Ep #103: Widows Like Us: An Interview with Suzanne Denigris

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The Widowed Mom Podcast with Krista St-Germain | Widows Like Us: An Interview with Suzanne Denigris

The widowed mom experience is often so isolating, so it’s really no surprise if you believe right now that your story is too different from someone else’s, or that no one will understand your circumstances. For that very reason, I am thrilled to have you listen in to my conversation with my client, Suzanne Denigris.

Quite frankly, none of us want to talk about the things that weren’t so amazing in our relationships, or the guilt or shame we may have felt, and this is exactly why I love Suzanne so much. She always shows up in our community ready to share the realness of what’s going on for her, and after listening to her journey so far, I think you’ll come out on the other side knowing you’re most definitely not alone.

If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • What Suzanne’s life with her late husband looked like.
  • The misconceptions and reality of addiction and drug use.
  • Why Suzanne felt really unsure and uncertain of where she fit in with her husband’s life.
  • The support Suzanne looked for between her husband passing and finding me.
  • What did not help Suzanne when she was looking for support.
  • How Suzanne knew it was the right time to join Mom Goes On.
  • Suzanne’s experience of learning to feel her feelings for the first time.

Listen to the Full Episode:

 

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Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 103, Widows Like Us: An Interview with Suzanne Denigris.

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St-Germain.

Hey there. Welcome to another episode of the podcast. So often I think widows think they’re alone. They think that their story is too different than someone else’s story. They don’t have anyone in their immediate orbit who can relate to the details of the circumstances behind their relationship or to the circumstances behind their spouse’s death.

And so for that reason, and many others, I’m excited for you to hear my client Suzanne’s story. Not everyone comes to me having had a marriage that was kittens and rainbows and sunshine. Sometimes there were some things going on that were complicated and gritty, and that just makes us often feel isolated because it’s so easy to see the stories of other widows on the internet who seem like they had perfect marriages, never had any problems, everything was going smoothly.

And quite frankly, none of us really want to talk about all of the things that weren’t going amazing in our relationships. And sometimes what that means then is because we don’t see those other complicated relationships being talked about and because we don’t talk about them, then we often start developing shame.

We often start judging ourselves and our relationships and feeling even more lonely and even more isolated. And maybe guilty or shameful about what was going on in our relationship. And so I love Suzanne and I always have for the way that she has shown up in the program, which is just in a truly authentic way.

She does not hide. She always brings the real story of what’s going on in her mind and in her heart, and that’s why she’s a great person for you to listen from and learn from. And that’s why frankly coaching has been so powerful for her because she knows I’m not going to judge her and she’s willing to bring me the true stuff and she’s willing to get coached on it.

So I’ll stop talking about we will jump right into my interview with Suzanne. Enjoy.

Krista: Alright, welcome to the podcast Suzanne Denigris. I said that right?

Suzanne: You did.

Krista: Miracles happen. No one can pronounce my last name so why should I be able to pronounce anyone else’s.

Suzanne: Luckily, we’re not using my maiden name so you’re in luck.

Krista: Okay, it’s even more interesting. We won’t go there. Listen, I’m excited to have you on the podcast. You know this. I’ve told you already. You have been in Mom Goes On now for – you’ve done the initial six months, you’re now in the masters, and it has been so fun to watch you change, to watch you grow, to watch you be courageous in your life. And so I’m hoping we can talk about all the things today. Are you game for all the things?

Suzanne: I am game for all the things and I’m so honored to be here. I mean, I’ve just had such a great time working with you so thank you so much.

Krista: Yay. And I know I told you this before but I was thinking back as we were preparing for the podcast and I was thinking back to your initial call, the very first time that I talked to you and just thinking, sometimes I just have this urge to just fight for the person that’s on the other end of the phone. I just see what’s in their way and I see what’s possible for them and I fall kind of in love with them a little bit. Yeah, definitely happened with me.

So let me, instead of saying all sorts of things about you, let me have you just kind of talk a little bit about yourself. Your background, what people need to know about you in the beginning here.

Suzanne: Sure. So aloha. I’m originally from LA but I’ve been living in Hawaii for over 20 years, which I can’t believe it’s been that long. But I live on the island of Oahu and I first moved to Maui. I followed my best friend out to Maui and it was magical. I always say Maui is where my heart is.

But I was working in resorts and I was working at a concierge desk in a resort, which was the most fun I’ve ever had. I got to help guests and owners plan their vacations and make dinner reservations and plan their activities. Map out road trips, it was just a total blast.

And then after a while, I decided to move into the sales department and sell vacation packages. And that’s where Brian, my late husband was working. He was a sales executive. And it’s an ownership resort, basically a fancy word for timeshare.

Krista: Fancy word for timeshare.

Suzanne: Yeah. Timeshare gets a bad rap but when you’re in the high-end resort, we call it vacation ownership. So Brian was there in sales and I had known of him. Maui is a really small place. Everybody kind of knows familiar faces. I didn’t know him know him, but I knew who he was. And kind of had an opinion of him that wasn’t exactly positive.

