Seaworthy

Sea-wor-thy
ˈsēˌwərT͟Hē/
adjective
“(of a vessel) in a good enough condition to sail on the sea.”

Sometimes, something unexpected happens, and it gives you a new look at something, or a new look at yourself maybe. Sometimes, everything just lines up in the way it is supposed to, so that the universe can deliver to you, exactly what it is that you need in that moment. I want to tell you all a story, where that happened.

So, I recently returned home from Tampa, Florida – where I attended as a presenter once again at Camp Widow. It always seems impossible to even begin to describe the experience of what goes on during those few days at that Marriott Hotel, because it always feels so special and so big and so life-changing, and something that just cant be seen or felt or understood, unless you were there inside of it. Each and every time.

And I figured out the reason for that. It’s because we are living life every day. Sometimes we are living life poorly, other times we are barely hanging on, and still other times we might feel like we could be doing okay. The pieces of our life are in constant movement. Each time we attend camp, and are surrounded by a couple hundred other widowed people – our tribe – things have changed in our own lives. We are in a different place than we were the last time, even if its not a good place. Grief does not stand still – its always shifting – as is life, whether you fight the changes of it or not. They still keep happening. So each time I attend, I receive brand new messages, gain new knowledge, and walk away with something I didnt have just a few days earlier. I also meet more new people that are on this path of loss, and I reunite with my friends that I met there last year. Not to mention I have the amazing honor of providing laughter to a room filled with widowed people – and widowed people laughing, has become my very favorite sound to hear.

At each camp, the founder of Soaring Spirits International, my dear friend Michele Neff Hernandez, widowed at age 35 when her husband Phil was hit by a car while cycling – delivers a Key Note Address. It is always the perfect message for us to go home with, and always something to make us think in a new way about something. As it turns out, this one hit home for me, in ways that were quite unexpected. She normally uses some type of metaphor or image as part of her overall theme, and this time, that image was boats.

Michele spoke about how common it is to hear people comparing grief to the ocean. She then noted that she liked to think of it more as a boat. That when our loved one dies, we are left with this boat (our grief, our “after” life, all of it), and it is our mission, eventually, to make sure our boats were seaworthy – in good enough condition to sail on the sea. She talked about what a ginormous task this was, and how all of our boats were in different conditions and some of our boats had other passengers to take care of (children), while others were completely alone in their boats. She talked about having to fix our boats over and over, and how new holes would appear and how we had to keep starting over, and how sometimes, you just wanted to sit there and tread water and not deal with this boat or deal with anything. Or how you wanted to just give up and sell your boat, but you couldntt, because you have the deed and its yours forever. You had no choice but to take your boat, your life, and make it seaworthy.

Later that day, after the Key Note Address, I did my presentation, which went very well, and then attended the big party that night where we both honor our forever loves with a message release, and celebrate our own lives, and love and life itself. Everything was great, and I felt such a sense of life-affirmation and hope – the way I always feel when around my widowed family.

The next night, Sunday, I was hit with a huge emotional breakdown. A panic attack. It happened at a random moment, while sitting in my hotel room alone. The reasons as to why it happened aren’t important here and cannot be shared here, so I will only say that it was an extremely emotional week for me in Florida, and it was very difficult being there for personal reasons. My heart was hurting all week long, and in that moment, it all came to a head.

So, on that Sunday, I found myself on the floor of my hotel room, crumpled up in a corner, sobbing hysterically and barely able to catch my breath. It was that kind of crying where you start hyperventilating, and where you are absolutely positive that the severity of your crying and your pain, will indeed kill you. You are positive that you will die from this pain, and you sort of very much want to die, in that moment. Here I was, 5 and a half years from my loss, and still, grief and life and pain was attacking. But because I am over 5 years from my loss, I knew enough, somewhere deep inside, that I was having a panic attack, and that I probably would not die from it. I knew enough that I needed a friend to help me breathe through this, and I needed to talk with someone I could trust with all of this pain. So I texted Michele. It just felt right. She was the person I needed in that moment, to say the words I needed to say out loud, that would be kept between only us.

I got through the night somehow. I cried hysterically for a long time that night. Hours, maybe. With the help of a sleeping pill, I finally drifted off into crying sleep. On Monday morning, I woke up with a headache, and a return text from Michele that she had been asleep the night before and just received my text now. I was still in a very bad place, and asked her if she could somehow spare even just a few minutes for me in person, because I felt as if I was going to collapse from pain. I wasnt sure how to get through the next minute, never mind the day. This woman, this beautiful friend of mine who was literally in the middle of packing up all of Camp Widow into trucks, several meetings, and things other than my sobbing ass – scheduled a private conference room for us to meet in, and was there waiting for me when I arrived at the appointed time.

