Remembering Mya Dale, 1990–2012: Putting suicide in its place
by Melissa S. Green
The meaning of Mya Dale’s death is one thing, the meaning of her life is another. Let’s put suicide in its place, but let’s also honor and celebrate the life of a beautiful and remarkable person. A memorial service will take place this Friday, June 29: wear orange.
One indication of how affected we are by Mya Dale’s death last Wednesday — and her life too, yes — is that from 9:18 AM to 12:00 midnight last Friday, June 22, there were 2,002 views of Bent Alaska’s post about her death — making it, in the space of hours, the 6th most viewed post on Bent Alaska since we moved it to WordPress in early 2011. Since then, the post has accrued over 1,600 additional hits.
This is not a measure of the importance of Bent Alaska. It’s a measure of the importance of Mya Dale. Of her life. Of what it meant. Of how wide her reach was, to touch the lives of so many. And of the difficulty we are all having, however well we did or did not know her, in understanding why she died, why we have lost our friend or (if we did not know her) of one who could have been our friend.
Why did she die? It’s every bit as much a question as what we faced last year, with the death of James Crump in a tragic accident at the beginning of Anchorage’s Pride parade almost exactly a year ago. In fact the very first time I remember seeing Mya — who I didn’t know enough even to know her name — was in last year’s 4th of July parade, when Mya, walking alongside the Imperial Court of All Alaskas’s float, carried a sign saying “This 1 4 U James Crump” — from which I took the title of the most important of the posts I wrote about him last year.
I spoke with Mya only once, at the UAA showing of “On These Shoulders We Stand” on June 5 during Pride Week. She recognized me as the editor of Bent Alaska and asked me about a resource she thought I might know about. I wrote down the name and phone number for her, and that was it. So I knew her only marginally better than I knew James Crump, whom I’d never met at all except in the words of his family and friends after his death.
Here we are now, on the anniversary of his death, grappling with sorrow again. I can only know her through the words and memories of those who spent actual time with her, and that is worth writing about.
But first I must write about this.
A persistent question of everyone who contacted me privately since last Friday’s post about Mya’s death was: how did she die? I didn’t know details, but I did know in general: she died by her own hand. We must talk about this, honestly and non-evasively. We need to do so in order to take care for all those still here who are at risk. But also — and perhaps counterintuitively — it’s only in being honest about how Mya died, that we can remember her the way she deserves to be remembered.
I have thought about how we look at suicide again and again. I wrote about it publicly in 2009, after the death by suicide of Nicholas Hughes. Hughes was a UAF wildlife biologist who also happened to be the son of the poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. I learned of him — also someone I never knew — that just as he as a baby had been a light to his mother (just see her poem “Nick and the Candlestick”), so was he throughout his life a light to his father, sister, stepmother, friends, loves, colleagues, students. In the final analysis, no one can say what specifically prompted his hand to suicide. Nor, however famous Plath’s suicide, can anyone say with certainty why she took that path.
But there sure are a lot of theories. Most of them are crap.
I wrote in 2009, and I say the same now:
John Donne had it right when he said “Death be not proud.” I think Plath loved life. I know damn well that so did her son. I know damn well from my own nasty times in the pit that it’s not a hatred of life or a love of death that leads to the act of suicide: it’s inexpressible pain that the suffering mind cannot foresee an end to.
I cannot say what inexpressible pain prompted Mya. I do know that she had much to live for. I’ve also learned from people who saw her the night before, or even the same day, that they saw no sign whatsoever that she might take her own life. Why would she?
But even the strongest among us, the most joyful, the brightest and best and most giving, may have hidden places of sorrow and pain, that can overcome them before anyone else can notice or intervene. This does not mean that all or even most of her life was painful. All evidence is that she lived her life with considerable joy, generosity, a passion for justice, and a powerful belief in the need for the acceptance of differences between people, and that she was blessed with a loving and caring mother who accepted her for all of who she was, and blessed also with many many many many many — I could go on — friends. But lives predominately happy can still have their periods of bleakness and despair.
Enough of us have grappled with the question of suicide that we should all know this. I will say it anyway: There is no cause for shame in the choice she took. To say this is not to valorize suicide, or to encourage other people wrestling with pain to make that choice for themselves. We regret that she took her own life; we regret the pain she felt, spoken or unspoken, that led her to that act; and we grieve our loss. But we need to recognize all the same: there but for the grace of god or the grace of plain dumb luck or the grace of who knows what go I. For me, very literally. I look back at myself at anytime from age 17 to 25 and I am astonished that I came through those years without ending my life. It was no particular virtue of mine that I came through it all. I cannot judge Mya that, for whatever reasons, she did not.