But we started working together, we had a couple of mutual close friends there as well so it was really fun. And the first few times I talked to him, he was so good looking and he was charming and he smelled great, and I thought, “I don’t think I can work here.”

Krista: I felt that way about a doctor I used to have. I don’t think I can have him as my doctor.

Suzanne: So I was so distracted by him and so, I don’t know, giddy around him. I thought, I’m probably going to get fired and so I don’t know if I can do this. But I stuck it out and we ended up – I had been in a relationship at the time actually, which was again, why I thought what is happening? I can’t do this? I can’t be around this person.

But I had ended my other relationship that was not meant to be anyway, and I started dating and we had friends in common, we worked together, we had a lot of fun. He used to leave little notes on my car. I’d come out after work and see little love notes and things like that.

We were completely crazy about each other. So it was a lot of fun and that time, Brian was sober. So he had a history of “partying,” he was kind of in that timeshare scene. Lots of partying, lots of traveling, back in those times, on Maui and timeshare, people were making really big money. So that lifestyle was kind of young and fun and celebrating and that kind of a thing.

And I always felt a little bad drinking wine around him, him being sober, and he said drinking is not really my problem. It was cocaine. So that was pretty popular. And he had been sober for almost a year and at some point along the way he said, “I think I’m ready to have a drink.” And I thought oh no, it’s all my fault.

Krista: At this point were you married? This was before?

Suzanne: We were I believe living together or engaged but not yet married. We were kind of on a fast track. We met and kind of moved forward really quickly. And we weren’t babies. We were in our mid-30s I want to say. So he was younger than I was, so score for me.

So yeah, I think I was about 36 at the time, he was 31 or something like that. So we just kind of knew. He always used to tell people how he thought it was ridiculous when people say you just know, but he said but then I knew, I knew she was the one.

So we were kind of getting serious really quickly and he started drinking again, not a big deal, wine here and there. And then at some point I believe it was on a trip to Vegas where things tend to go wrong, he did coke again. And it was kind of one of those things like let’s have fun in Vegas and leave it behind when we go back home.

But when we went back home, he didn’t leave it behind. And I, knowing better, having grown up around drugs and alcohol, I don’t know, I got involved too. So I had kind of joined in and it started off as fun and kind of a weekend, casual recreational thing, but slowly turned into a problem.

I didn’t really want to admit it to myself but it was turning into more of a habit and a regular type thing. And at the same time, on Maui – well, I guess not just on Maui, but the economy started crashing. And so Maui was hit pretty hard because it’s really solely reliant on tourism.

And so people were not traveling as much, when they were traveling they were not willing to buy timeshare, they were not really wanting to spend any money. So it became harder and harder to make a living at that point. And so we were kind of struggling there financially.

And that was what prompted us to decide to move to Oahu. And right before we moved to Oahu we got married. So we had our wedding on Kauai, beautiful day, perfect, all of our close friends. And immediately after our wedding we packed up and moved to Oahu so that he could work at a different resort doing the same job.

But it was really tough. We kind of waited longer than we should have waited to leave. So we came to Oahu pretty broke. Just kind of sold everything we owned, packed up some suitcases and a couple of cats and came over with nothing. And we were kind of starting from scratch.

And so he was working trying to get the ball rolling, it wasn’t really quite clicking where he was at his new job. And it’s a really tricky position. It’s commission only. They call it hero to zero, zero to hero. You can be on top one month and make a huge bonus, the next month you can make no money.

So it’s a really difficult way to budget and plan, which is where I come in with all my spreadsheets and all of that. It was hard, and I felt like we came here in the hole, in a big hole of debt that we are constantly trying to pull out of. So that was really a struggle for us.

We live in a very affluent area and Brian liked nice things. So having the ability to make a lot of money and sometimes making a lot of money, he would build up this high-end lifestyle that we would have to kind of constantly try to keep up with, where he was…

Krista: Very stressful.

Suzanne: Yeah, it was very stressful for me. I’m the coupon-er and the budgeter and I have a game plan and a spreadsheet for everything, and it was very unpredictable at all times. I never kind of knew what was coming in and it was me who managed our money. And we didn’t really see eye to eye on how to spend our money.

So that was always an issue. And at some point, it wasn’t clicking where he was so he decided to leave that position and change to another resort that’s across the island. So he was now commuting. And you would never guess it, being in paradise, but our traffic is atrocious.

So we didn’t have that problem on Maui, we really kind of had no idea what we were up against. But he would leave very early in the morning to beat the rush hour traffic, he would come home when our son was already asleep. I forgot to mention I had a kid along the way.

Krista: Yes, had a kid. One son.

Suzanne: Forgot my kid.

Krista: We won’t tell him.

Suzanne: Sorry, Santino. We did shortly after moving to Oahu we got pregnant, had a baby, and I stayed home. It was kind of never really a discussion. It was always assumed that I would just stay home and raise Santino.