I sat down next to her, and just collapsed into her. I let myself cry horribly and loudly. I let everything that was inside, come out. And she sat there, holding me, and giving me the space I so desperately needed, to let all the hurt escape out of me. I needed a private place to feel safe, away from everyone and everything, and she gave me exactly that. We talked for a long time, and many things were said that I can’t get into in a public forum, but this was the part that is important to this story, that I will share here.

She looked me in the eyes, as I cried and cried and cried, and she ordered me to go outside. “You can cry all you want, but you are not allowed back into your room until tonight, to sleep. I want you outside in the fresh air. Take a walk, sit by the pool, whatever. If I find out you went back to your room, I’m going to be really upset with you.You have to find a way to release this from your heart, at least until your TED talk is done at the end of the month. You have to focus on that. This is a huge deal, a huge opportunity and platform, and you cannot let this thing, steal that away from you.”

I cried some more, and she wiped my tears and asked me if I had any sunglasses. I shook my head no. She took her own beautiful sunglasses, and put them on my face gently. She said: “Here. These are yours. Now you can go outside, and see yourself through my eyes. Youre beautiful. Youre so worthy. You cant see that right now, but I can. Look through my eyes. You are allowed to grieve and mourn and feel everything that’s happened, but do it outside, and put these on so you don’t have to face questions about why you’re crying. When you get outside, you never know what could happen, who you might run into, what new perspective you might see. Go outside. I love you.” I walked down the hall, still crying, and said: “I love you too.” And I went outside.

Minutes later, I got a text from one of my widow friends, Leah. “A few of us are going on a boat cruise around Tampa Bay. Wanna come?” Without thinking about anything other than the words that Michele had just spoken to me, I texted back: “Yes.” Because I was ordered to stay outside. And because her Key Note was all about boats. So the idea of a boat ride seemed absolutely perfect.

So off we went, onto this boat ride, which was supposed to be a dolphin watch, but there were no dolphins. There was a captain, and a co-captain. The co-captain was at the back of the boat, where me and my friends were sitting, and he was chatting it up with us and being friendly and personable, because that’s his job. I was telling my friends about how I never took my late husband’s last name, Shepherd, an how I was going to now use it as a pen name in my book about him – Kelley Lynn Shepherd. The co-captain/2nd mate heard me and commented: “Thats a really beautiful way to honor him, by taking his name for the book. Wow. I like that.” He then asked us if we wanted to request any songs for the boat tour, so I requested “Sailing” by Christopher Cross. He yelled out to the captain my song request, and the captain responded: “You got it, Phil.” Then this man, Phil, who has the same name as my dear friend Michele’s late husband – just minutes after she ordered me to go outside and I ended up on a boat – says out of nowhere to me: “I love your sunglasses. Those are really great sunglasses.” Really.

When the boat tour was over, my friends and I started walking down the pier after saying our farewells to the captain and co-captain. He shouted out to me, something about “next time, I hope I can be your shepherd.” And then winked. My friend Rhonda turned to me and said: “Wow. He was really into you, huh?” “What?”, I responded, completely clueless. Leah and Tara agreed. “How could you not know? It was so obvious! He was listening to everything you said. He was standing over by you the whole cruise, talking to you.” I was stunned. “Really? I thought he was just doing his job and being nice. You really think he was flirting with me?” “YES!!!!”, they all practically screamed at me in unison.

So, with my new sunglasses on where I could see myself through Michele’s eyes, and with my new-found “who gives a shit and why the hell not” bravery, I said: “Well, I dont think he was flirting with me at all, but if you guys really think so, Ill go back there and give him my card. Why not, right? He was super nice. And his name was Phil! And he commented on my sunglasses that Michele just gave me. On a boat! Just like her Key Note! I mean, come ON. That HAS to mean SOMETHING!” So I fished through my bag to find my card, and then sprinted back toward the boat. But it was too late. The next cruise was already taking off – they had literally JUST left the dock. “Dammit!”, I said, genuinely disappointed.

We walked back to the hotel, and sat outside on the patio, because I was ordered to stay outside. Leah came up with a plan. “Lets find the boat tour company, see if they have a Facebook page. Then find him, and send him a message that you just took the tour and thought he had a great sense of humor, and that you were wondering if they give private group tours, because its something you may look into for our widowed convention next year. This way, if he wasn’t flirting with you, then you wont feel like you’re putting yourself out there or feel silly. And if he was, it will be obvious.” So I did. And I was pretty damn proud of myself for having the courage to walk back there and give this total stranger my card, AND follow it up by reaching out with this message.