If any meaning is to be had in this our loss, it’s this: our obligation and need to be present in whatever ways we can be to be the grace that can stay the hand of the next person, young or not, who faces this choice inside him or herself. To give that person just that more fuel to get to the other side of it. To give that person, and all of us, the surroundings of care and community and love that keep those choices as far as possible from all of us.
Amber DoAll LaChores said it 41 minutes before I wrote my first version of this last Friday: “I love you all and hope that you (we) can all come together for Mya and survive this. ♥”
That’s what we’re called to do.
If you are worried about yourself or someone you know, please call:
(6:00–11:00 PM, 7 days a week)
- 907-258-4777 (in Anchorage)
- 888-901-9876 (toll free outside Anchorage)
- Trevor Project Lifeline for LGBTQ youth: (866) 266-4357
- Careline (Alaska statewide): (877) 266-4357 (tollfree)
- Southcentral Counseling suicide prevention: (907) 563-3200
Learn about the warning signs of suicide from the Trevor Project.
The other part is this. Just as there is no reason that is good for any of us to evade with euphemism or repression or fear the naming of how Mya died — nor is there any reason for the manner of her death to overshadow the life that she lived.
She lived life beautifully.
Here’ are just a few of the words I’ve read on Facebook and elsewhere about Mya:
…such a bright BRIGHT soul… The world is a lesser place now.
She told such a great coming out story at a Pride Foundation event I helped put on. That’s where I met her and she did truly shine.
She was such a beautiful person inside and out. Such a loss to our community and to the world.
My heart is sad… What a sweet spirit Mya had.
I will always remember the caring she gave me last year after the accident [at the Pride parade]. She was in the car.
It is a hard, hard thing to lose someone so bright, so young, so vibrant.
I saw her a couple of other times and always she was a light in the room. One of youth and positive energy. Last time I came by the [Gay & Lesbian Resource Center of Anchorage,] she was volunteering and it was nice to see her smile.
The last time I saw Mya was at a barbeque. Her niece/nephews were there and she was insisting that they eat a certain number of pieces of broccoli before they had dessert — she was awesome, a better ‘mom’ than I am for sure. I loved seeing her great smile, her, and her dog. Hard to express how sad this is.
I was happy to have met her and see a great shining young person.
About half of all the people who have read the earlier post Bent Alaska story about Mya’s death came to it from Facebook shares. The other half came to it from searching for her name on Google or other search engines. They’d heard, somehow, of her death. Even if they had lost touch from when they first knew her, they needed to know more, and they needed to connect. About 75 of them were able to make to the gathering organized by The Family last Saturday at The Den in the UAA Student Union, even though that gathering was put together on a short time frame and had competition from warm and sunny outdoor weather.
She had a wide reach. People who knew her from middle school (Wendler), from high school (East High), from church, from her work as a disability advocate, from UAA where she was a student, or from The Family, Identity, the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Anchorage, the One Anchorage campaign, or just other friends from the LGBTQI community.
And her reach had impact.
A remembrance by Anthea Carns of Alaska Theatre of Youth:
I just found out via Facebook that a young woman I worked with for several summers died this week. She played Creon in the production of Antigone I worked on in 2007, she played Viola in Twelfth Night – I think that was the following year?
She was so, so talented, and she had the most beautiful speaking voice: deep and articulate. Perfectly suited to classical texts.
Her name popped up on my feed in the status of a local high school drama teacher who was remembering her, and I had to Google her, because I hoped that maybe I was mis-remembering the name, that it was someone else. And it turned out that in the last five years, not only did she come out, but she became a total BAMF in the local LGBTQ community. Last year she received a recognition award for her service. And I was still hoping I was thinking of the wrong girl, so I dug out my DVD of Antigone and yes, that was her, owning the stage, a sixteen-year-old black girl embodying a middle-aged Greek king, with her hair pulled back and the military jacket we put her in hanging too big off her square shoulders.
There is so much that’s strange about this. We’re doing Antigone again right now, and all the kids from that production have been much on my mind this summer. And the fact that I taught her — I was an adult in her life, and then she grew up to be an adult in her own right when I wasn’t looking, and then she was gone before I could find out — rocks me.
