April 14, 2021

Jack Began on Growing Up With Grief and The Stigma of Suicide

In my debut podcast episode (recorded in a 2x4 closet), I am joined by my 19 year old son Jack as we discuss why he supports my writing and sharing about our life after the death of his father to suicide when he was 12. Jack and I open up about how my essay "The Backpack" featured in Option B offered healing to us yet opened up wounds from the past. We laugh, I try not to cry and we give an honest look into what life was really like the first few years after loss.

Jack covers reentering middle school after his dad died, the differences between middle school, high school and college for a kid who is grieving and the realities of growing up with the stigma of suicide attached to them.

I hope you listen and share with a widow friend who is raising children on their own. Please follow me on Instagram @thewidowproject as that is where I now blog. Thanks for listening!

March 31, 2020

A Suicide Survivors Response to Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson

Dear Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson,

As a widow whose husband died by suicide, a woman who has struggled with depression, a friend to so many whose loved ones have died and to those who struggle with mental health issues, I just wanted to share my thoughts after reading your USA Today Op Ed.

I don’t usually write about politics, instead I write about mental health awareness, surviving grief and hope. I don't care to read about it on social media, but your Op Ed crossed a line into lives for dollars and that I do have an opinion on.

In your USA Today Op Ed dated March 30, 2020, you wrote “each year approximately 48,000 Americans commit suicide and an estimated 67,000 die of drug overdose. That level of individual despair has occurred in a strong economy with near-record low levels of unemployment in virtually every demographic. Imagine the potential psychological and human toll if this shutdown continues indefinitely, unemployment reaches 20% or higher, as some now predict, and we sink into a deep recession or depression.”

Senator Johnson, what does suicide and drug overdose have to do with unemployment? Are you implying people will take their lives when unemployment reaches 20% or higher? Will opening businesses at a time when the CDC is begging us to stay home to save a life help those struggling with mental health conditions not take their own life? I’m confused as to why you even brought up suicide and drug overdose in your article? What is your point?

I’d like to share with you some things I have learned about suicide, depression and mental health.

1.     According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention’s Top 10 Tips for Reporting on Suicide  (www.afsp.org/journalists)
a.     There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.
b.     Do not use the word “committed,” instead, use “died by suicide” or “took his/her life.”
c.     Avoid reporting that a suicide death was “caused” by a single event, since research shows no one takes their life for one single reason, rather a combination of factors (which you can learn about at afsp.org/signs) – reporting a “cause” leaves the public with an overly simplistic and misleading understanding of suicide.
d.     Always provide helpline information –if you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or TEXT TALK to 741741.
Depression is a medical disease. There are DSM codes doctors and insurance companies must use when diagnosing mental health conditions. The FDA approves medication for depression and other mental health disorders. Doctors give patients medication for these diseases, just like they do for high blood pressure, lupus and cancer. According to TIME, clinical depression affects about 16 million people in the U.S. and global revenue for antidepressants is projected to grow to nearly $17 billion by 2020 (Time, Aug. 15, 2017). Some of the key players in the antidepressant drug market include Eli Lily ($LLY), Forest Laboratories ($FRX), Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and Pfizer (NYSE PFE). I guess the FDA approving drugs to help those with depression and the drug makers making them is currently helping the economy as these pharmaceutical companies are traded on the New York Stock Exchange and are in many of our mutual fund and stock portfolios.

Senator Johnson, you go on to to say “Every premature death is a tragedy, but death is an unavoidable part of life.”

Is this your message for the family and friends of the 3,178 people in the US who have died from the coronavirus? 

Are you telling the 176,518 people infected who are probably scared of dying and the health care workers risking their lives to save lives their death is no big deal? 

Are you telling all of us Americans who are doing our part social distancing and staying home from our jobs that the long term economic gain to open businesses now is more important than our family and neighbors lives? 

Are you going to tell every suicide survivor and family who lost a loved one to a drug overdose that you didn’t mean to add to the stigma and minimize our loved ones mental struggles and death in your Op Ed?

Please know your facts and do your research on suicide before you pen a letter where you single out and add to the stigma of those who struggle with mental health conditions and have lost their lives or loved ones to suicide.

As a woman who was born in Wisconsin, was raised and raised her children in Wisconsin and moved across the country to Connecticut to escape the stigma of suicide, I have to say I am thankful I am not your constituent and your opinions don’t represent mine or my compassionate, empathetic family and friends who still reside in the beautiful state of Wisconsin.

