Category Archives: Spouse

Breathe, the book, is now available on-line in Canada, the US, and on Kindle INTERNATIONALLY

Breathe by Shawna Percy

Breathe: a true story about marriage, faith, and attempted suicide, is now available on-line by the following retailers:








Already read Breathe? Help me RATE IT or WRITE A REVIEW:


If your on-line retailer of choice is not listed here, please leave me a comment letting me know where you’d like to see Breathe sold.

Do you prefer a good old visit to the book store? Me too. Send me your recommendation for where you’d like to see Breathe sold and I’ll make sure they’re on my publisher’s list to contact.

Thanks for your on-going support everyone. I hope you enjoy your read of Breathe.


The official launch date of my book, Breathe, is coming soon…

It’s been a long time coming but the time is nearly here when my published book, Breathe: a true story about marriage, faith, and attempted suicide, will officially be released.

When, you ask? March 11th, 2014 is the official launch date. That’s when Breathe will finally be available on-line and start to appear in book stores.

Stay tuned for more details, and in the meantime if you want to learn more about Breathe click here to read the synopsis.


Breathe high rez file


Shawna’s IGNITE WATERLOO talk! “He died by…” (video)

A 5 minute talk using 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds.  That’s the Ignite Waterloo challenge.  I had the privilege of rising to the occasion at a sold out Ignite Waterloo event this past February.  Since then, a lot of you have been waiting patiently for the videos from that venue.  Although the official videos have yet to be released, and my personal camera was in a haze (as you will soon see,) the recorded audio my friend captured was clear.  Between that and the slides, I had enough for challenge #2: create my own interim Ignite Waterloo movie.

When the official footage from Ignite Waterloo is posted to their YouTube channel I will be sure to let you all know.  In the meantime, I hope this talk makes the positive impact it seemed to have that night in February at The Breithaupt Block.

Click here for references to the statistics used in my Ignite Waterloo talk.

Getting a move on – Good Grief Guru moves to “The Healing Place”

There will be pieces of Neil I will always carry with me.  There were pieces I needed to leave behind.  Like the couch my grandparents bought us for our wedding gift.  It was the spot my husband was sitting on the last time I ever saw him.  Or the mounds of clutter strewn across our basement floor.  I avoided doing taxes and going through papers for a year and a half after my husband died.  I didn’t have the energy to sort through someone elses belongings, and in truth I wanted to forget.

Then there was the solid oak furniture Neil’s family had custom built for him.  I couldn’t stand that furniture.  A dresser, a mirror, a desk with a removable bookshelf and matching chair, two end tables and a high boy were part of the full set that overwhelmed our house.  When Neil lived in an apartment he took the oak furniture with him.  When he died, our friends brought it back and they collected dust and mounds of paper as they stood like statues in our basement.

Realistically, I was likely never going to do anything about all of this stuff.  I needed motivation to sort and purge and let go of everything that had weighed us down.

I found a house between Waterloo and Toronto.  It wasn’t just “a house.”  It was a centurion home built in 1890 and nestled in a little community of neighbours, some of whom had been literally born into the surrounding homes they still occupy.  This home was much more than a building.  Something happened to me every time I entered it.  Restoration.  Open wounds began to heal as though the very essence of the air that filled the home were made of salve ointment designed for the scrapes and bruises of one’s heart.  I came to call it “The Healing Place.”

Within 6 weeks I sorted through every piece of paper and object that existed in my old house.  I purged 20 full sized garbage bags and donated another 15 to the local thrift store.  Every bag that left the house took emotional baggage and burdens with it.  I sold my late-husband’s black desk with the glass top, our wedding gift couch, jewelery, and every piece of the oak furniture except for the highboy.  The highboy was the only piece I truly loved, mainly because of the unique cubby compartment in the top.


