Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What’s Hiding Behind that Smile? A story of healing……

I am genuine. I am loving. I am happy. I am….me! I have not always been happy and I have been on a journey to find my inner happiness and reclaiming myself and finding my faith and forgiveness. Not forgiveness in others, but forgiveness in God, my mom and myself.

First, no matter what I am going through in my life, I will always find time to be kind, respectful and loving to others as often as possible. This is how I am hardwired. On the outside and in my social media presence, the person you see is the genuine, honest and truthful me, but there is another side of me that has been hiding inside going through immense turmoil for the past seven years. I am finally ready to share it with you in what you are about to read.

This story is about me, losing someone very dear to me, feeling angry and lost, and finding my way back. It will explain why I have been so distant from those that I love for a while and hard to understand or comprehend because I did not let anyone in. I have kept people at arms-length in order to not get close because I have not wanted to care for another person in fear of having my heart hurt.

When anything traumatic happens in life, my first instinct is to go into care mode and immediately start to take care and think of others needs first. I will deal with my own emotions and baggage later. Instead of dealing with mine, I kept pushing those feelings down saying that I would get to dealing with them when I had alone time. I started to avoid alone time because I knew what it meant and then alone time simply turned into, “I’ll do it later.” Later has become seven years now. I have made excuses to not get together with people, not called or wanted to hang out with friends, and hid my feelings from everyone, including my husband.

On June 5, 2010, my mother passed on and went home to God in the Kingdom of Heaven. That was the hardest day of my life. That is the middle of the story because there is a part of the story where it all got started that leads up to this very moment.

We lived in a small town in North Dakota. Why North Dakota you ask? Because my father’s side of the family lived close to this small town. We lived in New Hampshire in a wonderful town where we were close to my mother’s side of the family. To this day, I still cannot understand why we left.

Moving to small town North Dakota was hell for my mother. It was a very stuck up and snobby little town where people whispered behind your back and would rather spit on you than to have a conversation. If you were not in the small town values circle, you were nobody. Well, my mother did not play those kinds of games. She was respectful and kind, but did not get into the town gossip or join in on coffee chat at the local small town café. This did not win her any points with the snobs in town. My mother did not care because she loved taking care of her family.

When I was growing up, money was tight because my father was just trying to start up a trucking company. We did not live in a huge metropolis so there was not much need for ‘big city’ living style. We had a nice big house and lots of love! There were no fights over money or anything like that. Holidays and celebrations were always taken care of without knowing what sacrifices were going on behind the scenes. We were happy!

I remember when things started to happen with my mother. She began to get sick and I was not sure why. It was the day of my First Communion. As I remember it, mom was brought back from the hospital, but she looked very weak. She was wearing a wig and had lost weight. To this day, I still do not know why she was so sick at the time. Knowing my mother, she did everything she could and fought everyone within sight to get out of that hospital in order to be with me on this special day.

Years went by and I was just getting into my teens. I remember being in school and remember being paged by Mrs. Wilson, the Office Administrator, to come to the office. I wondered what I did to make me have to go to the office. As I nervously walked to the office, I saw the Principle outside of the office and he escorted me in. Since my father was an over-the-road truck driver, I was the only one they could talk to in order to give an update of this kind. They had to tell a 13 year old that his mother just had a heart attack and had to be taken to the hospital 10 miles away. All I could think of was getting to the hospital somehow. They asked if I could call someone, but there was no one to call except my grandmother and she didn’t drive. All I knew is that I had to go get my younger brother out of class and go home to figure out what we were going to do.

At home, I sat there for a while with my little brother worried about what was happening with mom. I found mom’s purse, grab it and my little brother and went outside. I told him that we were driving to the hospital and he needed to get in the car. He said, “You don’t have a driver’s license!” In big brother fashion I said, “So?! You don’t need one if it’s an emergency!” I jumped into our big Dodge Van and started it. Now, I had only driven a few times and that was just putting a car in reverse, backing up a little and in drive and pulling ahead a little. This was entirely different. Without even thinking, I adjusted all of the mirrors and put the van in reverse and got it out of the driveway. Then I put it in drive and we were on our way. I am sure that I was not going much over 45 mph, but it seemed like we were there in a flash.

