June 7, 2016

The Two Boys with Beautiful Souls

Charlie (12) and Jack (16)

Two boys.
9 and 12.
"Please sit on the couch.
We have to talk."

3 words.
I had to say them.
Words I knew would change their lives forever.
Words most children never hear.
Words no child should hear.
Telling Jack and Charlie their dad died was the most difficult and will forever be the most painful and torturous thing I will ever have to do in my life.

They were living a great life.
A life with a dad who loved them.
A life with no fear, terror, pain, hurt, guilt, shame and longing.
A life that was so good. 
So right. 
So beautiful. 

I waited.
Waited to tell them.
I waited until school was over that day.
I was terrified to tell them.
I had to give them every last second in that life before they had to walk through the door of darkness, grief and the unknown into their new life.

They would grow up in a heartbeat.
They would experience pain no human should feel.
They were just little boys.

Two little boys who I had to tell how their dad died.
Two little boys who sat on the couch and cried.
Who were silent.
Who had no words.

From that moment I was terrified for them.
What will this do to them?
How will this change them?
Will they survive this?

Days were dark.
School was missed.
Life was so different.
Change every day.

Days are still tough.
School is still missed.
Tears still fall.
Not as frequent.
But I'm not going to lie, those days still come.
They probably always will.

Just as I crawled out of darkness, those two little boys have too.
They have crawled with grace and dignity and beauty.

They have had to change and embrace a new life.
They have had to find their way every day.

They are 2 boys who have gone through more than most can bear and have grown into strong, amazing young men.

They have grown into 2 young men who understand life more than most adults.
They show empathy and compassion to those who struggle or who may not fit in.
They are funny, loving, talkative and kind.
They are survivors with soft edges.

They have a support group who they love and loves them.
They have an amazing group of friends who they stay tight with in Wisconsin.
They have created solid friendships with an amazing group of kids in Connecticut.

They are both on the honor roll.
They play sports and are involved.
They play in the school band (and hate me for it).
They are on their phones too much and play too much xbox. 
They don't always make their beds or brush their teeth without me yelling at them.
They talk back and can be mouthy.
They are 2 normal kids living a good life.

I can't keep count how many people they meet come up to me and tell me what nice, kind boys I have.
"Thank you. I agree" I say with a smile and try not to tear up.
They don't know our story.
They meet Jack and Charlie and witness the genuine and kind human beings they are.

When their dad died I was terrified for them.
The terror is gone.

Will they be able to survive this?
Hell yes. 
They have and are thriving every day.

Who have they become?
Two beautiful souls I am proud to call my sons.

I wanted to read this 4 years ago.
I wanted somebody to tell me my kids would be so good again.
I write this for you if you are afraid for your children.
Afraid like I was of what the future would hold for them.
This is for you.
Know the road may be long and scary but I promise they will be okay.
More than okay.
They will be amazing.

P.S. Jack and Charlie...
I am proud of you every damn day and honored to be your mom.
I love you.

May 18, 2016

That Girl is Gone

"Suicide does more than take a life. It devastates lives all around it. No one is the same afterwards, and the problem is becoming a crisis." 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. 

I am writing this to honor myself and all of you who every day, fight the mental, emotional, financial and physical trauma from living the aftermath of a loved one dying by suicide. 

It is real. We are living it. Every moment of every day.

I am writing this to honor grief counselors. To honor the amazing work you do every day to help people lost in their grief find themselves again. You help people find their new self and guide them to accept and live the new life they must live. We don't have a choice. You teach us we have to do the work to move from surviving to thriving. 

I am writing this to honor the small group of people left in my life who don't judge, question and only say "we want you to be okay...do what you need to do" because somehow YOU know I'm doing the best I can do. You have embraced the new Sandra and love me for who I am. You may miss the old me but you have stood by me and celebrate the new me. 

Death changed me.
Grief almost destroyed me.
I'll never get over it.
I struggle every day with it.
Some days the struggles are big. 
Somedays they are small.
I'm learning how to live with it.
I'm embracing the new me. 
I have no other choice.
Live or die inside.

I am not the same woman.
I never will be.

