“Friday, September 7th, 2012, the devastation began.
My husband of 16 years. My best friend of 20 years. The father to my 9 and 12-year-old beautiful boys. He left that morning for work. He never came home.
I never saw his beautiful smile again. I never heard his voice or his booming laugh again. He just never came home.
I was 40 years old living a lovely life. Was it perfect? No. Whose life is perfect. I had a loving husband, happy and healthy children, close family and friends. Life was busy, stressful yet stable, and so good.
In one moment, that life was over.
My husband Patrick died. He died by suicide. He struggled with OCD. I knew he had anxiety. But he hid his depression. I did not see this coming. The Sandra I knew – she died that day too.
Just imagine it being all gone in a moment. My life blew into a million pieces. Devastation began.
My life. Beautiful, safe, secure, planned, with purpose, full of love, full of meaning, disappeared.
Instead I welcomed grief, despair, worry, sadness, pain, rage, suffering, fear, and hopelessness. It stood at my door waiting for me and when the door opened it rushed in and took me over. Instantly the chaos of my new life began, and confusion set in. Darkness and disbelief of my husband dying by suicide engulfed me. I was in shock.
But more importantly, what happened that day is my sons, Jack and Charlie, lost their dad. The man who loved them. The man they loved more than anything. They lost their innocence. They lost their future of what they believed to be true. Their deep suffering and unimaginable pain began too.
What I had to do on that day was impossible for my mind to grasp. I had to tell the boys their dad died. I was terrified to tell them.
I knew I had to be honest with them. Truth heals. If I didn’t tell them how he died, we would be living a lie and not honoring my husband’s struggles and disease. Mental illness is a disease. He was sick and he died.
5 words. I had to say them. ‘Your dad died by suicide.’
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 do.
They were living a great life. A life with a dad who loved them. A life with no fear, pain, guilt, shame or longing. A life that was so good. So right. So beautiful. They would grow up in a heartbeat. They would experience pain no human should feel.
They were just little boys.
Days were dark. School was missed. Life was so different. Change every day. Yelling. Crying. Silence. Fear. Anger. The suffering began.
I lived in a fog. They did too.
Grief and depression set in. Pain so deep it took me over. I couldn’t function. I would stay in bed for hours after the boys went to school. I would cry for days. My family and friends cried with me. Listened to me scream. Took care of my boys. My community fed us and sent words of love and support.
The first year was a blur. I felt dead inside. Dull. Confused. Depression set in. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was living on coffee during the day and too much red wine at night. I was going through the motions. I thought I was losing my mind. The boys and I went to counseling every week. We needed help.
The 2nd year was worse.
I woke up from my dark cloud of suffering, pain and grief to a world unknown to me. I didn’t know how to handle my new world. My depression got worse. Anxiety crept in. The chatter and chaos in my head was ever present. I retreated more. Counseling and yoga were my only reprieve from the suffering in my heart and head.
I thought I could find freedom from my darkness. We had moved to Fairfield, Connecticut, and were starting over. New town, new schools, new life. I had quiet.
I didn’t have to live in a town where memories flooded my heart and head everywhere I looked. I was looking at a blank canvas.
But starting over is not easy, especially when you are in survival mode. My anger, fear, grief and despair continued to consume me. I still spent weeks in bed when the kids were at school. I was alone and isolated and knew I had to really work on me.
More counseling. I started to work out every day. I would spend hours sweating the sadness and pain away. I had found a release.
We started to meet friends. But I still didn’t trust people. I didn’t talk much. I kept to myself. I kept our life simple. I could only handle living day by day. I was there for Jack and Charlie, but didn’t know how to be there for me yet.
Something shifted in me. It was quiet, but it happened. Mentally I was letting go. Letting go of my old ways. Dealing with my loss. Grieving Pat and my old life. I started to embrace our new life. And I finally woke up.
I noticed color in trees and flowers. I felt the warmth of sunshine on my face. I heard birds chirping. People laughing. I had lost this for years.
I started to have more good days than bad every week.
I laughed more. I cried less. Simple things I started to find pleasure in again. My eyes were wide open. I knew I was starting to heal. I knew though that my world was different and I needed to embrace it. Embrace the change. Be grateful of what I did have. Two beautiful boys. A chance to start over. A new beginning.
Grief and despair were still with me. I had learned in counseling I had to sit with it when it came. Pushing it away. Stuffing it. I would not heal. Peace was entering my heart.
And it happened. The day year 5 began.
The boys and I had a fight. An epic fight. We have those fights. I realize it’s when we can’t all hold it together anymore and we have to let out our grief, anger, pain and suffering together.
We all blow and then we sit down and talk about our feelings. In counseling, we have learned how to communicate with each other. We are open and honest and respect each other’s feelings.
The boys told me how they were sad. I was still so sad. I realized at that moment, they were right. I never let myself completely go and live again because I needed permission from them. I looked at them and said, ‘We really are okay, aren’t we?’
From that moment, my new life really started. My heart told me Jack and Charlie were ok. I knew there was a Sandra inside that was bolder, brighter, more adventurous, a learner, a giver and alive. I wanted her to come out. And she has.
I am living a life filled with laughter. Filled with love. Filled with joy. Filled with hope. Filled with purpose.
Encouraged by my boys and friends who have walked with me on this grief journey, I am writing and sharing my story to help widows struggling with this new life we must lead and to offer hope to those swallowed in their grief. I am being honest about mental illness, depression and suicide. We have to talk about the hard stuff to help those in need.
As Eleanor Rooselvelt said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”
The boys and I have lived through horror. We have looked fear in the face time and time again.
The road has been long and ugly. I didn’t always trust we would get here. The loneliness and isolation of being a widow at times makes my heart so heavy. I still have moments that torture me where the pain is unbearable. Yes, sadness and grief will always be with us ,but no longer consumes us.
The man the three of us loved and who loved us is gone. We lived a beautiful life with him. We have learned to live a beautiful life without him.
Losing it all makes you look at yourself, raw and ripped open. I was afraid of what I saw for many years. I was afraid of living my new life.
I’m not afraid anymore.
Life is worth living. Trust me. It’s beautiful when you do.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sandra Began of Connecticut. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
Read more inspiring stories from widows in their grief journey:
‘My healthy, 39-year-old husband said he felt ‘off.’ When I got to the hospital, 2 nurses came out, crying. ‘Is he DEAD?,’ I screamed. The words she uttered took my breath away.’
‘With his body full of tumors, he kept working’: Wife’s tremendous grief after husband’s cancer diagnosis
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