There Is Hope

It is heartbreaking to watch our daughter grieve and live each day without the love of her life, yet I am reminded daily of Shawn’s parents who grieve and live each day without the love of their life, too. I love that Shawn’s parents keep Lindsay part of their family and close at heart. So, together again this past Saturday, our two families along with some close friends shared another difficult day. In Shawn’s honor, we participated in the Be the Light Walk in downtown Green Bay. We walked along side dozens and dozens of other families who lost a loved one to suicide. We walked to prevent suicide and to overcome the stigma. But mostly we walked to remember Shawn, Lindsay’s sweet, handsome fiancé, who happens to also be a beautiful son, a caring brother, and an amazing friend.

It’s funny how my attention is so drawn to hearing about suicide now or maybe it’s just that prevalent. A few weeks ago, I was listening to a news segment about a woman from Portage, Wisconsin, who started Garden of Angels in honor of her husband who lost his battle with depression. Hearing these words made me think differently about Shawn and the battle he was fighting just as someone with cancer or any other debilitating disease.

At the very end of the program Saturday evening and just before the walk began, a young woman read a poem titled Understanding Suicide (printed below). These words also helped me to better understand what Shawn, along with all of the others whose names were solemnly spoken, must have been going through before their battle ended.

At the end of our walk, our small candles brightly filled the letters H – O – P – E. While the evening was emotionally exhausting, seeing the light in the word HOPE gave each of us just that. I’m not sure how, but I felt it. Lindsay is not alone. Shawn’s parents are not alone. Nor are the dozens of others who walked in honor of their loved one alone. We walked together. There is hope.

I remember the words of my dear aunt when my own mom was diagnosed with cancer. She said don’t think of this as a hopeless end, but rather think of this with endless hope. Losing Shawn has changed our lives forever, but I hope that one day Lindsay and Shawn’s parents will find peace knowing that the love of their life is and always will be with them. For you, Shawn, we hope you’re okay, we hope you’re happy, and we hope you know how much you are loved.

When Someone Takes His Own Life

Excerpt from THE HEALING OF SORROW by Norman Vincent Peale

A few days ago, when a young man died by his own had, a service for him was conducted by his pastor, the Rev. Warren Stevens. What he said that day expresses, far more eloquently than I can, the message that I’m trying to convey. Here are some of his words:

“Our friend died on his own battlefield. He was killed in action fighting a civil war. He fought against adversaries that were as real to him as his casket is real to us. They were powerful adversaries. They took toll of his energies and endurance. They exhausted the last vestiges of his courage and strength. At last these adversaries overwhelmed him. And it appeared that he lost the war. But did he? I see a host of victories that he has won!

For one thing — he has won our admiration — because even if he lost the war, we give him credit for his bravery on the battlefield. And we give him credit for the courage and pride and hope that he used as his weapons as long as he could. We shall remember not his death, but his daily victories gained through his kindnesses and thoughtfulness, through his love for family and friends, for animals and books and music, for all things beautiful, lovely and honorable. We shall remember the many days that he was victorious over overwhelming odds. We shall remember not the years we thought he had left, but the intensity with which he lived the years he had!

Only God knows what this child of His suffered in the silent skirmishes that took place in his soul. But our consolation is that God does know and understands!”

 

A Letter to my Daughter on her Wedding Day

Dearest Lindsay,

Today was supposed to be the happiest, most beautiful day of your life.  Today you were going to marry your best friend, your sweet handsome Shawn, who would be with you always and forever.  Dad had visions of walking you down the aisle and giving your hand to Shawn so that he could take care of you where Dad left off.  In one devastating heartbeat, all that changed.

I am so proud of you, dear sweet daughter, for many reasons.  First of all, your acceptance of Shawn’s tragic and sudden death, your confidence in knowing Shawn’s true, genuine love for you that will always and forever be a part of you, and finally, your strength and courage to move forward when your heart  tells you otherwise.  The silent grace you have shown throughout this sad week and most especially today is a huge, humble part of who you are…maybe that’s why Shawn loved you so much.

But Shawn was loved as dearly by you.  He was kind and respectful, a hardworking, selfless man with a humble heart.  Your love for each other was genuine, true, and real.  In the early hours of the morning the day after Shawn died, we talked about how so many people live a lifetime without that kind of love. You and Shawn were lucky – you had that kind of love.

