to the woman widowed by suicide

Last week, within 30 minutes of each other, I learned of two young women who lost their significant other and spouse to suicide. It broke my heart because, unfortunately, I know this loss all too well. It’s a loss I would not want for my worst enemy and a loss that cuts so deep you don’t know if you’ll survive. In fact, when I heard the news, it brought me back to those hours and days after my husband Michael’s suicide. I longed to talk to someone who understood. At that time, I needed to know I wasn’t alone and the feelings I had were OK, which is what motivated me to write this letter.

Dear Suicide Widow,

You are not alone. I know it feels that way. Though dozens of close family and friends surround you, the beginning of this horrific journey is very, very lonely. But I get you. I know the darkness that consumes you, the fear that haunts you and a relentless evil that you feel won’t stop pursuing you. It is a dark, dark place – overflowing with confusion, shock, sorrow, guilt, sadness, and pain. It is literally a living hell. The fear is something nothing could ever prepare you for. There are no words to describe it … it is THAT dark.

The first weeks are filled with shock and questioning, “How did this happen to us?” And “How did I not know?” The funeral comes and goes and you feel like an outsider in your own body, living someone else’s life. “This can’t be my life!” You spend hours upon hours going over the days, night and moment before your world came crashing down. You become obsessed with solving the mystery of how this happened to the “last person on earth” who could ever die by suicide.

If you have children, worry for them consumes you, but they will be the reason you put your feet on the floor each morning. However, there will be days when you feel as if you can’t possibly handle one more day without your soul mate. You feel as if you are fighting an inner battle to survive every single second of every day. And, you are.

The guilt you feel, it isn’t from God. It is evil trying it’s hardest to convince you of a lie. Looking back, I cannot believe I even considered that lie. But that is what Satan does … he sees vulnerability and attacks. Don’t let him. During those moments, let your knees hit the floor and pray.

There were days, even weeks after Michael passed, that I did not want to survive. There were thoughts of taking my own life, and because I was unaware this was common, feelings of shame and guilt overwhelmed me for having such feelings. Listen to me: You are not alone. God is with you every step. And, this all-consuming darkness will not last forever. Your grief will, but it changes and as time goes on your memories with your love will become of your life, the happy memories, not those final hours.

It can be difficult to see now, but if you keep fighting and lean on Jesus, He will give you strength and peace only he can give in such a chaotic and traumatic time.

God doesn’t give us what we can handle. He helps us handle what we are given. Let Him. I continued to remind myself that God does not plan for a wife to lose her husband or children to lose their father, but he allowed it, so there has to be something more that I cannot see. Know this; God is always working behind the scenes for His glory and our good.

I know it seems impossible to understand, but God has called you on this journey. Trust Him. Let Him in and, I promise, He will begin healing your heart. Though you cannot fathom, “joy comes in the morning”.

Choose hope. Keep going, and you will get through the darkest side of grief. There will always be pain for your husband’s loss, but there is still joy to experience on this earth.

As the days go on, talk about it, and ask for help. Of course prayer, but talking about what happened over and over with those closest to me began my healing. Joining a Suicide Survivors group, where there were others who understood, and talking one-on-one with a suicide grief counselor helped tremendously, too. Learning to accept what you’ll never know and surrendering to God’s will was my saving grace. So thankful for His mercy and grace.

You’re a fighter. You will survive. I am praying for you.

God bless you, sweet sister.

Philippians 4:13; Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:38-39; Psalm 27:13

 

 

If you’re happy and you know it … don’t blog about it.

I recently had dinner with a friend who I hadn’t seen in nearly 10 months and after 10 minutes she said, “You’re really happy. I’m not sure people know that without seeing you in person. And, you kind of left us on the edge of our seat with your last blog post a while ago.”

She’s right. However, I have a good reason.

The truth is my life is not black and white. In fact it is very, very gray and you know what, I’m happy. But because of this gray, the emotions that come with grief and the excitement and hope that come with a new relationship, it’s tough for me – at times – to make sense of it all in my own head, so trying to explain to you, well, it just seems a bit overwhelming. But here goes. Let’s see if I can sum up my last several months in a few post-worthy paragraphs.