She is gone.

Some of you want her back.
You get pissed, judgmental, controlling, offended, disappointed with me because she is gone.
I'm not saying I'm sorry to you.
I can't handle your emotions because I can hardly handle my own.
No resentment.
I don't blame you.
I don't blame myself.

We all are different aren't we?
Death and grief has changed us all.

You want the old Sandra.

She was a doer.
A giver.
Got it done.
Yet over scheduled.
She owned a business.
She volunteered too much.
She took care of others before herself.
She didn't always want to do things but did them because she "should."
She laughed and she was social.
She was a good mom.
She was a good wife.
She was stressed and didn't know how to always handle it.
She let others opinions sway her decisions.
She had a lot of friends and acquaintances.
She had a nice life.
Big house.
Nice cars.
Stuff she really didn't care about but enjoyed.
She was insecure at times.
Nervous and anxious but it never took her over.
She didn't know how to handle painful situations.
She didn't look in the mirror enough and ask herself why she felt that way.
She took peoples shit.
She was hurt by people and didn't always stand up for herself.
She didn't walk away.

The moment her husband's life ended her life ended too.
Just imagine it being all gone.
Her life blew into a million pieces in a moment.
Pain so deep it took her over.
She couldn't do anything.
She couldn't function.
She would stay in bed for hours after the boys went to school.
She would cry for days.
She drank too much coffee and red wine.
Her family and friends cried with her, listened to her scream, took care of her boys.
Her community fed her, sent words of love and support.

And then he called.
"Sandra, this is Doug. I'm checking in to see how you are doing?"
"I'm not doing very well Doug. Maybe it is time to come in to see you."

And it started.
I met with Doug every week.
Sometimes twice a week.
My road to finding the new Sandra.
The new me.

He listened.
He guided me.
He told me things about suicide, mental illness, death and life I never knew.
He opened my mind to life beyond grief.
He told me I was not crazy.
He let me cry.
He let me scream.
He let me drop so many F bombs I scared myself.
He agreed with my Doctor I needed anti-depressants.
He told me I needed to eat.
He was proud of me for finding yoga and taking care of myself.
He gave me tools to help me handle difficult situations I was in every day.
He gave me permission when I asked to paint my bedroom.
He told me he was waiting for me to say it was time to move.

I cried when I left him.
He saved my life.
He saved the boys life.

He gave me my life back.
He gave Jack and Charlie their mother back.

I am a different person.
How can I not be?
Nothing in my life is like it was before.
Every ounce of my being has changed.

Doug helped me be okay with it.
Phyllis, Erin and Joanne have helped me be okay with it too.

There is no guidebook to grief.
There is no manual to being 40, widowed, raising two boys and surviving the trauma of your husband dying by suicide.

I wing it every day but the professional counselors in my life give me guidance and support to help me be okay with being me. Help me be okay with what I was dealt. Help me be okay with the new life the boys and I have to lead.

I am quiet.
I am funny.
I am empathetic.
I am a good listener.
I am fit.
I am present.
I live a simple life.
I don't need things.
I need experiences.
I can read again.
I can focus again.
I am okay when I want to crawl back in bed.
I know I'm no longer depressed, rather just so tired from doing this on my own.
I don't need anti-depressants anymore but am thankful I had them to help me get here.
I see a grief counselor every week.
I am an amazing mom.
I still cry a lot.
I put me first. No guilt. No regrets. Me. My mental and physical well being comes first because if I'm not good, my boys are not good.
I do my own thing and like it.
I get hurt by people's judgement but I move on. Quickly.
I have days I can't function because the pain is so great but the recovery is not as long.
I feel grateful every day I can afford grief counseling.
I don't trust people, but I'm working on that.
I don't drink as much red wine.
I still drink too much coffee.
I wear high heels every day.
I paint my nails black.
I color my own hair because who gives a shit.
I have embraced pieces of my old life I want to keep and let go of those that I don't want.
I let people go who try to make me feel bad about myself and choices. I feel bad every day anyway. Why hang on?
I am old and wise in spirit.
I have lived 40 years in 4.
I struggle every day but know I am getting better.
I know I am okay.
This is me.
And I like her.

