‘You were sending me strange text messages. I returned home to you acting even stranger. The paranoia set in. You accused me of infidelity. I did not recognize this man screaming at me.’

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“You and I met in 2001 in a pretty unconventional way. Let’s just say, girls night out…male review…lust at first sight! From our first conversation I knew you were different. After our first date we became inseparable. We got married in 2004 after 3 years of dating. Three years after that we had our first of three sons. We built a home in North Phoenix and were living out our dreams.

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Life as I knew it was perfect. I was retired from the medical field and you started and owned a successful carpet and tile cleaning company. I was so proud of you. We were both stay at home parents enjoying our 3 sons. You were an amazing father. You picked them up from school every day and took them to sports practices. You would even take them out of town for competitions. The boys adored their dad and looked up to you in every way.

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You were an adrenaline junkie! Everything from sky diving, snowboarding, wakeboarding, race car driving, cliff jumping and many others.

Your passion for rock music is unparalleled. I so enjoyed going to concerts with you! We would even travel out of state to see our favorites. Looking back, all that head banging probably added to your head trauma. You were also a retired Marine who kept all of your darkest secrets and thoughts buried deep within. It wasn’t until after your death that many things came to light.

Courtesy of Jennifer Innocenti

The last 2 years of your life our marriage had ups and downs. I thought it was normal. After all, we had been together 15 years so I knew you pretty well. But something seemed off. Unfortunately, you had another concussion from a wake boarding crash a month prior to your death. This was at least the 4th concussion from wakeboarding or snowboarding I knew of. That last crash changed you. It wasn’t your fault. You even had a vasectomy 2 weeks prior to your death and that seemed to mentally upset you as well. It was the perfect storm…

Courtesy of Jennifer Innocenti

Your last weekend alive, I knew something was wrong. I had a trip to Vegas with girlfriends already scheduled. You took the boys to dinner, the movies, and shopping for new sports equipment. Almost like you knew it was your last weekend with our sons. You were also sending me strange text messages. I returned home Sunday evening to find you acting even stranger.

Courtesy of Jennifer Innocenti

Monday, April 25, 2016, the paranoia set in. It was so disheartening of being accused of infidelity after 12 years of marriage and 15 years together. I did not recognize this man screaming at me. The twinkle in your eyes were gone, your charismatic smile that could light up a room had faded. This is not the man I loved and married and had children with. You told your family something was wrong with me and you were moving out. Everything happened so fast those last 3 days. Tuesday morning you picked the boys up and took them to school. We spent our day apart. You picked the boys up from school and took them to their sports practices. When you dropped them off, I couldn’t even look at you. You said, ‘I’m leaving. This is what you wanted.’ Little did I know that would be the last time I would ever hear your voice.

Courtesy of Jennifer Innocenti

Wednesday morning I knew something was terribly wrong. I could just feel it. I tried calling and texting you all morning and you wouldn’t reply. 26 times I tried to be exact. I texted your technicians to see if they had heard from you, but they never replied as they thought it was a marital issue. I had to pick the boys up from school because you would not reply. Where were you? Why are you ignoring your children? It’s ok to be mad at me, but not our sons. I just started bawling when I got the boys from school and we went straight home even though they wanted to get lunch. I could feel your presence had been there. I went into your closet and your guns were missing. Two hours later, there was a knock on our door. I looked out the peep hole and there was a man dressed nicely with a manila envelope. I honestly thought I was being served divorce papers due to your odd behaviors and accusations lately. I was totally wrong. The words I heard next would forever change my life: Jennifer Innocenti, we found your husband Brett Innocenti in a hotel room. He shot himself and has died.

I fell to the front porch screaming. Why would you do that?! Why would you leave me?! Our sons!!! My neighbors heard my screams and came rushing to my side. One neighbor scooped me up and took me into her house to make phone calls while her husband watched our boys. Family and friends all started showing up at our house as well as the Crisis Response Team. It was now time for me to do the hardest thing I’ve ever done. With family surrounding us, I sat our 3 boys down on the couch. All of them clutching their teddy bears from the Fire Team. I knelt down in front of them and said, ‘Boys, I am so sorry, but your Daddy has died and you will never see him again.’ I will never forget the looks and tears on their little faces. They were almost 5, 7 and 9. You died 3 days before our middle son’s 7th birthday and on your mom’s birthday. You were only 41. So young. So much life left to live. The Jen I was died with you that day.

Courtesy of Jennifer Innocenti

I started all of us in family therapy right away. I did anything I could to learn about suicide and mental health. I went to conferences, listened to podcasts, group discussions and read. We also joined family grief programs that had overnight camps to teach us healthy coping tools. I joined a healthy healing widows group. I was in a whole new world now. Everything looked and felt completely different than before. I have amazing family and friends that supported us during those first dark months. The first year is a blur and the second one was way more painful and difficult. After living with anxiety and PTSD for 2 years I decided enough was enough and I needed to take care of myself first. I started EMDR therapy and the results have been life changing. No longer do I have anxiety or suffer from PTSD.

We just had our 3rd year without you, Brett. Even though you are physically gone, your spirit has never left my side. We still have a relationship, it’s just different now. I know you are so proud of the boys and I and how far we’ve come in this journey. I took over ownership of your carpet and tile cleaning business in your memory. I am so grateful to you for starting your company as it has allowed me to stay home and be available to our sons. Being able to grieve openly and honestly as a family has been the most healing aspect.

Courtesy of Jennifer Innocenti

Not only are we surviving, but thriving! We built a new house and moved schools. Change can be scary or exciting; it’s all about perspective. I also found my passion and calling and became a yoga instructor.  Yoga has been pivotal in my healing and I want to share that with others. I’m certain if we can teach children mindfulness, breathing, and coping techniques at a young age, we can decrease the suicide rate. This is why I’m also a kids yoga instructor and am passionate about reaching all I can. My goal is to start kids yoga programs in schools, at studios, after school clubs, churches – anywhere. I was asked by one of the grief camps we attended if I would come back and teach yoga at the adult camp and then the kids camp. It was so therapeutic for me to come around full circle and help others in need.

Courtesy of Jennifer Innocenti

I will love you forever, Brett. After all, ‘grief is just love with no place to go.’ I honor your life and memory by sharing our story and being available to anyone who needs to talk or shoulder to cry on. No one should ever feel alone. I thank you for giving me the most incredible 15 years, 3 sons and 1 life full of love!”

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Laura Reynoso Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jennifer Innocenti of Phoenix, Arizona. 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 stories from those experiencing grief and loss:

‘He was out at a restaurant with my brother. The next morning, my entire life was over. ‘Caroline. He’s not breathing.’ I snapped back, ‘What? What are you talking about?’

‘Two men in uniform showed up at her door. ‘They’re coming. The Marines are coming.’ I looked at my mom. ‘I have to go,’ I said, and hung up immediately.’

‘Mommy, what’s wrong?’ I held her face in my hands and brought her eyes to mine. ‘Baby, there was an accident. Daddy died this morning,’ I whispered to my 12-year-old daughter.’

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