I met Keith out of nowhere and didn’t even think I was ready. Dating was so far from my mind. I resisted at first, but God had a totally different plan. Let me explain.

Eight-and-a-half months ago, I was not wanting or expecting someone to come into my life. In fact, I didn’t think I would ever date again. I finally came up with a two-year date. How silly. As I’ve learned there is no timeline, and it’s always in God’s timing. We can make plans, but they are just that – plans.

I had recently started praying for our future, and if God had someone for us he would continue to prepare him for Ty and me and prepare us for him. I even had a list of standards in my head but never prayed about them. I left that up to the Big Man upstairs. He knows what I need more than I do.

The night I met Keith, I knew there was something different about him. His calm, confident presence put me at ease. And when I found out he was a Believer, I wanted to know more about him. I shared I had lost my husband, and he shared a Bible verse.

We met for coffee a week-and-a-half later, and from that moment forward I have prayed about him and our relationship … whatever God’s will for me may be.

There were many moments early on when I was afraid. I really liked Keith, but I wanted to be sure I was in a good place and was not distracting myself. My heart had been broken, and my life was shattered into a million pieces. I knew it was no one’s job to help me heal and put all of the pieces back together. Only God can do that. I also knew I didn’t need anyone in my life, but after being married to Michael for nearly seven years I knew what an amazing marriage looked like. And, if God had that planned for me again, why on earth would I pass it up?

Though I knew this, fear set in. Could I do this? Did I want to do this? I don’t want to find myself a widow again, I thought. About a month after we had been spending time together, I decided I was going to let Keith know I could no longer see him. As I prayed about it, a voice continued to tell me, “just go”. I know now that voice was the Lord, telling me it was OK. He placed us in each other’s paths. As I continued to pray, I realized if I lived hypothetically I could miss out on all God has in store for me.

Keith is everything I want, need and more. You see, God knew what was on my heart without me even speaking the words.

As I’ve said before, I won’t pretend this life is easy. It is a daily choice to choose hope and move forward. And Keith knows that. He understands my marriage to Michael is part of who I am today and a reason he loves me. He also understands my love for Michael will always stand. But that doesn’t mean my heart isn’t large enough to love again.

God made us for love, and life can still be beautiful.

And I can say, without a doubt, I am in love. I am happy. I am truly living again.

2015. straddling the line of sorrow and joy.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

This past year has brought me to my knees, trusting in the Lord and His path for my life more than ever. But it’s nearly a year later, and I’m still standing – straddling a line – with joy on one side and sorrow on the other. I’ve learned that joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive. Until now, I never knew extreme grief could coexist with joy and hope for the future.

Two-thousand fifteen was horrific and easily the worst year of my life. Losing my beloved husband to suicide was a pain I had never felt and, honestly, a pain I didn’t know I could survive.

From day one of Michael’s passing I felt I had three choices: 1. Run away from everything and everyone I knew; 2. Take my own life; 3. Submit and surrender to God’s will. From day one, I knew I had to surrender to God’s will for my life, but it didn’t come without a fight. There were many days, early on, where running away or taking my own life seemed like far better options. However, I continued to obey the Lord and kept stepping forward.

Though this year was a nightmare and I’m continuing in this journey of grief, 2015 also brought new beginnings – the beginning of an even deeper relationship with Jesus, a relationship I’ve had for a very long time but one I never knew could exist so deeply. There were times where I wasn’t sure I could endure one more day without Michael, and it was during those moments I could literally feel the presence of the Lord – the feeling of a warm embrace letting me know we were going to be OK. I just needed to trust in Him.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. Isaiah 43:2

It also brought new beginnings in the form of a relationship, with someone who has walked his own broken road and who is bringing so much hope, healing, happiness and joy to my life – joy I didn’t think was possible after January 15, 2015. I know for certain it is God who placed us in each other’s paths, because that was the last thing I thought I wanted or needed at the time. But as I’ve continued to learn, life doesn’t always go according to my plans and, most importantly, it’s always in His timing – not mine.

