life…the morning my mom passed away.
October 19, 2009
10:00 am. I was driving to my doctor appointment. I spoke with her earlier that morning. She didn’t sound good. Something was definitely wrong. “But I will call her after the doctor. Dad is with her. It can wait an hour. I need this break.” So, I cranked up my stereo and listened to Rick as an escape from months of worrying. I deserved just a little time right? Wrong. One hour later, I phoned my mom to receive voice mail. But she was with my dad. She was always with my dad on Monday. Wrong. She had convinced him that morning that she would be okay to travel to her therapy appointment alone. Hours later I got the call from my dad that he could not reach her. He thought maybe she was with me. I jumped in the car heading towards my parents’ home praying. I wasn’t sure if I could make it there before he did. “Please let her be okay…God please let her be okay.” Two minutes away I could hear the sirens blaring in the distance. My life was forever changed. My mom had taken her life. My dad had left the house at 10:00am that morning.
Everyone that knew my mom was shocked when they heard about her death. Why? Because NO ONE knew she was struggling with depression. She pleaded with my dad and me to keep it a secret. She sought out treatment with our help…therapy and medications. In her case, the medications were not helping. In fact, they seemed to be making her depression worsen. In just three short months from the onset, she made her first suicide attempt. This one was SHOCKING to us because we absolutely did not see it coming. She was not only hiding her depression from everyone in her life; she also was hiding the severity of her struggle from the people who loved her the most. She had always been the source of strength for our family. She was always a “glass half full” person. She took care of everyone. She did not want to be the “burden”. She didn’t want anyone to see her “weakness”. She began to see herself as “flawed”. She believed no one would understand or she would be judged. My mom had everything…40 years of a happy marriage, a wonderful family, grandchildren, retirement…how could she be depressed? She didn’t understand it. She thought it was her fault that she couldn’t “get better”.
Thankfully for me, I was able to have conversations with her about her “pain”, her depression, and her suicide attempts. Many families do not. I say “thankfully” because it helped me to understand as best I could what her experience was. Two months after her first attempt, she had a second. This time we nearly lost her. I lived in fear on a daily basis. She continued on with her treatment plan. She said she was fighting it with all that she had. But she didn’t see a way out. She felt everything had already been done and couldn’t take the pain for another moment. It wasn’t about dying. It wasn’t that she was being selfish. She began to believe that we would be better off without having to care for her. After all, she was taking the medications prescribed with no relief. At that point in time, the doctors were changing and adding a variety of drugs. She complained they robbed her of any “feeling”. She could no longer cry when she saw us in pain. She could no longer feel joy when she was with her grandchildren. As a family member, it became difficult to determine if her symptoms were side effects of the medication diet, or the depression. I was looking at what had become a shell of my mother. She had truly become trapped within herself and I could no longer reach her. I could always connect with her. We were incredibly close. But now it was like looking at her through a glass window that I couldn’t break. She went through inpatient and outpatient treatment, as well as therapy sessions. The only solution she eventually saw was to turn off the pain. She called it wanting to go to sleep. So on October 19, 2009, she made sure she would not be saved.
Back to that morning drive…I heard the pain in her voice that morning. She sounded so strange in that last conversation that I had with her. But truthfully, I wanted it to go away. I wanted my mom back. I didn’t know what else to do. I felt so helpless. It was exhausting. I did everything I knew how to do. I met with the team of doctors. They were the experts right? But did they make the right decisions in regards to her care? I have my doubts about that now. I called her every day. I told her how much I loved and wanted her in my life. And I needed that hour. I was sick myself and headed to an appointment in hopes for an antibiotic. So listening to Rick for that hour in the car was my escape. I just wanted to have a break from worrying. I had no idea that my hour of “selfishness” would become my daily torture of incredible guilt. GOD, PLEASE GIVE ME BACK THAT HOUR. “What if” I had called? Would she still be here? Would it have given us more time to find the best treatment? I’ll never know. And as a result, listening to Rick became a source of GUILT AND PAIN. How could I ever feel happy again listening to him??? Any time I heard him, I was brought back to that hour…that horrific time. Until…
The one year anniversary was slowly approaching, when I saw that Rick had written his autobiography “Late, Late at Night”. I saw him on TV talking about his struggle with depression. He opened his book talking about his own suicide attempt. What??? I was overwhelmed with torn emotions. I had turned off the music and turned away. He had been the only one “with me” during that car ride. And now, he is the one opening up to the world about his own struggle. This was a first step for me to face and accept what happened. More importantly, I saw it as a sign that I needed to let go of the unrelenting guilt that was enveloping me day after day. Not only had I lost her, I lost the music that had always provided happiness and healing. The music that connected me to my childhood. The music that was a part of who I am. So, I began listening again. And I cried. I cried A LOT. But with the tears, I began reflecting on the experience. I knew in my heart that my mom would never want me to blame myself for her death. She only wanted my happiness. She was my guide in life, my inspiration to love life to the utmost. Before her illness, she radiated light, love, and strength. And I felt her light again. She would never want me to punish myself this way. I needed to forgive myself. But it would take me quite some time. In fact, it’s something I am still working on.