The next morning, he did not reply, so I assumed that I was correct and that my friends were crazy for thinking he was into me. But the morning after that, after my flight had been pushed back a day due to snow back home, he did reply. Saying that yes, they do private group tours. He then asked me if I had some time right now to talk about it further. I was in the hotel, with a couple hours before having to leave for the airport to head back home. So I said sure. And then my phone rang (apparently people can call you from the Facebook Messenger thing, without having your number. I had no idea because I suck at technology).

And then, we were suddenly talking, for a very long time. The subject of boat tours only came up for a few minutes, if that. The rest of the time, he asked me about my late husband, and about the widow convention, and he noted how it must be “very comforting and validating in a way” to be part of an event such as Camp Widow, and to know that you aren’t alone. I then decided to take a chance and just come out and ask him if he was, indeed, flirting with me during the tour. Because I still didn’t really know for sure. Because I suck at knowing those types of things, and I suck at reading men and their intentions, apparently.

So I asked him. “My friends insisted that you were flirting with me on the cruise. I told them they were crazy.” He paused a few seconds, as if collecting his thoughts, and then said: “Oh, I was totally flirting with you. You’re absolutely beautiful. I have a thing for sexy brunettes with long hair from Massachusetts, who change their name to author a book about their husband, and who have a great personality and sense of humor and gorgeous eyes, and who are half Italian and half-Finnish. Oh, and the cleavage didn’t hurt anything either. ”

I could literally feel myself blushing through the phone. He really WAS listening to everything I said on that boat. To be feeling so horrible and awful and low and hopeless just hours before and the day before, and be literally crumpled up on the floor not wanting to do anything but die in my sorrow – and then to hear these words, coming from a total stranger named Phil, who has nothing to gain by lying to me, who I met on a boat, with my new sunglasses on, – it was magic.

It was the universe giving me the exact thing that I needed, at that exact moment. We talked about how I love sunsets, and how they do a nightly sunset cruise on the boat, and how beautiful the sunsets are in Florida. We talked about how we didn’t see any dolphins on our dolphin tour, and he lightly mocked me for being in a bathing suit and tank top on a “chilly” and windy day in the high 60’s, while all my friends were literally covering themselves up with blankets and coats and things, as I yelled out mockingly to them: “Wimps! It’s beautiful out here!” And then he said: “Its too bad you have to leave today. I’m off work, and I was going to see if you wanted to spend some time together.”

In talking with him further, his life situation is extremely complicated, and it’s the kind of complicated that makes him rather “unavailable” – and because of that, I doubt this will ever be any kind of relationship with us. And just a week before leaving for Florida, I had a first date with someone I recently met on the dating sites here in Massachusetts, and our date went quite well, and I really like him and would like to see him again. And that situation, or THIS situation, or ANY situation, could all turn out to be absolutely nothing.

And if there is one thing I have learned over this past year or so, in the most painful way possible – it is that you can spend a whole lot of time and emotions and put your whole heart out there on someone, only for it to turn out to be absolutely nothing. And so Phil, or the really nice guy from back home, or anything else, at any given time – could all be just a whole lot more nothing. But that does NOT erase the moments that happened. It does not mean that what you experienced and what you felt and what happened, was not 100% real, when it happened. Moments like that are real, and they are fleeting, and they live in my heart, and nobody can ever take that away from me. You can NEVER take that away.

What’s important to me is this: Phil and I have kept in touch, and he has been sending me nightly sunset pictures from the boat cruise, and they make me smile and feel peaceful and calm and tranquil. And he sent me and my friends a video of jumping dolphins from the cruise the other day, with the message: “Now you can see your dolphins.” And he called me beautiful. And on a boat filled with lots of other people, he chose ME to flirt with, he chose me to interact with. And when that was pointed out to me by my friends, I took a chance and tried to give him my card. And when that didn’t pan out, I took another chance and sent him a message. And that felt brave, somehow. Because just hours before, I was crumpled up in the corner, and I truly felt like nothing, and like my heart would fall right out of my chest, and I just wanted nothing more than to die right there in that room.

And then I went outside.

So even if all of this, all of these situations, all pan out into nothing,
– they are still not nothing.

The universe giving me hope and a new perspective, in a moment where I felt like everything was gone,
is never nothing. It is the furthest thing from nothing.

And in those moments,

with the wind in my hair,

and the music sounding like a lullaby,

and the water drinking up pieces of life and sky ….