As soon as we jumped out, I was SO relieved to see my older brother Dave getting out of his car and coming over to us. He said, “Who drove you here?” and Jeff said, “Sean did!” Dave just laughed, shuffled the hair on my head, put out his cigarette, wrapped his arms around the two of us and we walked into the hospital together.

That was the beginning of where I started to realize that things were not going to be the same with mom. She was on a lot of medications (too many to count) to manage her blood pressure, cholesterol and a list of other things. Her nightstand looked like a pharmacy. Then if things were not bad enough, mom developed agoraphobia. She had a fear of open spaces which meant that she could not drive by herself. So either I or my brother would have to be with her if she wanted to go somewhere.

As the years moved on, I was in my teen years. Mom would cry because she felt so alone. She was left in the house all day by herself and then when I got home, I would have dinner and then Jeff and I would go out and play with our friends. She was alone all of the time. Something had to change! Feeling guilty, I told my friends that my mom wasn’t feeling well so I had to go home. When I walked into the house I heard her crying. My heart sunk and I realized then that this was the place I needed to be from now on come hell or high water. I walked into the room and sat on the arm of her chair and said, “What should we have for dinner?” She sniffed and said, “Sean Michael, you go out with your friends!” I giggled and said, “Mother! I’m exactly where I want to be. Are you going to deny food to your starving son?” When dinner was ready, we grabbed our TV trays and sat in front of the TV. I stopped eating and watched her laughing and she kept looking over at me laughing and I thought, “That’s it! This is where I belong!” Most of my school life was spent with my “Shorty”.  On the nights that she didn’t feel well, I would sleep in her room so I would be there for her if she needed help. I used to wake up a few times at night to check on her and make sure she was breathing. I think I worried more than most teens because of the anxiety that I felt not knowing what was coming next. All I know is that I could not lose this woman! Needless to say, it wasn’t what you called a “normal” teenage life.

During those times, I grew so extremely close to my mom. We had the greatest talks. She told me great stories of the past with her parents, her brothers and sisters, our immediate family and things from her childhood. Some sad….some hilarious! Memories I will cherish always! I would sit in the living room and do my homework and study just as long as I was there with her. I did not feel like I was forced to be there. I really loved just hanging out with her!

When I reached my 20’s and it was time to move, I chose to move out to the Twin Cities. I was all on my own and ready for independence. Well…..it suited me well! I met lots of people and there was a lot of partying! In the midst of it all, there was mom. Mind you, she was still long distance, but she knew things. I don’t know how. She just knew! In my thirties and forties, it was all about work and owning a business. There was no time left for anything else. We had our weekly phone call, but that was it. It was never enough! All of that money made and work put in meant absolutely NOTHING because it took me away from the greatest thing God has ever given me….my family!

Here is where it gets hard and my life changed forever………

My niece was getting married so mom and dad drove to the Twin Cities for the wedding. Mom looked amazing and was feeling great! I was so happy to see how awesome she looked. She seemed so healthy and vibrant. She did say that she was going to have a heart procedure the next week, but that it was nothing to worry about. It was a really great day! We spent time together and I was able to give her lots of hugs and kisses. The last words I spoke to her, were “I love you!”

The next week, I receive a call at work from my brother. He said that something happened after mom’s test and that she was in a coma in cardiac ICU and that I should come as quickly as possible. I was beyond shocked! How could this be? I felt like I was just hit by a ton of bricks. All I could think of was getting to North Dakota as fast as possible.

Upon arriving to the hospital, I saw my mother hooked up to all of these machines with wires and tubes coming from every direction. The scariest fact was that there was a  machine breathing for her. I took a deep breath and said, “Hi Shorty! What’s going on?” I grabbed her hand and held it gently. I remember sitting next to her memorizing her face because I knew in my head that she was not going to wake from this. Now I had to try to find a way to reconcile that with my heart.

