Out Of The Shadows

Kathy Leichter says making “Here One Day,” a film about her mother’s
suicide, helped her heal. (Provided)

Here one day, gone the next. That’s what it feels like when a loved one dies — especially when that person takes his or her own life.

That’s the focus of “Here One Day,” a highly personal 2012 documentary by award-winning Jewish filmmaker Kathy Leichter.

The film is about her mother, Nina Leichter, who jumped to her death from a New York City apartment window in 1995 at the age of 63. She suffered from bipolar illness, and the film focuses on its impact and the impact of Nina’s suicide on her family. It will be screened at Baltimore’s Church of the Redeemer on Thursday, Oct. 10 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. The screenings, open to people of all faiths, are presented in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week.

“If you had told me I would make a film about my mother’s suicide, I probably would have slapped you in the face,” said Leichter, 46. “Telling this story was so far from my mind, in part because of the stigma [of suicide], but also because it was so painful. Talking about it meant
accepting it.”

It was not until nine years after her mother’s tragic death, when pregnant with her younger son, Theo, that Leichter began to confront the feelings she had long suppressed.

“I had my first son, Otto, in 2001, and for some reason I had always assumed my second child would be a daughter. But when my sonogram showed that my baby was a boy, it unleashed a huge wave of grief. I think [unconsciously] I assumed that having a daughter would give me a chance to re-create my relationship with my mother, to heal and bring her back,” said Leichter. “I didn’t do that by having a daughter, but I did it through making the film.”

At first, said Leichter, “the film was going to be a more abstract, conceptual reflection on ‘mother loss’ and how it influenced me as a mother. It wasn’t about suicide.”

But as she dove deeper into the project, Leichter began to hone in on the story of her own family. The turn of events was remarkable since, until she began to make “Here One Day,” Leichter had been unable to reveal to others the cause of her mother’s death.

“I had to be interviewed by a friend who was a psychoanalyst,” she recalled.

For years, Leichter had been unwilling to look at photos of her mother, and it was not until 16 years after her mother’s death, and seven years into the film project, that Leichter finally had the courage to listen to a collection of audiotapes left by her mother.

“I was frightened to hear her voice. Once I did, it felt good,” she said.

100413_here_one_day1The making of “Here One Day” also gave Leichter the opportunity to talk openly with her younger brother and father about her mother and the pain her suicide had inflicted upon the remaining family members.

“Unconsciously, I used the film to approach my grief,” Leichter said.

“At first, my brother didn’t want to be filmed,” said Leichter. “But after a while he realized he was a big part of the story, and he didn’t want me to tell it without him. So I sat with him for two-and-a-half hours, and I learned a lot I didn’t know before.”

Ellen Lebedow, a clinical social worker at the Jewish Social Service Agency in Rockville who leads support groups for adults who have lost loved ones to suicide, stressed the importance of providing a separate group for those individuals.

“People who have lost someone [to suicide] are frequently dealing with painful issues such as shock, anger and guilt, all issues that in some cases make grieving after a suicide somewhat different than other types of bereavement,” she said.

Yet, mental-health and suicide-prevention advocates also stress the importance of confronting mental illness and suicide directly and without shame.

“That’s where Kathy’s film comes in,” said Lebedow. “We need to bring out the issues of mental illness and suicide. These are real issues in the Jewish community and every community. We need to talk about them and to be there for one another.”

By screening her film in venues across the country, and appearing for post-film discussions (as she will do on Oct. 10), Leichter hopes to create safe spaces to talk about mental illness and suicide.

“I did a screening at Wesleyan University recently and I met someone who told me she had never met anyone else who had a parent with bipolar illness,” said Leichter. “She thought she was the only one. The film is very open and raw. Because of our honesty, it allows other people to talk about their experiences. Making this film has really been a gift.”

Screenings of “Here One Day” with follow-up discussion with filmmaker Kathy Leichter will take place on Thursday, Oct. 10 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. at the Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St. For more information about the film, visit hereoneday.com.

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