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April 26, 2016

Goodbye Guilt. Hello Golf.

Dear Pat,

I couldn't sleep last night.
I was restless and my mind was racing.

The email came yesterday.
I'm never prepared for it.
I couldn't stop thinking about it.
I still can't.

"Dear Sandra,
I am writing to you today to confirm the renewal of your floral deliveries to Patrick Began. Your first delivery of orange silk tulips and yellow fresh tulips is scheduled for May 5th. Could you contact us to confirm the delivery of flowers to the cemetery this year and update your credit card on file.  Thank you."

I was standing at the grocery store when I read it on my phone.
My heart sank.
My hands shook a little.
I told myself "don't cry."

I got to my car and cried.

Pat, you know I loved you.
With all my heart.
I can't send you flowers anymore.
I don't want to send you flowers anymore.

I'm not sending them to you.
You are gone.

I'm sending them to a cemetery.
Why am I doing this?

Why am I putting myself in a painful situation every time I receive a confirmation email from the florist?

"Dear Sandra, This email is to notify you of the successful delivery of your floral order to Patrick Began at Oak Hill Cemetery."

I read it and get angry.
What 44 year old woman is sending flowers to her husband's grave?
I am.
That is fucked up Pat.

Those emails hurt Pat.
Every time one pops up on my phone.
Pain. Tears. Anger.
No more.

We moved.
I felt guilt for leaving you.
I wanted people who visited the cemetery to know I loved you.
I was leaving you but I loved you.

It has been two years and that guilt is gone.
I've learned to let guilt go.
So much guilt I carry because you died.
Guilt for laughing for the first time.
Guilt for hating you at times.
Guilt for not being able to hear your laugh in my head anymore.
Guilt for wanting to move forward.

I carry enough guilt.
And Pat, your boys carry guilt too.
Guilt no person should ever feel, but they feel it.
They talk about it.
They cry about it.
I know they think about it more than I know.

I know friends and family carry guilt.
They have told me.
"I should have called him back."
"I should have asked more questions."
"I should have noticed he was not himself."

I tell them let go of the guilt.
Nothing would have changed what you did.
You were sick.
You were tired.
Your sickness took you over.

So much guilt we carry.
Guilty for what?
For loving you?

I'm not going to feel guilty about flowers you and I don't see.
I'm sending you flowers to show others I care.
I'm over it.
Let the judgement begin.
It actually started the day you died didn't it?

No more Pat.

So guess what?

I'm taking the hundreds of dollars I spent on something to prove to others I loved you and I'm using it to take golf lessons.

Yes, golf.
Your favorite.
Your passion.

The hours you spent golfing with the boys are some of the best memories they have with you.
They want to golf most days in the summer.
They talk about you.
They laugh about the crazy things you did with them on the golf course.
They tell strangers they golf with how their dad taught them to golf.
They tell them much you loved it so they love it too.

They feel you on the golf course Pat.
They both wear your golf shoes now.
They are big enough to use your clubs.

Golf is their peaceful place.
Their time with you.

I want to be part of that too.

Forget the flowers.
Forget the guilt.

We will now have our own foursome won't we?
It will always be our time together.
4 again.
With you.

I will always love you.


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March 30, 2016

The Girl With the Hole in Her Heart

I cried all day today.

I woke up and I knew it was going to be one of those days.
They still come.
Not as frequent but they come.
I hate them.

I try to wish them away.
They just don't go away.

My heart hurts.
I can't stop it.
It just hurts.
Physical pain.
Heavy bricks laying on my chest.
My heart feels like it has torn into two.
I can't explain the pain.

Today is one of those days.

Some days I don't feel the physical pain.
My heart feels whole.
Broken but whole.

Other days it hurts so much I want to rip it out of my chest.
There is a gapping hole that needs to be filled.

You can fix this Sandra.
Fill it with work, exercise, a walk on the beach.
Stay away from the wine.
Something has to fill the hole.

I can't fill it today.

Tears pour out of me.

I beg for this pain to go away.
I hate this.
I want the hole to go away.

