Not Instagram Approved

It’s a hot, sunny July day in 2011. I’m camping with my boyfriend and 7 of our friends somewhere by Cass Lake, MN. My friend Bri and I are sitting on a couple of tree stumps, chatting and waiting for the boys to finish putting up the tents. I’m drinking a Rockstar energy drink on an empty stomach and notice that my hands are shaking uncontrollably, and I’m suddenly VERY hungry. Not just the regular hungry, but the “if I don’t eat this instant I’m going to burn every fucking one of those tents down” hungry. I tell Bri this and say it is very strange, because I’ve never had hunger come on this quick before and also, I live off of coffee and energy drinks, so why is my body reacting as if this is it’s first exposure to caffeine?? She jokingly says maybe you’re pregnant, and we begin to giggle. Our eyes lock and I think wow bestie, you are hilarious over there you little jokester. Comedian. Funny Funny Girl. But wait. Could it. What. No. Nope. Hell to the nah. Our eyes stay awkwardly locked and our light hearted giggles turn to nervous laughter. A few days later I am sitting on the toilet handing my boyfriend a third pregnancy test as he stares down in disbelief at the first two. All three are positive, and we are indeed going to be parents.

Bri and I on that camping trip, many moons ago.

Eight months later our boy would enter the world, and 2.8 years after that we would have our daughter. By the time she is born I have mastered the art of claiming to be a “hot mess mom” because that is what’s trendy on Instagram, but I’m actually a very high strung, anxious mom. My identity is now 50% “Jesse’s wife” and 50% “Trey and Jaylie’s mom.” For awhile I substitute teach, but eventually my only means of “work” is a health and fitness MLM. I rarely leave my house and spend most of my days trying to make my life look appealing to my 900 Facebook friends. I’ve become the queen of homemade everything from teething biscuits to laundry detergent, and the more approval I get over this from strangers on the internet, the more I’m convinced this is what I need to do to prove to myself I’m a good mom. My husband struggles greatly with his mental health, but I still rely on him for ALL THE THINGS. What I consider as an inseparable team, a therapist would later label a “codependent marriage,” but what makes us happy is that we have the four of us, our plans for the future, our routines and favorite places, our Saturday morning pancakes and all the other little puzzle pieces that make up this life that is ours.

Life does not care about your perfect plan, and it certainly doesn’t give a shit about that death grip you have on controlling it. Life is unpredictable, wavering, and sometimes straight up cruel. I would learn this the hard way at 32 years old, on a rainy October day, when my husband walked out our back door, and ended his life.

In an instant I went from being a wife and mother of two, to a widowed, single mother of two. My entire world flipped upside down, and that carpet beneath my feet of everything I knew, completely ripped out from under me. Nothing from that moment on would be the same, and I was left to pick up the pieces of a life and three hearts that I didn’t shatter.

My wish came true with my new role as a single mother, I became the shit show I always wanted to be. Every rule of motherhood I had been following went completely out the window, and my only goal for the week now was survival. Take one day at a time, and as long as everyone is alive at the end of it, we’ve done well.

In the beginning I am terrified. On the inside I’m telling myself over and over I can’t do this on my own, and on the outside I am putting on a brave face and going through the motions of each day on autopilot. I no longer care what Instagram says about what makes a mom a good mom. I don’t have the energy to care. Every other meal is mac n cheese from a box. The only crafting going on is me handing each of them a pack of sidewalk chalk and hoping it keeps them occupied for more than 15 minutes. I put my youngest in daycare even though I don’t have a job, just to have a few days to breathe and scream and be sad by myself. I try to read the book “Girl Wash Your Face,” so as not to be the only female on the planet who hasn’t read it, but it all seems like horseshit to me so I put it down after Chapter 3. I know now that there are some things too big and too painful to be fixed by simply “washing my face” of it. I remember all of the times Jesse told me “the house can wait,” and I vow that I will never again put life and fun and people on hold in order to have a spot free house. I will not waste these precious minutes I’ve been given worrying about petty things. Every morning on my way to drop the tiny humans off at school and daycare, I play the song “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, and even though the cheesiness of it makes me want to puke, I tell them it’s our new morning mantra. It doesn’t matter if it feels like a lie, it’s my job to reassure them that we will be ok. Then after I drop them off, I drive around the countryside in Jesse’s pickup, sobbing, sipping coffee from my mug, and listening to every sad song I’ve ever downloaded.

Our first Christmas as a family of 3.

Eventually, I get a part time job working for the Juvenile Courts which gives a little purpose to my week other than sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. I realize I actually like leaving my house to work and I love my job, and maybe Facebook was wrong and what fulfills you is sometimes working a regular job while your kids are in daycare, and every mother should just do whatever the fuck is best for her at the time. Little by little I develop an independence I didn’t think I was capable of. I apply for a home loan all on my own and buy a house right next door to one of my best friends. It’s a very impulsive and irresponsible move considering I am only working part time, this house is a “fixer upper,” and I’m not even sure where my hammer is. But teach a woman how to use a drill, and she’ll convince her sister they are fully capable of putting pieces of wood together to build a set of steps. Putting my own blood, sweat, and tears into this house to make it the Thomas Trio’s home is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s made me realize how much more capable we are than we give ourselves credit for. You might put 47 hinges on backwards or get shocked by electricity because I guess you aren’t supposed to grab on to the sides of an outlet and pull, but the PTSD from that tile backsplash, that was a way bigger bite than you could chew, will be worth it when it’s finished, and you can step back and say I FUCKIN DID THAT!

Adding grief into the mix of navigating this new life can be exhausting. Grief at times has made me selfish, quick tempered, and distant. This leads to a level of guilt and worry that keeps me up into the wee hours of the night. Each of my kids feels the loss of their dad in a different way, and I feel helpless in that I know this is something I can’t fix for them. My boy, who was 5 when his dad died, can still recall the life he had with him. There is both joy and sadness in those memories, and also a fear of losing someone else he cares about. My daughter, who was only 2 1/2, only really knows a life without a daddy. She begins to notice at daycare and then at school, that she is one of the only kids without one, and so she asks me if we can “find” her a dad…as if it is as simple as putting an ad in the paper, picking the best option and inserting him into our lives without there being any expectations on me with this man. They will both go through whatever it is they need to go through, and I am just here for it. I find myself at times jealous of the parents who’s biggest worries are grades or friend drama or how much playing time their kid is getting, and then I quickly pull back, because why the hell would I want anyone else to know how this feels. Our pains and burdens and hard truths are different for all of us, that’s the human experience, and mine is the only one I’m responsible for.

We have an amazing support system, and I’m very well aware I wouldn’t be where I am without them. I don’t know how I’ll ever repay the people who have stepped in to give my kids the nurturing that kids need, when I didn’t have a drop of emotional energy left in me. They keep us busy and add so much joy and laughter to our days. I realize how much I need connection and enjoy the company of other humans who give me the space to be myself, and I look back at all those years I spent alone on the farm and realize how isolated and disconnected I actually was. I am sad for that girl who didn’t know what she was capable of, and who didn’t feel safe being herself.

I hate silver linings and make a barf face at the quote “Everything happens for a reason,” but when I look at the dynamics of our little trio now, it’s hard not to think it was all perfectly planned by something greater than us. One Sunday in church during the Children’s sermon, the minister asked the kids who they loved, and without missing a beat my son said his sister. They have grown so close. On J’s first day of preschool he was the one who said, “I’ll be worried about her today. I hope she does okay.” She was going to need a big brother who looked out for her, and he was going to need a little sister who made him laugh on his toughest days, and they both grew in to being just that. He keeps us running on time, while she’s a free spirit that reminds us not to take life too seriously. Their wit keeps my sarcasm in check, and humor has helped us survive. We have learned that life can be really good, even through the bad. It’s a duality that will probably always exist for us, but I think we’re better for it.

I will never go back to being the mom who follows all the rules. I serve them sugary cereal and toaster strudels for breakfast while simultaneously having a conversation about how fresh air and activity keep our brains and our bodies healthy. I suck at monitoring screen time, and I still hate doing crafts. We love ditching town for the weekend to find a hotel or take a roadtrip back to Minnesota. I picked up another position at work and am working way more hours, and they have learned to roll with the punches and nobody has died because of it.

The other day we sat at our kitchen table and played the “pass the phone” game from Tik Tok. It’s basically a game of quick witted insults, and my heart melted as I listened to them roast each other. There’s nothing a mother loves more than to see her offspring become just as dark humored as she is. I blinked and they became these not so little anymore people with real thoughts and ideas and personalities. There are so many things I want them to know.