So today, Saturday, July 23, 2016, what would have been your wedding day, looked very differently than your hopes and dreams of six months ago.  I so wanted Dad to make a wooden arch for your ceremony, but instead a wooden picnic table covered with sky lanterns stood off to the side as our two families came together for a ceremony of another kind – one that Shawn’s sister Moira prepared for her dear brother and your sweet Shawn Michael.   There were no rows of white chairs or coral rose petals lining a center aisle.  Instead a circle of love – brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and even your sweet Gracie  – surrounded beautiful you, with Shawn’s parents and Dad at your side.  I loved what Moira said in your honor and Shawn’s and thought you might want to see part of her words in writing…

By being here to support you today, we as a united family are honoring & truly celebrating that fact that the love you shared here in the physical was a kind, genuine and giving love. A love that continues to make the lives around you richer just by being present.

Your commitment to each other for the nine years you were together was beautiful, often selfless, and growing. The circle says it still is today. So as we look to the river, I would like to offer a moment of silence in gratitude – to thank the sky that gives us purpose, the water that purifies life and the family that comes together to support through love at the hardest of times.

Lindsay, as heartbroken as you were today and Shawn so deeply missed, you humbly allowed two loving families to stand by your side and line the shores of the Fox River where silent wishes were made and Shawn was so dearly remembered – both of you tremendously loved.

Uncle Paul sent me a message today that I read over and over again, and I want to share part of it with you. I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.

The end of the first verse of the Wedding Song proclaims “the Union of your spirits, here, has caused Him to remain.  For whenever two or more are gathered in His name, there is Love, there is Love.”

Nothing, not even death, can destroy the beautiful union and bond that Lindsay and Shawn shared and continue to share.  Lindsay’s words of hope and courage and healing give light to this Union.

Know that we all stand with you today, hearts broken, yet confident in the knowledge that whenever two or more are gathered in His name, there is love, there is love!

In the end, Lindsay, today was a beautiful day, although not the kind of beautiful you or I ever imagined for your wedding day.  And you, my dear daughter, were as beautiful as ever.  I still don’t know from where you gather your strength to get through each new day, but I can guess that it might be from the simple, beautiful love you share with your very dear Shawn Michael.

I hope you know how much I love you and how very proud of you I am…always and forever, mOm  🙂

Let’s Be Real

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I love that it allows us to remain connected to those we love. I hate that it gives us a false sense of reality. All smiles, happy memories, and over filtered pictures. I am no different. I have barely posted anything since Shawn passed away. What I have posted, were just fragments of my reality. The happy, smiley, I’m moving forward in my life pictures.

But guess what? Life is far from perfect. It’s extremely messy and challenging at times. So today I thought I’d provide a glimpse into my reality. The life I do not reveal on Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram.

I decided to look through a box of memories late last night. I could not stop crying. I took two sleeping pills and eventually fell asleep with Gracie at my side. I slept off and on until about 7:00 am. I woke up with very little energy and decided today maybe I will not leave the couch. I work for school districts and am off during the summer. This has been such a blessing this year.

I showered around 2:00 pm to make myself feel somewhat better and during my shower heard a song that reminded me of Shawn. I got out of the shower and cried on my bedroom floor wrapped in my towel. I laid there and wondered if other people think grief feels so much like a part of you is dying.

I then got dressed and made it back to the couch. I now sit here with a giant bag of popcorn (thanks Costco and mom) telling my Netflix, “Yes, I am still watching. Leave me alone. I’m tired and I’m grieving. I will be watching you all day. Please stop asking me.”  I may have to have dinner delivered tonight.

Far from glamorous, but this is what grieving looks like. This is my unfiltered reality.

 

July

Well, it’s July. The month I was supposed to be marrying my best friend. I remember reading a book on the stages of grief in graduate school for my counseling class. Then thinking after Shawn passed away, that my grief would progress in a similar manner. I was wrong. Grief is not linear; it does not follow rules.  The feelings and emotions experienced may be universal, but there are no direct patterns. At least in my experience.

Often times this month already, I find myself back at square one. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I can’t stop these tears from flowing down my face.

I have experienced many events in the last several weeks that I would love to share, but I’m just too tired.

Too tired to think.

Too tired to write.

Too tired to talk.

