My Dad

Nick and I are married! Yay! December 30th, 2017 definitely ranks in the very top of my most favorite days. The ceremony was beautiful and our reception was so much fun! It is an incredibly humbling experience to be surrounded by so many family members and friends who love and support you. Perhaps I’ll share more about this once I get our pictures back, but this post is about my dad. He’s the guy who came first in my life.

Prior to walking down the isle with my dad I told him, “Please just don’t let me fall!” At this moment in life, I meant this quite literally. Thinking back though, my dad has always been there making sure I never fell too far. He loved me, encouraged me, and quietly portrayed so many characteristics I hope to emulate. My dad is selfless, giving, strong, and very hard working. I’m not sure where I got my exceptional abilities in relaxation, but it definitely was not from him.

When Shawn died though, I fell hard. I know it was difficult for my dad to watch me suffer while he could do little to fix it. He articulated this in his speech–shared here:


For those of you who don’t know me, I am Dave Gonwa, proud father of the bride.

On behalf of my wife Gail and myself, I want to welcome everyone here.

For those of you who have kids, you have to agree that the two things you want for them is health and happiness.

We are very fortunate that all of our kids, their spouses, and grandkids are healthy.

As far as happiness, it’s been a rough road, especially for Lindsay. My kids grew up with the attitude that if something broke, don’t worry – Dad can fix it.

Truth is I couldn’t fix things for Lindsay. I didn’t know how. I found out there are some things I just can’t fix. I knew Lindsay was kind and compassionate, but I also learned how strong, hopeful, and courageous she was to fix things on her own. That’s my girl.

I truly believe Lindsay found her happiness with Nick.

The first time we met Nick was at one of his basketball games. Lindsay must really like this guy, if she wanted us to meet him. On the way to there I was thinking to myself, “Don’t scare him off.” We watched the game and finally met Nick. He shook hands with me, and then me — in my fix-it mode — told him his team could use a little clock management. He’s been coaching for six years, I think he knows this. Remember, don’t scare him off. From then on I just sat back. One weekend, I asked Lindsay where Nick was. She said he was fishing with some friends. Really? Another weekend, I asked Lindsay again where Nick was and she said that he was hunting with some friends. Really? Not that hunting and fishing are criteria to belong to this family, but I do look forward to the day that you can join us in these family traditions. I am proud to call you Son – welcome to our family.

Today would not have been possible without the support of family and friends, many of you who are here today. Thank you.

There is a common bond that holds a family together — we call her Mom and Grandma. I’d like to thank my wife Gail for all she has done to make this a special day for Lindsay and Nick.

While I taught Lindsay about lawn mowers, she taught me about living life – YOLO – good thing she explained it to me in her blog – I had no clue what that meant. Yes, you only live once. Make every minute count. So if everyone can raise their glasses — To Lindsay and Nick – wishing you a lifetime of love, health, and happiness …

…and maybe a few grandchildren for us.


I just want you to know, Dad, that you did have a giant part in helping me heal. All of the qualities I have, you instilled in me. I am who I am because of you (and mom) and I couldn’t be more grateful to be your girl. I love you!

Side note: My lack of public speaking skills also must not come from my dad because he did great!

So Much Depends Upon

Another post from guest blogger–my mom. Between planning a wedding, working, and preparing for Christmas, I barely have time to think clearly let alone write. Thanks, mom, for taking over!


For several weeks, Lindsay’s wedding dress hung from the casing of her bedroom door draping its opening. Every morning I woke up to see her ivory gown right outside my bedroom door and every night I couldn’t help but glance once again at the beautiful dress my daughter would wear on the most important day of her life.

Days passed and it was time for her first dress fitting. That meant our hallway was cleared of her wedding gown, and while this may sound weird, I missed it.  Seeing her wedding dress in our home made her wedding seem real, like this time she really was going to get married. So much depended upon that dress.  

This reminded me of a poetry lesson that I taught my students. The poem is called The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams. This 16-word poem is known for its simplicity and its imagery, and it goes like this: So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens. My students pictured a farm and recognized the contrast in color of the shiny red wheelbarrow and the perfectly white chickens. I asked my students to dig deeper—why does so much depend upon such a minor thing as a wheelbarrow? They came up with a variety of ideas like maybe the farmer was busy with other chores and the chickens depended on the grain in the wheelbarrow or maybe the chickens sought refuge from the rain under the wheelbarrow. Eventually our discussion led to a perfectly acceptable answer—maybe so much depends upon capturing the simple beauty of our everyday lives. Maybe so much depends upon what is most important to us.  

