Not Watching the Clock

This week, we had the second anniversary of the day we lost my aunt to suicide. It was something I had been dreading… the lead up to that date is always tough, and then figuring out how to navigate the day itself and the days surrounding it hasn’t been easy.

We have a few anniversaries… the date she died, the next day when we found out she died…and a few more along the way as well.

In the weeks after we lost her, I became a detective in the worst sort of way. We were able to piece together a timeline of what happened, and a lot of “this is when she made that decision” “this was her last communication” types of things.

And because we have that timeline, it’s been very tempting for me to ‘watch the clock’ on the anniversary dates, to remember what she was going through at the exact moments she was going through them. But also, the decision to watch the clock last year made me feel extra sad.

So this year, I called my mom to check in and we talked about our plans for the evening and how it was weird to decide what we were going to do and how we would spend our time. I shared that it was hard for me to not watch the clock and she said the same.

We both decided that this year we wanted to try to have a normal evening, and to intentionally not watch the clock and instead choose to engage in some self-care. For me, that meant watching a show with JP and eating chips and salsa and microwave s’mores.

And I honestly think that was the best decision I could have made.

One, it made the night much more tolerable.

The other big thing is that two years ago, when my aunt died, a very deep darkness won. It is horrible and awful and it will always be horrible and awful that darkness won that day.

But we don’t have to keep letting the darkness win each year on that night.

I pray for Jeannine every day. I intend to keep praying for her as long as I’m alive. I grieve for her. Sometimes I grieve deeply. That is a part of the process too, and I respect that and validate that when the waves of grief crash heavy on the shores.

I also think it’s important for me to make the choice each and every day to live. For me, this year on the sad anniversaries that surround February 4th for our family, I chose to engage with my children. To visit with friends. To eat snacks and snuggle with my husband. That felt more powerful to me than forcing myself to relive the darkness by watching the clock and letting some of that darkness in.

It’s a tough balance, managing a loss like this one, but this year I’m thankful for the conversation my mom and I shared, and that we both were able to, as much as we could, not let the darkness claim another victory by stealing from the precious time we have.


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A Special Prayer Request

*Content warning- this deals with a situation involving violence*

Just over four months ago, Kayla Sanmiguel’s life changed.

Javier, Kayla, and their 4 children

What happened has been well-documented over the news in the St. Paul area, which you can learn more about here, here, here, and very easily over on Google if you search “St. Paul Good Samaritan Shooting.”

The short version is that Kayla and her husband Javier heard a car accident outside their home. Javier, being who he was, ran out to make sure everyone was okay while Kayla called 911. The person who caused the crash had crawled into the trunk of his hatchback, and when Javier opened the trunk to make sure he was okay, the man shot him and killed him.

Kayla, who is JP’s cousin, is now a widow. They have four children together. She is my age. And everything she thought her life was going to be is going to be different now.

She is in need of prayer as she adjusts to life as a single mom of four and a widow at such a young age. Please pray for Kayla and her children and her family who are so very deeply impacted by this loss.

There is also a GoFundMe set up, and you can click here to donate if you feel so led.


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How To Save A Life: Suicide Prevention Day, 2018

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

Donate to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

Grieving Suicide

Grieving my 47-year-old aunt Jeannine’s suicide has been different than any other grief I have experienced in my time on this earth. It is heavy, it is dark, it is slow, it is hard.

Me and Neen before.

She left so many things behind. Family, friends, loved ones. We all must live now with a story that ended in a nightmare. We hurt for our grief, but we also hurt for the pain Jeannine felt in those final minutes. We want the chance to go back in time, to take some of that pain off her shoulders. To write a different ending.

Sometimes suicide grief is weird. I’ve had so many thoughts and emotions. Anger, compassion, pleading, confusion, an insatiable hunger for answers. I’ve been mad at the inanimate objects that were in her apartment because they witnessed her die and did nothing. I’ve had to think long and hard about which of the items that were in that room I wanted to keep. A million weird things have passed through my head as I frame our life ‘after.’


She left so many things behind. Her gemstones, her clothes, her records, her movies, her furniture, her art, her jewelry, her dishes, cookie cutters, board games, pictures, books.

And journals.

We have an abundance of journals. Part of my grieving process has been, in small pieces, to read her heart on those pages. At first, I wanted answers. Sometimes, I was mad. Now I am trying to understand.