So I was doing that, Brian was commuting, working really hard, and I had obviously put partying and all that behind me. I was a mommy now. And Brian didn’t really put it behind him entirely. And I think something that I want to say, a really common misconception about addiction and drug use is I think what’s portrayed in movies and things like that is people think in order to be a drug addict or in order to be an alcoholic you have to be falling down drunk, shooting up in an alley, destroying lives and things like that.

It’s really not the case. I mean, Brian loved expensive scotch that he could go buy in a grocery store. He liked painkillers that he would get a prescription for from a doctor. He was a very functioning addict.

Krista: From the outside nobody’s the wiser.

Suzanne: Exactly. He could walk into a doctor’s office with his Rolex on, his Tommy Bahama shirt, his professionalism, he was very educated, very charming, well-spoken, knew exactly what to say to get a prescription. And even if he wasn’t always abusing what he was taking, I’ve never seen him drunk a day in his life. But he drank regularly, as did I.

So I think what’s really important to realize is even if you’re not on the extreme or visibly falling apart, it’s still a way of numbing. And not being present in your life. So I think – and I used alcohol that way as well and busying myself in other ways to just kind of avoid feelings.

Krista: When did things kind of start going downhill?

Suzanne: Well, I think the struggle was like, Brian would say, “I feel like I just leave in the dark and come home in the dark and wake up and do it all over again.” So I think he was burning out and felt like he was just working all the time. And when he’d come home from work, he just wanted to – he’s on all day. Talking and being enthusiastic and selling.

So when you come home from that, you just need to decompress and all of that. So I think he was feeling like there was no fun. There was no weekends, there was no time off, there was no enjoyment. And he would compare himself a lot to other people in the industry, like why do they have more than I have?

Like I said, we were constantly trying to dig out of this hole that felt impossible. And I think it was about eight or nine years into our marriage where something shifted. And I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. We weren’t fighting or anything like that. It was just like a distance that I felt.

And I had brought it up and I think he may have brought it up as well. We acknowledged it but we didn’t really know what the problem was. And it was the end of the year, which in his business was the busiest time. He was always trying to hit all his numbers so he would win number one for the year. That was always his goal, which he always achieved.

And so he said, “I don’t know, let’s just get through the end of the year and we’ll figure it out later.” So we kind of put it all to the side and the new year came around, this was 2018. And there was still that distance, and I wasn’t quite happy but I wasn’t sure what to do about it or how to fix it or what we needed to do.

Maybe we needed some counseling or just some more time together. And we had gotten into a conversation one day and I brought it up again, and again he didn’t really want to talk about it. But when I pushed, he said, “Well, I don’t know if I want to be married anymore.” And I was blindsided, just completely shocked.

So he had already made up his mind to move out and he said he thought some separation would do us good, so it wasn’t a big fight, it wasn’t – it just kind of didn’t make sense to me. And he left. And so I think for me, it brought up a lot of unresolved issues. I felt completely abandoned, like how can you leave us? And all those kinds of things.

And after that, I don’t know, nothing just kind of made sense. He just wasn’t acting himself. Of course I would see him, he would come to see Santino, we would communicate a bit, but something just felt really off. And I couldn’t figure out what was different.

I had a feeling that he was doing drugs and I thought more that it was him having freedom, which was never a good thing for him. I thought he was just being irresponsible; thought he was just – there was no one there to monitor him anymore. And so he could just go do whatever he wanted.

He could go out, he could drink, he could do drugs, do whatever he wanted and I thought he was just like, yay, I’m free from this, I don’t know, monster that I was married to. But that was the funny thing, there was no anger, there was no fighting, there was no I want a divorce. It just didn’t really make sense to me.

That went on for a bit and it seemed like he was definitely going through something. But to be honest, I was so hurt and resentful at the time that I was kind of like, well, it’s not my problem. I don’t know what’s going on with you but I have to now be a single mom and I was starting to work.

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen financially. He was still supporting us, but I didn’t know where we were headed. I was kind of freaking out to be honest. Really just – my worst enemy is the unknown. So I had no idea what was coming. And so I wasn’t sure what to prepare for. But he seemed to definitely be kind of going through this downward spiral.

And he had mentioned to me a few times I’m not doing so well, I’m not taking care of myself, and things of that nature. And I even mentioned to him at one point – I mean, I love him, I wanted to take care of him and that but he had left me. So I said I don’t really know what my role is here. I’m your wife but not really because you don’t want to be with me anymore, so I don’t know what I’m supposed to do for you.

And I was just kind of watching from the sidelines like, what is happening, kind of with the jaw dropped. Like, I had never seen this behavior from him before. And I had seen him do all different drugs and drink all different amounts of alcohol, I had never seen him act this way. So I really wasn’t sure what he was experiencing.

But so I definitely was concerned. I wasn’t sure, again, what my role was. But at some point, he did tell me that he needed help. And I asked with what, he said with drinking. I think he was a little bit hiding what else, maybe didn’t want to admit what else he was using. I’m like, come on, it’s me. I know you.

But he did say he needed help and I believe that he reached out to his family and told them as well that he needed help, which I thought was a very big deal because you know, in a way, it was something he always kind of hid. You won’t want to worry your family or worry your parents, but he did let them know as well that he needed help.