Their task was to write their own So Much Depends Upon poem, 16 words about something simple, yet important to them, something that so much depends upon. Before I shared my own poem (it’s called modeling, I get to do this!), I was excited to tell my students that my daughter was getting married, but I also shared with them the circumstances of her situation. With that being said, my students were better able to grasp the deeper meaning behind these simple words.

The Wedding Dress

so much depends

upon

the ivory satin

gown

embroidered with crystal

beads

beside the black

suit.

I think of Shawn so often, their love that was genuine and real, and all else that Lindsay has quietly endured these last twenty-three months without him.  Shawn will always and forever be  a part of Lindsay.  Maybe this is the so much that depends upon her wedding dress—wedding vows, dreams come true, and a lifetime of love for Lindsay and this time Nick. While the images of a beautiful bride in an ivory satin gown standing beside her handsome groom in a black suit are significant in themselves, it is Lindsay’s happiness that is most important to me. We’re in single digits now…only nine more days to wait!  Their wedding will be a beautiful celebration of love beside a genuine, real love that withstands all eternity.

World Mental Health Day

 

Yesterday (according to the news I receive on a reputable website called Facebook) was World Mental Health Day.  This video was circulating and was quite powerful, so I thought I would share it on my blog too.

I’ve read Kevin Hines book, Cracked, Not Broken, and that was also extremely informative.

This is one of my favorite quotes from the video–

“Both of our immediate reactions were guilt. Guilt that didn’t belong to either of us.”

Tomorrow is my 32nd birthday. And my goal this year is simple:

To let the guilt go.

The guilt that didn’t belong to Shawn or me.

Emotions After Suicide Loss

It’s 5:00 a.m. and I am restless. Maybe if I write some of these thoughts and feelings down they will stop clouding my brain.

My emotions are so mixed and scattered following my engagement. Unfortunately, nothing is clear cut after loss.

I’m sad for the life I lost.

I’m excited for this new life & love.

I’m terrified I could lose it again.

I’m anxious about how people will react.

I feel guilt about moving on.

I worry my decisions could cause others pain.

I fear moments of future happiness will always contain a hint of sadness.

I’m angry because I’ve been robbed of feeling one-sided emotions.

I’m happy to have found Nick and to have him in my life.

I am hopeful for our future.

In such a short period, I have experienced so many giant ups and downs. Grief is truly a rollercoaster of emotion. And again, my body and brain are figuring out how to cope.

The truth is–I am only 31 years old and I have experienced a significant, traumatic, unexpected, unthinkable loss. I don’t know what I am doing. I don’t know how to handle all of this.

Oh My Gosh! I’m Engaged!

I am very happy to share that Nick and I are engaged!

On August 2, Nick and I went for a walk with Gracie. Prior to this walk, I saw him shove a giant ring box into his pocket. This engagement was done in a very Nick way—not at all inconspicuously. We walked to a pier overlooking the Fox River. A place where Gracie and I often go—a place where I’ve found peace and contentment. Nick and I sat on a bench talking until he finally gathered the courage to get down on one knee.

Nick began with, “First of all…” to verbalize all of the millions of reasons why he wanted to marry me (I imagine) when we heard laughing and screaming. We turned and realized a boat full of about ten people were headed in our direction. I told him, “You can wait if you want to.” So we sat for another 20 minutes watching these people remove their boat while laughing about the imperfections of this moment.

There is beauty in the mess.

Nick then got down on his one knee (again) and asked me to marry him. The words he spoke were beautiful and heartfelt and I will never fully be able to recall them. But for the first time in grief, I was able to respond to a question with an unwavering, no doubts, fully certain, for sure, “YES!”

I’m sure Nick did not think of it, but this is the same river where Shawn jumped to end his life. In a way, that is sort of poetic to me.

Where one dream ended. Another began.

The Good Old Days

A contribution from my favorite (and only) guest blogger, my mom, today.


I’ve learned a lot (maybe a little) about technology. I’ve taken thousands of pictures and sent hundreds of texts, but now I’m being cautioned daily – Storage space running out. Some system functions may not work. Technology forces me to take trips down memory lane, and I spend way too much time reading old texts and looking at pictures dozens of times before making room for new memories. But there are some pictures I cannot delete. They are reminders of the good old days.

It was two years ago – July 16, 2015 – when I got my first smart phone. Lindsay, Abby, Jase and I were going wedding dress shopping and I needed to preserve these precious moments in time when my daughter found the wedding dress of her dreams. Lindsay went with me to buy my first phone and I was set. My very first picture is of the two of us in the car on our way to the bridal shop with such happy, carefree, excited smiles anxious for the fun we were about to have. It was the best day ever! I’ve never seen Lindsay so happy and so content with life.