Too tired to sleep normally. How is that even possible?

Just know that I am okay. I am getting through each and every day.

I may not be thriving at the moment, but I am surviving.

How to Help Someone Who Has Lost a Loved One to Suicide

One of my very best friends shared with me that she had absolutely no idea what to say or do after I lost Shawn to suicide. This is someone who has known me since 5th grade. We talk every day. She probably knows way too many details about my life–what I eat and what I watch on TV on a near daily basis. Yet, in this situation she still found herself at a loss for words. She searched online for ways to help me and found very little information, so had asked if I had any insight on this topic to share on my blog.

Please know that what I find helpful is very personal to me and my journey. I am hopeful though that this advice does expand beyond myself.


ACKNOWLEDGE AND RESPECT THAT ALL PEOPLE GRIEVE DIFFERENTLY

I cry a lot in my grief. I read and write a lot in my grief. I talk and share a lot in my grief. I chose not to work during the early stages of my grief. While this is how I handled my loss, I realize that not everyone does. Some people do not cry. Some people need to work and stay busy. Some people do not like to talk or share their feelings. Grief can look completely different for different people. Acknowledge and respect that.

BE THERE TO LISTEN

If someone is comfortable sharing their story with you, be there to listen without judgement. I did not need for my friends or family members to provide me with the answers. I just needed them to be there to listen to me as I attempted to make sense of a situation that really does not make sense.

LET THE PERSON KNOW YOU CARE ABOUT & LOVE THEM

I am going to be very honest here. Grief after a loss by suicide is horribly painful. I am generally a very happy, positive, and hopeful person. However, there were moments in my grief where I truly felt that death had to be easier than getting through this. These were often just quick and fleeting thoughts, but they did occur. People who have lost a loved one to suicide are more likely to think about it themselves. This is a fact. Show compassion, understanding, and love and do this often–this is a time when your friend or family member will need it the most. I know I have so much to live for because of the kindness and love I have been shown.

IF YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED A SIMILAR LOSS, SHARE IT PLEASE

In the first few weeks after losing Shawn, I had several wonderfully open and kind individuals (some even strangers to myself), share their stories of suicide loss. Thank you so much for coming forward to offer encouragement, wisdom, support, and love. While our stories are different, you helped me to realize that I am not alone in this journey.

SHARE MEMORIES OF THE INDIVIDUAL WHO DIED BY SUICIDE

I loved, loved, loved (and still do!) hearing stories about Shawn from his friends and family members. The stories shared made me laugh and cry. They made me realize how many lives Shawn had touched in such a positive way. I treasure and hold onto these memories.

EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT SUICIDE AND MENTAL HEALTH

After Shawn’s passing, I wanted to-actually NEEDED to- understand suicide and mental health more fully. I read every book, article, and blog I could find in regards to these topics. Many people in our society believe suicide is “selfish” or a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” When in fact, many suicides are a result of long fought out battles to mental illness. Battles that are often fought in silence due to stigma. Thank you to the individuals who bravely shared stories of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Knowledge truly is power. Educate yourself on these topics. It will help you to be a more understanding friend.

BUY YOUR FRIEND A PUPPY

Seriously, buy me a puppy. Okay, this last one is a joke (kind of)–it’s okay to maintain a sense of humor in grief.  My friend and roommate will not let me get another puppy because we already have two dogs living with us. However, I do very much believe in the healing power of a dog. Gracie brings me so much love, companionship, and laughter.


These are just a few of the many ways my family members and friends have helped me cope with the loss of Shawn. This loss is truly more than I could ever handle on my own and I am so grateful that I do not have to. THANK YOU TO ALL OF YOU!

If you have also lost someone to suicide, is there something that someone has done to help you cope and grieve? Please feel free to share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Story of the Blue Jay

Many people in my family are big believers of signs from the afterlife. Lights flickering, songs playing, cardinals, feathers, butterflies, and pennies appearing to name a few. When Shawn first passed away, lights closest to me would flicker and I could almost feel his presence there with me. One time as I sat with my family, I heard the song, “You Are My Sunshine” playing in a commercial I had never seen before. It was what Shawn had written in my last birthday card and a song we (okay maybe just I) sang to our dog, Gracie.