You see, to many who knew her, Jeannine was a bright spot of sunlight on a cloudy day. She paid attention to the little things. She saw people, and helped make their day better. She cooked delicious food, and baked, and made her own amazing chocolates. She loved being silly. She planned elaborate trips for me and my friends on multiple occasions to visit her in NYC. We laughed a lot. We had deep conversations.


I, like many others, had no idea my aunt was chronically depressed.

But there it is, on the pages of her journals. She wondered what was wrong with her, why she was always so tired. She thought cruel things about herself and her self-worth. More than once, she considered ending her life.


And no one knew she was depressed. Not even herself.

I haven’t read a page yet where she connected her struggles to depression. She wanted to snap herself out of it, she felt like she was watching her life go by, she was really, really sad a lot of the time and thought it was because something was intrinsically wrong with her. But, except for to a very few people on extreme occasions, she put on a smile and lit up the room.

My Why

I’ve journaled in the past, on and off, but particularly when I’ve been going through a struggle. When I look back on my journals during those difficult times, I am struck by how similar her journals sound to mine. Like, eerily similar.

And it’s hard not to wonder what the difference was, that I came out of it okay and Neen lost her life. Was it that I identified it as depression? That I had someone close to me who saw the problem? But I isolated myself and put a happy face on plenty, too. Was it that my depression was more situational/hormonal, and hadn’t been following me for decades? That I had years of relief between relatively short depressive seasons and for her it was relentless?

In the end, for my aunt, we know it was the perfect storm of trauma on a terrible, awful night. All the wrong pieces came together in the absolute worst possible way, and she was left without hope.

In light of this, or, perhaps to try and make some sense of it, I’m going to briefly describe my own experiences with depression in the hopes to shed some light on the variety of faces depression can take. No matter how many pages of journal I read, I will never have all the answers about why my aunt didn’t survive her depression. But I can work to understand my own experiences, and be a voice that breaks the silence.

Depression Three Times

In my adult life, I have had three seasons of depression. As mentioned above, mine have been either circumstantial or hormonal/body chemistry related. Here is a summary of what those seasons looked like form me.

1- Between the ages of 20 and 21, I worked at a small company in a small office with three men. The owner of the company was also a man, and the only woman I interacted with there was his wife. The three men who worked in the office asked me inappropriate questions about intimate things, and joked about inappropriate sexual things while I was working, or eating lunch with them, or whenever.

I scheduled a meeting with the boss and his wife to share that the work environment had gotten uncomfortable for me. They listened intently and I left that meeting believing I now had some advocates on my side.

The next time I went to work, the men apologized. But only days later, I got a call from the wife of the boss telling me I was being let go.

The quality of my work hadn’t changed, and the company was pretty busy, which was why they had hired me as extra help. The only thing that had changed was I spoke up about their inappropriate sexual comments at work.

After that, I suffered low moods, some hopelessness, and feelings of being helpless. Within a couple of months, my life had moved onto other things, and there was much in my life that was going well, and the depression subsided on its own.

2- After giving birth to my children, I had mild to severe postpartum depression, and it was a bit different with each child. It varied from low mood and pervasive sadness after Felicity was born, to very, very scary thoughts of self-harm after August was born. I felt like I was watching my life through a pane of glass and couldn’t get in. I didn’t think I was good for my children. I thought the world would be better without me.

After we diagnosed the postpartum depression, I took Zoloft for approximately 6 months in combination with therapy, and reading books about postpartum. I followed all the directions for how to take care of myself and I began noticing an improvement after I had been on the medication for 2-4 weeks. Things started feeling better, I was able to smile and enjoy my children again, and I knew I would be okay. I wrote in detail about my experience with postpartum depression and anxiety here. 

3- Three years ago, a woman broke into my home while I was alone with our then two children. I was on the phone with 911 for just under 6 minutes before they arrived, hiding in an upstairs bedroom as I watched this person peep around my backyard and ultimately gain entry. When they police came, she was in my kitchen. To this day I don’t know what her intentions were, but I do know that I was home alone with my young kids, without any means of defending myself while someone who was drunk, or high, or both was in my house.

After that happened, I exhibited many symptoms of PTSD. Functioning at work became difficult. Seeing an unfamiliar face in my neighborhood caused a panic. Unexpected loud noises did the same. I slept better once we installed a home security system.

I ended up having to leave a job that was highly-stressful even when I was functioning at 100%. It was hard to leave. I felt like I was letting a lot of people down, and that didn’t help. My thoughts, for a time, grew dark and scary. We were going to buy a gun for home protection. I told my husband not to. I was worried about myself with a weapon like that in my home.