This year brought me closer to existing relationships as well. From my precious son, parents and brother to Michael’s family and my best friends, God knew it was these people I would need at this point in my life. He placed them in my life for now, not necessarily for the time I met them. There are many who listened night after night as I worked through my feelings and deepest darkest thoughts over and over. The Lord has used so many of you as his hands and heart here on earth, and I will be forever grateful.

As 2015 ends, I’ve realized I am a survivor, a victor – not a victim, and that is how I have chosen to live. Every morning, when my feet hit the floor, I make a choice. It doesn’t come without it’s challenges, but choosing to step forward and not only survive but also find joy in this life on earth, while listening to the Lord, is the best way I know how to honor Michael.

As I begin 2016, I am hopeful it will bring good things. But no matter the circumstances, He is still good.

the holidays and this life without him

ChristmasThe Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

This verse has gotten me through many moments over the past 11 months of missing Michael and has continued to give me hope. And, I’m so thankful for the healing that is taking place – because of it I am finding joy again. However, I won’t pretend this life is easy. It’s tough. Each day is a battle and a choice to keep pressing forward. Why? It is the best way I know how … to honor Michael’s legacy and be a good mother to my son, while walking in obedience with the Lord.

Since November, many questions have been asked about missing Michael.

How are you holding up this holiday season?

Have you thought about what you’ll do this year during the holidays?

The holidays are a lot tougher after losing a loved one, aren’t they?

I have been thinking about these questions and didn’t really know how to respond at first, but then I came to a realization and thought I would share a glimpse into this life of young widowhood.

While I appreciate the care and concern and am beyond grateful for the support of so many friends and family, the truth is, I didn’t just lose a loved one who I saw on holidays. I lost my husband and the father of my child, and his presence is missed EVERY day.

These days, these holidays, they are the same as every other day. My every single moment of every day has been altered. It is obvious that he is not here each morning, day and night. It makes no difference whether it’s Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas or just a Thursday in December.

To say I am sad Michael will not be with us to celebrate Jesus’ birth is an understatement. To gather as a family without him here brings so much heartache. For him to miss out on seeing Ty’s face light up on Christmas morning – yes, that makes my heart sink. But we miss out on our time with him daily, and he is not here in the flesh to witness the fun, new and exciting things Ty is doing every day.

A normal day is filled with waking up knowing your future will never be the same, and missing a good morning kiss, a mid-day lunch, playful time with Ty – as a family, dinner conversation, a hug just to say it’s OK, and fielding frequent questions from a two-and-a-half year old on why daddy isn’t here (and so much more).

So, to answer the question – Christmas day?

Not much will have changed.

I’ll still miss him.

hopeful healing

anchorYes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Psalm 62:5

You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. Job 11:18

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Hebrews 6:19

I am nine months in and realizing this journey is full of emotions – many I’ve never felt before. There are moments I think, “I shouldn’t have to deal with this or feel this way.” But I am. These are my circumstances, and this is the journey God has called me on.

You see, being a widow doesn’t mean you lost only a husband – or one role in your life. It means losing your best friend, lover, confidant, trash taker outer, and father to your child, comforter, financial advisor, prayer warrior, partner in this life – the person you shared life with day in and day out. I could go on and on. Their absence is obvious in every moment, and the feelings that come with losing all of these roles are overwhelming.

In the beginning, a grieving mind can make you feel hopeless. I know for me, early on, I felt no reason left to live. There were times I thought there was no way I could possibly go on without him. Debilitating fear would consume my every second. I could not be anywhere alone. I couldn’t even walk into my bedroom by myself without fear overtaking me. I could not drive and, though I did every single day, I could barely put my feet on the floor each morning.

Every night I fell asleep whispering, “Jesus, help me” over and over again. Those were the only three words I could get out. I was literally gaining enough strength to make it through each second.

As I go back to those first few weeks and months after Michael’s death by suicide, thinking about that very dark place, I could never imagine being in the place I am today.

You see, there is only one way to find hope in hopeless times (through a grieving mind), and that is through the one who died for us – Jesus.