I struggled with the decision to let go of the furniture.  Not for my sake, but because I knew how much Neil loved it, and how he would have wanted me to keep it for our daughter.  But we were downsizing, and if I took it all I would be stuffing the new home with pieces I wouldn’t know if my daughter wanted to keep for another 20 years.  The space of the home we were moving to dictated my decision to let it go, but one good friend urged me to keep one piece, and so I did.  I took photos of all the furniture, and felt sick when a buyer came to pick it up.  Even more so when someone would try to bargain.  I cried.  I breathed in the uncomfortable feeling of letting go.  I said goodbye, and then I moved on.

I made a box of journals that Neil had written in that I’d never read before.  I kept two of his shirts so his daughter could know something of his style and physical size.

Sorting through the bags of belongings his friends brought back home after he died, I discovered a brochure for Alcoholics Anonymous.  I felt a sense of peace because that was the Neil I knew; a man who made mistakes, but tried to find a way to mend them, to fix him, to fight for a better tomorrow.  I’ll never know if he actually made it to a meeting.  But now I know he tried.

Alexis and I slept in the same bed for the last week.  On our final night in the only house she had ever known, she asked to sleep in her room, so I lay her toddler mattress on the floor and she hugged her pillow into her dreams under the canvass of her pink girlie walls.


October 31st; moving day.  I took pictures of every room.  I held Alexis’ hand and we walked up the nearby path to “Daddy’s tree,” the memorial tree our neighbours planted next to the public path where we could always visit it.  Their gesture grew with significance as I realized how much more important a public space would mean now that we would no longer be living with access to our old backyard.  I sprinkled a container of Neil’s ashes at the base of the tree because he was as much a part of this earth, this neighbourhood, as we had become, and a piece of him needed to remain in that soil as a part of us would forever remain by that tree.


Alexis talked to her living Daddy Tree.  I realized how much she had grown.  Not just physically, but in her comprehension of life, and understanding of what death means.

A few hours later the movers had emptied our house and delivered our belongings to The Healing Place.  As I looked around I was grateful for the oak highboy and the advice that I hold on to one piece.  All the garbage and heaviness that had weighed us down had been left on the curb, but a few precious treasures we carried with us into our new home.   As this happened with the material, so it happened with the emotional.  Now that the clutter was gone I could clearly see the precious pieces that had been left behind…I could more clearly see Neil.  I left the hurt and the baggage in the garbage, and I clung on to the gifts Neil brought into our lives, only taking with us that which would foster me to heal and restore.  Suddenly, I found myself grappling for pieces of him.  I was ready to honour him.

A friend of mine asked me a few weeks after the move if all the change had caused me to miss Neil.  I answered that I didn’t miss my husband, but I really missed my friend.  Neil was a man who had overcome great obstacles, and as a friend he had inspired me.  He had struggled with crack cocaine, and never went back to hard drugs when he accepted the Lord.  He loved me.  He loved his family.  And I loved my friend.

I hope to do my best to honour my friend as our hearts are restored at The Healing Place.

Are you a dad? Then this post’s for you!

On the heels of the movie Courageous comes the book 88 great daddy-daughter dates by Rob and Joanna Teigan.  This one and a half minute video will give you an excellent sneak peek into what to expect from 88 great daddy-daughter dates.

Raising a fatherless daughter, but knowing how greatly my husband impacted our little girl in the short time they had before he passed away, I was captivated when I read the title of this book.  The void of my daughter’s father reminds me how priceless time is, and what a gift it is to be in a parental position where a mother, father, grandparent, guardian, or role-model, have a closing window of opportunity to pour into a little one’s life.

My late-husband, Neil, began to take our daughter on dates when she was just about 2 years old.  Their dates lasted a month and a half before Neil died.  Despite how young our daughter was, and how short that together-time lasted, she remembers.  They taught me that perhaps it is never too young, or too old, to start this ritual with one’s child.

Girls need to know they are loved like men need to know they are respected.  There are golden moments, every day moments, where we can teach our children to have confidence, that they are valued, to feel whole and wanted at home, and to feel secure in the blessing they are so they don’t seek to fill their desire to belong, the wrong way.