As weeks and months passed from the traumatic event, my depressive symptoms again subsided. Besides that very unique traumatic incident that I couldn’t have controlled, our life was in a very good place. I was able to weather the storm of acute stress probably in part because of that. But, having experienced scary depression prior with the postpartum issues, it was a very unwelcome return to that place for even a relatively short time.

The Other Side

Writing a lot of that feels very weird now, because I am in such a different mental space now, and in general. I’m not someone who struggles with chronic depression, but I have struggled at different times, and in different ways each of those times.

But I am so thankful I survived, because it wasn’t a guarantee. And I now understand what depression is, so even when something happens that is triggering, I can label what is happening and I know where to reach out for help if I need it.

And I wonder how many people could be saved by having access to tools to help them identify what is happening?

It’s been hard not to play the what-if game with Jeannine.

What if she had understood that her depression wasn’t something innately wrong with her as a person?

What if she had been able to put a name to all the things she was feeling and was able to get help?

What if she had taken an anti-depressant?

What if people just simply talked about it more so she would have had a chance to recognize the overlap between others’ experiences and her own?

Walking Wounded

For those of us who have suffered a suicide loss, we walk this earth wounded every day.

I did keep some of her personal belongings, and they now sit in my home. I am thankful to be able to remember her with those items, but I often think how they don’t belong here. They belong with her, in her apartment, with her there to look at them each day.

I’ve also been appointed the personal representative of her estate. There are a lot of things to do with that. Legal things, tax things, things that remind me daily how I wish things had turned out different. I even play out different scenarios in my head while driving or sitting after the house has gone quiet late at night. I imagine what would have happened if I had seen her deactivate her Facebook page the minute she did it and called to check in. If she had answered her phone. If there could have been a different ending to this story.


Jeannine walked wounded every day, too. It’s there, plain as day on the pages of her journals. And so many of us here also walk wounded because of depression.

Breaking the Silence

It’s so important to break the silence. Breaking the silence is a way to start a conversation, to end stigma, to open up avenues of support. And maybe, a way to save a life.


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Strong But Not Superhuman

The Swells and Crests of Life

We had a period of time this fall into early winter where things were relatively calm. I remember thinking to myself during that time, Remember to appreciate this. Be thankful for this.

Because I’ve been around at least long enough to know that life comes in seasons, in swells and crests, and that something would come to stir up our temporarily calm seas.

Mary was in the hospital for two nights just before Christmas, and RSV spread through the rest of the family for most of Christmas break.

Then, in January we caught our breath.

In February, we lost my aunt to suicide, and we are still recovering from that loss. The pain continues to come in waves. There are good days, and there are difficult days. The air leaves my chest and my stomach sinks every time I go in the basement and see a pile of boxes there. All her stuff. Filled with clothes and baking supplies and art that I have no idea what to do with and no clue if or when or how I will be ready to see it, to touch it, to use it again.

Coming to terms with the pain she felt, our own powerlessness to do anything to change it, and the hope that my prayers can help her still all make for a complicated mix of emotions. I can’t control when the grief hits. And when it does, it isn’t always convenient.

And it just seems like right now there is an abundance of regular but personal and professional business that make finding balance more tricky than it is at other times. I’ve wanted to have time to write more on the blog, but it’s been difficult to find the words to say amidst all the sadness.

I’m struggling with knowing the best direction to take my novel, and in discerning if it’s time to let it rest for a bit and start something new. It’s tough for me to leave a thing unfinished, in any area of life. And it’s also tough for me when there is no clear end point. I can’t say for certain when it will be ‘done.’

We are making some positive, needed, good changes, like moving to a bigger home to account for the growing number of people in our family. I’ve started being asked to speak even in different states, which is super cool and exciting.

Managing Self-Care

But compartmentalizing is tricky for me. It’s tough for me to keep everything in it’s own separate baskets in my mind and things tend to spill over. Today, I wrote an outline for myself to make sure I’m managing my self-care. Blocking time to write, to read, to exercise, to sleep. To make sure I respect the rhythm of my own body and the way God has made me. I recharge my batteries by having time alone. By writing. By reading. And by prayer. If I don’t make it a priority, then I can go too long without making it happen, get caught up in the current, and I start to feel anxious.It was good to take time to actually write out those priorities.  And it’s amazing what a quiet hour by myself can do for my peace of mind and ability to be present for my family.

The long and short of it is, I need to remember to give myself a break! I can’t be All The Things All The Time to All The People. I can’t read an article while Mary is crawling on my lap. I can, however, set aside time specifically for Mary crawling on my lap and other kid related endeavors, and also set aside different time to read that article.

