Monday, January 20, 2014


What is the meaning of a dream?

Lily tells me that she believes that when her Daddy is in her dreams it is him communicating with her and letting her know he is sorry and he didn't mean to hurt her.

I don't subscribe to this theory but I'm glad that he is "telling" her positive things rather than what he is "telling" me in my dreams.

In my dreams Shawn is scary.  For one thing...he isn't supposed to be there.  He's dead. 

He is, isn't he??

There are some variations on the dream but they are never happy.

When he first died he would appear in my dreams and want to see the kids.  In this dream I am horrified and scared for them.  His anger and sickness are palpable and my fear is that they will be confused and hurt even more than they have been while processing his death.  And then my dreaming mind starts to think, "How can you be alive?"  And I start trying to get a glimpse at the side of his head looking for the bullet hole.  And sometimes I can see it...just a gaping hole through the side of his head as he insists on seeing the kids.

Lately he is just a threatening presence in my dreams.  Angry.  Sullen.  Refusing to talk.  Until he says something so caustic and scary like, "I should have shot you in the head."

I am a spiritual agnostic.  I do not believe in Heaven or Hell.  I don't believe in ghosts.  I do believe we have a soul and an energy that survives the death of our bodies.

Is this really what he wants to "communicate" with me?  Could it be that his spirit is still angry at me?  Did he keep his hatred of me after he died?

This is why I am somewhat speechless when Lily talks about her belief in dreams and her Daddy apologizing in them. I don't want her to know what he is saying in my dreams and I don't want to take away the comfort she is getting from believing.  And yet, I have to hold on to my belief that dreaming of someone who died is simply your brain trying to process your own personal fears and feelings. 

It is just too scary to think otherwise.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What It Was Like for Me the Day You Died - As submitted for publication...

What It Was Like for Me the Day You Died

“They found him. He killed himself.”

It is the evening of my 40th birthday. A birthday I’ve been dreading for months. Because 40 is old, right?

Our two kids are in the back seat laughing uproariously in that way only eight- and nine-year-olds can.

“They found him. He killed himself.”

As I hear those words come through the phone, the car crosses the bridge over the little creek near our house. It will be over a year before I can cross this bridge without reliving the moment of hearing that you, the father of my two children, my former husband of 15 years, had chosen that day, my birthday, to end your life.

Glancing in the rear-view mirror I viscerally understand . . . there is no way I can tell our  kids, “Your daddy died earlier today. Now sleep tight.”

Instead, I say, “Mommy isn’t feeling very well. She has a tummy ache and feels like she might throw up. When we get home I need you to get your jammies on right away and get ready for bed and then I will come read to you.”

And somehow, I do it.

I choke back the nausea. They need one more night of sleep. One more night to just be little kids. I smile – wan as it may be, read them bedtime stories and tuck them into bed, already calculating how many hours until I will be waking them to the news that they will never see their daddy again.

It is tonight that I will discover that 40 isn’t really that old.  But it turns out you can become ancient in just 11 hours.

The first few hours after the kids go to bed are busy enough that I can’t feel it happening. I have to call people and let them know.

But then it is bedtime even for the adults, and I am alone.

Pacing in the dark. Kitchen.  Living Room.  Bedroom.  Living Room.  Kitchen.  Living Room.

Looking at the clock. Looking away. Looking back.   Two minutes.  Five minutes. Thirty seconds.

What is a reasonable time to wake them both up?  Count again how many hours until I unburden myself from this horror.

And do what? Change their life?

And what choice do I have? The news is unavoidable and I have to be the one who delivers it.

Keep pacing. Keep moving.

At some point, I think I feel your presence. Rage fills me. “Get out!  You have no right to be here. Go away!” Your presence feels lonely, and I’m not going to be the one to comfort you or entertain your regret. I am the only one here for the kids now. You chose this.

Once exhaustion sets in, I become almost delirious. I know lying down to sleep would be futile, but I can’t keep walking anymore. Sitting next to the bed and resting my head on the edge is as close as I’ll get to sleep for another 24 hours.

And finally, the sun comes up, just as it does every day. At least as long as you’re alive to see it.

Our son is awake first. I call him into his sister’s room and we sit on the bed. It’s nothing unusual; we frequently do that in the mornings.  The kids are smiling with the anticipation of a new day.

It’s just the three of us there in the room. All in this together. I’ve decided at sometime during the night that your suicide will not define us.

And then I say it and it’s done: “I have something very hard to tell you. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to say. Your daddy died yesterday.”

The reaction is exactly as I imagined: wailing and looking at each other and at me with wide, questioning eyes. “Is this real?  What happened?”

I tell them.  It is the right thing for them to know the truth.

