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.

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?

New Year, New Me? Not Quite…but Maybe…Someday

I would love to say that 2017 has flipped a switch inside of me. That it has given me a fresh start and the hope of new beginnings, but it really has not. It has only reminded me that at this time last year, my life was still normal. My world had not been turned upside down; I had not yet been crushed into a million pieces.

I would certainly never have chosen this life; a life without Shawn. And having this life unexpectedly thrust upon me, left me feeling completely powerless.

As I reflect back on my achievements and activities this past year, however, I believe I was given the gift of choice. I did have power. I could choose how I responded.


In year 2016:

I started a blog. You’re reading it right now, duh! This has allowed me to make new connections with amazing and brave individuals who have experienced similar loss.

I traveled to two new states–Washington and Oregon. I spent many days up north and several days in Michigan. I found nature to be very healing. Kind of surprising for this couch loving, Netflix watching girl.

I went four-wheeling on trails, jumped and laughed uncontrollably at a trampoline park, ran(ish) a 5K, and watched movies at a drive-in. All new experiences.

I went to four concerts, two Packer games, and won a gold medal in beer pong.

I ate the alphabet (26 restaurants A-Z) in nearly one summer, which allowed me to experience many new foods. I recently read a blog written by a widow who chose fitness and health in grief. I obviously went the other route.

I moved to a new city. Thank you so much Steph and Max for sharing your home with me and Gracie.

I have developed many new friendships and went back to a profession I truly love and take pride in.

I went on my first, first date in a very long time and somehow ended up with an extremely understanding boyfriend at the end of 2016. He knows my past completely and still wants to be a part of my future.


I have ultimately come to realize that I could choose to be alive and merely exist or I could choose to be alive and truly live.

I chose and will continue to choose to live.

10 Months: This Post Is A Jumbled Mess, Much Like My Life

Today marks 10 months since Shawn passed away. In some ways it feels like yesterday and in other ways it feels like a lifetime. In general, time is weird following death.

I’ve had so many people tell me recently that I’ve come so far since those early days. They comment on my strength, even though I certainly do not always feel it myself. Strength, while grieving the loss of someone to suicide, is relative. Some days, strength means literally climbing mountains. On other days, like holidays and birthdays, strength means just surviving. Just getting through the day.  Most ordinary days, strength means waking up, putting on a smile, and being the person I used to be. Some days this comes more naturally than others.

I still think constantly. I wonder if I am grieving in the right way; if I am doing enough to heal mentally and emotionally. Is there even a correct way to grieve? When will the feeling of this loss truly sink in? Or has it already?

I feel as if I am living the life of someone else. And in many ways I am. I am not the same person I was 10 months ago. Shawn’s death changed me—both positively and negatively. I am slightly less optimistic, more realistic, and a little jaded in regards to certain aspects of my life. Yet, I have also gained a greater appreciation for life and the amazing people and gifts I have in it. I am more loving, honest, and open. I truly feel so, so lucky at times. A word I’m sure not many people would use to describe me or the situation I’m in.

I am really not sure if any of this makes sense today. My emotions, actions, and attitudes conflict constantly in grief. So my current conflicting mood: Death sucks. Death by suicide sucks even more. But there is always, always something to be grateful for.

Hey! What About Me?

October 12th is not just my birthday. I am lucky enough to share this day with my twin sister, my wombmate, my built in best friend, Abby.

Abby and I have both experienced significant and traumatic loss in our short 31 years of life. I often question, “Why us?” Why does so much pain and loss have to happen to us? Other than – life is just not fair sometimes – I do not have an answer to this question. What I do know is that God created Abby and I together. One of my biggest support systems in life has been with me since before birth and for that I am extremely grateful.

I talk about Gracie being with me in the moments shortly before and after I learned Shawn passed away, but Abby was right there with me too. She was on the phone with me as I desperately searched for Shawn that morning and she was the first family member I told about his death. I have absolutely no recollection of what I said to Abby that morning, but what I do remember is that she was there for me. She has been there for me since that moment.

Abby,

Thank you for the thousands of encouraging texts and messages you have sent to me. Thank you for remembering the 29th every single month and checking in on me. Thank you for selflessly giving up time with your own family to be with me. Thank you for sharing your sweet, silly, (not) sassy son with me. You both bring me so much happiness. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for being right at my side when I needed you the most. Thank you for being my best friend.

You are strong, thoughtful, smart, and beautiful. You are the best “mom, mommy, mom, mom” to Jase and best sister to me.

Together we have cried too many tears. Together we have faced challenges and loss. Together we have experienced more pain and heartache than any 31 year olds should have to. But, we have together.

I love you, Abs! I hope you have the best birthday!

A Birthday Wish

It’s October – and Lindsay’s birthday month. I already feel sad for you, Lindsay, knowing what is to come. I’m praying that your enduring gifts of strength and grace help you through this difficult day without Shawn.

With all my heart, I wish for you…

comfort in the precious memories of your sweet, handsome Shawn and his Gracie girl

understanding so that the one question you’ve asked over and over is answered if only in your heart

sad days where you can cry and you don’t have to be strong for anyone else

healing to rise above the loss and pain with love and acceptance of this tragedy

brighter days where your joy is greater than your saddest grief

hope that your passion for life returns with renewed meaning and purpose

and most of all, I wish you happiness – simple and true – just as you shared with your very dear Shawn Michael.

Happy birthday, sweet daughter – I love you with all my heart.