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.

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.

My Million Dollar Dog

After losing Shawn to suicide, I felt as though the world stopped turning. My life stopped moving. I was left motionless and stuck in my grief. The world did not get the memo. It continued to move all around me. Which meant I was still left dealing with personal and financial responsibilities–paying bills and student loans, figuring out health insurance, canceling or changing certain services. This was just added stress on top of an already traumatic life event.

This past weekend, one of my younger cousins asked if he could purchase Gracie. His offer–a whopping one million dollars. He just graduated from the first grade, so this is well out of his price range. However, I responded that I would not sell Gracie for any amount of money. My dad obviously thought this was crazy, claiming I could buy hundreds of other dogs (as well as many other items) with a million dollars.

I know this is a hypothetical situation. No one will ever be offering me one million dollars for my dog. But I asked myself: Would my life be easier if I could sell Gracie for one million dollars? Yes, absolutely. Would my life be better? Absolutely not. While it may be true that I could purchase many other dogs, not any of those would be my Gracie. I really believe she was brought into my life to save me during this most difficult time–and that, to me, is worth well over one million dollars.

This topic of money and wealth was brought up again later in the weekend with my aunt and mom. My aunt has taught her sons that being rich is not necessarily equivalent to having a lot of money. You can be rich in many ways–rich with family, friends, love, and shared experiences. I found that to be such an important life reminder. So often lately I get bogged down by the thought of money and future financial concerns that I often forget that I already am rich–just in a different way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Grieving Is Exhausting

I know I have not written that much lately and that is simply because grieving is exhausting. Whenever my family experiences a loss, my mom always says this and there is so much undeniable truth in that statement. Grief consumes you–mind, body, and soul.

I have experienced loss prior to this and nothing has compared to the exhaustion I have felt with the loss of Shawn. I am not sure if it is because he was my significant other or if it is due to the nature of his death. It likely is a combination of both.  The amount and vast range of emotion I feel in a single day (sadness, joy, anger, guilt, fear) is overwhelming at times. While my whole body feels so, so tired at night, I still have trouble falling asleep. My mind does not tire. Coping with this, in addition to now working full time, is bound to deplete me.

During this journey of grieving, I am learning the importance of managing the expectations I have for myself. I am learning that I may not accomplish everything I want to each day. I am learning to be easier on myself. I am learning to take care of me. One day at a time.