In that one moment,

for that one measure of time,

I was more than Enough.

I was Alive.

And I was Seaworthy.

I Am Not Okay

So last night, I got home from Tampa, Florida, after attending Camp Widow for the 11th or 12th time, I think. I honestly have lost track of how many times I have attended as a presenter and given my comedic talk / performance on grief and loss. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s a bad thing, maybe its just a thing.

Who cares.

At the end of this month, I will be traveling back to NYC for a few days, so I can give my TEDx talk, about grief and love and loss. It will be a huge honor, I am anxious and excited about it, and it will hopefully be something that, in time, will lead to other opportunities to speak.

And, of course, I am still and always in the midst of writing my book, about the love story of me and my husband, his death, and about grief and loss.

Anybody seeing a pattern here?

In this “after” life, the one where my husband is forever dead, I talk and write a LOT about grief and loss and death. And really, sincerely, it is my absolute honor to do so, because it helps ME, and it helps other people to know they are not alone in their crazy thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It is also a healthy way for me to cope and to process what’s going on inside me.

But the truth is, just because I write and talk about these things publicly, does not mean that I somehow have it all together, or that I even know what the hell I’m talking about. I don’t. I’m just a person who is willing to put it all out there in word form, and to take off the plastic mask of widowed life – and tell the brutally honest truth about it. I’m like that with everything. That’s just who I am. If I can’t tell the absolute truth about something, what’s the point in saying words at all?

This public side of me, however, is just one side of me. It’s a small side of me. Yes, it’s the side that most people see, and for most, it’s the only side of me they see. But I have a private, vulnerable, scared little girl, fragile-heart, just wants to be held and protected and loved side – that hardly anyone sees. That my husband saw. That side would come out for him, with him, and around him, because I knew I was safe to let it out.

Right now, I don’t have anywhere or anyone safe to let that side out again. I don’t have someone I can trust or talk to every day, to let that out and release it with. I just don’t have that. And it’s awful to not have that. It’s pretty much the most awful thing in the world.

And so, I don’t feel much like me. At the end of my days, if I can’t let the day fall away with someone, it just all stays inside and burns to a crisp. It creates this hollow feeling in my soul, and that hollow-ness just sits there and lingers. It leaves me crying and aching everywhere, for no reason, and for every reason. I start feeling like everything I do has no point, because I can’t call someone up who is not my parents and not friends who have their own person to do that with – but someone who is mine to call up and share those things – and share it with them. I still talk to Don all the time and I tell him things, but its just not the same as telling someone who is alive aand breathing and listening to your words and then saying words back. I love my husband and I will ALWAYS talk to my husband, but my husband is dead, and this world gets lonelier by the minute as I face all of life’s happenings without someone I connect to, to say words with.

What is the point of anything, if you have nobody to tell it to? Nobody to hear your words. Not family or friends – but that person who makes you feel safe enough that you can let out that little girl who is scared, and who just wants to sit in the stillness and not have to do or BE anything for anyone. Im exhausted from being things. I just want to be nothing and do nothing, and sit in the peace and quiet of that for awhile with someone who understands me.

Those of us who “create something from our pain” – we are an outlet to many. But who do we go to? Who is our outlet? Who is our sea of tranquility, where nothing needs to move or be hopeful – where we can just float and exist and focus on nothing but the swishing of the water, back and forth and back again?

I am like a volcano, with nowhere to erupt.

I am a child, with nowhere to have my temper tantrum.

I am a pillar of strength, a warrior, they tell me – that just wants to curl up into a ball or into the arms of a man, who will protect me and keep me safe. Where is that man for me? Where is that person who will just be there, and nothing more?

Just because I write, just because I share, just because you see me strong and laughing and smiling and living –

that does not mean that you know me.

You know some of me.

The rest of me sits here, in pieces, waiting to explode.

Despite what you might think about me –

most days,

and especially lately,

I am struggling.

Hard.

Very, very hard.

You might not see it,

but that is only,

because I don’t show you.

But here it is:

I am not okay.

I am not okay.

Now, I will get up and I will focus and I will somehow find the damn strength
to do what it is I need to do these next few weeks, and in the weeks after that.
Because that is what I always do. So I will do it again. That is what is expected.
That is what “strong” people do. Over and over and over again.

But each time I have to do that, and then I come home with nowhere to release that vulnerable,
scared, little girl who just wants to be held –

I die just a little bit more.

The truth is,

I have absolutely no fucking idea what the hell Im doing.

I never did.

I’m tired.

I’m sad.

I’m lost.

And I’m not okay.