And so he started kind of communicating with me more and reporting in and that type of a thing, which felt strange to me. It was like, well, first you left and acted like you didn’t really care what happened. We didn’t really communicate. I was assuming we were probably headed for divorce. And now all of a sudden, he was acting like we were a team again. And I felt almost offended in a way.

Krista: Yeah, it’s hard to know where do you fit in exactly.

Suzanne: Yeah. I really didn’t know where I fit in. And I felt like okay, now that you need me, you’re here. But you weren’t around before and so yeah, I felt a little bit offended I guess is the right word. And I really didn’t know where I fit in. And we talked a little bit about that and I think that I wasn’t really aware of what he was struggling with and how much he was going through because I think I was letting maybe my resentment get in the way.

And he really wasn’t telling me. He wasn’t really expressing himself. I think he was kind of numbing everything the way he did. Brian had a very low tolerance for discomfort. So physically and emotionally. He took something for everything.

So he was trying to get sober basically and I think it was bigger than he realized. I think he had gone farther down the rabbit hole than he had intended and I was encouraging him to go to rehab because I said there’s no reason you should have to do this on your own. You can get help and you can do it in a safe, medical way.

And so at one point I had taken him to the emergency room. There were just different events that were leading up and it was all really scary and confusing. I really just, like I said, he wasn’t himself, I didn’t recognize any of this behavior. I was kind of like, what in the world is happening?

And one night I had checked my phone and he had sent me a text that kind of didn’t really make sense to me in the moment. Kind of a pouring out all his feelings. And the next morning I texted him back, are you okay? And he didn’t answer me. And that whole day I couldn’t get ahold of him, I was trying to text him and I thought he was up late, doing who knows what, not sober. He’s probably sleeping all day, sleeping it off.

But then the hours started piling up and it became too much time to just be sleeping it off. I started to become really concerned and I was with my best friend that day who by some miracle, my best friend and I have been together for 37 years or something like this. And her husband’s in the military, so by some miracle, he got stationed in Oahu.

So she happened to be on island during this whole chain of events, so she was here with me. So we were together that day, going to some different events, and we both kept saying like, this isn’t good. But again, we really just didn’t know what we were dealing with.

And eventually it was in December, I was at a Christmas parade with friends and all of our kids and I was on the verge of a panic attack, knowing that something was wrong. I went home, I put Santino to bed, and I called the police. And I said I need somebody to go and check on my husband, something’s wrong, I can’t get ahold of him.

And at that time I really – I knew something was wrong but I truly believed that he probably – he had been trying to get sober, which was probably near impossible and very uncomfortable. I knew that he was having physical symptoms and having a really hard time of it. And I thought he probably fell off the wagon and…

Krista: Just imagining him passed out or…

Suzanne: Yes. And not doing anything intentional but probably just drinking a bunch or doing a bunch of drugs and potentially maybe overdosing is what I had in my mind. So I sent the police, it was a very nerve-racking wait to have a call back. I actually called again and they had never gone. They never registered that request. Nothing happened.

So I had to wait again. And finally got a call back, kind of preparing myself to hear that he was gone. I kind of knew in my gut it wasn’t going to be good news. And the officer called, I have no idea what he said, I couldn’t tell you honestly. It’s all a blur, but he did say, and I’m quoting him because this isn’t the terminology I would use, but he said, “Unfortunately he committed suicide.”

And I was – looking back on it now, it seems like everything should have logically led up to that, but it was an absolute shock. It was not at all what I was prepared to hear. And so my best friend was waiting for me to call and tell her what happened. So I did and she completely broke down, hopped into an Uber with wine and tissues. It’s what she grabbed on the way and she came rushing to me rescue. And she came in hysterical and she said – I’m going to try to say this without choking up but she said, “This is the worst thing we’ve ever been through.”

Krista: We’ve ever been through.

Suzanne: Yeah.

Krista: That’s a friend.

Suzanne: Yeah, that’s my person. So that meant the world to me because we’ve lost parents, we’ve had heartbreaks, we’ve been through 30-something years’ worth of heavy stuff. And so for her to say that the collective we and that made me feel like okay, I’m not alone.

Krista: Okay, so when was this? Give me the timeline here.

Suzanne: This was December of 2018.

Krista: Okay, December of 2018. And then I met you in the summer of 2020. So then what kind of support did you get? I know you’re like – one of the things I love about you, you’re not shy about reaching out and finding ways to support yourself. So what worked for you? What helped you?

Suzanne: Let’s see. So I immediately sought out therapy. I wasn’t currently in therapy. So I immediately sought out therapy for myself and Santino. And luckily found a nearby center. Actually, I think no, I had him going to a different therapist. I found a therapist for myself that found out that they work with families. So then we both were and still are involved in the same center where we have what I call a team of experts because…

Krista: We need a team sometimes.

Suzanne: We have a team. We definitely have more than one therapist. And so for a while, that was okay. I mean, honestly, what worked the most is I would drop Santino off at school, call my best friend, and review the chain of events over and over. I mean, it was like I was trying to solve a mystery and trying to figure out what in the hell just happened.

