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.

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.

Real Life is Frickin Hard

In the past seven and a half months, I have worked a total of three months. I am quickly realizing why there are so few blogs on grief after a loss by suicide. Getting back to real life is hard.  Finding time and energy to write is even harder! To all you individuals who go back to work after weeks and even a couple months after experiencing a loss by suicide, you are stronger than you know. You are braver than I could ever be. I know I am in the minority when it comes to the amount of time I had to simply take care of myself in grief–and I do still strongly believe this has made a tremendous impact on my ability to heal.

Even with that amount of time, I am still finding challenges as I transition back into working full time. In all honesty, the first two weeks I worked I was completely terrified that my heart still was not into it. That changed, however, the first day I began providing speech therapy to my students. I excitedly texted my mom, sister and friends, “I still love my job!”  I realized I can still make a difference in this world. I can still have a positive impact on each student I service. My students are why I do what I do and they have unknowingly given my life so much purpose.

This does not mean that all days have been easy. I strive to be the person I was; the person I still want to be. The smiley, happy, positive, caring, encouraging educator who would do absolutely anything to help her students succeed.  When the way you feel inside is not always congruent with the person you portray, however, it can leave you feeling completely drained. Maybe that is how Shawn felt at times.

On what would have been our wedding day, my family members gave me a wooden wall hanging. I see it daily and it serves as a perfect reminder as I continue on in my day to day life. On it, it states, “Today I will do what I can and that will be enough.”

 

 

Changes

If you see a psychologist or a counselor shortly after experiencing a significant loss or traumatic event, they will undoubtedly tell you the same thing. Do not make any major life changes. I completely understand this, however, I do feel that each person and situation is different. Therefore, should be treated individually.

I took the advice I received from my doctor and psychologist and did the exact opposite. I am not saying that this is the right thing to do, but it was what felt right for me.

The first major life change I made was resigning from my job. The emotional and mental requirements needed to perform my job effectively alone were completely daunting. I am also the type of person who does not like any extra attention. It makes me extremely anxious. I know my colleagues and friends would have been wonderful, kind, and caring if I had returned. I personally would have just felt observed in my actions and emotions–even though this certainly would not have been their intentions.

The second major life change I made was moving out of the place Shawn and I shared and moving to a new city. Home to me is not a building with walls and a roof. Home to me is hugging and kissing Shawn when I walk in a door with Gracie trying to nudge her way in between. Home to me is packer Sundays and couch snuggles. Home to me is pizza and movies with my lovies. Home to me is corny Shawn jokes and lots of giggles. Home to me is simple–it is Shawn and Gracie. Because the place I lived in no longer felt like home, I decided it was better for me to move somewhere new.

This coming year, I will be embarking upon another change. Over this past week, I applied and interviewed for a speech-language pathologist position in a nearby school district. I was offered the position and accepted it. I feel blessed and grateful to have been given this opportunity and look forward to working with all my new students and families. The hardest part in receiving this positive news was not being able to share and celebrate it with Shawn. Though, I do strongly believe he continues to watch over me and cheer me on from above.

This life I am building for myself and Gracie is certainly not easy. I still cry each time I come “home” from a few days away. I did not ask for this new life nor is it what I ever would have imagined or wanted.

I am learning, however, that there is no correct way to grieve; there is no one way to grieve. I can honestly say that I have not regretted any of the decisions I have made thus far in my grief. While the experts believed I was making too many life changes too quickly, I simply saw it as a way to reduce my stress and anxieties. I will carry the weight of my loss wherever I am and whoever I am with. I know this. Do what is best for your well-being. Know yourself.

 

 

YOLO

I am not a huge fan of the acronym YOLO. (Dad, this means You Only Live Once. He is one of the biggest readers and printers of my blog, so thought I should elaborate at least for him). However, I can appreciate its sentiment since losing Shawn so tragically and unexpectedly to suicide. We do only have this one life to live, so we really should try and make the most of it.

This June, I had the opportunity to go to Seattle with my friend, Stephanie, to visit her cousin. It is a place I had always wanted to see and I could do it very cheaply. Sounds perfect, right? Yet, I hesitated. Grief and loss have a funny way of making you feel guilty for living. I have to continually remind myself that Shawn would want me to be happy. He would want me to live fully. So, I went.

Vacation To-Do List After Loss

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Do something that challenges you physically. I have barely exercised since losing Shawn. I just do not have the will or energy. I could have taken a three mile walk and that would have challenged me. However, I now had enough strength to hike up a mountain. The sweat and shortness of breath were definitely worth the end result.