Do You Remember?

My Dearest, Most Dead Husband,
Today is your Birthday.
But it’s not.

Not only because you are dead,
and for me,
saying Happy Birthday to someone,
who is, in fact, dead,
and does not get to live that birthday,
or see that new age,
or feel the warmth of the candles,
melting on their cake,
or laugh or cry or
hear beautiful music,
makes no sense.
How is it ever a happy birthday,
when you are forever dead?

Also, today is not your birthday.
Not in the factual sense.
This is the day
that everyone celebrated,
as your birthday.
Your friends,
your family,
and even you,
for awhile.

And then,
years later,
you found out,
that your birthday
was not your birthday,
and that you were actually born
on the 6th day of November,
and your childhood,
and your life,
had played out
like some sort of unbelievable soap opera,
a drama of sorts,
where your mother,
tried to keep you
a secret,
from your father,
because you were the product of an affair,
and he had his own family,
and she had an agenda,
and so birth certificates,
and lives,
and hearts,
and little boy’s souls,
were changed that day,
forever.

Do you remember,
how we used to go along with everyone,
celebrating your birthday today,
and then have our own
private celebration,
just Us,
and chocolate cake made for you,
by me,
and you would laugh,
with your shoulders moving
up and down,
and it would be you and me
against the world.

Do you Remember,
how we used to joke,
all the time,
about you having TWO birthdays,
when everyone else,
only got one,
and how I used to say,
“It’s not fair! You don’t even
LIKE your birthday! And you get TWO?”
And then you would laugh,
and shake your shoulders,
and shake your head at me.
And you would make a joke,
about your dysfunctional mother,
and your absent father,
and you would be hurting
inside,
but you would never feel sorry
for yourself,
and you would instead
thank me,
for being your family.

Do you Remember,
on your birthday,
that isn’t your birthday,
but your “fake” birthday,
your “Un-birthday”,
that time we saw Paul McCartney
in concert?
Or that time,
we went to the Yankee game,
or that time,
we went to the BlueNote Jazz Club,
to see your favorite,
Larry Carlton,
and you met him,
and got your picture taken
with him,
and you said to me,
on the bus ride home,
in your adorable way,
“Who has the bestest wife ever?
I do!!!”
And I put my head down,
and rested it,
on your shoulder,
as you hummed softly,
to yourself,
like you used to do sometimes,
when you were content,
as the bus drove us home.

And do you remember
that time, on that day,
when I woke up,
and you were already
dead,
but I didnt know,
and my phone
was ringing,
and ringing,
and ringing,
and then they said,
“We have your husband”,
and I didnt know,
but somehow I knew,
what that meant,
even though,
I couldn’t fathom it.

Not when I was on the phone,
or in the cab,
to the ER,
and not when,
the doctors and nurses,
all came to me,
at once,
in a gaggle of terror,
spewing words,
I did not understand.
“Found collapsed on the floor.
We did everything we could.
He did not make it.
We are so sorry.”

And then I too,
collapsed on the floor,
in a puddle of terror,
right there in that
private room,
where they bring you,
and make you sit down,
when they want to tell you,
that your husband,
has died,
and that your soul
is changed
forever.

And then do you remember,
when that nurse picked me up
off of the floor,
and handed me water,
and said the words,
that I didn’t comprehend.
“Do you want to see him?”
And then she held me up,
walked me to another tiny room,
and left me there alone,
with you,
and closed the door so I could be
with my husband who was dead.

And do you remember,
how you just laid there,
silent,
looking like you,
with your shoes off and socks on,
fully dressed,
as if you were napping after work,
but there were tubes in your face,
and you weren’t humming anymore,
like you did sometimes,
when you were feeling content.

And then do you remember,
how I just stood there,
next to you,
like a stunned blob of confusion,
failing at the one thing I was supposed to do,
in that moment.
Something.
Anything.
But I just stood there.
Because I couldnt comprehend,
what I was seeing.
Did I tell you I loved you?
Did I say Im sorry?
I think I said Im sorry.
Sorry you were dead.
Sorry that Im not better at this.
Sorry that your life was robbed,
of more life.

And do you remember,
how I put my head on your chest,
and felt nothing beating,
and just cried,
for seconds or minutes or hours,
or until the nurse came in again,
and said the words that made no sense,
“Are you ready?”

Do you remember?
No.
Because dead people
can’t
remember,
the hell
that the living
are left with.
The trauma,
the pain,
the attempts,
and fails,
at trying to live again.
Trying to find
something,
Anything,
that makes sense,
in the way
that you made sense,
and we made sense.