October 20, 2010. One day after the anniversary of her death, Rick was going to be here signing his book. I decided I needed to write a letter thanking him for bringing awareness on the subject…but also to thank him for writing the music that had brought me years of joy, healing, and what I know was a newfound spiritual connection with my mom.
I went alone to the book signing. When I arrived, I saw people being interviewed on camera. I had no idea what was going on, but I saw them sharing their stories. Sitting there waiting, I had this overwhelming sense that I needed to say something. Now this is EXTREMELY UNLIKE ME. But I felt compelled to share because this was so important to me. I don’t believe I spoke very well that day. I don’t even think my letter was written in the most eloquent way. I was full of emotion and truly a mess. But I tried my best to express in the simplest way my gratitude toward him. I had my book signed, my picture taken, managed to get the words out to Rick that I had lost my mom, and would he please read my letter. I felt relief when I drove home that night. I felt it was meant to be. I was also elated that I had just met Rick Springfield for the first time. I posted my picture expressing joy, but didn’t dare share with friends the real reason I had gone. I never mentioned my letter or my interview in the bookstore. Facebook friends were happy for me. And I left it at that.
And then, I PANICKED. I completely panicked the next morning. I thought to myself, “How could I share my personal tragedy on camera”? I went to the signing, so I could give him my letter to thank him privately. What had I done? So I immediately e-mailed the producer and director thanking them for their time and appreciated it whether my interview was included or not. I did not want to be seen as using my tragic loss as a means of gaining attention or trying to receive any special treatment. That is when I placed the Yellow Rick Road business card to the side. Over the next two years, I continued on my personal healing journey.
I could listen to Rick again, but did not attend a single show. The last time I had seen him in concert was two months before I lost my mom. I followed him on and off on social media. I saw a few messages regarding what the YRR was doing…one of them being the Malibu screening. I once again felt like I should go. But that was ridiculous?!? Right? I didn’t have the money and I hadn’t really followed the documentary that closely or gone to any concerts. What business did I have being there? So the date came and went. Life continued and I focused on my family.
June 2012. This is important for me to include because I see it now as a sign of what was to come. Our family was vacationing in Vermont. We were visiting a museum where we saw an exhibit of science fiction history. There was an area where we decided to be silly and try on costumes…look familiar??? I had never seen an album cover for “Songs for the End of the World”…yet.
August/September 2012. My grief took another turn for the worst. My children were both back in school. Due to my job, my schedule left me alone many hours of the day. I felt like I was losing myself again in the pain. I missed her. I missed her every second and I was tired. I was so tired of fighting to feel normal again. Life had gone on at this point for everyone else. I didn’t want to share my grief anymore or be the person that people would start avoiding because of my own misery. I isolated myself even more. I felt out of control. I lie down in my daughter’s bedroom thinking of my children and how I absolutely needed reprieve from this pain. They needed their mom. Hang on for them I thought.
Hang on. Oh no, is this what my mom felt? A few days later I called my dear friend. We met and I shared with her my feelings over many tears. Her friendship to me during this time was life-saving. To help cheer me, we stopped to shop. The t-shirt that I picked out…New York printed across the front. I understand there are skeptics out there, but I am a true believer in signs so bear with me!
One week later, I received an e-mail from Melanie, the producer of “An Affair of the Heart”. She said she had an amazing opportunity for me if I were interested. The opportunity…to travel to the Dr. Oz show as a guest speaker with Rick Springfield! In two days, I was to board a plane to NYC. I also found out at this time that YRR had been searching for me (for a year) and I was in the documentary. Wait…WHAT???
So I traveled to Times Square for the first time in my life. Why do I always have to do this hard stuff by myself?? Of course, I was on the phone with my dad, my husband, my best friend, and my kids to share my experience. But I spent most of my time having a conversation with my mom and God.