Then for a few weeks, the signs stopped. On the hard days, I stood outside and prayed for Shawn to send me a sign letting me know that he was at peace and happy. Then on the Friday I was deciding if I wanted to return to work, a blue jay appeared in my parent’s backyard. Earlier that same day, I was looking at a Facebook page my aunt had liked that identified signs from the afterlife as well as shared their meanings. I knew the blue jay was on there, so I went back to look at its meaning. It read, “A blue jay links Heaven and Earth. As a sign from your loved one, the jay is a reminder to nurture your body and soul.” At that moment, I knew that was a sign from Shawn. I felt as though I was making the right decision–taking additional time to heal, grieve, and nurture my body and soul.

While I looked for it often, the blue jay did not return for many weeks. Then another challenging weekend arose–the weekend I was moving out of our place. I remember the Friday before the move, just laying in my bed for nearly four hours crying on and off feeling great amounts of sadness for what was to come. That next morning, the blue jay returned. Instead of prepping for the move on Sunday like I had planned to do that Saturday, I took that entire day to simply rest. Another sign from Shawn to nurture my body and soul.

The blue jay returned for the third and last time (so far!) on Mother’s Day just as I was filling out a card for Shawn’s mom. This time, I was finally able to capture a photo of it–the one you see above. I know I had previously written that I missed Shawn getting me gifts on Mother’s Day from Gracie, but I am realizing that the blue jay was my gift. It was a sign from Shawn reminding me to take care of me on the most difficult of days.

As my aunt Ruth says, “Is it odd or is it God?” Be open to the signs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Size of the Problem: A Lesson From My Lesson

Today at work I was playing a game related to vocabulary with a group of three 5th grade students. One of my students was losing–rolling a one or two on the die every time kind of losing! I could see the frustration building until finally he cried and turned away from our group. Emotional regulation is an important skill when engaging socially and often my students struggle with this due to their disabilities.

I decided to ditch the vocabulary lesson and we had an impromptu lesson on size of the problem. Hence, the quickly and very poorly drawn visual above. We discussed how some problems are tiny and small (losing a game, breaking a toy) and some problems are huge (death, car accident, disease). We then discussed how our reaction should match the size of the problem. It’s all about putting our problems in perspective. This is a very tough skill to understand and apply–I know I even struggle with it as an adult at times.

In my mind, I began relating this lesson to my own life. A death by suicide falls under a HUGE problem to me. It affects many individuals and its impact is likely lifelong. For me personally, it has altered my future completely. I actually have not felt anger yet towards Shawn, but I have felt anger towards other individuals close to me who have had big reactions to what I perceived to be little problems. This may be slightly misplaced anger, but it is how I felt in the moment. How could they not see that there are worse problems in life? I think the real reason I felt so  angry is because Shawn’s death did not have the same life altering impact on them. They had moved on to the point where smaller problems could be upsetting whereas Shawn’s death still lies at the forefront of my mind.

Following the discussion of size of the problem, my students and I discussed how we could move from the red zone (feeling angry/upset) back to the blue zone (feeling relaxed/happy/content). These terms are from the zones of regulation–a great tool for teaching emotional regulation. My students’ answers were quite perceptive. Some of the strategies they came up with included: Hug my dog (yes, I do that every day). Play with my cat (not my first choice, but helpful to some). Take a break. Breathe. Think of good things.

I loved the last response, so we began to think of and discuss positive aspects in our lives. One of my students responses included anything having to do with Godzilla-to each their own I suppose. I found it to be very therapeutic to list the many positives I still have in my life as well. I am blessed with an amazing family and friends who have offered so much love and support. I have my sweet Gracie girl to give me kisses and greet me every day when I get home. I have a place to live and am financially secure. I have an education and career in which there are many opportunities.

I also get to work with students who make me smile and laugh every day, even through my pain. To give you an idea, these are actual conversations that occurred in the last two weeks. Student: “I’m 7, I wear underwear.” Me: “Good for you, buddy!” Student: “Do you wear underwear?” Me: “I sure do.” Topic maintenance for two conversational turns. I consider this a success. Me: “Who flies an airplane?” Student: “I don’t know.” Me: “Pi…” Student: “Pie Tree” Me: “No, it’s a pilot, but tell me more about that pie tree.” We clearly still have work to do.

Sometimes my students offer as much to me, as I hope I do to them. Remember to keep your problems in perspective and count your blessings each and every day.