Like how during those first days without their dad, they were the only reason I got out of bed in the morning.

That the reason I stepped in to the fire of hell that is healing was for them, because I’ll do whatever I can to keep them from being a part of the cycle.

How sorry I am for missing out on some of the most pivotal moments of their lives, because in my own grief I had become so numb and detached from the world around me.

And that I’m so incredibly proud of how brave they’ve been through it all.

No Silver Linings

I think I’ll call this one, a compilation of the many faces of grief. You are probably thinking that is weird, because they all look the same. And you’re right. I am weird. And also in each of these photos is me with the same dumb smile and no indication of whether I was going through a time period of being ok(ish) OR if I was actually dying inside.

I learned real quick after Jesse died that if I didn’t figure out how to convince people I was ok, I would never get rid of that little invisible black cloud that seemed to follow me everywhere. I hated walking into a room and feeling the energy shift to sadness. I hated that every time I went to the grocery store someone wanted to hug me. I didn’t want anyone walking on eggshells around me. So I became a MASTER at the “I’m fine” game.

I think I also believed I could outsmart grief…like I was above all that “5 stages, one day at a time” hocus pocus nonsense. I was going to be the very BEST at grief and “get over it” as quickly as possible. After all, everyone was constantly telling me how strong I was! I had this!!!

Nothing could have prepared me for what those next few years were going to bring. Grief has no timeline and also no chill. It will leave you alone for days or even weeks only to come crashing in again like the Kool Aid man on a hot sunny day. It has no manners and does not care whether you are alone in your bedroom or surrounded by people at your nephew’s wrestling tournament. It will show up wherever, whenever it wants to, relentlessly and unapologetically.

There were times when it all felt almost unbearable. I didn’t know that emotional pain could make my entire body physically hurt, and I wondered if I was ever going to get rid of that awful feeling deep in the pit of my stomach.

There were also periods when I was incapable of feeling anything at all. It’s like your body reaches a certain threshold and says that’s enough, and you become completely numb to every emotion. This might seem like a blessing, but for me it was probably the most dangerous stage of grief to be in. I felt almost inhuman, and when you’re so detached from the world around you, you begin to question why you’re even still here in the first place.

And weaving through and in between both of those were good days that sometimes turned into weeks and even months. It wasn’t all hell. There were genuine smiles and real belly laughs and some of the best days and memories of my life to date.

Now, 3.25 years (and LOTS of therapy) later, post loss looks more like:

Accepting things for what they are and that there are wounds I will likely be working on for a really long time.

Emailing my therapist to let her know I’ve self diagnosed my intimacy issues via Tik Tok videos, and her responding with..that’s a first, we shall see about that when we talk on Tuesday.

Asking my son to help me understand what was happening after getting a call from his teacher that he’d had an emotional day regarding his dad, and understanding exactly what he means when he responds, “I don’t know, I was feeling ALL the things today mom, happy, mad and sad.”

My daughter placing our family photo in her dollhouse and playing make believe that we still have a mom AND a dad, and reminding me on a weekly basis that she’d like a daddy again because all of her friends have one.

I’m at peace with Jesse’s death, and I don’t hate him for the hurt he’s caused me, but I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive him for the pain he put on their little hearts.

I sometimes have a hard time sharing the brutally honest things about surviving loss, because if you had told me in the beginning how long my healing would take, that even 3 years later there would still be things I’d be working through, I’d have said ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!!! That’s too long! So I hope this doesn’t make anyone new to this club feel discouraged.

Healing looks different for everyone, this is all just my own lived experience, and you can take what you need and leave the rest.

I can tell you that it is possible to allow happiness in again to exist alongside the sadness.

That laughter might feel like a sin right now, but those deep, pee your pants, tears rolling down your face belly laughs really are the best medicine.

That all of those things I thought I could tuck away in a dark corner of my brain, never to be heard from again, eventually presented themselves in BIG and UGLY ways.

That when I finally hit my lowest, I was lucky enough to have people in my life who weren’t afraid to say, “what you’re doing isn’t working, it’s time to get some fucking help.”

That healing is possible, but it can’t be found in another person or the bottom of a bottle or in another 3 a.m. Amazon purchase.

That in order to get to that place of healing, you’re gonna first have to hurt, A LOT, and you know this, so it can be really hard to force yourself to take that step.

That happiness isn’t always a choice. Sometimes we can’t just flip the “feelings” switch or chant a bunch of things we’re grateful for in order to feel better. Some things are too big to be fixed with silver linings.

And most importantly, that I thank my past self every single day for not giving up.

Whether you’re 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months or 3 years into this, I just want you to know I’m rooting for you. I know this is hard, but I’m so happy you’re still here.

Wednesday’s with Jan

I gave myself permission to not post anything in regards to Jesse’s “death anniversary” this year. In my own healing I’ve had to learn that I’m actually allowed to do this because the world will keep spinning either way. (WILD) Some days I just can’t be this person for people, and that’s ok. BUT after a big sigh of relief for the fact that it’s not my job to save the world, I decided I did actually want to do something for the ladies who are new to this walk of hell mixed with flames, tidal waves, sadness, rage, tears and snot bubbles. (Grief and widowhood for those who are new here)

I won’t give “advice,” because grief is like a fingerprint, completely unique to the person experiencing it. (Quote credits to my first grief counselor Carol!) This is also true for each of our stories. My marriage was not a fairy tale. I did not watch my husband go through chemo or have a cop show up to my house to tell me he had died in an accident. After years of extreme ups and downs and wondering every day if today was the day he was going to do something he couldn’t come back from…I lost my husband to suicide. So even though you too may have lost your person, the way you process it and heal is probably going to be much different from me. I can’t tell you how to do this, but I can share my own experience and maybe something will resonate with you, give you even just a tiny bit of hope, and help you feel less alone.

I wrestled for awhile with how exactly I wanted to go about this post, and I came up with the perfect idea…I’m gonna use it as my opportunity to introduce you all to my new friend, Jan. For the record, she is not on social media but gave me full permission to do this.

I met Jan probably about two months ago while I was doing one of my favorite things, bellying up to a bar to people watch. This isn’t something I ever did prior to Jesse’s passing, but I’ve discovered a lot of new things I love in the past 3 years. She walked in alone, sat a couple chairs down from me and ordered a glass of Merlot. I can’t explain it, but my gut told me she was also in the dead husband club.

My next favorite thing to do is force strangers to talk to me. Not small talk, I wanna know your whole damn life story, the good, the bad..what’s made you the person you are sitting next to me right now. I think the human experience is fascinating. There’s soooo many Jan stories I’d love to tell you about, like her bird named Bud who was along for many of her adventures and had to be renamed Budette after Jan found out he was a she. Or the time she decided to move to Hawaii and live in her 1974 Traditional Orange Blazer for 4 months, just because. (She’s bringing me pics to our next happy hour date)

For the purpose of this post though, I’m gonna focus on our conversations about the hard things, because it turns out my gut was right, Jan lost her husband earlier this year to a terrible brain disorder called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. It’s an illness that affects everything from movement to your thinking and behavior, and it basically turned Darwin into someone Jan didn’t even recognize. As I listened to her tell me the heartbreaking details of his final days, I flashed back to those times that depression and PTSD did the same thing to Jesse. Each of our guys were both GOOD humans who suffered from something that brought out the darkest sides of them. Of course we also had the argument of “Your situation is worse! NO YOUR SITUATION IS WORSE!” as always happens when people exchange stories of loss. But in the end, they are both equally tragic, and honestly if this is some sort of competition I’m winning the prize really fucking sucks!

Since that first conversation Jan and I have talked about a lot of things grief. Sometimes it’s things that make us sad, like how many times we’ve asked ourselves whether we could have been better wives, and sometimes it’s things that make us laugh, like how we both hate the word “widow” (ew) and love having someone to talk to who is ok with using the very direct words DIED and DEAD versus the sugar coated “passed away.” It’s taken a lot of work on my part, but I’ve learned to give myself the grace necessary to accept that I loved Jesse as best and as much as I could, and I hope one day Jan gets there too.