Dad’s, are you using your time intentionally?  Are you showing your sons character and commitment?  Are you being the kind of man you hope your daughter will one day seek to marry?

There is a scene from the movie Courageous that brings me to my knees.  It slices through my cloak of armour and pierces my little girl-heart with precision.  Courageous is a movie about a group of men who make a resolution to their families, to be active fathers in the home, to love and to lead them with honour.  This particular scene shows one of those fathers sitting in a nice restaurant with his daughter.  They are on a daddy-daughter date.  He is explaining to her that she is treasured and loved.  He makes a promise to her, and even gives her a ring to remind her that he’s made a commitment to protect her, and keep her best interests at heart.

Dad’s, don’t under estimate the value you bring your family, and the potential life-changes your impact can make on your children.  It is never too late to be a great dad.  It is never too early to start.  Spending precious quality time with our daughter may have been the best decisions my husband ever made.  It is a decision our daughter carries in her heart, even though she was so young, and even now that he’s passed away.

June 17th: Father’s Day, and Neil’s Birthday

This June 17th is not only Father’s day, it is also Neil’s birthday.  Neil, my late-husband, would have been 35 this year.

This video shows Alexis and I introducing the song Walk Away, by Ben Harper, and we explain the reason why this song is significant to us.

For all the adopted men in our lives who have been a father to the fatherless, THANK YOU!  For every man who has read my daughter a bedtime story, grabbed ice for her split lip, carried her bike after she fell off it (us being blocks from home,) loved her, spent time with her, and supported me, HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

For Neil, who spent two years and nine months loving our child, anticipating her, and adoring her, we love you and we remember you.


Five years ago this week my grandfather passed away.  A few days later my husband attempted suicide for the first time in our marriage.

Three years later, this same week, my only sister-in-law died in her sleep.  She was 29.  It startled and disturbed me, and I feared the worst for my husband who was already heading into a mental episode.

This week, this year, I started out on a high.  I was so happy, consumed by my deeply engrained altruism projects.  I literally said to someone, “I am in love, IN LOVE, with life right now.”  That was just a few short hours before I crashed.

I got a B12 shot, and I should have hit euphoria at the rate I was going.  Instead, I started coming down off my high.  I started feeling off.  Something was not right.  Then, I looked at the calendar, and flashbacks of the past, associations with places, people, even the weather outside, sent me into a tailspin as I remembered the events from the past that bombarded this same week years ago.

That afternoon, I came home.  We had recently welcomed a roommate into our house.  She had been with us for two weeks, and we loved her to bits.  In my books, she could not have been a better fit.  She was the first person to live with us since my husband died.

I painted her room yellow, the colour of joy.  Her room was the last room my husband slept in, in our house.  I took my husband’s “Be considerate” sticky note reminder off the back of the guest room door.  I painted over the “I love Shawna” note my husband had etched onto the wall with his wedding band when he slept in that room one night.  We moved boxes and cleaned house, and it was worth the effort because all of this was going to a good cause.  Every penny of her rent money was going to support the purchase of land in Uganda, for a safe-house that would provide a stable home to dozens of kids from the slums.

But I came home, and she was gone.  A note left on my kitchen table told me she couldn’t stay in our house any longer.  She was reacting to something in the air.  Perhaps it was an allergic reaction to the cats I used to have.  I’ll never know.  In the blink of an eye, another person vanished, and quite frankly, it was more than I could take.

Above my kitchen table was a card.  The writing on the front was a quote by Maya Angelou, that read, “Have the courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”

I want to, Maya.  I really want to.  I want to so much I have left that card above my kitchen table to challenge me at every meal; to remind me that to give, and receive love, is a gift.  I don’t want to miss out on that gift.  It’s just, when that gift is taken away, when that gift unexpectedly disappears, goes silent, or in the blink of an eye ceases to exist, I just don’t know if I have the courage to trust love one more time.

Last Sunday, I visited my mother’s church, Spring Garden, in Toronto.  “Discourage means to take courage out of someone.  To replace courage with fear,” explained Pastor Gene.

Am I filled with fear?

