In 2013, I was loving life with Shane, my husband of 16 years, and raising my two young boys when my life changed in an instant.
My husband had been living with bipolar disorder even before our marriage, and he started to spiral out of control. As a nurse, you would think I would know what to do or how to help, but I didn’t.
I lost my husband to suicide eight years ago. My babies lost their dad to a death I couldn’t explain. Nurses like answers. We’re problem solvers. But I had no answers.
The hardest part of my journey was staying strong for my children through all the unknowns. My friends — nurses I work with — kept me strong. We take care of each other.
Turning Tragedy Into a Movement
During the rough times after my husband’s death, I started paddle boarding with a friend and colleague to help with my anxiety. I became very good at it and won several races in Florida.
In 2015, I was approached by a company called Watersports West that offered to sponsor me in paddle board races. Our collaboration grew from there, and Watersports West began providing boards I could use to take other nurses who were working on the frontlines out on the water as a form of stress relief.
I had experienced what “water therapy” could do, and I wanted to share that positivity with others. I was delighted to be able to take my colleagues out paddle boarding during pandemic lockdowns.
Interest in paddle boarding grew, and before I knew it I was getting calls from healthcare workers who were interested in heading out to the water with me. The response led to my decision to start my own non-profit organization — not only to help my colleagues but anyone struggling with mental health issues. My non-profit is an interventional program called “Remember Me NP” and the goal is for suicide prevention. It was created in loving memory of Shane and all the healthcare workers we’ve lost to COVID-19 during this dreadful pandemic.
Most of my volunteers are first responders trained to recognize if a participant may need additional support and resources. Watersports West supplies me with boards and gear for my program, while another sponsor, Island Surf Shop, donated office space. And I’m just getting started.
Paddle Boarding Is Just the Beginning
I now advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to implement change for education in healthcare for suicide prevention in Tallahassee. I’m still working in surgery because I love it, but I’m not sure how much longer I can sustain two full-time jobs.
With the rise in suicide deaths since COVID-19, I feel I’m needed in the community even more than in the OR. I’ve learned a lot since losing my husband to suicide, and I need to share my story to help others.
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