Another fun topic we talk about almost every time we meet is men and dating. If there is any one part of your life people like to nose their way into after your spouse dies, it’s this one. I can remember when I was about 9 months in, some photos were shared on social media of me at a concert with a guy and people said “She can’t possibly be ready to date can she!? It’s too soon!” and now 3 years in, I’m asked all the time, “Why are still single?? You’re a pretty girl. You should be able to find someone!” (I GUESS MAYBE MY PERSONALITY SUCKS KAREN, I DON’T KNOW) You feel like you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

What I am 100% certain of though is none of these people in either scenario have any idea how hard this is. They don’t have a clue as to how terrifying it is to be open to getting attached to someone, knowing in the back of your mind you could lose again. They don’t know how intense the loneliness is, or that I’ve had to heal from not just the loss, but things that happened during our marriage. I did tell myself in the beginning I wasn’t going to settle out of loneliness, and I’m so glad I never did. But I’ve also spent the last 3 years working through a lot of unrealistic fears to get myself to a place where my brain believes even “somewhat” that love can be safe. Most people mean well, and they just want you to be happy again, but there really is no right or wrong, and that’s exactly what I told Jan when she said she just isn’t ready and doesn’t know if she ever will be.

During our first conversation there was a moment when Jan looked me square in the eye and asked, “Does it really get easier?” This is a hard question to answer, and I don’t know if “easier” is the right word. In the beginning it hurts so bad you can feel it all the way down to your bones…I didn’t know that emotional pain could make my entire body physically hurt. Over time it did lessen, and I mostly only feel that now when I see the pain in the eyes of my kids or mother-in-law or sometimes even Jesse’s friends.

One person died, but we all lost someone different, so things tend to hit us all so differently.

The holidays sting a little less with each passing year, and I don’t find myself being blindsided as often by all those little things, like the first time you realize you have half the amount of laundry to do or twice the amount of leftovers. (I’ll never forget crying crocodile sized tears into that pot of spaghetti) The sights and smells of Autumn still tend to send me into an anxious frenzy, especially the closer this date gets, but I’ve learned to manage it better. And after 3 years, I finally don’t find myself needing to change the channel when one of our old favorite TV shows comes on.

There’s a calmness in my life that didn’t exist before and relief in not having to walk on eggshells every day. There’s also a lot of guilt for that relief. I still have to intentionally remind my brain that this wasn’t my fault and probably will for a really long time.

That awful feeling deep in the pit of my stomach wasn’t there forever, even though I was certain it would be.

I’ve learned it is possible to both miss what you had and love what you have.

I’m still sometimes tempted to throw things at the elderly couples holding hands in public places.

My support system is the bomb. Life took away my person, but it also strengthened old relationships and gave me so many new, meaningful ones. I love all those assholes more than I could ever fully express.

I’ve found a new lifelong friend in Jan, and I look forward to many more of her stories in the months to come. “You have to believe my stories because they’re TRUE!” she always says giggling. She is easily becoming one of my favorite humans, and I’m sure she will have way more to teach me about life than I will her.

That awful October day changed me forever, and I will never be the same, but I have a new appreciation for life and the precious minutes we’re given here. We’re all responsible for how we show up in the world, and I truly believe that human connection is what keeps us going when we don’t think we have the strength to make it through one more day. That’s why while I watch our world become more divided than ever, I’m gonna continue to belly up to bars and say hi to strangers.

Adventures in Single Parenting (Part 1)

I used to think being a single parent was probably a lot like being in a cage filled with wild monkeys. And the monkeys are on cocaine. And the cage is on fire. And then Jesse died and to my dismay, I in an instant, became a single mom. It was a title I didn’t want. I was beyond terrified, and I told myself over and over there’s no way you can do this.

I learned quickly though that I really didn’t have a choice. Those little people that lived with me were completely dependent on me for their survival, and no amount of kicking and screaming and pouting on my part was going to change that. I was a hot mess express, and sometimes I do look back and wonder how we all survived.

I can remember the first time we ever took a road trip, just the three of us, to visit Jesse’s mom. My entire body shook so bad for the whole 3 hour car ride that my back actually hurt when we finally arrived. Now of course, these road trips are a regular occurrence, and I kind of want to smack my two year ago self for being such a sally, but these little victories really are what helped me build a sense of independence I never in a million years thought I could have.

I’ve proven to myself over and over that I am capable of more than I give myself credit for, and I’ve also failed miserably and have had to learn to give myself grace and learn from my mistakes.

We eat cereal for supper way more than I care to admit, but we still sit together and chat about our days and to me, that’s what’s important.

I’ve put more money into Jesse’s rusty *on the verge of a complete breakdown* pickup truck than I should have, but after moving away from the only home they’d ever known, it’s brought the kids (and YES OK myself) a sense of comfort being able to still have this piece of him. It might not make sense to anyone else, but it makes sense to us.

My kids do weird, off the wall things, like spin a pencil on the table for HOURS while making explosion noises or asking me to smell their fingers because they just scratched their butt (I see you J); but at the end of the day, I have been assured by other moms that they are good humans and this is all normal and I am not totally fucking them up.

(These moms also bring me wine and taco dip on the regular, because I have the coolest, most supportive mom circle)

Parent teacher conferences were this week, but thankfully I only have to attend these right now for my easier child. Call me terrible for saying that all you want, but I spent 30 minutes this morning arguing with my 4 year old about why she can’t have candy corn for breakfast, so your ignorance is not welcome here.

My conference was pretty smooth sailing. My son does well academically, follows directions most of the time and typically gets along good with others, all things I already knew before being reassured by his teacher. But the one thing she said that stuck with me, was how much he talks about his sister. She said it’s very apparent how much he cares about her, and when they are given treats or rewards he’ll even ask if he can have one more for his little sister.

If I had a sensitive bone in my body, I’d probably have been a blubbering mess, but the wells in these eyes were dry per usual, so instead I left there simply reflecting on how far we’ve come in our little family and how close my kids really have become in the last 2 years. I also thought about how each of us was designed to be exactly what our little trio was going to need in this season of our life.

Living with my boy is like living with a middle aged man. He’s a kind, helpful little soul, who hates running late because of the women in the house but will still open doors for his mother and help his little sister pour her cereal. He grumbles when we have to make one extra stop on our way home, but never forgets to ask us how our days were. We’re in constant competition with who can be more witty, and his introverted/homebody personality balances out mine and his sister’s obnoxious need to socialize every minute of every day. (Apparently you can not actually die from spending an entire weekend home and not “on the go”…new information to both of us)

My daughter, the youngest and sassiest and smelliest of our trio, simultaneously keeps us laughing and on our toes. Homegirl will giggle at her own farts, tell you you’re pretty, hide her brother’s favorite toy and stomp her foot in rage at you when you call her out…all within a 7 minute time span. She once gave me the silent treatment because I threatened to take her out of gymnastics if she didn’t stop meowing at the other kids and pretending she was a cat during practice. It’s wild, but she is truly one of a kind, and I’m confident her strong will and sense of humor will be what gets her through the hard seasons in her life.

These two little humans were dealt a hand they didn’t deserve or ask for, but they continue to live with love and strength and grit despite all of it. They remind me daily that even though life is so much harder than we ever imagined it would be, we do have a choice in how we move forward. The three of us are still here for a reason, and we still have a lot to be grateful for.

Sometimes I don’t feel like I’ve actually earned the “single mom street cred.” My support system is BIG and STRONG, and I have more help than I could have ever asked for from my parents, my sister, my in-laws, nephews, nieces, extended family and close friends. Not only have they made it possible for me to work and maintain my sanity, but they’ve shown my kids the nurturing emotions that kids need when I didn’t have an ounce of any kind of emotion left in me. For that, I will forever be indebted to all of them.

Still though, I’ve come a long ways from that girl with the trembling hands, driving alone with two kids down the interstate, and my only hope now is that Jesse is proud of how I’m raising them, proud of how far we’ve all come, and proud of the amazing humans our kids are growing to be.

I know I am.

Dear Amanda, How Do I Help My Newly Widowed Friend?

It’s been awhile since I’ve been active here. I wanted my next blog post to be centered on something other than grief and loss, because there is so much more to me and my life than the very worst thing that has ever happened to me. But in the past couple months I’ve had three different people reach out to me asking what they can do for their recently widowed friends, and all of these thoughts have been floating around in my head, so I figured I might as well put them together into something that might be able to help someone else.

I also know how important it is to have a good support system. I have a solid group of friends who have had my back and a family who has done everything they can to help me adjust to my new normal. Life took away my person, but it strengthened old relationships as well as gave me new meaningful ones, and I wouldn’t have made it through the past year and a half without all of them..and for that I am so grateful.

