What Defines Me

This past week, I had the opportunity to meet with my new principal. As I sat down, she said, “Tell me about yourself.” The first thing I said was, “I’m sure you have heard…” and proceeded to tell her about Shawn and how I ended up in Green Bay. I find myself doing this often as I meet new people. I had previously written that I do not want Shawn to be defined by his death, and yet I often let it define me. Shawn’s death is a huge part of my life. It has changed me; it has altered my future, but it does not define me.

Next time someone asks me who I am, I will share this:

I am a daughter. I am a granddaughter. I am a sister. I am an aunt. I am a niece. I am a friend. I am a dog mom. I am a Speech-Language Pathologist.

I am strong.

I am hopeful.

I am kind.

I am compassionate.

I am courageous.

I am a survivor.

Shawn’s death does not define me. I define me.

 

 

What the Heck, Endorphins?

Frankly, I am getting tired of feeling shitty. Not that I feel this way all the time, but I do at least part of every day. I am willing to try anything to help make me happy again. Medication. Counseling. Travel. Nature. Reading. Support Group. I’ve done this all. But when my friend suggested joining a gym, I replied to her with, “Maybe next Monday” for about two months. I know exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy–I’ve seen Legally Blonde. However, I just did not have the motivation or energy to exercise. Plus, there is just no good time to join a gym. I had many great mediocre excuses.

Then on a random Tuesday, I woke up and decided I would join the gym. The first night I went to exercise by myself, I cried as I was on the elliptical. I really, really dislike exercising, but not enough to cry about it. I was physically running, but mentally could not escape my pain. I could not run away from my thoughts and emotions. So, I muttered to myself, “What the heck, endorphins?”

I am happy to report, however, that I have not cried at the gym since that first time I went alone. I am gaining strength emotionally, mentally, and physically. I am relieving my stress in a more positive way. The sweat dripping down my forehead tells me I’m alive. My muscles aching and legs shaking tell me I’m alive. My heart beating tells me I’m alive.

I am alive. And I am here for a reason.

 

 

 

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.

Just Dance

I have thousands of favorite moments with Shawn. Because I can no longer create new memories with him, I often fear I will forget the ones we did share. I fear that I will forget the sound of his voice, how he laughed, his goofy dance moves, the way he hugged and kissed me, and how it felt to be safe and at home in his arms. I know I am writing about my journey as a survivor of suicide, but by no means do I want Shawn or his life to be defined by his death. He was so much more than that. Shawn was handsome, intelligent, funny, loving, thoughtful, and maybe a little stubborn. My friends at work would probably also add a bit of an instigator. Shawn had the best smile and most beautiful blue eyes. He was my love. My everything.

The primary reason I do choose to share my journey is because I think it is imperative to create an open dialogue about suicide and mental health. Another reason I think writing is so important to me is because it allows me to share and forever preserve some of the moments Shawn and I did have.

A memory that stood out to me today occurred this past December during my winter break. Shawn and I decided to have a game night as we did on many occasions. We took turns choosing a game to play. My first choice-Just Dance. I am a master at Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” To get a visual, watch it on YouTube. Shawn always made fun of my awesome moves, but pretty sure he changed the whole dance into one motion I can only describe as a very manly shimmy shake. We did a couple more dances and then started talking about our song choice for our first dance. His: “Crush” by Dave Matthews Band. Mine: “Better Together” by Jack Johnson. We turned on “Crush” and there in the middle of our living room shared our first dance.

After that, Shawn chose for us to play many games of cribbage and then I chose to play Catch Phrase. At the end of that night, I vividly remember Shawn saying, “Thanks for a good night.” It stands out in my mind because even then I thought it was a bit strange to say, but we were always fairly good at expressing our gratitude towards each other. After all, it was a good night. One of the best nights and now one of many favorite memories.

Sometimes a little bit of happiness comes from dancing like a weirdo in the middle of your living room. If you are lucky enough to share these kind of moments with someone you love, consider yourself exceptionally blessed. I know I do. Today, I thought I’d share my current favorite, feel good song so you, too, can dance like a weirdo. If you can’t dance right now, for whatever reason, maybe just watching Justin Timberlake will make you feel better too.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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!