The time came for the family to have to make a decision on what to do. The doctor told us that mom was basically brain dead and would not recover from this. I remembered from one of our many conversations we had about life and death, mom was very clear that she would never want to be kept alive on machines. She was very absolute about that. I looked around the room at my family and my heart started to break, but then I looked at my dad. He was about to give the authorization to let the love of his life pass on and leave this earth. I could not think about grieving for myself. I needed to go into care mode and be there for my family.

We all had an opportunity to say our goodbye to mom. I told her that I loved her so much and that it was now her job to start making a home for us in heaven. Knowing my mother, what was most important to her is that everyone was going to be okay. I told her that we will miss her presence on earth, but we know that she will always be with us in spirit. Most importantly, dad will always be taken care of and we will ensure that he is happy. My last words were, “It’s time for you to let go. It’s okay. I’ll love you forever mom!”

When they shut the machines off, I was holding her hand. I felt her life fade and was there with my family as she took her final breath. It was an experience I will never forget. I know she will be by my side to take me home when it’s my time.

My dad was broken. His world completely changed and all I could think of is how I could take care of him. My brother and I put our heads together and decided that we needed to take charge and coordinate the funeral. There was no time for grief for me. It was like I bundled up those feelings, put them in a lock box and put the box on a shelf until I was ready to take it down to deal with it on my own. The only problem…..I lost the key to the lock box.

After my mom died, shortly after my older brother passed away during heart surgery. This did not help my grieving process. I cried and went through the motions, but did not deal with grief the way that I should have in the right way. I continued to bury my grief and not address it. Not realizing it fully, I was angry. Not a hostile anger. An anger inside because I did not understand why members of my family were being taken from me when they were not supposed to go yet. I was angry with God and did not realize it.

I pray every day. I am extremely strong in my faith. I feel like I have a great relationship with God. I think I was fooling myself. I was not coming to Him when I really needed to give it up to Him. Maybe that is why I have gone through this journey. To make realize that I cannot do it on my own and that I need Him more than I’ll ever know. All I knew is I needed to find a way to forgive. Forgive mom for leaving. Forgive my brother for needing the surgery. Forgive God for taking my family. Forgive myself for losing my way and not knowing it.

Recently, I rented the movie “The Shack”. I heard great things about the movie, but being very picky about what I watch, I was doubtful that I would really enjoy it. Not only did I enjoy it, but I went out and bought a copy. This movie changed my life and helped me start my journey of forgiveness and ability to grieve. It’s not the movie itself that changed me, it’s the message embedded in the movie that got me on the fast track to this journey.

Every morning I have about a 25 minute drive to work. This is my time for daily prayer. Last week, I was talking to God and acknowledged that I cannot do this on my own anymore and that I need His help in order to grieve and start living a new life. I told him that I’m not very good at seeing subtle messages so I need something pretty obvious in order for me to really ‘get it’.

I thought a way to start off my journey would be to find the newspaper obit and church bulletin from my mom’s funeral. I was mad at myself for the longest time because I misplaced them (I refuse to say ‘lost’). Coincidentally, “The Shack” was playing in the DVD player as I was searching in my closet. At the very moment that Mack said, “I forgive you….” in the film is the exact moment that I opened the bag where all of the misplaced information on my mom was found. No message was more clear! The fact that I was starting my journey of forgiveness, hearing “I forgive you”, and finding those items at that exact moment were too much for me to ignore. Something overcame me suddenly and I sat there and just wept and kept saying, “I’m sorry”. It is so incredibly hard to explain, but something was released with that entire experience. I started to forgive and now I can begin the healing process and begin moving my life forward.