It will go away.
I need to sit in it.
Feel it.

Tomorrow it will feel better.
It always does.

I'm tired.
I'm lonely.
I'm afraid.
I'm emotionally spent.
I'm stressed.
I'm on my own.

It piles up.
The pain.
The worry.
The lonely life I lead.

I realize this is when the pain comes.
This is when the hole is the biggest.

It doesn't matter who I am with.
It doesn't matter where I live.
I can be surrounded by people who love me.
I can be doing something I love.

My heart still hurts.
The pain still comes.

It came today.

It used to be daily.
Then weekly.
Now it shows up when my heart can't take anymore.

Let it go Sandra.

Goodbye my heart with the hole in it.
Goodbye pain.
Goodbye tears.

Until next time...

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February 28, 2016

The Boy With the Bow Tie

He asked yesterday.

"Could I wear one of dad's ties today?  Everyone is wearing a bow tie to the basketball game.  Did you save them?"

Take a breath Sandra.  
You can do this.  

"Of course Jack.  I saved all of them.  Let me go in my closet and get the box". 

The box I packed almost 2 years ago.  The box I haven't been able to open because it hurts too much.  

His things.  His life.  One plastic bin.  Ties.  Cuff links.  Socks.  A financial calculator.  A pair of Gucci loafers. Tie stays.  Belts. Handkerchiefs.  Watches.  Diplomas. Pictures. Cards from the boys he saved.  Love notes I had sent him I found tucked away in his drawer I didn't find until I had to empty the drawer.

Open a mans dresser drawer and you see his life.  
A beautiful life he cherishes and holds close.

I packed Pat's life in a box. 
It took me days.  
I sobbed doing it.  
It had to be done.  

It wasn't hard to know what to keep and give away.  I kept the things he cherished.  The things I could tell a story about to the boys.  The things I wanted to remember.  The memories I don't want to forget yet still and maybe always will hurt my broken heart.

I remember giving his clothes away.  I stuffed it all in plastic bags.  Clothes and shoes are just clothes and shoes.  "Somebody else can use this" I thought.  Pat would be happy helping another person. A man looking for a job would have a beautiful suit.  Pat loved clothes.  More than me.  Our closet was two thirds his.  We always laughed about it.

When his clothes started to be covered with dust I couldn't go in my closet anymore.  

Our closet is where I felt him.  
Not the cemetery.
The closet.

I would lay for hours in our closet and cry.  
I'd scream at him.  
I'd tell him I loved him.  

Dust had fallen.  His clothes were turning gray. It was time to let go.  I asked my sister to come over.  Please help me move his clothes.  I can't look anymore.  It hurts too much.

She helped me move his clothes into the guest room closet.  Still with me but I didn't have to look.  Didn't have to see the layer of dust.  Didn't have to acknowledge he had been gone a year. The pile of dust painfully reminded me I had not talked to my best friend, the man I loved, in a year.

Moving time.  
Emptying my house. 
A beautiful suit is not bringing him back.  
Pack it up Sandra.  
Time to let go.  
All of it.  
I packed it up.  
It's over I thought.  
Bags and bags of his clothes.  

Is this it? 
His life in a fucking garbage bag?

I asked my friend if she could help me.  I couldn't ask my family.
"I can't take the bags to Goodwill.  Could you do it for me?" 

Yes she said.  
She walked in my kitchen.  
A pile of black garbage bags piled high.  
I sobbed and screamed..."Take it away.  My heart hurts.  I'm giving his life away. I'm giving him away. His life is in a fucking bag? Thank you for doing this for me.  I just can't do it." 

She cried. 
I cried.  

We quietly loaded the bags in her car. She drove away.  I know it was heartbreaking for her but she did it.  Did it for me. Did it for Pat. I will always be grateful of her strength and love.  I fell on the kitchen floor and cried. The guilt for giving him away was suffocating. 

But Sandra.  
A pair of pants is not bringing him back. 
A pair of pants is not him. 
He is in your heart. 
He is not coming back.  

No guilt.  
It is okay.  
Your memories are in your heart.

My memories are in my heart and one plastic bin.