My heart breaks a little each time I get a call or message telling me someone new has been added to this club that no one wants to be a part of. It’s such an awful feeling knowing the pain that someone else is about to endure, and the harsh reality of it all is that this isn’t something that can be fixed or undone. I also can only offer advice based on my own experience, which in retrospect isn’t much, because there are as many ways to grieve as there are people living in this world. But hopefully, if anything, by giving you my perspective I can help you to put yourself in their shoes, even just a little bit, and offer yourself from a place of grace instead of judgement.


First and foremost, understand that grief is like a fingerprint, completely unique to the person navigating it. There is no timeline for it, no way around it, and no right or wrong way to do it. It is also incredibly unpredictable and way more complicated than you could ever even begin to imagine. You assume that the big “firsts” like holidays and anniversaries are going to suck for them, and you’re probably right, but sometimes it’s the little things, like having half the amount of laundry to do and twice the amount of leftovers that will have them bursting into tears in the middle of the day. This is why right off the bat I’m going to tell you to let go of any assumptions or expectations you have on how these first few months or even years are going to go. Maybe they had a picture perfect marriage and are filled mainly with sadness, or maybe their marriage was hard and toxic and they have been hit with a great deal of anger and confusion. There will be good days and bad days and in between days and all of this is OK because their one and only job is to survive each day ahead.

Our society is super uncomfortable with discomfort, and we tend to prefer sad stories that end with some huge triumph vs sad stories that are just…well..sad. I am no exception to this. In fact I used to genuinely believe that any bad day could be fixed with the perfect inspirational quote. Your boss is being a jerk? “Everything happens for a reason.” Car took a shit? “God has a plan.” Oh your Husband just died? “Believe you can and your halfway there!” This is why right after Jesse passed I was determined to stay strong and keep my emotions in check. Those closest to me would tell me it was ok to cry and to feel whatever I needed to feel, but I thought no way, not me. Don’t you remember who I am?? I am Amanda, queen of positivity and professional inspirational quote sharer. I will somehow grab these lemons that are full on beating me in the face from every direction, turn them into lemonade, and become the very BEST at grief. After all, I’m already fine! I feel nothing!

Which was not completely false. I did indeed feel nothing. But I was not at all fine. Good God was I not. Which leads me to my next topic..

It’s probably going to be weeks or even months from now, after everyone else has backed off and gone back to their normal everyday lives, because your friend has convinced them they are fine, that they will need you the most.

When we experience trauma, our minds and our bodies have this way of enabling us to numb and detach ourselves from the world around us. It’s like our brains just instinctively know we are not ready for the intense emotions that follow a significant loss. This was me for about the first 4-5 months after Jesse’s suicide, and while everyone around me viewed it as “strength,” I felt almost inhuman, like my house could literally be burning down around me and I would just sit in the middle of it thinking to myself “oh cool, this is what we’re doing today.”

And even worse than that was the fact that this detachment did not discriminate, and often times it would even include the most important humans in my life…my kids. It’s painful to even think back on it, and there will be some who read this and think I’m a terrible person, but the hard things that no one wants to talk about seem to have become my forte, and honestly the parent who needs to hear that they’re not alone in this is more important to me than the opinion of the person who has no idea what any of this is like.

It was during this season that I really needed the people who loved my kids like their own to step up, and they DID. They showed them those nurturing emotions that kids need, when I didn’t have a drop of any kind of emotion left in me, and for that I can never repay them. Your friend might need this too, but chances are they won’t even realize what’s happening until after the fog starts to lift, so if you’re ever questioning whether or not you should show their kids a little more love..the answer is always yes.

And then when this fog does start to lift like I just mentioned, buckle up because you might be in for a hell of a ride. My first grief counselor actually told me when I was about 6 months out, Amanda grief will make you crazy so you need to be careful about the choices you’re making. I was honestly offended because I didn’t sign up for insults, but she was right, I was crazy at times. I don’t want you to become anyone’s emotional punching bag, but I do hope you can offer grace when grace is needed, even if it’s from afar. When we’re hurting we pretty much become professionals at hurting others. So don’t take anything personally and trust that somewhere under that half sad, half angry, lonely, bitter, ugly crying, snot dripping, hasn’t showered in days demon, is your friend. This is when they are going to need you the most.

Something else they are probably going to really need, is someone who is ok with talking about their spouse’s life AND maybe even their death. I always laugh when someone says something that makes me think aloud of Jesse, and they respond with “sorry for bringing it up.” Piece of advice # whatever we are on…you cannot “bring it up,” because they haven’t forgotten. Even in moments of genuine fun and happiness, somewhere in the back of their mind sits their person. Happiness can exist alongside of sadness because one does not negate the other, and this duality will eventually become their new reality as they learn how to give themselves permission to live again. I know in your eyes this might seem like such a tragedy that we will spend the rest of our lives this way, but in our world this is a bittersweet thing. Grief is the ultimate price we pay for deeply loving another human being, and the permanent scar that we will always carry on our hearts is proof that what we had was real and significant and it mattered. And honestly once you learn to accept this, it becomes a little easier to stand back up when life brings you to your knees. So don’t be afraid to bring them up and speak their name. We don’t want them to be forgotten.

Speaking of duality, can we just talk about the #1 thing that everyone wants to ask but is too afraid to ask…When is it ok for your widowed friend to start dating?? I feel like I could actually cover this part with one simple statement—This area of their life is NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS, but what fun would it be if we didn’t address how awkward and straight up terrifying it is to unexpectedly find yourself single and a part of the ridiculous world of dating.

I will never forget the first time I entered a bar and realized I was technically “available.” I was completely taken aback by the first male who approached me..didn’t he know I was married?!!! Oh wait. I’m not. Holy hell. How did I get here? Two months ago my Friday nights were spent on the couch next to the person I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. I never in a million years thought I’d ever be “single” again EVER, and now here I am in this bar making awkward eye contact with a stranger. And I kind of like it, but also my brain has decided this would be a good time to be reminded of every insecurity I’ve ever had, and honestly are you sure this isn’t adultery BECAUSE IT FEELS LIKE IT. Do I even try to flirt? I don’t know how to flirt! How much eye contact is too much eye contact? Are we still doing the playful punching thing in our thirties?? WHAT DO I DO WITH MY HANDS?!

It is all so weird and uncomfortable and believe me when I say, you do not have to convince them to feel guilt and shame when they start to navigate this uncharted territory. They will do plenty of that all on their own. I also completely get where the hesitation on accepting this comes from, I really do! We are constantly questioning our worth, and often when someone finds new love after loss it is viewed as a replacement. This causes some to wonder well jeepers am I as irreplaceable as I thought?? The answer is absolutely YES, we all are. Because it’s not a replacement and it IS possible to miss what you had while still loving what you have.

Whether someone waits a few months or a few years has nothing to do with the value they place on their past. They might be looking to simply feel the touch of someone’s hand again or yes, they might actually be seeking a new love. Either way, it takes a lot of fucking guts to open up your heart again knowing that you’re also opening up to the possibility of experiencing that same unbearable pain once more. So instead of judging or putting in your two cents, get the bottle of wine ready for the first time they need to spill the beans about the cute guy at the bar that made them realize they are still actually capable of feeling something other than heartache.





Choosing life after death has closed a chapter is the hardest thing your friend will ever have to do. The way that they view life and the world around them will never be the same. The days ahead are going to be extremely painful. But I promise, it does get better, and you simply being there through it all is going to be enough.

A Widow’s Survival Guide-17 Tips For Year One

The one year mark for my husband’s death is approaching, and I’m slightly panicking. I mean, I was under the impression that this was the “hard” year, and if I could just make it through this one then I would magically start pissing unicorns and rainbows again, and also completely have my shit together. As of this morning, the unicorns still haven’t shown up, my kids ate last night’s popcorn for breakfast, and the only real life goal I have is mustering up the courage to clean the last of Jesse’s cigarette ashes out of his pickup’s cup holder. Because even though they keep getting all over me and the bottoms of my coffee mugs, those dumb ashes [that I used to nag him about daily] make me feel like a piece of him is still here….and wiping them away feels like wiping the last of him away. ALSO my motherinlaw just pointed out the other day that after year one we will never again be able to say “at this time last year Jesse was still alive,” and that hit me HARD. I’m not sure where this accepted norm of grieve for one year and then get it together came from, but I’m 100% sure this is going to be just one more failure I have in terms of successful adulting. There’s so much I wish I could go back and tell my one year ago self, and my heart breaks for all the newby widows out there who have been thrown into this messy journey and are being told all of the same ridiculous things. I still remember those first few very dark months like they were yesterday.