I know you don’t remember.
The hurt,
the candles,
the love,
the death,
your lifeless body,
being given your wallet,
your cell phone,
your keys,
in a plastic baggie.
The car ride home,
to nothing.
To the empty shell,
that would be my life,
with you not in it.

I know you don’t remember.
But I do.
I Remember.
I remember it all.
and I’m alive.
And it’s so very hard,
to be alive,
sometimes,
When you remember.

The Hell

I’m halfway through the 5 year mark since your death,

sweet husband.

I have been to hell and back,

and then back around again,

never really actually fully leaving.

Its not possible to leave

the Hell.

Its just not possible.

Because the hell,

Is that you died.

You are dead.

That will always be

the Hell,

no matter what I do,

who I’m with,

where I am,

whatever.

That is the Hell,

forever,

and it is the nucleus,

and the center,

of all things.

So,

since I cannot escape

or run,

from the Hell,

that you are dead forever –

I have to work around it.

Move through it.

Find ways to get along with it.

Some days, some months, some years,

are easier than others.

Some days and years and months,

feel impossible.

The hell of your death

makes me tired.

The more time that goes by,

the more years that pass,

the less people I have,

in my life,

who understand.

The only people who understand,

truly,

are other people who are also

In the Hell,

of their person being dead forever.

We do our best to be there for each other,

and its my honor to do that,

to reach out to anyone

In the Hell,

who needs it.

Anytime.

Anywhere.

Forever.

But,

I miss you most of all,

I need you most of all,

Sweet husband,

when I am churning inside

The Hell.

When the Hell is raging like a storm,

and I call out to you,

and there is no answer.

When I want to collapse into you,

but there are no arms to catch me.

When I cant be strong for one more second,

when I want to turn off the world,

and just be together.

Just be alone,

but Together.

I know in my soul

that I can never be with you,

in that way,

ever again.

And that hurts everyday.

But Im pretty sure,

quite sure, in fact,

that you have sent someone to me,

someone that you approve of and knew,

someone who can maybe catch me

when I want and need

to collapse into them.

When Im tired,

just so tired,

and they are so tired too,

because they are also in

The Hell,

and so we can be tired,

and shut out the world,

and just sit with each other,

and just BE.

Alone,

but together.

Being inside

of The Hell,

is so much more tolerable,

when you can rest your head,

on someone’s shoulder,

or their chest,

and just do nothing,

but breathe,

and breathe Alone,

but Together.

I so miss being your priority.

I miss you checking up on me,

when I don’t feel well.

I miss you saying you miss me,

when we haven’t talked for awhile.

I miss the ease and the comfort I had,

with you.

How everything just fit,

and everything just was.

I miss not having to question,

if you loved me with everything,

inside you.

I just knew.

I miss being your everything.

I miss you being mine.

I miss you being the nucleus,

of my life,

and I miss saying out loud,

and knowing,

“I am your wife.”

Being your widow,

although the saddest,

and most Hellish reality,

keeps me attached to you,

forever.

I am your widow.

Which means I was your wife.

Forever.

And whoever I love,

going forward,

doesn’t erase

or negate that,

it adds to it.

It multiplies it.

Being in love again,

multiplies our love,

and makes it grow

and grow,

forever.

It is the only thing,

perhaps,

that brings you closer.

The only thing,

that brings you

back to me,

in some form,

in some way,

forever.

So i will live,

inside the Hell,

because when I live,

you live too.

And when I am tired,

and when I feel needy,

and want to be comforted,

and loved,

like I do now,

I will talk to you,

even when you don’t answer.

You are still there.

You are always there,

sending me signs,

and people,

and putting love

in my path,

in many different forms.

I will keep paying attention,

and keep knowing,

that the nucleus,

of your death,

will be the center,

always.

But,

a circle has no end.

Nor does love.

So with Love,

I will live inside

the circle,

and watch it,

go round and round,

as life and love,

enter into death,

Alone,

but Together,

Blending and spinning,

and making,

something beautiful.

To Wait, to Nurture …

There are lots of things in my life that haven’t happened yet.

Things that are on the verge of happening, hopefully.

Things I am patiently, or impatiently, waiting on.

Things that still need to marinate.

Things that are still in development.

Things that haven’t quite been defined.

Things that have no guarantee of happening at all.

Things that I have to choose to have faith in.

Things I am taking a risk on, with my heart.

For me, 2016 has been a year filled with transitions.

Really huge transitions.

And lessons.

And taking risks.

Coming to a new place,

in year 5 of this “after” life.

A place of many shifts.