 

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Make your friend take a ridiculous photo with you. This will just make you laugh. It has no other purpose. Your friend, who thought this was a stupid idea, will be so happy to have the cute photo. And yes, that is a beaver backpack.

 

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See something that takes your breath away. The views in Washington were absolutely breathtaking. The pictures do not do it justice. My aunt had recently sent a card to me and in it she wrote, “Let nature nurture you.” So I did just that. There is so much beauty in the world. Find it. Experience it. Be grateful for it.

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See and experience something new. This was not too hard as I had never been to Washington or Oregon. I was able to see two new cities-Seattle and Portland. I saw the Space Needle, Pikes Place Market, Mount Rainier, and the gum wall. All new experiences and sights for me.

 

 

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Do something that makes your heart happy. I love, love, love books. In Portland, we visited a giant book store. I know this would not be everyone’s first choice, but being surrounded by books makes me weirdly happy. I’m odd. If I had any suitcase space, I would have easily spent a lot of my money there.

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Make yourself pretty (or handsome) for at least one night.  I know it is important to take care of myself while grieving. However, I often tend to neglect my personal appearance. Sweats and ponytails are the norm. I do know though that I will feel better about myself when I make an effort to look decent. So for one night, I did. We then went out downtown Portland and were home by 11:30. This is supposedly the time when night life just begins–making it clear that I am no longer 21.

Overall, it was a great vacation and I am so glad I went. I will say this though–even thousands of miles away, I did not escape my grief. There were moments I cried and every single day Shawn was still on my mind. I did manage to experience many more moments of joy, however, intertwined within the pain.

Maybe if we just start living, we will begin to feel alive again too. YOLO.

Progress…I Think

There are times, even this past week, where the pain of my loss comes crashing down on me like a gigantic wave. It becomes hard to breathe and the weight of it all seems so heavy. My body moves in slow motion. I am so tired. I am so sad. I am so tired of being sad. I begin to wonder, am I healing at all? That is when I began to think of all the feats I have overcome thus far in my grief:

  • I can now sleep for more than 3-4 hours at a time–most nights.
  • I am eating without feeling nauseous.
  • I am trusted to drive places near and far alone.
  • I wear pants again with buttons and zippers nearly 5 days a week.
  • I can take a walk without physical exhaustion.
  • I interviewed and got a job–and then accidentally got a second job.
  • I went from working 20 hours to 40 hours a week.
  • I wake up to an alarm and can get to work on time. Okay 5-10 minutes late. If I’m honest with myself though, this was a struggle for me even before Shawn’s death.
  • I moved to a new city–with the help of amazing family and friends.
  • Gracie and I survived a night home all by ourselves. It was filled with tears and lots of Netflix. I woke up and told Gracie, “We did it!” She was also proud.
  • Most days, I can go nearly 8 hours without crying.

These are all things I was unable to do in the first two months after losing Shawn. This is progress. These are my victories. So if you are also experiencing a significant loss, take time to think of where you were and where you are now. Celebrate your victories, both big and small. You have likely achieved more in your healing than you even realize.

Grieving Is Exhausting

I know I have not written that much lately and that is simply because grieving is exhausting. Whenever my family experiences a loss, my mom always says this and there is so much undeniable truth in that statement. Grief consumes you–mind, body, and soul.

I have experienced loss prior to this and nothing has compared to the exhaustion I have felt with the loss of Shawn. I am not sure if it is because he was my significant other or if it is due to the nature of his death. It likely is a combination of both.  The amount and vast range of emotion I feel in a single day (sadness, joy, anger, guilt, fear) is overwhelming at times. While my whole body feels so, so tired at night, I still have trouble falling asleep. My mind does not tire. Coping with this, in addition to now working full time, is bound to deplete me.

During this journey of grieving, I am learning the importance of managing the expectations I have for myself. I am learning that I may not accomplish everything I want to each day. I am learning to be easier on myself. I am learning to take care of me. One day at a time.

 

 

Be the Light

I know a lot of people perceive me as being strong and positive as I grieve the loss of Shawn, but do not let these words fool you. Do not let this smile fool you. I have dark moments and sad, sad days. Negative thoughts and feelings do creep into my mind, as much as I do not want them to. In the aftermath of suicide, maybe it’s impossible for them not to. I often ask Shawn, “Why wasn’t our love enough? Why wasn’t the thought of our future together enough? Why wasn’t I enough?”