Just because I started to forgive myself and began the real process of allowing myself to grieve, does not mean that it is going to be an overnight process. There is a lot of work to be done and it is okay that I take the time to be a little selfish and concentrate of myself for a while. No more avoiding people and situations. No more making excuses for not doing things that I want to do with family because it brings up old memories. No more holding back the tears if I feel like they need to flow. It’s okay. I’m going to be okay. Today is a new day. I’m a new man! Thank you God for forgiving me for the way that I acted, for taking away my sadness, and for considering me “a work in progress”. Thank you to my friends that have known something was not right, but did not abandon me and stood by my side and realized that I needed to work it out on my own.

The healing has begun. The smile is renewed!



  1. Oh Sean,
    This has me just crying like a baby. We are very similar and have both been handed some huge life lessons and experiences from God. I'm so glad you felt that weight lifted from you. I had a life altering moment with God 6 years ago that made me let go of anger, resentment and pain from my mother's death.
    I feel so blessed to know you. Hugs.
    Thanks for sharing this. I've been really in a dark place again lately and out helps me remember to look to God for guidance.

  2. You are amazing. Your blog post not only helped you--thanks.

  3. Thank you for sharing Sean! Reading your post reminds me so much of myself and the emotions that I have felt since my dad passed. I am still on the journey but a strong faith and supportive family and friends have helped. Sending you big hugs!

  4. I think I held my breath through this entire post. I haven't been where you've been so I can't say anything that that will make sense, but I can tell you that you are insanely brave, and so kind to share this. <3 And I do hope you mean it - that you are forgiving yourself - it's way easier to be kind to other people sometimes. Big hugs, my friend. It's not always a bad thing if what you show to the world is your calm, kind self, because when you tell these stories, people know it's 1) okay and 2) still possible to be a kind, calm self with an imperfect past. xo

  5. It takes courage and faith to allow others to see our vulnerabilities. I believe you will find amazing support, strength and love all around you. Blessings and best wishes to you on your journey of healing!

  6. thank you for sharing so much about your journey. best of luck in continued healing!

  7. Thank you for sharing your very personal story. It was very moving. I know that God will be with you as you continue your journey forward.

  8. Sean, your post is so heartwarming. My heart goes out to you for opening yourself up in this way. You have truly bared your soul. I have shared tears with you as I read this with my first cup of coffee. This message is very powerful and I am blessed by reading it. I am sending a big hug your way.

  9. Thank you for sharing your story. Hugs and continue on the road of life and healing.

  10. Thank you for sharing your story. May God bless you and guide you in your healing.

  11. Sean, Thank you for sharing your journey. I just watched "The Shack". I felt so much peace after seeing that DVD. I am going to buy it! I have been burying so much anger about abuse in my childhood. I still have ramifications about that today. Not really horrible abuse, but to a kid it was so frightening. I have learned that we are all victims of victims. I thought I was able to forgive and forget but that story brought home to me how much I was just ignoring what I really need to do. I am crying right now! The message is love, always love. Thank you for sharing all of that. It must have been difficult. I would never have guessed that you were carrying all of that emotion. You have always been so kind and helpful to me with my crafting, Thank you again Sean. I wish you peace and love!

  12. Thank you Sean for sharing your beautiful journey.. beautiful not because it is a happy one, but because in what you shared with us I could really appreciate your authenticity, your honesty and that you could be "you".

    My mom has been in hospital with heart and lung complications for the past 12 weeks. I am the only member visiting and spending time with her everyday, and I know that the time will arrive when I need to let go. I have prepared myself, I remind myself everyday that she might not become better, that the "hour" is getting nearer - but I know that when the time comes it will be a blow. So I appreciate your journey as I am also building mine. God bless you, and I promise you my humble prayers.


  13. Sean, What a beautiful, poignant sharing of your family and your grief. God has broken through and your healing has begun. May you sense His presence every step of the way. Know He is with you, and your Mom is smiling on you. God bless and keep you. Kathy S.

  14. I'm so sorry to hear all of this. I hope you truly can heal from this and your life will be very happy again. Take care.


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