What did all of this mean? Was this the universe telling me I was going to be okay? Was it my mom’s way of helping me heal? I began thinking that maybe my story was meant to be shared. If Rick’s story helped me, then maybe mine would be able to help someone else.
September 19, 2012 Dr. Oz Day: Morning arrived. But I wasn’t sure if I was ready. Life had handed me this amazing opportunity, and I was scared out of my mind! I dread public speaking. How would I ever talk on national television about the most tragic time in my life? What if I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted? I also didn’t want to define my mom’s memory by her death. Would I be able to show people the amazing person she was? And I still am trying to make sense of it all. But people need to talk about it. People can get the help that they need. I don’t want anyone else to feel the way my mom felt or to suffer in silence. If it didn’t need to be the big secret it was, perhaps our whole family would have received the support and guidance we needed. So, how could I pass up such an opportunity to possibly make a difference? All of those thoughts were swirling around in my head. On top of all of that…what the hell am I going to say to Rick? He means so much to me! Where would I even begin? How much time did I have? Will I remember to breathe? Aah!!!!! I thought of all the people in my life that didn’t even know how I lost my mom that could potentially see this show. How would the rest of our extended family feel? So I sat alone completely overwhelmed trying to hold all of the supportive words given to me in the last several hours.
And then I met these two most amazing women!!! JoAnn and Sue…
And I wasn’t alone anymore. Breathing came a little easier. In a short time, it meant the world to me to have them to share this experience and to blossom a new friendship. And this was a time when I really needed some friends and some laughter to ease my nerves. Their excitement was absolutely contagious. And another part of me felt alive again. I got a glimpse of the young girl inside of me who could laugh and belt out every lyric to every Rick Springfield song. It was GREAT! I had forgotten about her! We got to go to hair and makeup together, share a dressing room, and peek out of our door in hopes to get a peek of Rick in the hallway. It was FUN!
Fifteen minutes until show time. Nerves are back. I had spent all of those waking hours trying to plan what I wanted to say. But I didn’t even know what they were going to ask. And then…they came to the dressing room and told me I would no longer be interviewed due to time constraints. I didn’t know if I felt relief from all the pressure I had placed on myself, or felt incredible disappointment. I had just tortured myself the last two nights to find the “right” words. But I was so blessed to even be there! So we took our seats and I got to be there live for Rick’s time with Dr. Oz. It was a gift…the first gift of many to come.
And then…I saw myself on the screen right behind Dr. Oz and Rick. For the first time, I saw the clip of me from “An Affair of the Heart”. It was OVERWHELMING. I was desperately trying to take it all in. And I got to sit beside Melanie, the producer of the film, while viewing it. I remember her asking me if I was okay when it was done. I know I responded “yes”. But I definitely needed some time to process everything. Before I knew it, it was over. I had to rush out to make my flight back to Chicago. In a little over 24 hours, I was back home.
I now see my visit to the show as a huge stepping stone. I may not have spoken that day on set. I never said a word to Rick or Dr. Oz. But I was in the middle of a huge spiritual connection with my mom, and a transformation was taking place inside of me.
September 28-29, 2012 Milwaukee Film Fest
“An Affair of the Heart” was a part of the film fest. Melanie Lentz-Janney and Sylvia Caminer (the filmmakers) were both attending. I had been in touch with them in the days surrounding Dr. Oz. I was looking forward to seeing and spending time with both of them again. If it weren’t for them, none of this would have ever happened. How do you even begin to thank someone for that? They both will always have such a special place in my heart. I feel tremendously grateful for being a part of this documentary. It came into my life at a time when I think I needed it most.
Three years had almost passed since that tragic hour. Now I was sitting in my theatre seat with much anticipation to see the documentary in its entirety. Again came a flood of emotions. After all, I was here because my mom was not. But, my feelings on that would continue to evolve and change with time.
After the film, I was fortunate to be able to share my reaction with the audience. This would be the first time I had ever talked publicly about my mom. Several individuals approached me to thank me for sharing my story. They told me how touched they were, or how they suffered from depression, or knew of someone who did. I had felt helpless for so long. Now just the thought that maybe I could be a part of someone else feeling better (even if it was just in that moment)…I don’t think I even have the words to describe what that meant to me.
Next… I got to meet Dustin and his dad Jeff, and Steve and Jill who were all featured in the film. They were so welcoming and kind. I will always appreciate the support they gave me. I hope I can return their kindness with my own.
