For Beth Elahmar, producing elaborate cross stitch portraits for charity raffles is more than a hobby or even a passion – it’s a lifesaver. Now she hopes she can use her talent to help save others.
“By using this charity for this raffle and raising awareness through it, I’m hoping that it gives people some more time,” Beth says, “that it gives them the tools they need to learn how to talk about mental illness with friends, family and others that struggle every day, like my brother did. Like I do. The charity helps families learn to identify the different kinds of mental illness and mostly it encourages communication within families.”
Beth knows all about the pain of losing a loved one to suicide. Her grandfather, a highly decorated World War II veteran, shot himself in front of her grandmother when Beth was a young child. Her older brother Randy shot himself in 1984 at the age of 25.
“I was the last one to talk to my brother. I was 17 years old. I’d just graduated from high school… And, I didn’t know. I knew he was sad. But I didn’t know that he wanted to die.”
Since Randy’s death, she’s learned a lot about suicide and what drives a person to contemplate it.
“The demons that he fought every single day, I’ve lived with those same demons. I’ve fought countless battles with myself. Because of a strong support system I’ve built for myself, I’ve been able to fight back. My brother couldn’t. No one saw the signs. I can’t help but wonder if there had been a program like Bring Change to Mind, maybe things would have been different for our family.”
They’d grown up in a troubled family. Her mother suffers from, what Beth has since learned through months of research on her own, a narcissistic personality disorder. And, her father, powerless to understand, had enabled that behavior. No one in the family knew how to deal with her mother’s constant outbursts, bouts of rage, and other mental health issues. “We learned to hide and not upset her.”
Then, things got worse within the family. In 1974, a neighbor molested first Randy, and, then, their middle brother, John.
“When my parents discovered what had happened and tried to talk about it with neighborhood friends… none of the neighbors believed us. Seven families. Nobody believed us. The culprit was a prestigious high school track coach, his reputation solid within the community.” Beth says. Her brothers’ behavior became so bad that her parents sent both boys off to a wilderness rehabilitation program in hopes they would receive the help they needed. “Come to find out the organizers… molested them, too. John got the worst of it.” Her parents were devastated.
Shunned by the neighborhood, the family moved to Montana. It wasn’t until 1990, when that same neighbor was finally caught and prosecuted for molesting a student, that their old friends realized how wrong they’d been. By then, it was too late.
”If I had to pick a point when we lost Randy, it was when we moved to Montana. Everyone was so concentrated on John that Randy got lost in the cracks. He became isolated, disappearing for days on end. He started using drugs.” But even though he struggled, he and Beth always remained very close. “He was my protector. My hero. He always looked out for me. But no one looked out for him. No one protected him.”
“I now understand the pain he was in,” she says, “because I’m in it. Every. Single. Day. I’m in it. I know what it feels like to not have the support from family that should always be there. I know how it feels to have family members turn away from you because it’s easier than having to talk about it and own up to their own faults and misgivings or friends turn away because they simply don’t know how to or don’t want to deal with it.”
“You need that support system at home, and, if you don’t have that support system, it can be a living hell. Not everybody’s family is perfect. I walked away from the toxicity of my family in 2014. To survive, I had to cut off all contact.”
Fortunately, Beth has been able to build a support system outside of her family. Friends who listen without judging, who won’t let her disappear from the world, who care for and support her in the best of times and the worst of times.
Another big part of her support system is cross stitching. It began 25 years ago as a way to bring comfort to a coworker who’d lost a child. A few years ago stitching ended up saving Beth’s own life as she was forced to face her own struggles with depression and anxiety. After suffering a mental collapse her doctors discovered she was unable to take anti-psychotics or other medications. “I don’t react very well to them. In fact, I react completely opposite.” Her doctor told her to find an activity she could lose herself in, focus on, block the world out with. She chose cross stitching.
It was cross stitching that finally brought the struggles with her mother to a head in 2014. “She was growing increasingly worse. Angrier and angrier because I was spending more time stitching than I was visiting her, catering to her. I’d tried to tell my father I couldn’t take her abuse any longer and that I needed to distance myself. While he understood, he was still powerless to stop her abuse.”
Beth feels that it was the happiness that she found through stitching and the recognition and acceptance of others for her work that finally drove the nail in the coffin of her relationship with her mother.
“The last thing my mother ever said to my face, ‘Why are you stitching? Nobody cares. They don’t give a shit. Celebrities don’t care. Why are you making this your life’s work?’” Beth says. “I told her that she knew very well why I stitched – to help my depression.” Her mother’s response was a curt ‘Yes, I know. You just need to get over that.’ It was her harsh words that finally forced me to say, enough is enough.”
Beth went home after that tense exchange and wrote an e-mail to her father. She explained that if she was going to survive, she could no longer subject herself to her mother’s cruelty and her father’s inability to protect her from it. She asked her father for forgiveness and hoped he’d understand. “I knew writing that letter was going to cost me a relationship with my father. But, I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was either her or me. She could have broken me when she said what she said about my stitching. If it hadn’t been for my support group, my friends, she could have stopped all my stitching potential. But, I didn’t stop. Because I knew that if I did, it would be all over for me. So I started on a new piece, a new portrait. It saved my life.”