My daughters taught me about hashtags, too. They convey the emotional sentiments that go along with the picture, but you write your own. Last night I sent that picture of the two of us to Lindsay wishing we could go back to the good old days and her response was a single hashtag – #beforelifecrushedme. So true. Brutally honest true. How can one simple picture filled with tremendous life and love and fun and hope leave so much heaviness on my heart and so much more importantly, on Lindsay’s heart?

Maybe because it’s July again and I can’t help but take this trip down memory lane – July 16, 2015, new phone and wedding dress shopping, July 23, 2016, Lindsay and Shawn’s wedding date that will always be remembered, and July 29, 2017, eighteen months since Shawn passed away, Lindsay’s love and life, who will be dearly remembered always and forever.

With the good old days behind us, we move forward. Healing is a process, which Lindsay reminded me in another hashtag – #workinprogress. She is so smart! As we learn to live again, love again, heal, and grow, we are all a work in progress.

Me Versus The Lawn Mower

In 31 years of life, I have never lived alone. Until now. Maybe this is not much of an accomplishment to some people, but it is to me. Especially after what I’ve lived through.

When Shawn first passed away, my mom had to literally place food in front of me to eat. She did my laundry. Slept near me. Drove me where I needed to be. She placed post-its filled with love all around the house while I barely left what is now considered “my spot” on the couch. I was completely dependent. My mom kept me alive. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mom. I love you always!)

So while I still cry weekly and have the occasional life isn’t fair-temper tantrum, I also have realized I’ve made tremendous progress, too.

I work, pay my bills, cook (finally!), clean (umm, sometimes), take care of Gracie, and do my laundry. But the one job that makes me feel really strong and independent is cutting the grass

…except when my lawn mower doesn’t work!

The other day I was cutting the grass when the lawn mower gave out on me. I could not get it to start again. The job that typically made me feel strong and independent, was now making me feel weak and alone. I checked the gas. Nope, not the problem. I checked the oil. Looked fine to me. I flipped the lawn mower over and, sure enough, it was full of grass. I briefly recalled my dad saying, “Lindsay, don’t let the grass get too long before you cut it.” Whoops. I also remember him telling me to use some sort of scraping thing (technical term) to clean it out. I did not have that, so I used my hand. (Dad, are you cringing?) After all my cleaning, I could still not get it to start. Feeling sweaty and defeated, I decided to take a break from the lawn mower.

After gathering up my strength, I walked back out to the lawn mower and tried again. It took me three attempts, but finally it started. Victory was mine! (Is this a little over-dramatic for a lawn mowing tale?) I pridefully finished mowing my lawn.

As silly as this story may seem, it reminded me a lot of my grief. I continually face challenges and obstacles. I attempt to use tools and advice to solve them. But some days, no matter what I do, I just fall down. I break.

I then rest. Build up my strength. And give life another shot.

I don’t give up. I won’t give up.

«Well…my life has officially come down to lawn mowing metaphors. I may be an adult.»

The Other Side

Nick entered my life as unexpectedly as Shawn left it.

As much as I feel like my life situation is unprecedented, his side of it really is too. So, I decided to ask him a few questions to gain his perspective. He loves this stuff. Maybe? Probably…


What was your first reaction when I told you I had a fiancé who passed away by suicide?

I was shocked. I felt really bad for you and wanted to learn more. I was surprised that you were able to pick yourself up and were looking to start over again. Although, I think that’s healthy. Everyone has their own pace. It would have taken me much longer to get back out there I think.

Did this change your perspective of me as a potential person to date? If so, how?

No, not really. The fact that you showed you were willing to commit to someone for so long was a quality that I was attracted to.

What are the challenges in dating me—in terms of being a survivor of suicide loss?

I have to try and be a little more careful about what I say. I had to get over the idea of being jealous or being compared. Loving you and still allowing you time to grieve because obviously that process isn’t over. Being respectful while you celebrate Shawn’s life and spend time with his family—and not get in the way of that too much.

Were there any fears in dating me?

I have fears in dating everyone. It’s not just you. One of my biggest fears though is that you would wake up one day and think, “This is not the life I planned on at all. I’m not ready for this.”

What are the greatest benefits of dating me?