Jack needs you to open that bin Sandra.  
Take him in your closet.  
Pull the tape off and open it.  

He wants a tie.   
He needs the tie.  
He is ready to see that box and what is inside.

But I can't.  

The last time this boy wore a bow tie was at his father's funeral.  His little brother wore one too.  Two little boys who wore bow ties to honor the father who loved them. 

Friends wore bow ties to the funeral to honor him.  Kids he coached soccer and who were his sons friends wore bow ties to honor him.  To honor a man who loved his family and friends but who couldn't conquer the illness that took him.

The bow tie.  
Pat's signature.  
The man hadn't owned a "real" tie in 10 years.  

Old ladies would come up to me and ask...
"Is that your husband?"  "Yes, the guy with the bow tie is my husband" I would say. "He looks cute doesn't he?"  We would laugh.  The old ladies loved it.  They would stop us and tell him how handsome he looked and how much he reminded them of the old days.  They told us stories about their Grandfathers.  Fathers.  Husbands.  Long gone but the bow tie brought them back.

I'm one of those ladies now.  
The bow tie takes me back.  
I see one and I take a deep breath.  

Colorful.  Crazy.  Pat sought them out.  He special ordered them with crazy socks that didn't match.  He loved his ties.  They always made me smile.  His friends would stop over before a wedding. "Pat, can you tie this for me?" He would put his loving arms around their neck, tie the bow tie, and tell them to have a great time. I loved how his bow ties brought people together.  His bow ties still bring people together.

His bow tie brought Jack and I together yesterday. 

I had to open that box to give my son a bow tie.

We walked in my closet. I moved boxes stacked on top and opened it.  

Don't cry Sandra.  
Jack is happy to be wearing his dad's tie.  

I didn't cry.  
We laughed.  
I told stories.  
Jack asked questions.  

"What is a cuff link? What size were his feet?  Charlie's and my feet are now bigger than his.  Can I keep these golf balls in my room? Can Charlie and I wear his socks?   Will this belt fit me?  

Of course Jack.

This is your box.  This is Charlie's box too. This is your dad.  This is the man you didn't know. You knew Patrick Joseph Began as your father but now you know him as a man. 

It's time to know your dad - the beautiful man he was. I will share my memories with you both.  I will share his treasures with you. They will be yours.  Forever.

And damn Jackson Patrick Began, you look handsome in that bow tie.  

Just like your dad did.

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January 21, 2016

The Dark Side of Death & Finding My Joy

Before you read this I want to say I write this for me. I write this for you if you are a widow and are experiencing much of what I am talking about, especially if you are a woman and if you lost your husband to suicide. You can read between the lines better than anyone. 

I write this for you if you have or are going through a divorce, illness or hard time in your life where you are at your lowest and have been hurt to the core by people in your life you thought would do the right thing. 

I write this to thank my parents, siblings and their partners, my close friends, counselors and lawyer who have listened and know my stories. You have stood by my side and have helped me stand up so many times when I couldn't on my own. And I write this to thank you, my old friends and new friends who near and from afar have defended me, stood up for me, listened without judgement and supported me.   

I am one lucky girl.

And the picture you ask? My neighbor took it in her studio. She made me laugh. It is the first picture since Pat died I saw pure joy in myself. Thank you Jennifer for capturing it. 

Yes there is a dark side of death. I have been living it for over 3 years.

The things I don't want to talk about.
The things people are afraid to hear.
Unbelievable and hurtful situations I have been put in.
Sick and wrong things people have said and done.

I have been holding these stories tight.
Dirty secrets I want to pretend I don't know.

The secrets are not about Pat or I. They are about other people. Family, friends and strangers who have said things, done things, texted things, mailed things that hurt me. Hurt my kids. Made me cry. Made me scream. Made me lose so many nights of sleep. Made me not trust. Made me hate.

If you would hear my stories, you may say "Sandra is crazy, she is being dramatic. She has to be making this up."

I am not making it up.
I can't make this shit up.
These people have hurt me.
Crushed me to my core.
They have taken my energy away from my healing.
They have taken my time away from helping my kids heal.

