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.

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.

 

 

Real Life is Frickin Hard

In the past seven and a half months, I have worked a total of three months. I am quickly realizing why there are so few blogs on grief after a loss by suicide. Getting back to real life is hard.  Finding time and energy to write is even harder! To all you individuals who go back to work after weeks and even a couple months after experiencing a loss by suicide, you are stronger than you know. You are braver than I could ever be. I know I am in the minority when it comes to the amount of time I had to simply take care of myself in grief–and I do still strongly believe this has made a tremendous impact on my ability to heal.

Even with that amount of time, I am still finding challenges as I transition back into working full time. In all honesty, the first two weeks I worked I was completely terrified that my heart still was not into it. That changed, however, the first day I began providing speech therapy to my students. I excitedly texted my mom, sister and friends, “I still love my job!”  I realized I can still make a difference in this world. I can still have a positive impact on each student I service. My students are why I do what I do and they have unknowingly given my life so much purpose.

This does not mean that all days have been easy. I strive to be the person I was; the person I still want to be. The smiley, happy, positive, caring, encouraging educator who would do absolutely anything to help her students succeed.  When the way you feel inside is not always congruent with the person you portray, however, it can leave you feeling completely drained. Maybe that is how Shawn felt at times.

On what would have been our wedding day, my family members gave me a wooden wall hanging. I see it daily and it serves as a perfect reminder as I continue on in my day to day life. On it, it states, “Today I will do what I can and that will be enough.”

 

 

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 Dog

In honor of National Dog Day today, I thought I would write a letter to my beautiful dog, Gracie. Don’t worry–I will read this aloud to her. She has excellent language comprehension skills. She is the puppy daughter of a speech-language pathologist after all.


To my Gracie Girl,

I have dreamed about having a dog my entire life. I almost got one for my 12th birthday, but I failed to win out in the great trampoline or puppy debate. That is a story for another time, however. Finally, when I was 27 years old I started looking online for puppies without informing your dad. I saw your sweet face and instantly knew you were the perfect dog for us. I took your dad on a walk around the block and tried to convince him that we needed a puppy. Towards the end of the walk, he agreed to the idea and I gave him the biggest, most giant hug. I contacted the breeder and she said we could have you in one week. It was the longest week of my life as I was anxiously awaiting to meet you, sweet girl.

Your dad and I discussed names for you that week. I wanted to name you Chloe, Haddie, or Lacy. Your dad had suggested Grace. I told him that name was not dog-ish enough, and together we decided on Gracie. From that moment on, I believe you were destined to be our saving Grace. Our amazing Grace.

On that next Friday after work, your dad and I drove to Illinois to bring you home. When we arrived, you had just been given a bath and were running around like crazy. You were the cutest, most fluffy puppy I had ever seen. I do believe in love at first sight–because Gracie girl I fell in love with you as soon as I saw you. Your dad did too. His eyes lit up and his smile widened whenever you were around him. He was so proud of and protective over you. Your dad was also the one who trained you primarily. He made you into the sweet, loving, good girl you are today. I was the pushover puppy parent–or as I would often remind your dad, the love provider.

I want to thank you, my dear Gracie girl. I truly believe you saved your daddy the last three years of his life–and now you have saved me. You have no idea how much you have meant to me; how much I have needed you these past seven months. You are my light. You are my angel. You are one of many reasons I choose to move forward in my life.

Thank you for being my constant companion, my best and loyal friend.  Thank you for making me laugh and smile on the most difficult of days. Thank you for allowing me to lean on you when I lack strength. Thank you for all the kisses, hugs, and snuggles I receive each and every day.

And most of all, thank you for your unconditional love–the love only a dog seems truly capable of.

I will love you always and forever, my sweet, saving Gracie.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.