A place filled with complex and intense emotions.

Year Five.

Doing things I hadn’t done before.

Trying things I couldn’t see myself trying before.

Meeting someone,

through fate, or through divine intervention,

that I never expected to meet.

Feeling a deep connection with that someone.

My first kiss, with that someone.

My first kiss, period. (since losing Don)

Holding hands in a restaurant,

saying goodnight at the door,

and feeling like a teenager,

who just happens to be 44.

My first entrance into feeling special again,

my first taste of that heart-pounding feeling,

where you realize that you can’t stop smiling,

with that someone.

Learning that I am in a different place,

than that someone.

Knowing and accepting,

that I can’t fast-forward or rush the path of that someone.

Meeting them right where they are, instead.

Taking a new direction.

Taking care of myself.

Giving breathing room and alleviating pressure,

with that someone.

Joining multiple dating sites.

Feeling ready to “date” again.

Wanting to be held again.

Having that part of me woken up again.

Going out on some horrible dates.

And some good ones.

Meeting someone on such sites,

that I didn’t expect to meet.

Going on dates with that someone.

Falling into a relationship with that someone.

Doing lots and lots of kissing with that someone.

Feeling attractive and wanted again, with that someone.

My first intimacy, with that someone.

My first intimacy, period. (since losing Don)

Losing my “widow virginity”, with that someone.

Trusting that someone.

Being very gentle with that someone’s widowed heart.

Always being honest with that someone.

Finding out that someone wasn’t being honest in return.

Introducing that someone into pieces of my world,

that are important to me.

Letting that someone into my circle.

My community.

Feeling blindsided by that someone.

Losing trust in that someone.

Feeling the pit of stomach stabbing thing,

when that someone tries to make a fool of me,

right in the middle of my circle.

My community.

Feeling invisible,

when that someone chooses not to even acknowledge this,

or acknowledge me.

Feeling like a complete idiot,

for believing in that someone.

For thinking that he really cared about me,

as I did about him,

and realizing that he probably never did.

Feeling hurt and sadness and pain at that someone.

Breaking away from that someone.

Trying to process what it all meant,

or didn’t mean,

with that someone.

Making major life decisions.

Like moving out of NYC,

after 26 years of living here.

Returning to my home state.

Living with my family.

Having a place of peace and tranquility,

to finish writing the book,

about death and grief and love.

Mostly love.

Changing everything,

knowing nothing,

feeling uncertain,

feeling scared,

trusting instincts,

and hoping,

and longing,

and wanting,

for the future that I so desire,

to hurry up and get here today.

But knowing,

I have little control,

and I have to just keep going,

keep loving,

keep having faith in the outcome,

and knowing,

that good things,

take time.

All the things in my life,

that haven’t happened yet,

that I so want to happen,

are waiting on the horizon.

Maybe.

Hopefully.

If I keep growing them.

Nurturing them.

They will grow into

the things

that they always were,

before they were aware,

of what they were.

And so I nurture,

Patiently.

Impatiently.

But always,

with Love.

Pure,

Almighty,

Love.

Criminal

As I lay here in the night,
I miss what was.
What is, but isn’t.
What would be,
if it was.
What could have been.

I miss the Us,
that was,
that would have been,
that never got to be.
Our past.
Our now.
Our future.

I miss what I never knew.
I miss what I always knew.

And I miss you,
saying that you miss me.

Death comes in,
like a criminal,
a robbery,
that keeps happening,
over and over again,
stealing your life,
slowly,
painfully,
piece by piece by piece.

And so you lie there,
in the night,
with the nothingness,
with the missing of everything,
that can never be again.

(just a tiny something I wrote up while lying awake in the middle of the night last night. Put it on my Facebook page, where people seemed to love it and relate, so decided to post it here too. Thanks for reading and as always, for your awesome comments. )

Stop Telling Me To “Get Over It”: Why Trump’s Win Feels Like My Husband Died All Over Again

In probably one of the truest statements I have ever heard about grief, author C.S. Lewis says of his wife’s death, in the first line of his brilliant book: A Grief Observed, “Nobody ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”

Yes. And nobody ever told me that a Trump-President-elect, felt so much like grief.

