…And Maybe I Never Will Be

I remember the night before Shawn’s memorial service just crying and saying, “I’m not ready.” In which Shawn’s sister-in-law replied, “You will never be ready.” She was so very right. I’m not sure anyone can prepare themselves for the loss of a loved one-especially when it is so unexpected. I’m not ready to say good-bye to my first and only love and I’m not ready to live this life without Shawn.

This weekend brings another moment of, I’m not ready. Moving out of our place. I’m not ready to say good-bye to the place we lived in together. I’m not ready to pack up our shared items or part with any of Shawn’s belongings.  I’m not ready to begin a new job. I’m not ready to live in a new area I’m unfamiliar with. I’m just not ready for any of this– and I probably never will be.

Maybe that is what grieving is. A whole bunch of I’m not ready’s and finding the strength to get through them anyway. In these moments, I am so incredibly grateful for my family and friends that have offered help, support, and love along the way. I would not be able to get through this without all of them. So if you are one of those individuals– THANK YOU for helping me through all of the I’m not ready’s I have faced and all of those I will continue to face. Love you.

 

 

 

Finding Purpose In the Pain: Why I Decided to Write

About two weeks after Shawn passed away, I received a post card in the mail. On the front of the post card were the words, “Share your story.” The first thought that came to mind was sharing my story about Shawn and my journey as a survivor of suicide. How did someone know to send this to me? I then realized it was sent to encourage me to share my story as an educator. However, on the bulletin board within the picture were just two letters–SF, Shawn’s initials. That’s when I decided I wanted to write. Through this very painful experience, I found purpose. I wanted to share my story in the hopes that I could one day help others going through a similar loss.

I believe each and every life experience shapes us into who we are and who we are meant to be. Perhaps this is what I am supposed to be doing right now at this very moment. I challenge each and everyone of you who are experiencing a loss or other hardships in life, to find purpose in it. Maybe it is privately sharing your story of loss to help someone else. Maybe it is volunteering your time. Maybe it is pursuing a career that meets your passions and beliefs. Maybe it is being the best mom, dad, brother, sister, or friend you can be. Maybe it is engaging in new life activities–painting, yoga, horseback riding, or running.

Whatever it may be, it is so important to find meaning in your life again. Because without purpose for me, there is just pain–and that is no way to live.

 

 

 

 

My Saving Grace

Through this journey of grieving, I am not sure what I would have done without our dog, Gracie. She has truly been my saving grace. She is the sweetest, most loving dog–and I do not just say that because I am her mom. Gracie has been by my side from day one, showing nothing but her unconditional love.

When I realized Shawn was not home that first morning and searched for him frantically, Gracie was there.

When I found out Shawn was no longer living and dropped to the ground filled with such overwhelming sadness, Gracie was there.

When I could not get to sleep during so many late nights, Gracie was there.

When I woke up in the morning, and remembered the reality of what my life had become, Gracie was there.

When I went to our place by myself for the first time and surrounded myself with a pile of laundry and cried as I breathed in Shawn’s scent, Gracie was there.

When everyone went back to work and continued on in their everyday lives, Gracie was there.

When I made big life decisions about work and where to live, Gracie was there.

When I walked through the woods and realized there might still be beauty in this world, Gracie was there.

I am so incredibly grateful for my Gracie girl and she probably has no idea what she has meant to me. She is my beautiful, angel on earth. Gracie is apart of both me and Shawn–she is the piece of our little family that I have left here with me and maybe that’s what means the most.

If I were Oprah for the day, this is what I would do for all the individuals suffering from a significant loss. If you happen to not be a puppy person, then you are just out of luck I guess.

P.S. I had to make this meme-how has no one done this?

oprah meme

 

 

 

What to do About Work After your Loved One Dies of Suicide

If the title of my blog today looks like a Google search, it’s because it is. Mine-about six weeks ago. It turns out, there is no blueprint for navigating the grief process after your loved one dies of suicide. Even Google did not have the answers for me. My doctor had given me six weeks of family medical leave. After that I had to decide-return to work or not. I asked everyone I loved and trusted for advice and I received many different answers. My brain and heart were conflicted. My brain said, “Return to work. The district and the students count on you.” My heart said, “I am not ready.”

As hard as it was, I decided to follow my heart. My job, as an educational speech-language pathologist, is very demanding emotionally and mentally. I kept thinking, how can I take care of the needs of 45 students when I can barely take care of myself? I remember being physically exhausted after packing for a weekend. It took me three days to do one load of laundry. I felt like I would be doing a disservice to my students if I did go back to work. I believe what makes me a strong speech-language pathologist is my heart and, unfortunately, my heart was just not in it for the first time in my life.