I looked back on my notes.  Pastor Gene talked about 1st Corinthians 13 from the Bible.  It was the famous message of faith, hope, and love.  It was an old message, but told in a new way for me.  I had never realized there was an order to the three.

Pastor Gene explained, fear is the lack of faith.  Replace fear with faith and one will be encouraged.  Faith puts the courage back in encouragement.  Faith clears out the cob webs of fear, and makes space for the sprout of hope to grow.  As hope takes over, the blossom of love opens, and that vibrant flower changes everything.  When one acts, re-acts, thinks and speaks in love, there is nothing more pure, more lovely, more beautiful than true love.  As 1st Corinthians 13:13 says, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

Replace fear with faith.  Faith -> Hope.  Hope -> LOVE!

I was at a crossroads.  I knew a decision had to be made.  Did I have courage to trust love one more time, and always one more time?  I could barely imagine I could while being in a place of discouragement, brokenness, feeling shattered, and so very tired of being disappointed.  But, if I stopped for just a moment to think, I could see that by allowing fear to consume me, I would be responsible for transforming the root of an incredible flower.  I would poison that flower, and that flower would die.  The root would become withered and bitter and incapable of giving life and joy to others.   Did I want that?  I was scared, I was scarred, I was terrified, but even in these places I could see that fear equaled death, and only faith could keep that flower alive.

I thought back to a quote from the Batman movie, The Dark Night, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.

I couldn’t see a sunrise on this night’s horizon, but if I closed my eyes I remembered, sunrises in the past came after every dark night before them.  That vision was enough to replace my fear with an inkling of faith.  That inkling of faith generated an ounce of hope.  That ounce of hope gave way to visions of the intoxicating bloom of love that I longed to hold in my reality once again.

Maybe, just maybe, the life-giving sun would break through this dark night if I could hold on to this glimmer of faith for just one more day.

REMEMBERING NEIL – 1 year later (memorial)

My husband was more than a statistic.  He was more than the events that occurred on his last day of living.  My husband, Neil Ryan MacDonald, was a person, a soul, a spirit.  He had quirks, gifts, talents, challenges, rough edges and bright spots.  He was a father, son, brother, husband, colleague, and friend.  Like anyone who knows someone, we know them in different ways.  If you knew Neil, please share your favourite story or quirk in the comments section below.

Here are the top 10 things I loved about Neil MacDonald (in no particular order)

1) He had a perfect nose

2) He had beautiful blue/green eyes, the same eyes I see every day when our daughter Alexis looks at me

3) Our daughter Alexis who, if you know anything about biology, wouldn’t be here without his help 😮

4) That he laughed at the silly football dances I would do when I was excited about something

5) His love for God

6) His adoration for his daughter, Alexis

7) I still hear stories from neighbours and friends that Neil would tell them he thought he was so lucky to be married to me.  Spouses, parents, kids: talk up the people you love behind their back.  It speaks volumes of your character, as Neil’s actions in this regard spoke volumes of his.  Each time I hear one of those stories it is like opening a love letter that he left behind for me to read.

8) His love for music, especially anything with a phat-beat

9) When I first had Alexis and felt out of my element, not knowing how to be a mom, he encouraged me, and he stayed at home with us for the first two months, every day of which I was grateful for

10) His cooking.  Oh man, could he cook.  As his friends used to say, “We’re eatin’ large, when Bigga’s in charge!”

Below is a poem my sister, Joy (from Pardon my Poppet) wrote for Neil.  It captured his bright spots well.  Here it is again, in celebration of his life.

“A great big heart, with a hug to match, and a smile you just couldn’t help by catch,

A passion for all he did, an outlook like a little kid, a love for all he knew that blossomed more as it grew,

Miss him we will surely do, as each and every day is through, but memories will pass the mind, and smiles will return in kind,

So comfort in the privilege of having passed his way, and laugh as he would want you to as you recall day by day,

For truly life is much more grand, little moments shared together, a bit of his heart goes with us, and will now on forever.”  EJO

FOR THE LOVE OF YOUR SPOUSE, your parent(s), your kid(s), GET A WILL!