I am strong, but I am not a superhero. And I think consistently trying to do more than one thing well at one time is a way to drain this momma fast.

If I need some time to grieve, I need to take some time to grieve. Not grieve AND feed the kids dinner. Not grieve AND coach a teacher. I need to open up time to just let myself grieve, at least at some point during that day. And respect it. Likewise, I can’t write a super cool blog post AND interact with my kids (with any level of patience). I can work on house hunting/building stuff, but not at the same time as I pack my lunch.

It sounds so simple, but it is something I try and do so often! Not only am I going to do this one thing, but I’m going to do more than most other normal people and try and do more than one thing at the same time and then take pride in the fact that I am able to be so productive and efficient!

But at the end of the day, I just make myself tired.

So this is a good, recurring lesson for me. We won’t ever be able to finish All The Things when all is said and done. And learning to let myself take a slower pace, or set something aside for a while will only help maintain some much-needed balance. During the times when the seas are calm, but also when they are rougher too.


What helps you keep balance when things get busy? Have you had seasons of your life where you learned new ways to keep a healthy perspective?

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Walking Through Lent During A Time of Loss

It’s been a bit quiet over here on the blog for the past few weeks. A great sadness entered into my family’s life on February 4th, and it’s taken me a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to say. It didn’t seem right to write about anything else besides this, and I felt stuck until I could find the words. But I think I might have some now.

I had a very cool aunt named Jeannine. She used to live in New York City. She was 47 years old. And, due to a very tragic mixture of difficult circumstances and struggles, my very cool aunt chose to end her life on the evening of February 4th.

There has been an ocean of sadness as our family copes with this loss. I have never been so closely touched by suicide, and I hope to never experience this pain again. I know in time the acuteness of the suffering will fade, but the struggle and sadness from this loss will last a lifetime.

We’re left with so many unanswered questions. We know she struggled with addiction, and mental distress, and that she searched for good, but lost herself sometimes along the way. We just never in a million years would have expected it to come to this. We will deeply miss the beautiful person she was, and mourn the memories that will never be made.

Right now, I’m thankful for the moments of good. The snuggles from my kids. An evening eating chocolate and watching a TV show and talking with my husband. A moment at work where I am helpful to a teacher. Writing words.

But in it all, I have not felt close to God. And I think it’s important to be honest about that, because it is the reality of my current situation.

How odd this is all happening during Lent. I told a friend recently that I identify more with Jesus’ 40 days in the desert now than I ever have. Lent feels like a desert to me. Dry and barren and merciless. I see mirages in the distance. Moments when I forget this happened, and imagine my aunt is still out there, somewhere I could visit or give her a call. But, like mirages, the moments fade and in the sunlight, our new reality is blindingly clear.

I may not feel like God is near, I may not feel close to Him. But that doesn’t mean He isn’t there. God doesn’t exist or not exist depending on me.

So, right now, I’m going to Mass. I’m saying prayers. And none of this is because I feel it is true. It’s because I believe it is true regardless of how I feel.

I look forward to the day when I’ve emerged from these tumultuous seas. But it’s a process. And I trust my God is patient. And there. Whether I feel Him or not.

He doesn’t change like I do. And I know He won’t let me go.

On Easter Vigil, I will be at Mass, standing with my mother as her sponsor as she is confirmed into the Catholic Church.

And oh, I hope and pray that the power of Easter Sunday breaks through me. That it finds its way past the numbness and the anger and the pain. That the power of the hope of all things one day being made right will reverberate inside me and settle in my soul. For my aunt, and for us all. The hope that she is at peace, tucked safely in the arms of Love Itself. And that those of us left reeling from this loss will find our way back there as well.


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JP’s Corner: 15 Years Missing My Mother

Hello readers. I haven’t written in a while, and, I must say, it’s partly because I feel a tinge of cognitive dissonance about writing. In this internet age, no one talks to each other. We talk to everyone, but no one in particular. We all just put our thoughts out there without anyone actually asking us a pointed question.

Yet, in spite of me saying these things, here I am taking the mic and speaking to the world. If anyone reading this enjoys hearing what I have to say, then it is worth the effort.

This week marks the 15 year anniversary of my birth mother’s birthday into heaven. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat” – Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As Christians we have no need to mourn a believer’s death. A believer’s death is what that person, hopefully, has been longing for their entire life, because it is in death that we truly live. All throughout life on earth, the more we die to ourselves, the freer we are. In our bodily death, we meet freedom Himself, so long as we accept His invitation.