It was a GREAT night. I had the chance to meet and talk with several other Rick fans who all share a connection. It was a night I will always remember. I felt like the family member that had gone missing and had just been reunited. It took some time to catch up…details of the Rick world that I didn’t know. But I was ready to be back. And I knew in my heart…my mom was beside me all the way.
I felt so incredibly blessed. But I had missed out on three years of Rick Springfield. A part of my soul was truly awakening again. The part inside that wanted to be that girl again feeling absolute joy. And I was going to “live in this moment”. The theatrical premiere of the documentary would be taking place in New York City. “Songs for the End of the World” was also being released. I just knew I had to be there. It was the same feeling I had when I was in the bookstore two years earlier before I spoke with Sylvia. It wasn’t just a desire to go. It was knowing I HAD to be there.
So my husband and I boarded a plane and I returned for the second time to New York City in less than one month. I have to say a few words here about my husband Dan. He has been by my side through the best and worst of times. I would be absolutely lost without him. Whether he completely understood what was going on internally for me, I am not sure. But it didn’t matter. He knew it was important to me and supported it. He had his concerns I would be running after Rick, and he would be running after me, but actually it turned out to be the reverse (explanation below)! I was so glad he was there this time. I love him with all of my heart and it’s a trip and a memory we will never forget!
The morning of October 10th, we were going to see Rick in the NY subway station. He would be there as a fun way to promote his new album. Not knowing NYC or the subway system very well, I was afraid we would get lost and not make it on time. So we arrived pretty early. When we got to the station, we had the surprise of seeing Sylvia and the YRR crew. They needed some help with their audio equipment and asked Dan if he would be willing to keep up with Rick to record the sound. Hang on. If my husband has to keep up with Rick, and I have to keep up with my husband; then I have to keep up with Rick. YES!!!!! THANK YOU SYLVIA AND YRR!
So I walked and sang along with Rick Springfield beneath the streets of New York. I rode the train with him. It was UNBELIEVABLE. I am pretty certain “pure elation” wouldn’t even adequately describe the feeling. I was once again in touch with the young girl inside. Who knew happiness and joy would be found once again under the streets of New York! It wasn’t the same kind of joy I experience with my husband and children. That had never left me. This was a rebirth of happiness within myself.
I was also able to meet up with JoAnn and Sue again. They really took us under their wings before and during our brief visit to the city. All of these “gifts” sent to me…they are definitely one of them.
Next stop: The Today Show! We all stood outside in the rain for quite awhile waiting for Rick to appear inside the window. We waved, we laughed, and we watched for that little red light to appear on the camera. And then we saw Jo and Sue on TV
And I had the opportunity to meet some more great people and fans.
The NYC Premiere
Before the film, Rick was at the IFC Theatre signing cd’s. So I stood in the line anxiously waiting to have the opportunity to come face to face with the man who was at the heart of all of this. Now did I think about the fact that I literally stood beside him just hours earlier in the subway station? Of course not. I had been oblivious and in my own little joyful world under NYC. It was like watching a concert knowing I could see him, but not really being aware that he could see me. I know I was not thinking clearly, because looking back on it, I had my phone videoing him almost the entire time we were in the subway. He was probably thinking, “Crazy lady, put your damn phone away.” Sorry Rick!
Did I realize I may have the chance to finally talk to him since this all began? Nope. I simply was so excited…I wasn’t really thinking at all. So my turn came. The only words that came out of my mouth…
“I have a million things to say to you and I can’t talk to you!” That was brilliant…yes?!? GROAN…but it did make him laugh.
And then…my wonderful supportive husband messed up the photos he took. Oh no! I had not traveled all this way for a blurry picture. So I asked to go back in to have another taken. I apologized, feeling like a complete moron. Rick was so gracious. You see, when I walked back in, apparently the next lady in line had knocked his water all over the table. So it was a little chaotic. But he hugged me close and we took another picture.
Another insert of mine has to go here because I am so MORTIFIED about it! Hopefully it will give someone a laugh even though it is at my own expense. When shopping, I didn’t really know what I should wear for this occasion. So I asked for the help of the saleslady. She gave me the thumbs up to this outfit pictured above. I felt pretty okay about it until I looked at these pictures once home. Again, I am going to chalk this up to not thinking clearly from all of the overwhelming emotion. But not until after the fact did I ever notice that this shirt’s design fell where it did! Just call me nipple girl…and once again…SORRY RICK AND EVERYONE ELSE I MAY HAVE OFFENDED UNKNOWINGLY! MORTIFIED…AND ALWAYS WILL BE! Why didn’t anyone tell me (husband included)?!?