If we put all of our hope in our current circumstances, we will be sorely disappointed. Throughout the Bible, He tells us this over and over again – to put our hope in Him, and he will give us rest. His mercy and grace are the only reason I stand strong today. Because during the moments I couldn’t stand, He was there.

Sometimes his presence came through my family and friends. I know for certain he has placed people in my life over the past several months as an extension of himself. They have been his hands and heart to comfort, guide and bring hope and healing here on earth.

I still have moments of disbelief, moments of grief that come out of nowhere and knock me down. But, today, I get up because of His strength.

My grief for Michael will never end. It will last a lifetime. When you see a smile on my face, it doesn’t mean every moment of my life is “happy”. When you see me filled with laughter, it doesn’t mean all is right and I am OK. When you see me doing everyday things, it doesn’t mean I have healed.

But because of the hope Jesus provides, I can look outside of my current circumstances, even when it is seems impossible to understand, and find joy.

As a widow, you never move on. You move forward, and I know firsthand taking steps – small or big – to move forward requires much more effort and strength than staying in the same place, full of self pity.

It is hard work, but I am still here for a reason. As the days and months continue to pass, I know the Lord is with me every step of the way, and I see how He is impacting the lives of others through our horrific story. From the texts and chats with friends to the messages of those I have never met, they are reminders of His faithfulness and the good that will come from this.

This blog post originally appeared on A Widow’s Might last month. Six weeks after Michael passed, some friends from church graciously paid my way to attend a Christian widow’s conference. The Lord’s strength is the only way I got there. Much of the time it was all I could do to keep it together, but these women and this ministry started my journey to hope and healing, and I am forever grateful. I’m humbled and honored they allowed me to share my heart and how God is continuing to work through our horrific story.

God bless,

Jen

photo3

start a conversation that matters

Suicide-Prevention-Month-0

In 2013 (the most recent year for which full data are available from the CDC), someone in this country died by suicide every 12.8 minutes.

Twenty two Veterans die by suicide a day in this country. These are men and women who have sacrificed their lives for us during war.

Twelve people harm themselves for every reported death by suicide.

After cancer and heart disease, suicide accounts for more years of life lost than any other cause of death.

Did you read the last one? If you don’t think mental illness and suicide could impact you or someone you know, think again.

Many times we get so caught up in our own lives, especially on social media, that we scroll past anything that doesn’t pertain to them.

Sure. I probably would have scrolled past this, too, eight months ago. I thought suicide would never impact my life. However, this year and these staggering statistics tell a different story.

Suicide has become an epidemic in our country and should be addressed. We need to stop dancing around difficult topics and start conversations that matter. So that is what I’m doing here. Though it’s not always easy and can be uncomfortable, it might just save a life.

If I can save one family from experiencing the devastation, trauma, agony, confusion, shock, guilt, heartache, emptiness and fear that our family has experienced – making others uncomfortable is OK by me. Because the truth is the word suicide stops everyone in their tracks, but for some reason most of society doesn’t take the cause of suicide seriously, and then it becomes too late.

We all know what suicide is, but many of us have preconceived ideas of why someone would take their own life. I know, because I’ve read and heard some things I want to address that are simply not true from my perspective. And, it’s causing those who are suffering to keep their feelings hidden. Let me share what suicide is not.

  1. Suicide is not selfish. Ninety percent of those who die by suicide have a mental illness. Just as our hearts, livers, kidneys, etc. malfunction, so can our brains. I would think even more so because of the complexity of our minds. If you’re not aware, untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide.* Depression can make you believe things about yourself that are the complete opposite of who you really are – a distorted perception. I know for certain my husband Michael’s perception of himself, during those final moments, was so far from reality that it is extremely difficult to understand for my healthy mind. But that is what depression and other mental illnesses do – they lie – making you believe you are not deserving of this life and are a burden to the ones you love.
  2. At the time, it is not a choice. For many of us this can be so hard to understand, but from a person in so much pain, they see this as the only option.
  3. For those who are Christians, suicide does not mean a lack of faith. Mental illness is a disease, and suicide can be a result for those who do not get help. Like a life-threatening physical disease, if we do not seek help, the result of death is usually inevitable. When someone dies from cancer or heart disease we don’t say, “If only they had focused on God and had a little more faith.” From my experience, those suffering from mental illnesses, who are Christians, are putting their focus on Him. However, sometimes the illness is so aggressive, it takes over. Please hear me – I am in no way saying that miracles don’t happen and prayer does not work, because I know it does. The only way I am here today, standing strong, is because of prayer and my faith as a Christian.