Your soulmate is gone. Your world has been turned completely upside down. Everytime you get out of bed your entire body aches with sadness. It scares you that some mornings you wish you just wouldn’t have woken up. You know that nothing will ever be the same, and because of that, you have no idea how to even begin to put your life back together. But you better believe you’re gonna figure it out in the next 365 days because THAT’S THE RULE.

Totally kidding. I mean I’m not, people do actually believe this, but I don’t think there is an actual time frame for any type of grief. There is no other side or end destination to reach. You simply learn to exist in a new normal of duality, missing what was while having gratitude for what is. But just in case you’ve been fed this bullcrap too and have that same ultimate goal of getting your poop in a group by the one year anniversary of the worst day of your life, I’m going to share a few pieces of advice I was given that were actually helpful to me during my first year without my person….and maybe some random things I somehow managed to figure out on my own.

Your year one survival guide:

  1. Grief is like a fingerprint. In case no one has told you yet, there really isn’t a right or wrong way to do this. Every grief journey is unique to the person walking it. Maybe you had the picture perfect marriage, and in the days ahead will be overwhelmed mostly with sadness, missing what was and grieving the future you had planned with the love of your life. Maybe your marriage was hard and rocky and even full of trauma, so your grief is more complicated, and the person and the future you are missing are actually more of what you hoped and felt they could be, rather than what they really were. OR maybe you’re somewhere in between. Our society likes to think everything is black and white, but most things really aren’t. So just remember there are as many ways to grieve as there are people living in this world, and your walk is yours and yours alone.
  2. What other people have to say about you is none of your damn business. There will be people who think they know exactly what you should be doing in your time of grief, and they will be very verbal about it. Maybe not always to you, but it will somehow make its way back to you. These same people are almost always the ones who still get to go home to their person every night, have supper with them, tell them about their day and then fall asleep peacefully next to them. They will be judgemental, self-righteous, and sometimes even cruel. FORGIVE THEM anyway. Not just because they truly are ignorant to what it’s like being on this side of loss, but because your peace and your healing are worth your complete and undivided attention, and you don’t have the time to be messing around with things you can’t control. After all, we’re on a one year time crunch here!
  3. You have one job. For some reason we’ve set this standard that we should be able to turn every lemon into lemonade, and if we can’t there’s something wrong with us. I think that’s crap. Sometimes REALLY bad things happen, and all you can do is simply say this sucks, I fucking hate this, and ride out the waves until they pass. I honestly can’t tell you how I’ve gotten through the past 8,760 hours, but I know every moment I didn’t think I was going to survive I did, and so will you. It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok if all you did in a day is just make it through it. You’re going to have good days and bad days and in between days, and on each of them your one and only job will still be to simply survive. You are stronger than you think, and you will make it through. I promise.
  4. Grief brain is real. Walking into a room and not remembering what you came for. Losing your train of thought mid-sentence. Not even being able to put words together to make an actual sentence. Looking at something as dumb as an apple and not remembering what it’s called….all completely normal thanks to your new dysfunctional brain that will probably never work right again.
  5. It’s actually not ok to throw produce at the elderly couple holding hands in the grocery store.
  6. Suffocated by love. I hope you have a family as amazing as mine, who loves and supports you through this emotional shitshow. If you don’t, I’m truly sorry, you deserve better, and remember family isn’t always by blood. But if you do, just be warned that in those first few months they will take that large amount of unconditional love and smother you like peanut butter on toast. You might have parents that worry too much and still as they watch your very mature and independent (80% of the time) adult self drive off in your Chevy crew cab pickup, they picture the little girl with the giant green glasses and blonde ponytail down to her butt, riding off to the swimming pool on her white and teal mountain bike. Or maybe it’s an overly protective older sister, who sometimes mistakes you for her first born child and has made it her mission to never let anyone or anything cause you this kind of pain again. They all really do have your best interest at heart, even if sometimes you disagree about what is best for you and your new life. So set boundaries. Stand up for yourself when needed. But also give them a little grace. Because they really don’t know how else to be there for you. All they want is to take your pain away, and the harsh reality that they can’t, that there is literally nothing they can do to fix this, has them drowning in worry and helplessness.
  7. The little things. You’re already prepared for holidays and birthdays and anniversaries to suck, but you don’t expect to be blindsided by the first time you make your grocery list and realize you can leave off the Mountain Dew and Little Debbies. Things as dumb as having half the amount of laundry to do and twice the amount of leftovers at meal times will hit you in the gut like a ton of bricks. I still can’t bring myself to watch any of our favorite tv shows. Your spouse was intertwined in every part of your routine, and you’re going to be reminded of this daily for a really long time.
  8. It’s ok to laugh. I wish you so many deep, pee-your-pants-tears-rolling-down-your-face, belly laughs in the months to come. Not because they are a sign that you’re “moving on” or “over it” [they’re not] but because they are just plain old good for the soul.
  9. Having a conversation with your husband’s ashes at 1 am to tell him how INCREDIBLY PISSED OFF you are that he pulled such an ASSHOLE MOVE by leaving you to face this insane world BY YOURSELF is NOT crazy. It’s normal. And sometimes necessary.
  10. Well well well, if it isn’t those feelings I’ve been trying to avoid. When it comes to those “I’m fine” castles that so many of us build around ourselves, I’m pretty much the Queen, so I’m not really sure why I feel qualified to talk about this topic, but I’m going to anyway! Take it from an expert, you can distract yourself with trips and work and people and shopping sprees, and you can self medicate with wine or whatever it is you’re into, but those negative feelings you are avoiding will eventually find you, and when you let them build and build, they tend to come in like a freaking wrecking ball and will wipe you out for days and even weeks. What I’ve learned with sadness and anger, is when I force myself to sit with them for awhile, I can finally let them go.
  11. That awful feeling deep in the pit of your stomach won’t be there forever. Someone told me this at the very beginning of my journey, and I didn’t believe her until the day actually came when it really was just, for no specific reason..gone.
  12. You will never be the same. Your view on life and the world around you is going to change considerably, so as you slowly start to put yourself back together, the pieces will probably get put back differently. That’s ok. Just remember in your own hurt you’ve pretty much become a professional at hurting others, and it’s a thin line to cross over for becoming someone you actually don’t want to be. My BFF Bri who has experienced every parent’s worst nightmare with the loss of a child once fed me the perfect tough love line when she said, “You can either let it totally fuck up your life, or you can go forward with purpose.” You do have that choice, and no matter how many times you cross that line, you can always find your way back.
  13. Move over Beyoncé. Number 13 is probably not going to be anyone’s favorite. You’ll get to the end and say I guess she had some good points, except for #13. I hate #13. She should have left #13 out of this! But it’s something that has consistently held true for me throughout the past year, so I felt like I really needed to include it. I know the last thing you want to do on your darkest days is shower or exercise or even put on pants, but I did find that when I forced myself to do these things, it actually did make a difference. I mean, the fact that exercise boosts your mood through endorphins is LITERALLY science, but taking care of myself physically in any way really did help…sometimes a great deal and sometimes only a tiny bit, but relief is relief on your lowest days. I’m not saying strive for perfection on this, you will have days where you absolutely can’t bring yourself to do anything, and that’s ok. I’m also not talking about running marathons or primping yourself for a beauty pageant. My kids and I like to have dance parties in our living room when one of us is having a bad day (Meredith & Cristina were onto something), and for the first time in my life, I bought teeth whitening kits that I’ll probably use wrong at some point and end up looking like Ross in that one episode of Friends. Small things can be big things when you’re hanging on by a thread. So put on the mascara. Go for the walk. Take the yoga class. Make that hair appointment. Dance it the F out. Just don’t give up.
  14. Embrace the lonely. I remember the very second after Jesse died, feeling like half of me went with him. My entire identity was wrapped up in who we were as a couple, and I had no idea who I was as an individual. You’re going to hate hearing this harsh truth, but it’s on your most gut-wrenchingly, loneliest days that the biggest personal growth will happen and you will learn the most about yourself. The good news is, in the long run, this will turn out to be a beautiful thing, because self awareness is going to be a big part of your healing. Walking into a public place alone used to give me a full on panic attack and now at least once a month I take myself out on a date, whether it’s to dinner or just to belly up to a bar and people watch. Even though I’m totally weird and awkward I love meeting new people, especially those who make me laugh, because I believe laughter truly is the best medicine. I have a newfound appreciation for music and have realized I actually love concerts and live music. I love sunrises and sunsets, road trips with my tiny humans, drinking coffee in the quiet of my backyard and sitting in bed with a glass of wine watching trashy reality tv after the kids have gone to bed. A year ago I knew none of these things about myself, or I at least didn’t pay attention to them. Open up your heart and your mind to finding out who YOU really are and learn to love that person. Take yourself on dates. Figure out what brings you joy and give yourself permission to do it. Life is short and time is precious and nothing is guaranteed. But you already knew that, because life shoved that reality down your throat the day your person died.
  15. I’ll see your awkward, and raise you an inappropriate dead husband joke. People are weird about death, and they certainly don’t like to talk about it. So don’t be surprised by the appalled looks, when you finally grow tired of people asking what your husband does for a living and start answering with “THAT MOFO HASN’T LIFTED A FINGER IN MONTHS”….and then of course precede to tell them you’re only messing with them, he died. There will be only a few very special people in your circle who will share in your dark humor. Hold on to them for dear life.
  16. If you would’ve known better you would’ve done better. I used to think suicide widows were unique in the amount of guilt that is tacked on to our grief, but I’ve learned that this dirty G word is actually ruining lives everywhere. There are so many what if’s in every scenario, and self forgiveness is probably one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to healing. I hope for you just as much as I do myself, that one day you can truly forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know at the time…for not making him go to the doctor sooner; for not seeing the signs that she was depressed; for not being the one in the drivers seat; for not calling for help soon enough; for not knowing that the last time was going to be the last time you would get to hug him or kiss him or say I love you. You are no more and no less human than the rest of us, and you do deserve to let that guilt go.
  17. Welcome to the club. It didn’t take long for me to realize that when you join the widow world you basically become a part of a super sucky club full of really cool and amazing people. A club that none of us actually want to be a part of, but we’re here nonetheless, so we look out for each other. I’m so insanely grateful to those in the club who have reached out to me in the past year. There is comfort to be found in people who truly “get it.”