From her friend BE, from comments at Bent Alaska’s previous post about Mya:
Friends, thank you for the pictures that were posted. Some of them are of a Mya I know, others of one I may not have. I thought I knew her well and I have painful reqrets. If you knew her as I did you would have always wanted to hug her whenever you could because she wanted ACCEPTANCE and love more than anything and so often she thought mostly the opposite of that was out there. She fought very hard for the right to be treated with respect, fairness and equality for herself and others. Bias, inequality and meanness troubled her deeply. She yet looked physical and mental challenges in the face, as frightening and saddening as they could be, and had the nerve to challenge the stereotypes and stigmas in the LGBT community and society at large. I am beginning to hear her messages more clearly now. Treat people the same. Treat them with tenderness and attention. Acknowledge everyone who enters a room. Keep acknowledging them. Don’t leave them sitting alone and don’t shut them down when the try to speak up. They are doing all they can to live and often just living is so painful and frightening. Our challenge from Mya is to help everyone we meet feel SAFE and ACCEPTED UNCONDITIONALLY every chance we get. Leave no one behind.
Mya’s own account of coming out to her mother:
[My mother] said, “Mya, I love you and I am going to keep holding on, until you realize that I love you no matter what.”
My deep condolences to all Mya’s mother Connie, and all her family, friends, teachers, and classmates.
There are other remembrances of Mya online:
- The Alaska Public Radio Network show Kids These Days, Show 70, on Developing Sexual Identity, broadcast on March 27, 2012, included an interview with Mya about how she came to accept who she is. Listen to her coming out story.
- Mya was one of five recipients of Alaska Pride’s 2011 Young Adult Recognition Award. Read her bio at Alaska Pride.
- Mya performed Martin Luther King Jr.’s Nobel prize acceptance speech during UAA’s 2012 celebration of Alaska Civil Rights Month on January 19.
- A number of people have written comments with their memories of Mya at Bent Alaska’s earlier post about her death.
- Join with others of Mya’s friends at the Mya’s Memorial Facebook group.
- Shannon Sanderson has compiled a collection of photos of Mya from her friends and family, which she shared in person at The Family’s gathering last Saturday (see photo below). You can also view them online.
Memorial service for Mya Dale
A service in memory of Mya Dale will be held this coming Friday. Her mother Connie asks all who can to wear orange — Mya’s favorite color.
- Date/time: Friday, June 29, 4:30 PM
- Location: First Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, 3600 Macinnes St, Anchorage (see map)
- Further info: see Facebook events page.
Update 6/28/12: The following obituary appeared in the Anchorage Daily News on Thursday, June 28, 2012.
Anchorage resident, Ms. Mya Michelle Dale, 21, passed away unexpectedly, June 20, 2012 in Anchorage.
Funeral services will be held 4:30 p.m., Friday, June 29, 2012 at the First Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, 3600 MacInnes St. in Anchorage. Pastor Jerry Webb will officiate.
Mya was born December 5, 1990 to Anthony Dudley and Connie Dale at the Hill AFB in Utah. She and her family moved to Anchorage September 26, 1997 where she grew up. Mya graduated from East High School in 2009 and was currently a junior at UAA majoring in economics. Mya had worked for the UAA disability services and was a former employee of Zumeiz, 5th Ave Mall location, Focus, Inc. and seasonal summer work for the State of Alaska. Mya was a member of the First CME Church as a C.Y.F. and Youth Usher. She volunteered wherever needed in the church especially in the kitchen. Mya was founder of the UAA Black Student Union 2009-2010 and UAA debate team. She enjoyed playing soccer on the Alaska Soccer Team and the Cook Inlet Soccer Club as well as basketball at UAA. Mya loved dance, singing and was an advocate for the disabled.
“Mya was the very best of all of us in this family. I think she was so good, God wanted her for himself. She was a gift that I know I could not hold forever. I thank you God for the oh so precious time I had with her. She was the gift that I always knew I had to return. Rest in peace my sweet angel,” wrote her mother.
Mya was preceded in death by her grandfather, T.Z. Dale, Jr.; grandmother, Ethel Dale; aunt, Elola Taylor; and uncle Floyd Sandefur. She is survived by her mother Connie Dale of Anchorage; father, Anthony Dudley of Little Rivers, SC; sister, Christina Dudley of Orlando, FL; brother, Maurice Dudley of Japan; aunt, Mary Taylor of Anchorage; cousin, Christopher Taylor of Anchorage.
Memorial contributions may be made in Mya’s memory to the Clare House, 3710 East 20th Ave. Anchorage, AK 99508.
Arrangements are under the direction of the Anchorage Funeral Home; Visit Mya’s online guestbook at www. AlaskanFuneral.com