Empathy and kindness matters. 
Social distancing matters.
Saving lives matters.
Knowing the facts matters.
Not adding to the stigma matters.
Can't we all do our part?


Sandra Began

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 
at 1-800-273-8255 or TEXT TALK to 741741.

March 29, 2019

Love Belongs To All of Us: Why This Widow Chooses Love After Loss


Are we only given one chance?

We marry.
They die.
That's it.

This is the story many want us widows to accept.
You are not human anymore.
You are a widow.
You were handed a card that says "sorry honey...that was all you get."
You loved him.
You lost him.
Love doesn't belong to you anymore.

Oh no my loves.
Love belongs to all of us.
Love is a gift for all of us to give.
For all of us to receive.

Funny thing is us widows are amazing at love.
We know the pain of loss.
We know the pain of heartache and how to heal our broken hearts.
We know how to heal our children's broken hearts.
We treat love as the most precious gift we are given because we know how it feels for it to be taken away.
We cherish it.
We honor it.
We respect it.
We love hard.
We love big.

It took years to love myself again after loss.
To rebuild and accept this new life of mine.
To be open to offering my heart to another.
To not feel guilty that another could be welcome in our home and hearts.

I loved myself to let love in again.
To let this man listen to and honor my story.
Sit with me in my pain.
Accept my bruises and scars.

He didn't run.
He didn't judge.

No. No. No.

He only saw a woman filled with love.
I only saw a man filled with love.
A man wanting to share with me what I want to share with him.

My boys know I love this man.
I am happy and complete.
They want me to be happy.
I hope they will know love like I know it.
I hope they never feel, or are told, they don't deserve it.

If you choose to love again after loss. Choose it.
If you choose to not. I honor your choice.

All I ask is you love yourself.
Love is love.
Love heals.
Love fills.
Give it.
Receive it.
Please share it.
Go love.

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March 22, 2019

I Forgive Me. I Forgive Him.

A car.

The power it had over me.

He loved cars. He would choose mine. I didn’t care. Was it safe? Check. How many car seats could I fit? Check. Color? I don’t care. Just give me safe.

He hated dirt.
He needed order.
His anxiety came out in our cars.
Black interior to hide the dirt.
Dirty boys soccer shoes taken off and put in the trunk.

We would fight about my car.
Kids eating in it.
Me drinking coffee and spilling in it.
Stupid fights.
He’d tell me to clean it out.
I’d tell him to stop the nagging.
Stop the demanding.
Stop the madness.
I started to leave it dirty to piss him off.
Resentful. Annoyed. Passive aggressive.

I see it clearly now.

The control.
His needs.
The fights.

It wasn’t about the car. It wasn’t about me. It was about him. It was his lack of control. It was about his inability to control his anxiety. Instead of me seeing it for what it was and responding with support. Instead of asking him if he needed help I would respond with anger. Disdain. Hurt.

With counseling this story has changed.

It’s not about a man trying to control his wife. It’s about a man trying to control his fears. Trying to control his environment to settle his unsettled brain. Unable to say it. Maybe he never even understood why he behaved that way.

I understand now.
Instead of black I need white.
White and light.
It calms me.
Cleanses me.
Gives me peace.

I wish I would have known what I know now.
I wish I could give him a hug and ask him if I could help him calm his head and heart.
I can’t go back and fix it but I can move forward and forgive myself for what I didn’t know back then.

I forgive that Sandra who didn’t know.
I forgive that Pat who couldn’t share his pain.
I forgive.

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February 22, 2019

Dear New Widow: A Love Letter to My 40 Year Old Self

Dear Sandra,

He died. 

Your world has been turned upside down. Chaos will dominate your heart and mind for months, actually years and I am so sorry.

Grieve him. 
Grieve you. 
Grieve your boys father. 
Grieve the life you thought was yours. 
Grieve the life you hoped would be theirs. 

It’s going to be brutal. Yes. Brutal.

Listen to me. Even though you may think it will never get better. Even though you believe the excruciating pain will never leave your body or mind. I promise it will. I promise. It takes time. Time to get your balance again. Time to learn how to raise them by yourself. 

Trust your gut. 
Believe in your choices. 

You are their mom. Don’t let anyone tell you how to parent. Don’t let anyone tell you how to live. 

They are not walking in your shoes. 
Sleeping in your empty bed. 
Living in your head. 
Learning how to let an old life go and creating a new one for you and those two. 