It’s awful, looking at someone else who’s about to walk into these flames and knowing the hell they’re about to endure. I wish I could say that we’ve all collaborated to come up with the perfect blueprint for navigating your way through it to help you avoid having to feel the intense and maddening pain of loss, but unfortunately that just isn’t how this works. One of my “widow mentors” (If that’s not a thing it should be a thing) once told me, there is no way around grief, you have to hit it head on, and you and only you are the one who can push yourself through it. My goal in writing this was never to tell you how to heal. My truth and my experience are mine and vice versa, and you need to learn how to navigate this, in your own time and in your own way.

And one last thing, from one widow to another,

I’m sorry you’re here. I’m sorry you’ve been forced on this walk you never wanted to take. I’m sorry that life has punched you in the face and given you the worst lemons you’ve ever tasted. I’m sorry for every time you will wake up and reach over to their side of the bed, only to find it’s still empty. I’m sorry you’ve had to pay the ultimate price that comes with allowing yourself to love someone so deeply. I’m sorry, so incredibly sorry, you lost your person.

It’s complicated.

I’ve almost done it. The last big “first” without Jesse that we have to make it through is almost here. Twelve out of twelve first holidays/birthdays/anniversaries DONE. Yes, two weeks after Jesse died I actually picked up a calendar and counted them out, because if there is one thing my parents taught me that stands out it’s PREPARE FOR YOUR FUTURE AMANDA, so that’s just what I did…and to my dismay there would be at least one (sometimes 2!) EVERY F’ING MONTH until July. I had no idea how I was going to survive the next 9 months, but I knew if I found a way and somehow made it through them all, then I would magically feel better and be back to shitting rainbows and unicorns like my old self. It’s that simple RIGHT?!?? (Breathe if yes. Recite the alphabet backwards in Japanese if no).

It’s ironic to me that Jesse’s birthday happens to be the last of the firsts, because I actually dreaded his birthday every year. I know that’s going to sound terrible and bitchy and selfish…and maybe it is, but I’ve yet to sugar coat anything when it comes to his death and our struggles and as hard as it can be to talk about, I’m not about to start now. Who Jesse was at his core was a good, good man, and I loved him fiercely, but during the times that he’d hit rock bottom there were sides of him that came out that I hated. And every year on his birthday, that is exactly what seemed to happen.

Before I go any deeper into this, I just want to say that for a long time I felt completely alone in the fact that my grief often feels very complicated. I miss my husband terribly, and I’d do those 10 years with him all over again to have known and loved him. But our relationship was far from perfect, our difficult times were REALLY difficult, there were lies and betrayals and in his death I was left with a lot of questions that will never get answered. On top of my sadness has been a great deal of anger and resentment, and I know now that there are many others who have experienced a similar grief journey. So if that’s you too, with the extremely mixed emotions, the unanswered questions and the closure that will never come, please hear me when I say, you are not alone, and this post is for you.

Jesse and I were a rollercoaster from the very beginning. Our connection was just as much a shock to us as it was everyone else. I was your typical conforming, people pleasing, good girl with the happy childhood and perfectly planned out future. Jesse was the rebellious bad boy with a dark past and sexy AF sometimes brown/sometimes green eyes, who drove a crotch rocket and assumed he’d either be dead or in prison by the age of 25. (Literally his own words) He showed me a side of him though that only a select few, special to him, people got to see, and I knew under that tough guy image was a silly, kind hearted man just trying to find his place in this world.

We fell in love fast and hard, and at 21 years old I was completely naive to what loving someone with addiction struggles and a traumatic childhood actually entailed. I knew about all of it from the very beginning, but in my mind I was going to be the one to “save” him. He’d change, just as he promised he would, and we’d live out a normal life that met the societal standards of grown up jobs, white picket fences and 1.5 children. I laugh and look back now at my young, dumb self, and think HOLD ON HOMEGIRL, because you’re about to go for a ride!

Our entire relationship consisted of extreme highs and lows. When things were good, and Jesse was sober and in a good place mentally, they were really, really good. He was kind and attentive and made sure that we knew how much he loved us. We’d go on adventures as a family or as a couple and laugh and make fun of each other and talk about our future, which always planted in me a seed of hope. But when times got tough, they were really, really tough. Jesse would sink into deep depressions for weeks and even sometimes months, and random dates like his birthday would trigger it. I’d find him in tears in the shower or on our back step. He’d tell me he knew that he had so much to be grateful for and that he loved us, but he still couldn’t escape the pain and the thoughts of wanting to end it. To this day I don’t think he felt he actually deserved any of the good that he had in his life. He also often turned to alcohol to escape and numb the pain, and it made him distant, irritable and angry. I’m not sure at what point I accepted this as my normal, but I did.

You hold on through the lows with the anticipation of the highs.

I did eventually decide that I wasn’t going to be a victim of my circumstances, and I learned how to take responsibility for my own happiness, despite which version of Jesse was going to show up that day. I had to in order to survive. For a long time I was also close minded and thought mental illness was easy to fix if the person just tried hard enough, and addiction wasn’t a disease but a choice. But after living it long enough I realized I was wrong…so fucking wrong. I could see it in his face and hear it in his voice every time we talked about the negative things going on inside of his head. I wanted so badly to help him, but I too was drained and finally realizing that I couldn’t give him the help he needed.

Six days before Jesse completed suicide, he came home and confessed to me that he had been using drugs off and on again. He had finally admitted to himself and to me that he had a problem and he couldn’t do this on his own. He said he wanted to seek professional help and take his life back. I was COMPLETELY BLINDSIDED…how could this be happening and I not know it? I was so dumbfounded, and he actually begged me to get yell and to scream and to let him have it. But all I could do was look at him and say “I’m just so tired babe.” I had no idea what I was going to do, and it honestly didn’t matter, because three days later Jesse’s brain would begin to fail him and the psychotic breakdown would begin, and three days after that I would lose him forever.

Jesse was a complicated person who had a very complicated past and an even more complicated death. He was an addict. He was someone who struggled immensely with mental illness. And those two things could bring out the worst in him. But he was also the type of guy who would go out of his way to be kind to the elderly. He had a unique connection to animals that I believed truly showed the kindness in his soul. He volunteered hours of his time and energy to help our friends build a memorial garden for the baby girl they lost to SIDS. He believed in doing the right thing and always giving 100%. He was the hardest worker I’ve ever met. He loved his mom. He showed a side of him I’d never seen after our kids were born, giving everything he had to make sure they were taken care of. He was my best friend, and he knew me better than anyone.