In remembering my mom today, I was reminded of what a very spiritual and holy priest said once at a healing mass Lorelei and I went to. He said that when we die we will all meet Jesus. He will offer us His grace and invite us into heaven. He leaves it entirely up to us whether to accept his offer or not. When I pondered this, I suddenly knew without a doubt that mom would never reject Our Lord’s offer. She loved him with all hear heart! Thus, my mother is in heaven.

During tonight’s prayer with our children, I asked mom to pray for us. I also asked God to bring her into his presence so that she would see him as he is, so that she would share fully in the divine life of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As I asked this, a tinge went through me, a little jolt of heat and tingle. I thanked God for the sign.

I wish she were here for me to see her love her grandkids. Like so many of us that have experienced the death of loved ones, I wish I could talk face to face with my mom. There are parts of me that I know come from her. And it is these parts that I often find un-related to by others, like little holes that need filling, but I can’t find the pieces that fit those holes.

But what’s my point in writing this? I’m not sure. It’s tough for me not to have a point, a learning objective. I’ve taught courses before, and a good learning objective is at the heart of effective teaching. Maybe my learning objective here is that I hope we all start talking to each other about the things that really matter in life, like our Father in heaven, the source of our being, and our destiny. Like all of us, God made my mother for himself, and he provides the Way for her to unite with him.

Precious Jesus, why you created human beings for yourself, in spite of what it would take you to provide the way for them to share in your life, only You who are Infinite Love knows. Father, for as much as it is worth, I thank you. For those of us who profess the Christian faith, the least of what we can do is do as He says!

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Missing Grandma

One of my most vivid memories from childhood is Christmas Eve at Grandma Wondrash’s house. Not one Christmas Eve in particular, but a conglomerate of all the Christmas Eve’s I spent there put together. Because, even though I grew and the adults aged and the years changed, so much about each year was always exactly the same. The cookies Grandma baked and kept in the freezer for each family to take home. The apron she wore. The way she decorated the tree. The meal she cooked for us all. The size of the bounty under the tree.

Once, during the year before she died, I was at a busy coffee shop when she called me. I stepped outside and we talked about her cancer. I asked her if she had a faith that she could hold onto. She said “Oh yes. I’m in God’s hands now.”

During our last Christmas Eve together, I was engaged to be married. I unwrapped my gifts, and came to one from her. I removed the wrapping paper and saw a Victoria’s Secret box. The people in the room took notice. My grandmother had purchased lingerie for me, and she got a kick out of it. And so did my dad… and my aunt and uncle… and my brother… and all the other people there it would be awkward to open lingerie in front of. One of my favorite memories of her to this day.

I shopped with her for the dress she would wear to our wedding. It was spring green, she looked… somehow younger. She felt pretty. We were in the fitting room when she casually mentioned that she would also like to be buried in that dress. Such strangeness, picking out a dress for her to wear to our wedding and her funeral at the same time and within the same dress.

The last time Grandma and I spoke, it was during cocktail hour at our wedding reception. We took a family photo, and she looked at me and said “You look so beautiful.” She wasn’t one to show much emotion, but her eyes were wet and her voice conveyed both strength and brokenness. She knew. I wish I had known that was my last moment with her. I would have lingered and stretched that moment as long as I could. I’m convinced she held on partly so she could see me on my wedding day.

I wish I could have been there with her as she passed. I had the honor of being there with my maternal Grandma and Grandpa when they died. I would have left anything to be by her side if I had known. I hope she didn’t feel alone.

Grandma has been gone for nearly 10 years now. I remember this easily, because she passed away while Jp and I were on our honeymoon, in late May 2007. We were in Door County, and I didn’t get cell phone service throughout the week. We found out on a dull stretch of highway as we approached Green Bay. I told my dad about the dress.

We had our family Christmas Eve party today, delayed due to a December blizzard. Each year now, I have a moment of acutely missing her during this party. Today, I was nursing the baby in my Grandpa’s room. He has pictures of our family on a small desk that I send him in the mail. But the house is a different house. And the meal has changed. And the tree is gone. No one makes the cookies anymore. And I so badly want her to meet her great grandchildren, and to know that I named Mary after her. And the missing just hurts.

And so I talk to her for a moment, and sometimes I cry for a moment, trusting that she can hear me from God’s loving arms. And I tell her I miss her. And I know that she no longer has cancer, and that she can breathe freely, and that she is at peace.

But the missing is hard.

Grandma and me. May 2007.

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