{Side note for those who have lost a loved one to suicide – As a Christian, it can be tough to try to understand how something like this can happen. I’ll tell you what I know. I know God doesn’t cause horrific things to happen, but He sometimes allows them because He knows the gain for His Kingdom is far greater than our current circumstances.}

Back to the above. You noticed I said UNTREATED depression. This is where I find hope, and you should too. I could not save Michael’s life, but there are thousands of other lives that can be saved. Like many other illnesses, most often mental illness cannot be prevented, but suicide can.

The key is eradicating the stigma that so often surrounds mental illness, so those suffering are not ashamed and can get the help they desperately need

It’s important we know the signs and know what to do. Remember the five signs. And, if you know someone who could be contemplating suicide, remember QPR.

five signs

Q: Question – Don’t sugar coat the question. Ask them if they are having thoughts of suicide.

P: Persuade – Persuade them to stay alive long enough to talk to someone.

R: Refer – Most of us are not experts or professionals. Help them find resources.

(Check out QPRinstitute.com for more. Also, AFSP.org and the Campaign to Change Direction)

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

If you’re having thoughts of suicide, think again. You don’t have to be a statistic. YOUR LIFE MATTERS. You were put on this earth for a reason, and “God isn’t done with you yet!”

Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on mental illness. These are my personal thoughts on what I have experienced and learned over the past eight months as a suicide survivor.

*Stats courtesy of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention and suicide.org.

photo3

beauty from ashes

“and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” Isaiah 61:3

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20

Oh. This life. For lack of a better word, it’s a weird one, full of many emotions day in and day out. But through it all God is good, and He has never left my side. He is using this horrific story to bring healing to me, those around me and those I have never met.

After Michael’s death I thought, how will I ever move forward? How will I ever find even a small bit of joy? How will I possibly put my feet on the floor each morning and be the mother I need to be for Ty? How on earth can a death by suicide be turned to good?

Once those thoughts passed, I felt a huge responsibility to do something with all of this. I thought I had to do something life changing. But what I’m coming to learn is that many day-to-day things that seem monotonous CAN be life changing. From this blog, to talking with others and sharing my story and my faith, I can see how God is moving. He is working through me. And for that, I am beyond humbled.

From day one of my beloved husband’s passing, I have prayed that his death and the pain I am experiencing would not be in vain. And, every day, God has shown me it is not. I’m emotional just typing these words.

You see, as difficult as it is to write this, without this horrific story – all of this pain – these lives would not have been changed, including mine. I would not be the person I am becoming, and I actually really like her. She’s learned to listen.

So often we get caught up in talking to God but never stop to listen. We have so much to say to him, but what does He have to say to us?

Guilty.

I have always been a strong Christian and had a close relationship with Jesus, asking him to guide us during several important issues in our lives; however, there were many times in my life where things were going so well and I was so caught up in what I had planned, I may have missed some of the things He asked of me.

Throughout my life, as I’ve prayed, Jesus has answered. Not always in my timing or the way I would have hoped, but He has answered. In the last seven months Jesus’ voice has never been bolder. It sometimes comes in a small whisper but lately it’s loud and clear. At times I feel uncomfortable, wrestle with it for a moment, and then do what he asks. And, I have never regretted it. In these moments I am continuing to see God work though me in the lives of others, turning ashes to beauty.

I don’t know what the future holds, and I know firsthand that things don’t always go according to our plans. But I am trusting in Him, because I know whatever He has planned for my life and Ty’s life – it is for good.

If you would have told me more than seven months ago, my husband would die by suicide and I would be waking up each morning, feet on the floor, faith so strong, finding a bit of joy and beauty and excitement for life each day, sharing my testimony with others – I would have never believed it.

That, my friends, is the power of His strength and faithfulness.

blogphoto3