We returned outside to wait for the start of the film. We were invited to stay to watch photos taken. There were a lot of cameras going off! It was quite a flurry of activity. And then…they called my name! I think I walked up because I don’t know if I could remember how to put one foot in front of the other. I managed to walk to Rick and think I grabbed on to him for dear life! I’m pretty certain he felt me shaking. I didn’t know which way to look. Some photographer in the middle told me to look her way and that was it. I hope I smiled and didn’t look too terrified. I quietly and quickly thanked him and rushed off to the side. I made it back to Dan who was having a ton of fun documenting his wife falling apart. But thanks to him…I do have a video, and to my surprise looked fairly normal walking up there.
We sat in the back of the theatre with our new friends. Seeing it all again for the second time, I noticed so many more details. In Milwaukee, I think I was full of anticipation regarding my own little part. But now I could fully enjoy everyone else’s stories. It was great to be there and listen to the Q and A session that followed with Rick, Melanie, and Sylvia. They are all inspirational.
Unfortunately, we needed to return home so we missed the second night. It was hard to leave, but I have no complaints! It was a lifetime experience! We do hope to return to NYC someday and bring our kids for the next visit
The International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression
That night I was also introduced to this wonderful organization. I spoke with them about my mom and connection to Rick. Months later, I am happy to be a part of the Field for Hope. It is my continued outlet to share my story with others in HOPE that I may be able to help “shed a light on depression”. I am hopeful that people will no longer suffer in silence. I am hopeful that people will talk
about it and receive the best care and support possible. I am hopeful that family members of lost loved ones to suicide will also be able to share their grief openly and without fear of judgment. I am hopeful it will save lives.
I planted my own sunflowers in honor of my beautiful mom and the memory of her life which was full of light until depression overtook her. I planted sunflowers for Rick Springfield, Yellow Rick Road, and all of the amazing friends I have met along my journey. You all are my gift from above and you have changed my life.
I have the blessing to see a beautiful field of sunflowers growing behind my home this upcoming season. The farm right behind me agreed to donate their field to Field for Hope.
I now have returned to seeing Rick in concert. My first time back was also in October of 2012 two weeks after NYC. I had the best 40th birthday celebration by seeing him in Michigan this past February. To my surprise, during the show, the NYC subway footage played on screens behind him. While he is now touring around the world…a part of me gets to go with him I will be seeing several of his shows this year. This November I am going on his trip to Club Med in Port St. Lucie, Florida. I was begging my best friend to go back in 2009 before our family tragedy. This year she will be traveling with me! BUCKET LIST!!! I look forward to meeting more of the fans and continuing to form new friendships.
The best way I can think to end the story of my connection is by sharing one of the last e-mails I received from my mom. She sent it to me on August 14th, 2009…the day of the last Rick show I attended before her death. She grew tired and lost sight of her own words, but I hope they can help others keep on. Having this e-mail helps remind me of the love that we shared. It helps me find forgiveness in myself. But it also marks the beginning of a long healing journey that I am still on. I know in my heart that Rick was meant to be “with me” in the car that morning. His words and music have been with me my whole life. They define a part of “me”. But most importantly he has become my connection to a spirituality I find within myself. Listening to him brings me pure HAPPINESS again…and that is what my mom would want. There really are no great words for such an incredible blessing.
Fri, Aug 14, 2009 at 3:11 PM
Aug 14, 2009
FROM Imnance@aol.com TO You
I am using aol dial-up service cuz I just cannot get high speed internet to work for me, Honey. Sorry I did not get this email until today BUT what counts is that the message you sent to me was so beautiful! Thank you for caring so much about me and giving me such wonderful advice. I am trying each day to overcome the anxiety; some days are easier than others. I do try to think about positive things and keep those negative things far away from me. Just having been blessed with such a beautiful daughter INSIDE ESPECIALLY…you are beautiful from the inside as well as the outside, Honey…makes me feel good. What would Dad and I do without you and your precious family?
I am so glad you had such a wonderful vacation and I know you are slowly getting back into the routine of all the “stuff” that is going on in your life. Oh my, Rick Springfield tonight! Now that is good stuff! Tee-hee.
I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART, MOM