Krista: I remember that’s one of the things you told me when we very first spoke was that you felt like that was your leading story. Like everyone you would talk to. Was that what it was about? Was it about processing it still?

Suzanne: And I mean everyone. Every stranger, every acquaintance. I think it was me processing. And you know, I have to say it’s been over two years and I still catch myself doing this where my brain is still like, can you believe it? Is this my husband that I’m talking about? It’s so foreign and so shocking, and sometimes I feel so removed from the story.

And I think that’s how I’m able to sometimes talk about it so easily. Because it’s not my life, can’t be my reality. And then I think I was trying to seek out a grief group, being on an island and was it COVID yet? No, it wasn’t COVID yet. But being on an island, there’s not a lot offered.

And I realized at some point that I could look on maybe Facebook or social media. And I felt so relieved because I didn’t know if I really wanted to go in person and talk to people about this. But I needed help. And so I think what did not help me was in true Suzanne fashion, I found 10 different groups and joined them all. It was…

Krista: Go big or go home.

Suzanne: Yeah. If I’m going to do something, I’d do it. But it was a bit much. And one group, I was so relieved to find was very specific to women who have lost their spouses to suicide. So I felt like a sense of belonging. And although it was helpful at first to find that the feelings I was having because they call this complicated grief, I was angry.

I was furious. I had all these other feelings that I didn’t expect to feel and felt like a terrible person. But I came to find in this other group that was very common, so I felt okay. But the way that it worked against me was it was a lot of doom and gloom in that group.

It wasn’t monitored by anybody; it was just everybody kind of posting and there were quite a few members. So every time I looked at my phone it was negative, death, suicide, complaining. Everybody in that group felt stuck to me. And it felt very discouraging. So I think that you kind of have to pick and choose and find your people.

Krista: How did you stumble onto me or how did that…

Suzanne: I’m trying to remember how that happened. I think what had happened was I was working full-time, which I had always been a stay-at-home mom but because of the uncertainty of my financial situation now, I was working full-time immediately.

It was the holidays, I was in vacation rental, which is the busiest time here. Everybody’s coming away from the snow and coming to paradise. And so I was working a lot and it was a great distraction at first, but I remember being in a guest villa, assisting her with something, and I’m normally very friendly and talkative and outgoing, but I felt this secret I was keeping for some reason. This horrible thing that had happened that I felt I had to keep to myself.

I didn’t want to rain on someone’s vacation parade. But she was asking me questions like where are you from and this and this and oh, what does your husband do. And I said, “Oh, he just passed away.” And she said, “Oh my god, how long ago?” And I said two weeks. And she just looked at me like, what in the world are you doing here?

And I literally think it had not registered at that point. I just was in a complete daze. And I was happy to have the distraction, but after almost a year of doing that, and it was kind of a seven-day-a-week, I was working from home a lot, but it was just like it never stopped.

And I really wasn’t being present for Santino, who just lost his father. It started catching up to me because I was burying everything. I wasn’t really facing it. I wasn’t really processing it fully. And so I started having panic attacks regularly.

Not just the once in a while panic attacks that we all have. I was having them very regularly and I felt like I was not being a good parent, so I decided to leave my job and focus on healing. So at that point, I was looking at different podcasts, I was getting different books about grief. I was using resources to focus on healing myself. And that’s when somehow one thing led to another and I found The Widowed Mom Podcast.

Krista: Okay, so through the podcast.

Suzanne: And I thought, Widowed Mom?

Krista: Full circle moment then.

Suzanne: Yeah, like I’m a widowed mom. And I can’t remember which episode I listened to first or how exactly step by step it happened, but I remember the first time I heard you voice, I think it was even just in the intro to the podcast, I was like, oh, she knows. She gets it.

You’re not just some expert who’s educated in this field. You are a widowed mom. And the sound of your voice and the gentle way that you spoke, I just thought, “This is her. This is the person who’s going to help me.”

And then, you know, you had mentioned somewhere along the way of a coaching group. And I was like, what’s that? I need that. A coach and a group, I need everything. So, I was like, maybe she can join the team of experts. And the funny thing about it too is that this is how I know it was meant to be. It was one of those things like, I wonder where that is, I don’t know, onto the next thing, brush it aside.

It kind of popped up again somehow and next thing I know, I’m on your website and I’m trying to schedule a consultation. But I’m in Hawaii and you’re not. You’re somewhere over there in the middle. So, the availability was like 6AM for me. And I was like, girl, I can’t do anything at 6AM. And I remember, that was the only option. And I was like, I don’t know, forget it, or something happened where it wasn’t going to work or the availability wasn’t there or had to schedule way far in advance or something like that.

But I can’t remember how it sorted itself out. But it somehow magically, like, popped up again or something happened where it was like a beautiful perfect time available now all of a sudden. It was like, “Oh, I had a cancelation and there’s a 10AM, perfect,” you know. So, that’s when we spoke on the phone. And I think it was about a year and a half, I want to say, after Brian had passed.