This past weekend, I was experiencing one of those difficult moments. Shawn had always given me a Mother’s Day card from our dog, Gracie, and little gifts and I SO missed that this year.  I then began looking through the old cards and notes he had written to me. I never realized it as much prior to this, but Shawn often referred to me as being a light in his life. “You make my days brighter.” “You are our sunshine.” “You are the light of my life.” “Your positive attitude is infectious and brings much needed sunshine to our home.”

That’s when I started thinking about the treatment of mental health. There is no simple, one size fits all treatment to a mental health condition. I have heard of many individuals who went to the best hospitals, saw the greatest doctors and therapists, tried a variety of medications and their end result was the same–suicide. Maybe we, as survivors of suicide loss, can start to view ourselves as a ‘form of treatment’ to those we lost. A light when they battled darkness. Perhaps we were the reason they lived for one more year, one more month, one more day, one more hour, one more minute. Unfortunately for us, no matter how great a treatment can be, sometimes the disease just wins. Death just wins. I’m not sure if this thought makes me feel better, but it does provide a different, slightly more positive perspective in regards to our involvement as a survivor.

I think we all, as human beings, can try a bit harder each day to be the light during someone else’s darkness. Be kind.

Learn From It

In death, we learn a lot about living. Some of the lessons learned from Shawn’s passing were shared at his celebration of life, but I believe they are worth repeating. I have to give credit to Shawn’s brothers for writing some of these. I have added my own lessons learned as well.

We can learn to cherish those closest to us. Do not take for granted the time you have with loved ones.

We can be more aware of letting loved ones in, in ways we haven’t before. We can learn the importance of embracing our own vulnerabilities by trusting others unconditional love for us.

There is never a bad time to let those you love know you love them–and just as important to let them know why.

If you are lucky enough to be with the one you love, cherish and be grateful for all the little moments–even those moments where you may feel slightly annoyed. For one day, you will miss them. I’d love for Shawn to be here to tell me I loaded the dishwasher wrong, left my drawers open again, or put too many clothes in the washer.

Take videos of those you love. You will miss their voice.

Be kind to all those you meet–you never know the challenges they may be facing.

Life is short. Live each day of your life with purpose and meaning. Find your happiness.

Engage in activities you enjoy and spend time with loved ones more often. Work can wait.

Share your true feelings with others, but if at all possible, do not leave angry. You never know when your last moment will be with someone.

Life is not always fair. It’s messy and it’s difficult. It’s how we choose to react to these adverse situations, that shows our true character.

Mental illness can be fatal; suicide being its symptom. Do not take it lightly. Talk about mental health more openly with others, especially if you struggle with it yourself. You never know who this may help in the future.

Thank you, Shawn, for teaching me more about life and living. Because of you, I am already a more compassionate, understanding, and loving human being. I feel more openly, love more deeply, and share more freely. You live on in me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Okay to Cry

I have spent 89 days without my best friend. I have cried every single one of those 89 days. Sometimes I cry in the shower, sometimes I cry on the way to work, sometimes I cry at lunch, sometimes I cry on the way home, and sometimes I cry as I fall asleep. While the length and time varies each day, one constant remains: I always cry–and that’s okay.  I have read a lot about how to cope with loss and one thing I’ve found is that in order to heal you need to allow yourself to feel–so feeling is what I do each and every day.

One day I actually spent over an hour online looking at skin care products. I have bags and lines under and around my eyes that even make-up cannot hide. It really seems like a minuscule thing to worry about in the midst of what I’m dealing with, but I am only human. That is when I started thinking about all the moms on social media who embrace their stretch marks after childbirth because it signifies their strength. My eyes, so very worn looking from all my tears shed, also tell a story of strength. Life is so hard-harder than I ever imagined it could be. Yet, I still get up every day and get through it the best way I can. I am a strong, bad-ass human being surviving the unimaginable. I’m broke, but I’m not broken.

Sorry, Mom, for swearing in my post today. I’m actually not much of a swearer, but this was just about word choice. 😉  And as I write about this,  it also brings up a memory I have of Shawn from this past November. Shawn had taken a week of vacation and was feeling so happy and carefree that he decided he wanted to use the F-word in every sentence. I joined in and we just laughed and smiled at everything we said. Probably very weird sounding to an outsider looking in, but these memories, that are so uniquely ours, are the ones I will forever cherish.