The result was a portrait she called The Originals, for the TV show it was taken from. It raised about $1,200 for two of the actors’ charities. The winner donated it to the actors, and it now hangs at the studio where the show is filmed. Other portraits for other shows and actors followed.
Then came Outlander and The Laird, a portrait of Jamie Fraser. Raffled off by the charity group The Southern Sassenachs, The Laird raised more than $11,000 for Caitriona Balfe’s and Sam Heughan’s charities.
“It wasn’t until I became part of the Outlander fandom that it really took off,” she says of her charity raffles. “The Outlander fans have got to be the most giving, most generous fandom I’ve ever seen. They are so supportive of me and my work.”
Not just the Outlander fans, but the author and actors have also been very supportive of her work, helping her make important connections, re-tweeting updates on the work, and donating autographs to go with the portraits. Caitriona Balfe and Graham MacTavish even helped present The Laird to his winner during a recent convention trip Beth took to Blackpool England.
Beth now considers the Outlander fandom part of her support network, and hopes they’ll help her use her talent for cross stitching to save others.
She’s asking your help to raise funds for the non-profit Bring Change to Mind. Actress Glenn Close started the charity in 2010 to encourage dialogue about mental health, and to raise awareness, understanding and empathy after her sister and nephew were both diagnosed with mental illnesses. The goal is to get people talking. That’s something Beth is dedicated to, as well.
“What drew me to it is it helps families, provides them with the tools to communicate about mental illness,” she says. “My mother was a big factor in why my family was destroyed. Had we had the tools to know how to deal with her and know what it is she suffers from, then maybe my family would not be split apart now. While it’s too late for my family, it’s not too late for someone else. The resources are out there and Bring Change to Mind can provide them. ”
The portrait being raffled off by Southern Sassenachs to benefit Bring Change to Mind is called The Highlanders. Featuring Jamie Fraser and the male members of the MacKenzie Clan on the show, it took more than 100 different colored threads and some 40,000 stitches to complete. Like all Beth’s portraits, it has a story. She began stitching it shortly before her father died in late 2016.
He was one of the biggest champions of her stitching and bought her the computer program she uses to create patterns. He was also the one person in the family she was closest to after Randy died. “I hadn’t seen or talked to him for two years. My brother, John, contacted me and filled me in on the severity of our father’s illness. He then covertly snuck me into the hospital without our mother’s knowledge so that I could have a chance to say goodbye. I got 10 minutes. He died two hours later. Needless to say, I wasn’t invited to the funeral. I was beyond devastated.” All the pain of losing her father went into creating The Highlanders, one stitch at a time. Raffling the portrait allows her to release that pain.
“My stitching is like Willoughby’s writing,” she says referring to the Season Three episode of Outlander in which Willoughby tosses his story to the winds over the Atlantic Ocean. “I put it all into it and then I have to let it go.”
She’s hoping The Highlanders will raise $15,000, or more, to help others deal with mental health problems – their own or those of someone in their family.
“I focus on creating now, instead of destroying myself. My stitching gives me a reason to keep going, to keep fighting. I have to finish so many portraits,” she says of the benefits the stitching process provides for her mental health. “I start something to bring comfort to someone else and it ends up bringing comfort to myself. It’s like a circle. By helping others I’m helping myself.”
She’s hoping your donations will help others reach that point, too.
“When you read what the survivors say, it’s like a list of whys and if only. ‘Why didn’t they talk to me? If only they had said something to me, I could have helped. If only I had listened. I just saw them last week, they were fine. Why didn’t I see the signs?’” she says. That’s why programs like Bring Change to Mind that get people talking are so important in her view. “It gives them the tools to recognize the signs, help those that are struggling and know how to get themselves and others the help they so desperately need. I can’t help but think that maybe had these resources been available back in the 80s… Could we have saved Randy? I don’t know. But we would have had somewhere to start.”
The Southern Sassenachs, Inc. are fundraising for Bring Change to Mind by raffling a signed Outlander-inspired cross-stitch portrait by Beth Elahmar. Beth chose Bring Change to Mind in honor of her brother, Randy, who lost his battle with mental illness when he committed suicide. In order to change the stigma associated with mental illness, Beth and The Southern Sassenachs, Inc. hope to bring awareness and facilitate discussions through our fundraising efforts. Please join us in our efforts and potentially make a difference in someone’s life.
The framed cross-stitch portrait includes signatures from the following Outlander stars: Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix), Dougal (Graham McTavish), Jamie (Sam Heughan), Angus (Stephen Walters), and Rupert (Grant O’Rourke).
: Donate $10 or more through this Crowdrise Page, and, for every $10 donated, you will receive 1 Raffle Ticket. Your ticket numbers will be sent via [email protected] to the e-mail address you provided within 24 to 48 hours upon receipt of your donation. (International Donations are welcome.)
: February 3, 2018 at 8:00 AM CT through May 3, 2018 at 8 PM CT.
: The framed portrait will be shipped directly by Beth Elahmar once The Raffle has ended.
Thank you for your generosity and support! Best Wishes and Good Luck!