Krista: Okay, that sounds about right. Okay, so then…

Suzanne: Yeah, it was in the middle of COVID too.

Krista: Right, I do think you’re right. Looking back at my calendar and when you started, COVID was well on the way.

Suzanne: It was back when we thought COVID was going to last for a few weeks and we thought we were going to be done any day now. Because I remember asking you, I spoke to you – let’s see, I started the program in June of 2020, so we must have spoke right before that. And I remember thinking, should I join now or should I wait until Santino goes back to school where I’ll have more free time? And luckily, I did not do that because…

Krista: I was going to say, you’d still be waiting, practically.

Suzanne: Exactly.

Krista: So, let’s talk about some of the things – I want people to benefit from your experience here. I want them to hear where you struggled, what you’ve learned, what you would go back and tell yourself based on what you know that you didn’t know then. Because I’m just imagining other people that are listening to this and they’re relating to aspects of your story and they’re not as far along as you are.

So, let’s just kind of start with that maybe. So, what are some of the things that you would say were your biggest challenges and what have you learned through that?

Suzanne: I think for me, one of the biggest challenges – it’s funny. Brian and I had this arrangement where he would go to work and I would stay home and raise Santino and run the house and do all the things. Which when I signed up for that, I didn’t know what all the things really entailed. But it’s really all the things.

So, when he passed away, or actually even when he moved out of our house, I felt like I was already doing all the things. So, I didn’t really struggle there. I already was taking out the trash and cooking all the meals and raising the kid. I did all that. And handling the finances, and that was fine.

I think I’ve always struggled a bit with anxiety, because you know, I’m a mom and I think all moms have some degree of anxiety. But my anxiety turned to health anxiety, which is a trendy word for I’m a hypochondriac…

Krista: Okay, everything is wrong…

Suzanne:  Yes, and I laugh about it, I make jokes and stuff because to be honest it’s actually really embarrassing. I think the gravity of being a solo parent hit me in a way that I became so fearful of something happening to me. And so, you know, I was already one to do the, “What if this and what if that,” and kind of get a little far ahead of myself. But now, I would feel sensations or things in my body that I would think, “Oh god, my heart’s going to stop right now.” I could play it out like a movie in my mind.

And because we were on kind of stay-at-home orders because of COVID I was with Santino all the time and I thought, I don’t know, I had this fear that something was going to happen to me right in front of him and he was going to witness it and then be left parentless.

So, it’s something that I still deal with. But with the coaching program, I’ve learned so much about feelings and how to approach them. And so, I think one of the most profound tools that I have gained from this program that actually broke my brain was that my feelings can’t hurt me. And I was like, what? I think that I spent like a lifetime running away from my feelings and being very uncomfortable with feelings on general.

I didn’t even realize the degree, like the extent I was doing that, even just keeping really busy and doing all the things. And I was the least present person in my own life. I really didn’t realize that until I started the program and we started talking about feelings and I was like, “Ew feelings…” and you provide us with this feelings chart. And I thought, it’s like a wheel that shows all the different feelings and I thought who knew there were so many of them, because I spent so much time avoiding them, those icky things called feelings.

And I think because I feared because they would have control over me, they would come up and take over and swallow me whole and I would never survive it is what I felt, you know. And also that it’s weak, crying and breaking down and having anxiety and all these things are weaknesses.

So, when I learned that my feelings can’t hurt me and it’s perfectly okay to feel them, it really just changed everything. And it also allowed me to realize that I was also not only uncomfortable with my own feelings, and I know you’ve had to walk me through this a few times, that I was very uncomfortable with Santino’s expression of his feelings.

I wanted to either help him and make him feel better and make his feelings go away. Or they would scare me in a sense and bring me to another place from my past and my childhood trauma and all that. And it would bring on this fear in me and I just wanted to shut it up, you know, shut it down, make it stop. So, I feel like, when I can see it all through a different lens and when I can remove sometimes myself from the equation, like when it comes to Santino, you know, he can be having his little tantrum over doing homework or something like that.

When I can remove myself from that equation and say this has nothing to do with me, you know, he’s just having his own thoughts and feelings and that’s okay and I allow him, I can come from such a different place, you know. I can parent him with empathy, which I’m going to try not to cry when I say that, that has really been life-changing for me. That has allowed me to feel like I’m an amazing mom, like I am parenting him with so much love. And it’s hard. It’s hard when you’re grieving. You’re grieving and you’re trying to survive…

Krista: Yeah, and you have a couple of decades on the planet of not knowing that feelings aren’t problems. And it has to be unlearned and it has to be practiced. And that’s why I think you have experienced that shift is, yes, I give the tools, but you embraced them. You did the practice of actually how do I learn to allow feelings. And what’s been super-fun from my vantage point is to watch Santino then follow. I watched you change your relationship with feelings. I watched you change your relationship with his feelings, which totally changed your parenting, and then I watched you because you led by example, were watching him change is relationship with feelings, enthusiastically.