I think I explain my reasoning well in the email I sent to my fellow educators and, of course, I found this to be a perfect opportunity to bring awareness to mental health. Instead of reiterating what I wrote I will share it here.

To my work family-

I am writing to let you know that I gave my letter of resignation to the superintendent on Friday. It was a very difficult decision and was not done in haste-as I literally waited until the last day possible. I consulted with some other survivors of suicide and they shared with me that if I have the means to take time to heal and navigate my next path in life, do it. So I am following my heart and doing what I think is best for me at this time.

I have been taking this time to really understand suicide and mental health and have found that it has been helpful for me to be open about it. An illness of the brain should be treated just as we would treat any other type of illness, including cancer, heart disease, etc. There continues to be a lot of stigma in regards to mental health and my hope is that being open and honest about it will eventually reduce that, at least a little. Admitting that we may be experiencing depression or anxiety and seeking out medical help or counseling does not make us weak people–it makes us human. If you or any family members would like to talk about this, I am very willing to share my experiences. While this event has turned my world upside down and I miss my sweet, handsome Shawn Michael every single minute of every day, the opportunity that I could one day help someone else, gives me hope.

I am so incredibly grateful for the time I have spent here. I have gotten to see amazing changes in the students I have serviced and that has brought me such incredible joy and pride. And more importantly, I have gotten to work with the best and most caring people.

I am not sure what my next path in life will bring, but now I have the time to figure it out. I know whatever I choose to do, I will be okay because now I have the best, most loving angel watching over me. I am learning every day that grief is not a process that truly ends, but will get easier with time. Be kind to all those you meet, find the positives in all that you do, and make sure you tell all those you love, that you love them.

Thank you all so much for the cards filled with sweet messages, phone calls, texts, gift basket, dog toys and treats, money towards the memorial fund, and especially for the love and support you have shown me.

Love to you all,

Lindsay

So My Advice (For what it’s worth)-

Follow your heart and do what is best for YOU and your grieving process. Everyone handles loss differently. I was fortunate enough that I was able to take the extra time that I needed; I know not everyone is able to. This is what felt right for me and my journey.

It’s Okay to Laugh

Shawn’s brother shared the above quote with me shortly after Shawn passed away. I find that it resonates with me so much more now after a little bit of time. After losing Shawn to suicide, I honestly thought I would not truly smile or laugh again. I remember purposely leaving off exclamation marks in my texts because I did not even want to show any happiness or excitement, even in my punctuation. Can you tell I am the daughter of an English teacher?

I recently found a list Shawn wrote me of why he loved me. In it he wrote, “Your positive attitude about everything in life. Your smile and how it brightens not only me, but everyone around you. Your many laughs you have and how each is specific to the mood you are in. Meaning you still manage to laugh when you are mad or sad. How both your smile and your laugh are contagious.” While I still cry and grieve the loss of Shawn every single day, I am also learning to find some joy too. I am finding that these emotions, while very different, can live within me, side by side. I have to remember, Shawn would want me to laugh and smile because, well, that’s what he loved about me.

So today, I have to share the video that made me laugh. Two brothers convince their little sister of a zombie apocalypse after she gets her wisdom teeth out. Don’t worry Gracie, I would always save you over any cat!

 

 

What-Ifs Are The Worst

I think a natural part of the grief process after a death by suicide is experiencing what-ifs. As Shawn’s fiancé and the person who spent the most time with him, I almost felt a greater sense of responsibility in preventing this tragedy. What if I was home the weekend before? What if I encouraged him more to receive medical treatment for his anxiety? What if I directly asked him how he was feeling more often? What if we moved to Green Bay or he got a different job after he graduated college?  What if I was just more present in our everyday life? What if the Packers made it to the Super Bowl?  That last one is not directly on me, but anyone living in Wisconsin will perfectly understand that one.

The thing I am learning about what-ifs, however, is that they do not solve anything. It does not change the fact that Shawn is gone. They simply keep me living in the past and further prevent my healing process. What I have to keep reminding myself is that no one person can be 100% responsible for another person’s actions. This was not my choice. While intellectually I can understand this, it still does not prevent me from having these thoughts and feelings. I so wish I could have been the one to save Shawn. When I expressed these feelings to Shawn’s mom she responded perfectly, ” I truly believe Shawn had to save himself and I think he did.”

A fellow survivor of suicide shared this with me– “We all have a choice. Beat ourselves up over what we can’t control or move forward and control what we can.” Though I know I will still experience what-ifs at times, I choose to move forward.