We want things to be black and white, especially the difficult things, because it makes them easier to understand, but rarely is that the case. I wouldn’t wish this pain of losing someone you love in this terrible, tragic way on even my worst enemy, but if I can use it to help someone else I will.

Life is so much harder and messier than we ever imagined it would be. But inspite of this, I know there’s still so much good to be found.

To The Girl Who Didn’t Know Better, I Forgive You

It’s been almost 6 months since I lost my person. A half a year since I’ve kissed him, woken up next to him, or heard him say the words I love you babe. And it feels like just yesterday and a million years ago all at the same time. The grief time warp is weird like that, but when you lose your spouse, everything about your life seems to change. Sometimes I even feel like I lost so much of my identity when Jesse died, which is pretty dramatic, but it’s the honest truth. I spent 10 years as either Jesse’s girlfriend or Jesse’s fiancé or Jesse’s wife, and then in an instant I was handed the “widow card” and became none of those things. All of a sudden I’m left to figure out who the hell I am apart from him, as a “me” instead of an “us.” It’s weird, sad, uncomfortable and mentally exhausting.

Marriage is definitely not for the faint of heart, but I loved being Jesse’s wife. If you told me a year ago that someday I’d miss finding his stinky socks right next to the hamper (instead of actually in it) I’d have said you were NUTS. It’s true though, I miss it all, the good and the bad. I’d even let him shove the blanket over my head after he ripped ass one more time if it meant one more conversation at the supper table, one more hug goodbye, one more opportunity to lay on his chest and listen to his heartbeat while watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory…a huge mistake we make in this life is assuming there will always be one more.

It’s hard to explain the rollercoaster of emotions that you experience when you lose someone to suicide. And even though every grief journey is as unique as a fingerprint, I can confidently guess that there is one emotion that is more present than all the others for every suicide survivor….GUILT.

Jesse struggled with PTSD, depression and addiction for as long as I’d known him. The trauma from his childhood haunted him, and it was almost like he would use whatever he could to escape his reality and numb the pain..sometimes it was drugs, sometimes it was alcohol, sometimes it was even video games. I knew that things would even get so dark from time to time that thoughts of ending his life would creep in and that was scary. For many years he was resistant to getting professional help, and I was completely in over my head thinking I could be the one to help him, but I loved him and knew that he loved me, and I hoped that would eventually be enough. (In case you’re new to this, that’s not how addiction or mental illness work)

The first time my grief counselor asked me when I started walking on water I was completely taken aback..I mean YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE MY FRIEND CAROL!! Now you’re accusing me of thinking I’m Jesus!?? But she was right. I spent many years thinking I was capable of saving Jesse, desperately trying to hold on to him. To keep him here. To convince him that living was better than not living. And when I couldn’t. When he’d fall back into the depths of depression and addiction, I’d feel like it was my fault. Like somehow I wasn’t enough or I didn’t do enough or say enough of the right things. Like it was my sole job to fix him. It sounds silly when I say it out loud now, but at the time I was doing what I needed to do to survive a situation I didn’t at all understand.

On October 1st, 2017 my worst nightmare came true when Jesse took his life. And when I realized it wasn’t all just a bad dream, I wasn’t going to wake up, it wasn’t just a sick joke he was playing on me..the guilt started to flood in and completely consume me. The what if’s, why’s, should have’s and would have’s were all I could think about. I didn’t know that emotional pain could make my entire body physically hurt. And even though Jesse is the one who pulled the trigger that morning, I felt 100% responsible for his death.

This is the reality of suicide. The pain doesn’t disappear, it simply gets passed on to someone else.

I had spoken with one of our close friends a few days before Jesse died and asked her for some advice. It was a quick conversation and there was no way she could have known how badly we were struggling, because I didn’t share that with her. I simply took in her response and that was that. Some time after his death, this same friend and I were talking on the phone, and that conversation got brought up. With an intense sadness in her voice she asked me if I was mad at her for not asking more questions that day about why I needed her help. I had been so consumed by my own grief that I had no idea anyone else had been carrying the same burden of guilt for so long. My heart hurt so badly for her, and my thoughts turned to other conversations I’d had. I realized there were so many others I’d brushed off who felt the exact same way as she and I both did…

The friend who sensed something was wrong when she gave him a hug that Friday before. The buddy he had spoken with on the phone less than 24 hours before. The ones who said they wondered if they could have said more or listened more. His mom. My parents. So many people who loved and cared for him and who were also asking themselves those same questions I had spent weeks playing over and over in my head.

But the reality is we’re all holding on to guilt that doesn’t belong to any of us. Just like Jesse spent all those years carrying around shame that didn’t belong to him. We couldn’t love his problems away. Like I said earlier, that’s not how it works.

Jesse didn’t want to die. In fact, just days before his death he told me he was finally ready to start living. He backed those words with actions (something he never did) by attending an AA/NA meeting and even calling around to different therapists in our area. He said he was ready to do whatever it took to take his life back, even if that meant in patient treatment. He wanted to be there to teach our son to hunt and fish and to walk our daughter down the aisle.

This part is important. This is not how Jesse wanted his story to end, and it should be him here using it to help bring awareness and encourage others, NOT the absence of him.

I miss my husband. My kids miss their dad. And I will keep sharing our story over and over and over again if it means sparing even one family from this heartbreak. If you are the “me” in your story, please know that you are not alone, you don’t have to do this alone, and it is ok to forgive yourself. If you are the “Jesse” in your story, please choose life, accept the help, and be here tomorrow.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Before My Dad Died

There was a time in my life when I was incredibly confident in my abilities as a mother. I knew exactly what it took to be the perfect parent who raised perfect children. AND THEN…I actually had kids. One unexpected day, (sometime around the beginning of June 2011) I became pregnant and nine months later birthed a REAL LIFE child and holy fuck, shit got real. FAST. I was no longer just using my imagination to raise my future non-existent children…I was officially a MOM and responsible for another human life. Whose idea was it to trust me with this!?! And if that wasn’t crazy enough, I decided to gamble a little bit more and have a second one 2.5 years later. Because if you screw the first one up, it’s always good to have one more try at it, right? 

There’s so much you can’t prepare yourself for until you’re actually in the trenches of parenthood. Have you ever caught diarrhea mid-air in the palm of your hands? Well I have, and it’s definitely as awful as it sounds. One time I actually watched my daughter dip her head in a toilet full of pee. She LITERALLY gave herself a swirly. Tiny humans really are appalling and fascinating all at the same time. In the midst of the crying, whining, puking, poop, mischief and boogers, they can still manage to turn you into an instant puddle with a simple “I wuv you mom.” I wish I could tell all the soon-to-be parents out there that there’s a handbook to get you through every crazy adventure of parenthood, but I truly don’t believe there is any way of predicting or preparing for all of the crap that gets thrown your way.

The moment I had to tell my 5 year old son his dad died was one that will be permanently burned into my memory forever. Watching his little chest move in and out so fast and hard as he tried to choke back his tears and hold it together in front of was one of the worst moments of my life, and I’ve spent every day since worrying about what’s going on in his little mind. I’ve been told he’s reacting and responding like any kid his age would, but naturally as a mom the reassurance of a “professional with decades of experience” isn’t enough. I still over analyze everything he says and does and wonder daily if I’m totally screwing him up. 

T loves to talk about his dad, and it’s been through our conversations that I’ve realized our lives are now forever divided into a before and after. In his little mind, we have the “Before my dad died” memories and then the ones that have come after. He’ll look up at me out of nowhere while he’s playing some days and say, “Hey mom, remember before my dad died” and rattle off some random thing that must have popped into his head. The boy’s memory is insane, he remembers things I don’t, and the wonderful thing about a 5 year old’s perspective is that they typically choose to remember the good. 

In the first three months after Jesse’s death, I found myself drowning in the memories that were tainted by addiction, substance abuse and depression. It wasn’t what I wanted to focus on, but grief is a bitch and unfortunately there is no way of avoiding whatever particular stage you’re in. What is fortunate though, is that I have my boy to remind me that in spite of the bad, there was also so much GOOD. His conversations about the “before” include things like our camping trips, the rope swing at one of our favorite lakes, packing up half the house just to spend a day fishing, how much we loved living on the farm, Sunday morning pancakes and the fact that his dad was a much better driver than me. Jesse was more than his struggles. He was a husband. A dad. A son. A friend. The type of guy who pulled the car over to help a turtle across the road. His presence and his time here mattered. 