They are standing on the outside looking in. 
Their vote doesn’t count. 
Your life. 
Your boys. 
Your way. 
Your vote. 
Only yours.

Simplify your life. Accept you can’t do it all. Ask for help. It’s different now. 

From now on it is only about you and the boys. 
Nobody else matters. 
This is not selfish. 
This is survival. 

Dig deep. 
Find your strength. 
I know you have it.

Wants and needs of others are no longer your problem. Set boundaries. With family and friends. Boundaries will save you. You need your energy to heal you. To heal them. 

I know you are scared. 
Don’t be afraid Sandra. 
Fear will hold you back from healing. 
Be bold. 
Be brave. 

One day you will wake up and feel the sun on your face again. 
You will laugh without feeling guilty. 
You will let go of the rage and anger. 
I will be so damn proud of how far you 3 have come.

Those boys will be ok. They will smile again. I promise. 

Love them. 
Guide them. 
Be honest with them. 
Listen to them. 
Let them feel. 

I know you can do this. I believe in you Sandra. It will be so hard. For a very long time. You will struggle. They will struggle. Do the work. 

You will all heal. 
Life will be beautiful and so full again. 
But so very beautiful. 
I promise. 
You’ve got this. 

Love, Sandra

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January 6, 2019

Want to Read More...I'm on Instagram

I have been writing blog posts over on Instagram. Why? I am sharing my story with pictures and connecting with widows around the world. Head on over to Instagram @thewidowproject and follow me by clicking here. As always, thank you for reading and supporting the boys and I with your comments and shares. xo Sandra

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October 2, 2018

Let Him Fly

LaGuardia Airport.
Say no more.

Charlie and I pulled up to the curb.
The Skycap greeted us.
Boarding passes please.
Here’s twenty dollars, your boarding pass and my credit card.
Take it and run Charlie.
Forget the bags.
I’ve got them.
I’ll park the car.
You can make the flight.
Jack is waiting.
I’ll catch the next one if I don’t make it.
You will be okay.

He's flown by himself before. 
We know the drill.
Yes. Text me when you get thru security.
Yes. Text me when you board.
Yes. Text me when you land.
Grab the bags and text me when Jack arrives in the Uber.

You've got this Charlie.
Go and have fun with your brother.
You have missed him.
He has missed you.
I’ll see you both soon.
I love you.

The texts arrived.
A Snapchat appeared from the Uber.
Happy brothers.
Together again.

8 hours.
I missed my flight.
I should be in Milwaukee sitting on a smelly futon in a dorm room cheering on the Brewers with my two boys by my side.
Laughing with them.
Trying to keep up with their baseball talk.

Am I upset I am still here.
Not at all.
With a latte and chocolate donut in my hand I am smiling and my heart is full.
The boys are together again.
Jack left 5 weeks ago.
My son went to college.
1,000 miles away.

I am feeling proud because I know I did it.
I wasn’t always comfortable doing it.
Sometimes I was filled with fear and anxiety.
But I did it.
Over the past 6 years I have taught them how to be independent.

What if I die?
What if something happens to me?
These questions have haunted me at times.
Sometimes still keep me up at night.

The boys will be on their own.
The boys need to know things.
They are survivors.
But do they know how to survive and thrive on their own?

Life skills Sandra.
Teach them.
Show them.
Guide them.

Let them do things on their own even when it scares you. 
Show them how to take care of themselves.
Teach them how to set boundaries, with themselves and others.
Remind them everyday to be confident with their choices even when it isn’t always what others want them to do.
Mirror to them how to adjust quickly in tough situations and calmly roll with it.

Cheer them on when they succeed.
Help them get back up when they fail.
Honor their thoughts, feelings and opinions.
Really listen.

I would be a different parent if Pat hadn’t died.
I would have been more controlling.
More anxious about things that just don't matter.
More worried about not parenting like the pack.

I had no control over Pat dying.
I have learned my own life lesson from this.
The only thing I have control over is me.
My words.
My actions.
How I react to others.
How I honor and love myself.
How I honor and treat those I love.

It creates stress.
In them.
In me.

I had to let it go.
Let go of the control.
It would have eaten me alive.
The boys too.

Let them grow.
Let them learn.
Let them heal.
Let them fail.
Let them find success on their own.
Let them be who they want to be.
You do you boys.

It worked out.
For all of us.
Independence is confidence.
Independence is freedom.

When I let go your wings grew.
You've earned those wings.
Now go fly boys.

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