“He had a terminal illness and he didn’t tell you what his wishes were?  How is that possible?”

I was shocked to learn, speaking to other individuals whose spouses died of terminal illnesses, that not all of them had had those last important conversations, or finalized their Wills.  Denial is a powerful drug for someone to be lying in palliative care and completely avoid the must have conversations.  Here’s the thing though.  We are all going to die.  Someone can have brain cancer, recover miraculously, then walk out of the hospital and get hit by a car.  Fit people die, fat people die, young and old alike, die.  So please, for the love of your spouse, your parents, your kid(s), get a Will, get a living-Will, tell your family or close friends your wishes, and try to make decisions you can live, and die with.

In April of 2010, my sister-in-law died suddenly in her sleep.  She was only 29.  By that time, my husband and I had a baby, property, and a business my husband co-owned.  It cost us $750 to have both of our Wills done, and we mutually agreed our peace of mind was worth the investment.

With our lawyer we set up contingency care for our daughter, discussed and documented our living-Will wishes, named our Power of Attorney(s), and listed our Executor(s) in the event of our death.  So often we focused on our material things.  Who should get this?  Who should get that?  Our lawyer zeroed in on what our living-Will wishes were in the event that one of us was unable to communicate.  It’s not a fluffy topic to think about.  I get that.  But worse than not thinking about it now, is being the person left to make decisions on another’s behalf, and feeling the brunt of those choices, always wondering if they were the right ones, for the rest of their lives.  In a moment like that, it does not matter who gets the couch.

My husband and I finalized our Wills in October of 2010.  Five months later, he died.  He did not have a terminal illness.

What did this mean for me in the days that followed?  Every arduous bank, lawyer, and government appointment I had to attend, went easier, was less time consuming, and was less of an emotional nightmare not being subjected to more paperwork, loose ends, and litigation.  By being named Executor on our Will, I was able to attend to any of my husband’s business with the same authority as my husband himself.

As I sat in a bank consultant’s office transferring funds, and closing accounts, she explained to me that without the documents I had, what we were accomplishing in one day could otherwise take years, and a great deal more stress, to complete.  In the face of a long line of tasks I was left alone to navigate, I felt gratitude that my husband initiated the process of obtaining legal Wills.  With our lawyer, and alone, we had important conversations about life, and death.  I was not left wondering, unprepared, and overcome with more obstacles then already lay before me.

There is one conversation we did not have, and it fuddles my mind every time I think of it.  The weight of its loose ends clamp down on my shoulders.  It was the conversation about his business.  My husband had an on-line car parts company called .  He ran the entire front end, and had no apprentice to take it over.  He had offered to teach me about a year before he died, but I was not motivated by the technical side of it, and I excused his foresight with the mindset that we have time for that.  We’ll get to the training another day.  I have enough work on my plate already.  Now that he is gone, this company that has the potential to shine like a rainbow, hangs over my head like a black cloud.

Even if it is likely you may be alive for the next 50 years, please, have the conversations with your loved ones.  No one knows what tomorrow brings.  I am not suggesting that anyone dwell on the subject of death, but I am saying, speaking from the other side of loss, my husband did me a tremendous favour the day we finalized our Wills.  You, and your family’s peace of mind are worth it.


Sometimes it seems like my memories are heavy with trauma.  Like eating deep fried fish and chips, it provides a certain level of comfort before back stabbing me with a belly ache.

It’s time for something light.  Salad perhaps, for a more balanced diet.

When Neil died I made a movie of memories that was played at his memorial service.  It’s full of fun photos, great memories, and a video of him dancing with his happy baby girl.  If you never met him this is a great way to get to know his lighter side.  If you did know him perhaps these photos, and story line will trigger some personal memories of your own.  Either way, this will help the viewer get to know us better.

So I invite you to enjoy snapshots of my life with Neil before he said his final goodbye.

CLICK HERE to watch our video on YouTube now.