It’s scary and overwhelming right now to think about our “after” without him, because so much is unknown. But I do have a huge support system, and even though some days are incredibly lonely, not once have I felt completely alone. When you experience a loss of this magnitude, it’s like you become a part of this club full of really cool and amazing people. A club that no one actually wants to be a part of, but we are due to no choice of our own, so we instinctively learn how to take care of the newbies…those who have been suddenly thrust onto this walk that they never wanted to take. 

My best friend Bri is pretty much like a soulmate if friends could be a soulmate (SORRY HUSBANDS). She’s the Cristina to my Meredith. The PB to my J. The chip to my guacamole. That one person I can say anything to and not be judged no matter how twisted it is. In fact, she finds my awkwardness and inappropriateness hilarious because we are one in the same in that sense. And when Jesse died, she was just there. Most days it felt like all I had to do was give her a look and she knew exactly what to do..because she gets it. 

Bri very tragically lost her first child, a daughter, to SIDS when she was only 2 months old. She’ll tell you that what I’m going through is way worse, and I’ll tell you there’s no way because what she went through had to be worse, but in reality they are both unimaginable things that shouldn’t be a part of anyone’s life story. Parents shouldn’t outlive their kids and wives shouldn’t lose their husbands at 32 years old. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. 

A day or two after Jesse died she, myself and my sister were driving in my sister’s Tahoe on our way to get our outfits for Jesse’s funeral (because EVERY occasion is a shopping occasion), and I remember looking back at her and letting her know that seeing where she is now, 7 years later, knowing how far she’s come and how she was able to find her happy again, it gave me hope that I was going to survive this. I WOULD survive this. Isn’t it incredible how even the tiniest humans can have an impact on someone else’s life? I still think of sweet little Autumn every day. She is proof that your time in this world matters, no matter how long or short it is. 

Jesse suffered terrible trauma as a kid at the hands of someone who was supposed to be one of his number one protectors. It was unfair and something that can’t be made sense of. He let it define him well into adulthood and unfortunately his sad story would end up having an even sadder ending. 

The day my husband took his life I felt like his abuser had he had officially stolen Jesse’s entire life from him. And I know that if I stop living, then he keeps winning, so I won’t. If there is one thing I get right as a mom, it will be mustering up enough inner strength to show my kids that the terrible things that happen to us don’t have to define our whole life. That it’s ok to be sad, because the pain of missing their dad means we loved him, he was real and his presence in our lives was significant; but it’s also ok to laugh and to feel joy in our after. And that we can find our groove and our happy again. 

Because life is hard. And then it’s amazing. And then it’s tragic. And then it’s good again. And we do have a choice where we go from here. 

A New Widow’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays

I have at least one “first” every single month until August. You know the dreaded first times that you have to spend a holiday or celebration without someone. And I knew Christmas was going to be one of the toughest. You would think this would have been a hard time of year for our family because depression seems to get the best of people, but Jesse loved Christmas. He liked people to think he was a grump, but a true grump doesn’t sport a shit eating grin when they come home to find their wife has turned the house into Santa’s workshop. He always told me he loved how I made our house feel like a home….which apparently was linked directly to my seasonal decor and not to my burnt suppers and obsessive compulsive pattern for folding underwear. December has without a doubt been tough, but as I’ve managed to stumble my way through it, I feel like I’ve been able to create a little survival guide that maybe someone else could benefit from some day. So here it is…

Dreaded Item #1–The Tree.

I really dragged my feet with this one, even contemplated getting one of those stupid “upside down trees” that have created a social media uproar…you know, just to purposely piss a few people off because misery loves company; but after having it out with the lights for about 45 minutes I let the kids mostly do the rest and it didn’t feel so bad. Now we have a “partially decorated to as high as my son could reach” tree, and it’s the most beautiful Christmas tree you’ll ever see. I’m telling you, just pass this one on to the kids, they’ll love it. My son was SO pumped I even let him hang the very dangerous decorations with the pokey things {bulbs with small hooks}. I only let HIM, as I was afraid if I let his little sister handle them too they’d eventually get into an argument (they did) and she’d get stabby, and we’d end up in the ER, and I’d be known as THAT MOM who lets her kids play with sharp objects. I’m already THAT MOM who swears too much, worries too much and doesn’t know at 32 years old what she wants to be when she grows up, so I figured I better not hog all the glorious labels. That would be selfish.

Dreaded Task #2–Christmas Shopping.

I thought shopping by myself was going to be torture since my husband LOVED tagging along to make sure we spoiled the shit out of the kids, but then I remembered that I could do almost all of it from home. In sweatpants. While simultaneously stuffing my face with Doritos and chugging red wine like a classy lady. I highly recommend doing this even if you’re not a grieving widow, just don’t forget the taco dip like I did. Total rookie mistake that will never happen again.

Dreaded activity #3–Christmas Movies

I remember watching Home Alone for the first time with our boy last year and laughing with Jesse at how hard T was laughing at the pain and suffering of those dummy bandits. I’ve been wanting to ask him if he’d like to watch it together again, but I’ve yet to bring myself to do it. Because even though I love to spend 2 hours judging Kevin’s mom (who the hell completely forgets about one of their children and leaves on a plane for Paris), that empty seat next to me on the couch just makes it not the same. I still have the urge sometimes to reach over and nudge Jesse when the kids do something cute or funny. I miss having someone here who appreciates them on my level….being able to look at them and think “We created that!”

So instead of torturing yourself with those movies you loved watching together, I strongly suggest getting sucked into the Hallmark channel and torturing yourself with love story after love story. Finding yourself suddenly “available” can be something that’s really hard to wrap your mind around…I mean REALLY hard. And I feel like the best way to begin to process it is filling your head with unrealistic expectations on love and “dating” in 2017. Did I just say DATING? Yes. I did. I’ll give you a minute to let that one sink in…..Don’t worry, I freaked out too.

A little Hallmark spoiler: Megan will always realize she was meant to be with Derek by Christmas. Unless she’s been keeping it a secret that she’s one of Santa’s elves, in which case her ass is going straight back to the North Pole as soon as her work here is done.  

The worst thing of them all, #4–Gift Wrapping

Let me explain why this is the worst, because you’re probably confused. Imagine sitting down to wrap that first present to your kid, slapping on the first gift tag, and immediately feeling like someone socked you in the gut when you look down and stare at that empty space under the word FROM. Just like when you had to list each parent for their new school or their medical information at your new clinic. There’s only one name going there now. Yours. Because you are it. Your kids are growing up without their dad. They only have a mom. And that is the saddest, most F’d up thing about this whole scenario. They deserved better. They really did. And because of that, you will keep going. Just like you’ve had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, you keep wrapping through the tears and the anger, one present after the other, one “From Mom” after the other, until they’re done. And you can take a deep breathe and cross one more “first” off your list.

This isn’t just difficult and confusing for you, it is for them too, so you’re going to put on your big girl panties and do the hard shit. End of story.

And Finally,

Pro Tip–Limit Social Media

On any given day of the year it’s pretty easy to get your ego bruised by the highlight reels people post on their social media pages, so chances are if you’re caught in the scroll trance on one of your lowest days, you’re not going to walk away from it a better person. In fact, you might end up even more resentful, bitter and irrational than you were before. The dumbest things can set you off, like a mean quote shared on Facebook that states “If you single in December, you ugly.” Normally you would recognize that a not very smart person obviously made this up, due to the use of “you” instead of the grammatically correct “you’re” or “you are.” When you’re grieving, however, you have mastered the art of overthinking and immediately begin to panic, because you were not aware of these unspoken rules associated with no longer being attached to someone, and somehow in a matter of just a few months you went from married, to a sad widow, to a sad and single and ugly widow. Ouch. That really stings! And it will ruin your entire day and lead to you buying $200 of fancy makeup in an attempt to gain some confidence back if you’re not careful. So just find something else to fill your time until after the new year. I hear bird watching can be fun.

I know my situation is not unique or special. There are unfortunately others who are feeling the exact same way that I do this holiday season. And if that’s you, I just want you to know that it’s ok to not be ok, and it’s ok to make others be ok with you not being ok. Whether it’s copious amounts of wine, space and alone time, a vacation or a puppy, you do whatever you need to do to survive. You don’t owe anybody anything (except the tiny humans), and your one and only job is to make it to December 26th. Whatever it takes.

You’ve got this.