Why do they do this?
For their own needs.
Their own desires.
Their own fucked up wants.

They see me as weak. They see me in pain. They think they can take advantage.

Some did. Many tried. Some are still trying. Not anymore.

One person can only take so much.
I'm done keeping secrets.

I am surviving. I am not living.
Unless I let this hurt go I will never live again.
I will be stuck forever.
I don't want to be stuck.
I want to live.

Two weeks ago I was meeting with my grief counselor Erin. She sees the boys occasionally. She checks in with them. They like her. I like her.

I told her I was stuck.
I started to cry.
I sobbed.

"I have no joy. Nothing brings me happiness except the boys. My heart is dull. I have fought hard to get where I am but I am afraid to live. My trust in people is gone.  The dark side of death has taken its toll on me. I have to find my joy. The boys deserve it. I deserve it."

That was it.
I said it out loud.

"You lost your joy Sandra but you will find it again. The boys are okay. The boys are amazing. You did that. Nobody else did. Own what you have done for them. Own you have saved them and saved yourself. Let those stories go. Let the hurt go. Stop protecting and keeping those secrets. You are a strong, powerful, amazing woman who has a beautiful life in front of her. Stop being afraid. It's time to find your joy."

I walked out and told myself this is it.
I'm finding my joy.
Every day I now ask myself
"Do I find joy in this?"
"Is this person making me feel pain or joy?"
"Is this situation bringing me joy?"

If I say yes. I keep it. I found joy and I am holding on tight.
If I say no. Good-bye. I am letting it go. I am letting you go.
Is it always easy? No. But I am doing it.

The secrets I have been holding do not bring me joy. They bring me pain. It is time to let them go. I am not going to tell you the secrets. Many are too painful to talk about. But what I am going to do is share the life lessons I have learned in the past 3 years.

I have learned so much about people. I have seen the dark side of people...the selfishness, sickness and weakness people have. Instead of taking care of their own fears, guilt, insecurities and problems, they pass it on to others. They force it on to others.

Here are 21 life lessons I have learned:

  1. No means no. No explanation needed.
  2. Stop means stop. Stop texting, calling, asking, pushing, demanding, gossiping when someone asks you to stop - when someone begs you to stop.
  3. Blood is not always thicker than water.
  4. Doing the right thing is the right thing to do. Always.
  5. Everyone has shit. It's how you deal with it. Not dealing with it is not a reason to hurt others. Figure your shit out.
  6. People CAN change. They just don't want to.
  7. You don't have to explain what you do, who you are with, or where you go to anyone. Ever.
  8. This is YOUR life. Live it only for you and your kids and live it to its fullest.
  9. Weak people prey on the weak and struggling. 
  10. Be brave and always stand up for yourself. 
  11. There is a time to be quiet and a time to scream and fight.
  12. Adults can be bullies.
  13. Assume nothing.
  14. Moving can save you.
  15. When things get uncomfortable, silence is the easy way out. 
  16. Create an "Unacceptable" folder. Save texts, emails, pictures and goodies that are offensive to you. It can help you in the future. 
  17. Drunk and sober married men should keep their hands, dirty comments, pictures and texts to themselves. Pat is gone so now I am fair game? Note: My "Unacceptable" folder is full. Your wife will get a copy the next time you do it. To those who were Pat and my friends, shame on you. You disgust me. (okay I let 1 secret slip)
  18. If a relationship is toxic, walk away. Friend or family. No regrets. No guilt. Just walk.
  19. You have to do the hard stuff yourself. Nobody else will do it for you and after you do it you will find strength in yourself you never knew you had.
  20. Have a good lawyer you trust.
  21. Find YOUR joy!

To my widow friends, my friends struggling and to those of you I don't know, you may feel tired and weak and be at your lowest point. Maybe you don't have your strength back yet but you will. I promise you will. You will be different. You will have strength and courage you never knew you had. You will wake up one day like I did and say "I am finding my joy and nobody is getting in my way."

I have let the secrets go. I'm taking my life back. It has taken 3 long years but I'm finding my joy. Mine. My life. My joy. Enough is enough.

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