But there is still the part I can’t say. That I’m changed. I’m not just 40 years and one day old. When I stayed awake all night in order to keep them young for one more bedtime, I grew old. I don’t tell them that they're old now, too.

This is the true story of my 40th birthday.  I turned 42 this past August.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

So here we come up on 2 years since Shawn killed himself.

My birthday again - number 42.

Last year I remember being so concerned with what my birthday would be like and how to reclaim the day as my own.

This year I feel very...blase.  Very unusual for me who has relished each and every birthday as something exciting and special.

My family keeps asking me, "What do you want for your birthday?".  I have no answer.  For the first time in my life I have nothing I "want" for my birthday.

I know this happens to many people as they grown older - they just quit caring about their birthday - so maybe that is all it is.  Or maybe this year will be like that and next year will be something different again.

Lily asked me again last night what I want for my birthday and indicated she was running out of time to do something.  She commented that last year I just "cried all day" and that we "didn't do anything special" for me.  That isn't exactly how I remember it.  Sure, I had a melt down when no one could possibly make my birthday special and perfect enough to make up for what a hard day it was.  But everything turned out okay and we had a cake and they sang "Happy Birthday".

Earlier in the summer I had thought about throwing myself a big party with friends but then I ran out of...time and apparently desire.

Maybe not wanting the day to be a big deal is my way of not creating unrealistic expectations that will be only let down?  Maybe it is my way of trying to take the power of his death away from a certain day that is loaded with "shoulds" of how one should feel ("We should be sad, this is the day that Daddy/Shawn died" or "We should be happy and joyous, it's Mom's birthday."). 

It really is just another day like any other.  I am not actually a year older on August 29th - I am really just one day older than I was on August 28th.  Shawn is not actually dead a year longer on August 29th - he is still dead, just one day longer than he was on August 28th.

As for what I want...hugs.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

No really, I'm Good.

Well, hello.

I'm still here.

And gearing up to do some writing.

In fact, I've decided to rewrite the story of staying up all night, waiting to tell my children their father was dead by his own hand, and submit it to a magazine that I've read religiously for years.

When I look back at the various "Capital T" traumas in my life I would have to say that this was the worst of them all.  And that's saying something considering my timeline.

We are approaching the 2nd "anniversary" since Shawn's death...funny that...I've always thought it is so strange to use the word "anniversary" to describe the calendar date on which something terrible or tragic happened.  To me "anniversary" always seemed like it should commemorate something happy and joyous.

Of course you could always just call the day of Shawn's death, "Jennifer's Birthday" if that is any easier.

While talking with her Grandpa Jack (my Mom's husband of 25+ years who is like a father to me), Lily retold a dream she had of her Father.  In the dream her Father was there and was crying and said, "I'm so sorry.  Will you forgive me?".  This was very powerful for Jack because he had told the adults in the family that as he was playing guitar at the funeral he was overcome with this powerful sense of Shawn saying the same thing..."I'm so sorry.  Please forgive me."

Grandpa Jack is not a religious person, nor is he a particularly "new agey" type - he just felt this overwhelming sense that Shawn was very sorry and that we should forgive him.

I thought about this a lot since hearing of Lily's dream (which she had not yet shared with me).

I have felt Shawn's presence a few times.  I did feel him with me the night he died as I counted the hours until I could wake the children.  I railed at him and ordered him AWAY - that he had NO RIGHT!

I've never had a sense of him saying, "I'm so sorry.  Please forgive me." - it is always more of a sense of him enjoying the children via me which sometimes I allow to flow and other times I shut off.

I wondered tonight, "How would I feel if I DID feel or sense this sentiment of, 'I'm so sorry.  Please forgive me'".

I realized that maybe I haven't heard this thought - if it were even possible for a deceased person to convey this sort of thing - because I don't want to hear it.  I don't want to forgive him.  I am angry and I don't feel like he just gets off that easy to say, "I'm so sorry." and then be forgiven.

I don't hate him for what he did.  I understand that he was in extreme pain.

It's just that sorry sometimes doesn't cut it.

When I last saw my therapist many moons ago we talked about my feeling (at that time) that maybe Shawn had thought, in some sick way, that killing himself on my birthday was a gift to me.  Because, of course, some things were better after his death.  I could make parenting decisions without the conflict between us that had become par for the course (and didn't seem to be getting any better despite my repeated attempts to ignore inflammatory remarks and pleading to move past the anger because it would be harmful to the kids).  I no longer had to worry from month-to-month if he would be paying child-support or if he would be asking for yet another reduction.  Now the Government sends me a check each month.

Maybe like some other suicidal people Shawn convinced himself we were all better off without him.

And then my therapist pointed out this...when was the last time Shawn had shown ANY gesture of kindness or compassion towards me?

I had to admit that the last time I could remember was before Lily was even born.