You’ve been through a lot. I think that helps you to cherish and appreciate me fully. You understand the importance of being happy and putting yourself in a good situation. We also just have a lot in common and similar ideas on life—we’re both attitude era. (This is the only wrestling reference I’ll allow-haha!) I love seeing you be happy. I love making you laugh. Your perspective on life is admirable—you appreciate everything more because you have experienced loss. Overall, you make me a more positive person.

What do you think it is about your personality/life that helped us be successful in our relationship?

We both have been in love and had that taken away. There is some sort of kinship and camaraderie that that brings. I like that we are able to sit around and have discussions on important and kind of intense topics. I think my humor helped attract you to me. (Umm….sure, that is it! :)) My faith also pushes me to take our relationship more seriously. I want our relationship to have meaning and not be surface level. I’m just into commitment. I don’t really date casually. (I actually love this about him!) Once you open up to me and it’s a match, I will be dedicated to you.

Do you want to say anything else?

You are cute as a button.


I love Nick’s spirit. I love his ability to not take life too seriously. He was the type of person I thought I needed for this time in my life, but ended up being the person I wanted.

Largely because of him, I am able to live, laugh, and love again. What greater gift is there than that?

Worth It

Google Search: When to start dating after you lose your fiancé to suicide.

Not surprisingly, this search provided me with little to no helpful information. I was going to have to pave my own path on this one. Write my own story.

If I am being truthful, the fact that I would have to date is something I thought of pretty early on in grief. It was, however, not something I necessarily wanted to do again.

About 6 months into grief, I downloaded a dating app—with the encouragement of good friends and several glasses of wine. I’d start to talk to guys through this app and then delete. Add it again and delete. This went on for a couple months. During this time, I felt guilt. I felt fear. I felt conflict within myself. On one hand, I thought: I am strong. I am brave. There is NO WAY I could be hurt more than I have been. On the other hand, I thought: What if I add more hurt to hurt? Could confounding pain destroy me even further?

In the beginning of September, I began talking to a goofy, smart, (seemingly) sweet teacher. We had a lot in common—education, sports, a love for food and The Office. I really enjoyed talking to him, but was I ready to date? The answer to that question is a strong—F*** No! (Word choice again, Mom!) I would never truly feel ready to date. Not anything in life could prepare me for what I went through and for what I continue to go through in the aftermath of Shawn’s suicide. But, I decided to jump in anyway–and I am so glad I did.

Nicholas and I officially went on our first date at the end of October. Two months after we began talking. I had shared everything with him by that point, so he was well aware of what he was getting into. There were no surprises—and that, to me, was extremely important.

We have now been dating for nearly 6 months. Nicholas is loud, talkative, and nerdy. He is honest, supportive, passionate, talented, and thoughtful. Nicholas brings true joy and laughter into my life again.

He loves me for the me I am today—and for that I will forever be grateful.

Love is always a risk. No matter what you’ve been through. I am learning though–it just may be worth it.

Moving Forward After Suicide Loss & the Dreaded Topic of Anger

More change. Gracie and I moved (with the help of my awesome family!) into our own house this past weekend. This is the fourth place we have lived in a year and a half and I am beginning to crave some sort of consistency. I am ready to feel settled; to feel at home again.

As I anticipated packing up my life and moving yet again, I could not help but feel anger and resentment towards Shawn.

Anger is a topic I have not yet discussed and, frankly, it is one I would like to avoid. I hate that I feel this way. I hate even more that it is directed at someone I love so dearly. However, when I started writing about my journey as a survivor of suicide loss, I promised myself I would be as honest as possible.

My life has not been easy. I have felt more pain and heartache this past year, than I have felt in my entire life. Waking up is a struggle. Living is a challenge. The only consistency I’ve had, is that I am consistently making changes. And my greatest fear: That my life will always be that much more difficult because Shawn ended his.

I know anger is common in grief. Yet, in all other deaths I have experienced my anger has not been directed at the person who died themselves. Suicide loss is different that way, as it seems there was choice in death. I have to constantly remind myself that Shawn’s decision to end his life was not made with a rational, healthy mind. The brain is an organ just like any other and it failed to function properly. It failed to keep Shawn alive. If Shawn died of heart failure, would I blame him for my pain? Would I blame him for the challenges I have faced? Probably not.

Unfortunately, this understanding does not mitigate my feelings of anger and resentment in moments of stress and emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. It does not lessen the immense feelings of guilt that come following my anger.

It does, however, help me to continue on.

Life does not stop on the days that drop me to my knees. Life does not stop on the days I feel paralyzed in loss and grief. Life does not stop. All I can do is keep trudging along. Little by little. I move forward.