Thank you to our generous sponsor of this months Meet a Mom series
Kristin Krieger of Coldwell Banker, Frewen Reality
This week’s ELAMom’s Meet a Mom is Rachel Freeman-Baldwin! An Okemos mom to two beautiful children, a beloved high school English teacher and one of the kindest people you will meet. She is also living through the unimaginable and is devoting her time to suicide prevention – each day, but particularly May 17th.
Why May 17? May 17, 2017 was the date when Rachel learned devastating news – What began as a fairly normal rushed Wednesday morning, turned into the day that Rachel found out her husband Ross committed suicide.
It is a day in our community where suicide awareness is at the forefront – to encourage difficult conversations and wear silly socks. Why wear silly socks? Not to be silly, but to bring awareness to a difficult subject – suicide prevention. And also because Ross was known for his outfit matching socks.
And Rachel has said, “We need to talk about suicide prevention. We need to make sure our fellow humans know that they don’t have to be perfect. We need to remind people that they matter.” So today, and every single day, Rachel is raising awareness.
We are wearing silly socks today. And we are proud and grateful and honored Rachel is sharing her story with ELAMoms.
Hi Rachel! Please introduce yourself, Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
Hi! I’ve been in the Okemos area almost all my life. I attended the University of Michigan for undergrad and graduate school and lived in metro-Detroit for a brief stint, but otherwise have been enjoying the peace and calm of mid-Michigan.
You’re a mom! How many kids do you have and what are their ages? What is your favorite thing about being a mom?
I have two beautiful, resilient children: Fiona is eight and Patch (Patrick) is seven. I love watching them grow into kind humans who look for ways to help others.
You are a well known and loved teacher for Okemos Public Schools. Tell us about what grade you teach and what is the most rewarding part of your career.
I currently teach freshmen and senior English at Okemos High School. Over my twenty-three year career, I’ve taught all levels of English at OHS and one thing remains constant: I see the good in the world through my students. Once I am able to get my students to trust me, I get to see their beautiful hearts and how much love they have to give. When students come back to visit me after 10-15 years and still remember moments from our classes, I feel like I’ve done something right.
How do you balance working outside the home and being a mom?
Being a solo parent and a full-time working mom is a challenge. By nature, I am a perfectionist who wants to meticulously complete every task. I’ve had to let go of perfection and now just do the best I can with the time I have. My house is still tidy, but it doesn’t sparkle. My eyebrows have some strays. And my inbox at work is always full. But Fiona and Patch are mostly happy and healthy–that’s what matters most.
Rachel, you have lived through such a tragic event. We know that sharing your story will help others. We would be honored for you to tell us about your experience.
On May 17, 2017, my husband Ross left the house at 5 AM. I was in the shower when he left, but assumed he was headed to the MAC to workout. He didn’t get home from teaching driver’s ed until after 10 the night before, so we didn’t have time to discuss our daily plans. Admittedly, I was annoyed that Ross left without saying goodbye or telling me his plan for the day. This was quite unlike him. Two hours and fifty-four minutes later, my principal and dear friend came into my classroom and told me that she had received a call informing her that Ross had not shown up to work. I immediately knew something was very, very wrong. I placed panicked phone calls to family and close friends. We spent the next nine agonizing hours searching. We called the police and the hospitals. We drove all over Okemos, East Lansing, and Lansing. We called every church and every bar. We called every airline. We constantly monitored his debit card, praying for a clue. A good friend created a Facebook group to help mobilize a search. Hundreds of community members tried to help us find Ross. Around 5:30 PM, I saw my brother-in-law and father-in-law walking toward me. They were flanked by police officers. I fell to my knees on Kinawa Drive and started screaming. My world had come crashing down. I had lost my best friend, the father of my babies, and my life partner. Those who were with me carried me back to my house. They prayed over me and rocked me. They called Ele’s Place to get advice on how to tell my three and four year-old their daddy had died. They set-up a gofundme and did everything they could to make our shattered life a tiny bit better in that moment.
Ross was an amazing man who appeared happy to all he encountered. In reality, he was extremely stressed; trying to find balance while working two jobs, raising two toddlers, being a good husband, father, and friend became overwhelming. He was taking care of everyone else around him, but he was not taking care of himself. He hid this inner turmoil so well, however, that those closest to him had no idea what was happening. On the evening before he died, Ross finally showed signs of breaking. Those signs were not conveyed to me or to his parents for fear of embarrassing Ross. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from all of this is to immediately report out-of-the-ordinary behavior to police or close family. We have no clue if this could have saved his life, but I do know that many people who look fine are not okay. I do know that people should not be embarrassed to share when something is wrong. And I do know that working with professionals to access help is needed far more than it is utilized.
What are some local services that have helped you cope with grief while continuing to be a strong mom for your children?
Ele’s Place was instrumental in helping us navigate grief. Fiona and Patch participated in the preschool support group at Ele’s Place. This was a bright spot in their lives each week. They met friends who were also missing a loved one, they learned to express their emotions, and they felt the support of a community who understood. They did not grieve alone.
We would love to share about #sockoutsuicide and what it represents to you and your family. Please tell us more about it –
What is Sock Out Suicide? This event was started after our community experienced the devastating loss of Ross Baldwin to suicide. Ross was a beloved teacher at Lansing Catholic High School, the husband of Rachel Freeman-Baldwin and the father of Patrick and Fiona. Ross always matched his socks to his outfit. (And those who knew Ross will remember how he loved wearing fun shirts, ties, and brightly colored pants.) On May 17 we wear silly socks to remember Ross and the amazing husband, father, son, brother, friend, and teacher he was – and to raise awareness that suicide can happen to anyone.
Why Participate In This Event? Suicidal thoughts and actions usually don’t happen overnight. Instead, they are often the result of many factors over time. Contrary to popular belief, talking about suicide does not result in more suicides – in fact, it usually has the opposite result.
People rarely feel comfortable talking about suicide, but it is important to able talk openly about suicide to support those affected by suicide, prevent further suicides, and end the stigma surrounding the topic.
Please wear your silly socks on May 17 and support those who have been impacted by suicide. Post a picture on social media of your silly socks with the hashtag #SockOutSuicide.
Please talk about suicide with your children. Please call 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 if you are in crisis. Your family, your friends, your teachers, your teammates, your colleagues, your neighbors need you. Please help us #SockOutSuicide.
We are grateful you are sharing so much about your journey – we know this will help others♥
We often ask various/unique questions to our Meet a Mom’s weekly, please share some of your favorites-
Favorite place(s) to visit in Michigan –
So many great places in our state! Some of my faves are: Northport, Saugatuck, Mackinac Island, and Petoskey.
Can’t live without beauty or makeup product – Supergoop Sunscreen!
Favorite book you have recently read – I’ve just finished reading the Harry Potter series to my kids. Although I liked the books when I read them years ago, I LOVED watching Fiona and Patch enter the magical world of Hogwarts. It was also incredibly therapeutic for all three of us. We watched as Harry bravely navigated loss and pain.
Self-care is so important! What is something that you do just for yourself?
I bought myself a Peloton mid-way through the pandemic. Although my pants are still tight (ha!), I feel stronger and happier after every ride.
What are your go-to restaurants in the Greater Lansing area? Favorite shops?
Last one, who has most influenced you to be the person you are today?
My mom. Her life has never been easy. She grew up exceptionally poor and faced an unbelievable amount of tragedy. She taught me how to keep going. She also taught me to always look for ways to be kind to others.
If people would like to get in touch with you to learn more about Sock Out Suicide – what is the best way?
Thank you, Rachel♥