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.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

The Search for Answers

If you have lost a loved one unexpectedly to suicide you understand the overwhelming need to find answers. I replayed back our entire week, reviewed our texts, checked our computer history, and searched our entire apartment. What did I miss? How could I not have seen the signs of suicide?

Friday night I left for a baby shower. Shawn texted me about increasing requirements for his new job and that he and Gracie missed me. He texted again later sharing that he was feeling anxious that he would not be able to start his job as early as he expected-I know he had some concerns financially. I told him that Gracie and I love having him home and that we will be okay! Later I checked back in and he said, “I’m okay, thanks!” Saturday I texted, “6 months from now I get to marry my best friend. Love you so much my handsome man.”  To which he replied, “Woo-hoo Love you 2!” He seemed happy to have me back home on Sunday. We finished our save the dates that night.

Monday at lunch I texted Shawn about getting crayons thrown at me at work (the joys of special education) and he texted, “That sucks, hun. Sorry you have to deal with that. Love you.” That night we watched the Bachelor. Tuesday night we had a snowball fight with Gracie. Wednesday we hung out, watched TV, and baked an apple pie my friend had made me for Christmas.

Thursday– our last night together. I called Shawn right after work as I often do. I said I was hungry already and he told me he was hungry for breadsticks. When I got home, Shawn found a coupon and ordered pizza and breadsticks. We ate and then hung out on the couch watching Netflix. Shawn’s new boss called and he signed a contract for his new job at 7:57 pm.  We both fell asleep on the couch and when we woke up I went to bed, but Shawn said he was not tired. He came into the room to say good night and said I love you, as we do every night. It all seemed very normal.

Looking back that last night, I believe Shawn did tell me, “You’re my future love.” And I said, “No, I’m your future wife, I’m already your love.” Did he know then? Did he mean he would be my love in heaven? There were also certain looks he gave me throughout the week that made me think something was on his mind. In the aftermath of suicide, you start to question every look, every word, and every action.

What I did know: Early in our relationship, Shawn had shared that every couple years he had a hard time in winter. Many years ago, he had even shared he had thoughts of ending his life and that had always stayed in the back of my mind. I urged him to seek out counseling or medication at that time, but he never did. In hindsight, I can clearly see lows in 2011, 2013 (the year we got Gracie), and this past year. This past December, Shawn stopped working at his job. He was not happy in his position and felt anxious at the thought of returning. As someone who is on  medication for anxiety, I shared with him that what he was experiencing could be a chemical imbalance and that he should again seek out medical treatment. Shawn did make a doctors appointment, but later canceled. He started applying for jobs, going on interviews, and received a new job offer January 6. Overall, life seemed to be moving forward.

I had no idea the extent of Shawn’s pain and that is what breaks my heart the most. I guess we can never truly know the innermost thoughts and feelings of those we love, but I do strongly believe he suffered from untreated anxiety and depression. Shawn left the earth with a very simple text, “I’m sorry if I failed you in anyway. I love you all. I’m headed to a better place!” I just pray he knows that he could have never failed me-my love for him is unconditional-always was and always will be. Until we meet again, my future love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Few Days

The day Shawn’s pain ended is the day mine began. I am honestly not exactly sure how I got through the first few days without Shawn. Even now it still seems like a blur. A loss by suicide is completely different from other losses I have previously experienced.  I felt as though I was living a nightmare I just could not wake up from. There was shock, there were questions, there were what-ifs, and there was complete denial-this cannot be happening to me or our families.

I just simply existed. People all around me were living and I felt as though I was floating through life. I knew right away I was going to stay with my parents. Even a 30 year old woman still needs her parents and luckily I am blessed with a great mom and dad. The first few nights I slept on the couch with my mom on another. I woke up every 2-3 hours, even with medication.  Waking up was the absolute worst because then I was forced to remember-Shawn was no longer here. I got through these nights by snuggling Gracie, talking for hours with my mom, and just crying until exhaustion set in. I had to force myself to eat at least a little. My body had no idea how to deal with the magnitude of my pain.

I spent almost every day with Shawn’s family. My parents drove me over an hour to be there with them each day. Because Shawn and I have been together for nearly nine years, they were already my family too. I am so grateful for all of them-they showed me nothing but love and support. Sitting at the house with Shawn’s parents and seven siblings plus significant others was not easy. Every second I just kept thinking, I wish Shawn was here. He would love this family time. In those moments I felt so, so alone. Then, there would be a flicker of the light right next to me. I really thought that was Shawn saying, “I am here Linds.”

Instead of planning our wedding, we were now planning Shawn’s celebration of life. The service turned out to be absolutely perfect. The siblings and I created a video filled with pictures and cherished memories, the words spoken were meaningful and real, the music played was beautiful and calming, and the room was filled with hundreds of people who loved Shawn. “Celebrate we will because life is short, but sweet for certain.” -Dave Matthews Band.

 

The Day My Story Began

The day my story began as a survivor of suicide loss was on Friday January 29, 2016. It is a day I will never forget. I woke up and realized my fiancé, Shawn, was not home. Right away I panicked as I looked around everywhere for him. I quickly realized his car and his cell phone were gone. He never left our place during the night without me knowing or at least leaving a note. I called my employer right away and told them I did not feel good and would not be able to come in to work that day. I called Shawn many, many times and texted–“I’m so worried, please, please call me back.”  I texted Shawn’s cousin to see if she had heard from him. I then grabbed our dog, Gracie, and got in my car searching close to our home just praying to find his car. My sister called me at this time, as she normally does each morning on the way to work, and I told her what was going on. She said, “I’m sure it is all okay.”  In my gut, however, I knew it wasn’t. A piece of my heart was already missing.

When I got home, I called Shawn’s parents to see if they had heard from Shawn. His mom answered and right away her voice gave away what I already knew. We got disconnected and I called back immediately. This time the coroner came on the phone and I said, “Please tell me, I need to know. What happened to Shawn?” The coroner replied simply and bluntly, “Shawn is dead. We believe he committed suicide.” A witness had seen Shawn jump from a bridge and his body was later recovered. Even two and half months later those words continue to play over and over in my head.

I collapsed to the floor filled with such emotional and raw pain and just sobbed. I called my sister to let her know. She contacted my family right away and they all left their everyday lives to come and be with me as soon as they could. I called Shawn’s mom and we talked off and on until my family arrived. I just remember repeating over and over, “This isn’t real. This isn’t real.” We were going to be married in less than six months. I did not believe this could be my reality. It still feels surreal at times.

The one thought that carries me through each and every day is that my Shawn Michael is now FREE. Free from anxiety, free from pain,  free from sadness, and free from the hopelessness he must have felt. My soulmate, my love, my best friend, my sweet handsome man, and my puppy daddy was now our angel in heaven. I love you to Pluto and back Shawn because the moon just isn’t far enough.