Add in the fact that his suicide note to Amber was filled with vitriol and blaming and that he could not have possibly been thinking rationally enough to decide, "Oh, she won't have to fight me on everything and she will get Social Security" and we know the answer.

It was not gift to me - it was a punishment.

I still wanted to believe that, even in his death, that Shawn had ultimately cared about and loved me when really all that was left was this empty shell of a man with hate where his soul had once been.

So, yes, I don't think I'm ready to just say, "That's okay.".

Friday, April 26, 2013

Just Another Statistic

There's been a lot of talk about guns in our country...for a long time.  For most of my adult life I was aware of guns being used, not only as tools of the police or hunters, but for violence.

There was a mass shooting at the University of Iowa when I was a student (a friend who was disliked by the gunman avoided being a victim because she happened to fill in at work for me that day instead of going to the meeting in the Physics Dept where the shooting happened). 

The Columbine shootings happened right after Shawn and I moved to Colorado.  I was saddened but detached (my typical reaction when these "big" things happen in the news).  Shawn was devastated - it happened the day before his birthday and he actually drove the 90 minutes to Denver to attend a candlelight vigil.

There are lots of others that come to mind:  at a McDonald's in California in the 1970s when we happened to be there visiting my Grandparents, Virginia Tech, Aurora movie theatre.  And, of course, there is Newtown - which caused anxiety for anyone who has to send a child off to school in the morning.

What I didn't realize until recently is that, by far, people using guns against *themselves* far surpasses all the other acts of violence combined.

When I heard these statistics I was stunned. 

People who attempt suicide by gun have a very high success rate.

50% of all suicides are by gun.

White males, about 40% of the U.S. population, accounted for over 80% of firearm suicides in 2010.

A study of California handgun purchasers found that in the first year after the purchase of a handgun, suicide was the leading cause of death among the purchasers.

Shawn is just another statistic among so many.

For someone who saw himself as "terminally unique" (to use the words of a friend) he did something totally un-unique.

I know that Shawn had thought about suicide for many, many years and had never made an attempt.  Until he had a gun, that is.

If he hadn't purchased guns a year before his death might he have just gone up into the woods and hiked up his favorite trail and gotten drunk?

I have no answers to suggest that would change or even make a small impact on these statistics. 

Outlaw guns?  No.  Look at what has happened in the US with our drug laws.

Keep them out of the hands of the mentally ill?  Sure.  But who decides?  And does it prevent people from seeking treatment if they get on a "list"?  Would Shawn have been someone on the "list" of people who shouldn't own a gun?  If they had asked me I would have said "NO - it's not safe!"  But Amber must have thought it was okay for him to start buying guns, right?  And what about his parents?  Did they see the danger signs that I did when I heard from the kids that Shawn had become a gun owner after the divorced?

Education?  What do we tell these young-middle aged men?  Just don't do it? 

What can be done about this gruesome statistic?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

She's Not 8 Anymore

I haven't been writing and I don't think anyone has been reading.

Everything has seemed...normal lately. 

Lily's depression magically seemed to lift when I finally realized that her sleep problems seemed to be the source of her inability to cope with anything.

Despite my reluctance and fear I did finally start giving her melatonin which has worked so well that I actually now fear, every night, that it will quit working.

For at least a year bedtime was a terrible time for her.  She would want to talk about her Dad and some of the terrible details she knew...right before laying down for "sweet dreams".  She would cling to me and ask, "Where I he?  He's right here isn't he?" and she would look blindly around the room.  I, of course, was exhausted by this time of night and really didn't have the energy or the knowledge about how to help her.

I knew it would take her several hours to finally fall asleep and I knew that she would wake up 2 or 3 times a night and have trouble getting back to sleep.

Once I started thinking about how things really must be for her I realized that I couldn't just ignore her situation just because of my own hang-ups about "medicating children".

She will be 10 years old on Sunday.  It will be her second birthday without her Dad.  She is growing into such a beautiful and amazing girl - I know he could have never envisioned her like this.  I know he thought he was making things easier by "going away" when she was young.

I wonder what memories she will have of her Dad as the years go by?

What kind of things do you remember from when you were eight?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


I wonder how long the denial phase of grieving can last?

I can see how anger, sadness and acceptance can be a cycle we go through our entire life.

After 18 months, though, it still surprises me when, out of the clear blue, I feel this deep and utter disbelief...

Did he really do that?

Anyone who has experienced a death knows that this is not your run-of-the-mill, "Oh my gosh!  Can you believe that happened?"

It is a deeper surreal feeling of being out of sync with reality.

I have found that it seems to happen after I've been going through a period of acceptance.

Perhaps that is why it feels so jarring and unexpected?

And it seems like each time it happens it, at least temporarily, reboots the acceptance phase and gets me thinking again.