Suzanne: It’s true. I mean, everything that comes out of this kid’s mouth I think, “Oh, he is definitely in therapy.” Because he uses all the terms. I share a lot of what I learn in coaching with him because I think, “Gosh, if I would have had these tools sooner…” I mean, I try not to go down that road because this is the life that I’m meant to lead now. But things could have been a lot different.

Krista: Yeah, it’s powerful stuff to learn, but really fun to watch the ripple impact in your life, in your parenting, and in your son’s life.

Suzanne: And I think in the program, it can – when you’re introduced to these new tools, it’s so exciting. I get so excited. I mean, when I found out there were going to be workbooks in the program, I was like…

Krista: I was speaking your language when I said there’s going to be workbooks.

Suzanne: Oh my god, the nerd in me totally geeked out. I was like, “Oh my gosh.” Because I think one of the reasons that I wanted to do the program – I mean, I wanted to do the program just because I knew, like I said, by your voice, that you were going to be the one. Something just told me, like this woman is going to help me through this.

But I think I reached a point where I can only tell this story over and over so many times. I’m not going to ever have the answers to why this happened. But I kind of like – I’m kind of a doer. So, I wanted to take part in my healing. I didn’t want to sit back and wait for time to heal because I hate that expression. Time, I mean, it may make it a bit easier. But I wanted to do something.

I needed to do something about it. I wanted to take charge of my life. And yeah. I think that’s exciting. And every month when I receive a new workbook and I look at the subject I think, “Oh, well this ought to be a disaster.” You know.

Krista: You’re welcome.

Suzanne: Like, relationship with self, well, holy… okay, let’s do it. But then, when we do, it’s never the scary thing I think it’s going to be. It’s actually really eye-opening and I think the whole thing has made me feel more powerful, more in charge.

I think, I don’t know, that maybe I didn’t realize that I can make decisions, that I can decide what I want to do with my life and my time and who I want to spend my time with. And I don’t know, I think that I always just kind of felt like life was just something that sort of happens to you and you’re kind of stuck in certain situations with no choices. And it turns out that control freak in me, guess what, good news, I’m in charge of all of it.

Krista: Yeah, you can put yourself back in the driver’s seat. Yeah, first of all, I also relate. When people send me workbooks I get super excited, I realize that half the people listening are like, “Oh dear, workbooks, that sounds terrible.” But that’s okay. And what I want to say about that is, not the workbooks, but the work of it is that it’s not easy work to do, to look at some of these things, to learn how to change your relationship with yourself and change your relationship with feelings and retell the story of your past and create your future on purpose.

It’s not easy to do, but when somebody like you comes along and actually does the work, it’s really easy to see the results of it from where I sit. Because I have this vantage point of being outside of your life, I don’t get to follow you around, but I see the coaching that we’ve done over time and I see the growth and the way that you talk about yourself and your life and your feelings and your parenting and all of it differently. And yeah, it’s just super fun.

What are some of the maybe topics that you’ve learned about yourself, or things that you didn’t expect to see shift that have shifted?

Suzanne: Well, another thing that I love about the coaching group is it’s not just all about our husband and our grief. It’s about ourselves and our life. And there’s definitely some things in my past that I had really never kind of unpacked.

When people learn about my childhood and my past they’re like, “Oh my gosh, you’re so strong.” And I’m like, “If you just knew that I was just really good at denial…” because I had just packed it all away and thought, you know, that’s in the past, there’s no reason to go into this. But it was time to unpack it all.

And I think that for me, I have spent my whole life being really hard on myself, my inner critic is a mean, mean girl and she’s just living in utter disgust of me. And I think what was unexpected for me was to see things through such a different lens. Like when I can learn that, you know, I was carrying around all this shame for things that really had nothing to do with me, you know. It was somebody else’s issue, somebody else’s thoughts, somebody else’s feelings. It was nothing I had ever done, especially as a child.

And so, with all of that, I think it’s really allowed me to have so much more love and compassion for myself. You know, I have it for other people. I’m really good at comforting and motivating and stuff like that. But I still tend to be a little bit hard on myself. But learning all that I have, I can realize that I really do love myself. I’m really proud of myself. I think that I am a good person who’s doing the best that I can do. I think that I’m a great mom. And yeah, I’ve just learned some really invaluable tools.

And I think I would say, like, we were talking about people listening and saying, “Oh god, workbooks,” which to me is super exciting. But to other people, that might sound like hard work. I think if anybody is considering doing the program or thinking about it, but I think a common stumbling block is, “I don’t think I have time for that. I don’t know if I can afford that. I’m really intimidated to get coached in front of other people,” and things like that.

I think what I would say to that is, you are so worth it. I would have never done this work otherwise on myself. I would not have taken the time to do this. And it’s been the greatest gift that I could ever be given. So, I think that there’s so much to be gained from the program. I couldn’t say enough about it. No, I’m not being paid commission to say this…

Krista: I know, I’m feeling like I should pay you at this moment.

Suzanne: And you can if you want to. Gift cards are always appreciated. But really, I know, I do sound like a spokesperson, but I really can’t say enough about it. I was just Marco Poloing with a close friend of mine and she said, “By the way, you sound completely different, in a good way.”

And I hear that from a couple of close friends. Another one said, “You sound really good. You sound like you’re in a really good place.” And it’s huge. Before I joined the program I thought, “Well, I guess this is life now, just panic attacks and survival mode and I don’t know what, just surviving,” you know. I thought that’s – I felt stuck there for a long while.

Krista: Yeah, you know, I want to give you a little bit of credit too. I hope you know this…

Suzanne: Let’s do it…

Krista: Bring it on right now, I’m ready. So, yeah, so when you get coached, you don’t always bring the glamorous easy subjects. You bring the real to coaching. And I think that’s what has made it so powerful for you. And I even noticed that, was it last week when I was coaching you, and you are willing to feel brave and access courage and bring something that’s hard to the group so that you can get help. And that’s what I love because when people do that, it helps everyone in the group.

It’s like this domino because we’ve got to have that brave person to share what’s really going on in their mind and what they’re really judging themselves for or thinking about themselves, and it’s so liberating and everybody else goes, “Yeah, me too, me too, me too,” and the whole group benefits. I love that about you.

Suzanne: I think I even said on that coaching call that I’m taking one for the team because I was really pretty nervous to bring that topic up, you know. And I think one thing that I’ve really learned is, when I first got the workbooks, I thought, “Oh, I’m going to fill these out perfectly. I’m going to get gold stars. I’m going to be teacher’s pet and do this all magically.” But I think really, when you come across a topic that’s hard, like ill catch myself first sort of avoiding the work.

I’m like, “Oh, I don’t really need to do that page. That doesn’t really apply to me.” But it’s because it’s hard and it’s something getting ready for this podcast, I was jotting down some notes. I had to walk away from it like three times because my brain was like, “No, no can’t do it. It’s too hard.”

Krista: Stay in the cave. It’s dangerous. Don’t do it.”

Suzanne: I was like, “I need to vacuum, got to get up and do that.” So, it was really easy to get distracted. But I feel like when you are doing this kind of work, the stuff that is the ickiest, you know, and makes you want to throw up the most is probably where you need the most work.

Krista: Yeah, that’s where you want to lean in.

Suzanne: You know, and it’s easy to be like, “No, you know, I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to talk about it.” There’s even things that we’ve talked about here today that it’s like I thought maybe I wouldn’t talk about. But it’s the truth. It’s the true story. And I think if I can help even one person, if that can come out of this, then that’s a gift to me. And I write a blog…

Krista: Tell people about that. We’ve got to wrap up, but I definitely want them to know where they can read your blog because it is so authentic.

Suzanne: Thank you. I have always loved to write but never really did anything about it. And so, you know, we talk in the coaching group about purpose and things like that. And I realized, I do really want to help other people, whether it’s through grief or other widows, I’m not really sure. But I decided to start writing.

I thought that it was going to be really humorous and sarcastic, because that’s my personality. But that’s not really the direction it went. So, I started a podcast – no, sorry, that’s my next step in life. I started a blog. It’s called My Messy Little Life. So it’s mymessylittlelife.com and I just write posts every two weeks and I write about real life, real inappropriate messy life. I tell the truth. I put it all out there.

And the thing that makes it all worth it to me is I post in some widow groups and on my personal page and things like that. And when people comment, “Oh my gosh, me too,” like you said…

Krista: You’re reading my mind.

Suzanne: Or they say, “Thank you so much for writing this,” that’s what I wanted out of it. I want people to know that we are much more alike than we think you know. You’re not the only crazy one out there. I’m crazy too.

Krista: Yes, and that’s the thing I think – last thought and then I’ve got to go – that’s what I also love about this group environment. Is because we make progress so much faster just by nature of getting together and realizing that so much, even though our life circumstances are unique, so much of the experience is shared. It’s not just us and we’re not broken and aspects of this, it’s just grief.

And we can normalize it and support each other and make progress faster, so definitely going to link to your blog in the show notes so people can find you, because I would love it if they read your blog. Thank you so much for coming on.

Suzanne: Thank you so much for everything.

Krista: It’s been my great privilege. Maybe someday we’ll have Santino on and he can teach people about feelings.

Suzanne: Oh, he’s a great teacher.

Krista: I bet he is. Alright, take care of yourself. Thank you so much.

Suzanne: Thank you.

Krista: See you later. Bye

If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about, even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence.

Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than what you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click Work With Me for details and next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.

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  • Sharon Smith
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    Susan’s story really resonated with me. Our circumstances were similar but different. My husband died by suicide by cop on January 15, 2021. We were married 49 years but the last year was a challenge for us both. We weren’t sure that we were working any more but couldn’t figure out how to either fix the things that were wrong or go our separate ways. My husband was severely injured in February, 2020 and he was never the same afterwards. Hearing someone else talk about suicide is very helpful because most people don’t want to talk about it. There are so many questions that can never answered, so many things left unsaid. Kristas compassion and ability to listen then give tools to work with has been very helpful.

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