On the morning of Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, around 4:30 am, I was jarred awake by the sounds of my TV, still on from just hours before, when in my half-sleep and dazed state, I could have sworn I heard that Donald Trump had been elected by the electoral college, our new President. No. But that can’t be true. That must have been some insane dream I had, like the one I had the week before where I slept with Brad Pitt and he was really bad in bed. This was like that, right? This wasn’t a real thing. Right? My heart kept pounding as Trump’s orange-tinted face smirked on my TV, with the words “President Elect” underneath his “huuuuge” mug, and my hands shook with terror. What was happening? I tried to get out of my bed, but I couldn’t get my footing. It was like, suddenly, I had forgotten how to walk. I was breathing differently too. Thinner. Catching each inhale as if I was shocked by it. My eyes were blurry and they hurt, and I had that feeling like the world had just ended, or was ending, or like I didn’t comprehend which world I was living in. I sat on the edge of my bed and just sobbed. More sobbing. Still more. Then, the feeling of exhaustion from the sobbing. This was then followed by feeling as if I had just swallowed a nail, but the nail was stuck inside me, and so I couldn’t swallow. Just trying, over and over again, to swallow.

And that was when it hit me.

I know this feeling.

On the morning of Wednesday, July 13, 2011, around 6:30 am, I was jarred awake by the sounds of my phone ringing, over and over and over again. My husband Don and I had just gone to bed a few hours earlier, I think. I still don’t really remember the details of that previous night, except that he had left around 4:30 am to go to his second job at the local Pet Smart, helping out with pet adoptions, feeding kitties, and stocking pet food. He did this a couple days a week, when he was off from his regular job as a paramedic. He always wanted to let me sleep when he had to leave that early, so I was sleeping when he left. I never said good morning. Never said see you tonight. Never said anything. That phone just kept ringing. I got up and checked my voicemail, and had 3 urgent-sounding messages from Palisades Hospital, down the street. Why are they calling me? That’s weird. When I called them back in my groggy state, they would only say: “You need to get here now. We have your husband.” “Why do you have my husband? He just left for work 2 hours ago. I don’t understand.”

The rest of that day plays out like a horror film in my brain, and I can’t quite make out the details, but somehow I called myself a cab and then found myself running into the E.R. waiting room. A gaggle of nurses and one doctor surrounded me in a small, private room, and asked me to please sit down. I started shouting the word “NO!!!! No, no, no, no, no!!!! ” before they could even get to the punchline. “Cardiac arrest. He was rushed here by ambulance. We did everything we could. He didn’t make it. We are so sorry.” My beautiful husband, age 46 and the best person I ever knew, was dead. And the life I knew was gone.

Now, please understand that I am NOT saying that Donald Trump becoming President-elect is even close to the same thing as my husband’s death, nor am I saying that it’s even close to as painful. NOTHING will ever be as painful and as life-altering for me, than my husband’s sudden death. Nothing. What I am saying, however, is that there is a very real and very surprising similarity in emotions, feelings, and reactions with these election results – and the morning that I woke up and my husband was already dead. And I am absolutely not alone in feeling this way. Several of my widowed friends, and friends who have lost other people they love to death, have told me: “It feels like he died again”, or “I feel like I’m grieving. This feels so much like a death, and I didn’t expect that at all.”

Yes. I did not expect this at all. I didn’t expect my husband to die until he was really old. This was a man that literally never called in sick to work, ever. (He called out for 3 days when his cat died, because he couldn’t stop crying or get out of bed.) And yet, he died. Just like that. In an instant.

I did not expect Donald Trump to ever be elected President. Not ever. This was a man who ran a fake board-room and fake-fired people for a fake-company on a reality-show about a fake apprentice. This was a man who produced beauty pageants and owned failed casinos and liked to golf and be rich and lived in a gold Tower. This was a man with orange skin and tiny hands who called women “pigs” and insulted just about every race, culture, and group of people, during his campaign. This was a man who refused to show us his tax returns, and doesn’t pay taxes. This was a man that none of the living Presidents endorsed, and who IS endorsed by the KKK and various other hate groups. This was a man who was known for not paying his own workers, for multiple bankruptcies, for being sued multiple times for fraud, and for taking people’s money to attend his fake University. This was a man who has zero years or experience in government or politics. And yet, he is President-elect. Just like that. In an instant.

So yes, for a lot of us out there, this feels very much like another death. It feels like grief. It is grief. But why? Why is it grief? Why is it so personal to so many people? Because this is not about politics. This actually has very little to do with politics. For many of us – for minority groups, for people of color, for Latinos, for Muslims, for LGBTQ-people, for sexual assault survivors, for many women – this is about our lives. This is about survival. It’s about people no longer feeling welcome in their country. It’s about people feeling the tone of hate and racism, rearing it’s ugly head. It’s about a gay couple finding a note on their car windshield that says: “Can’t wait for Trump to take away your rights. Your love is sick.” It’s about my friend’s 10-year old daughter getting pushed to the ground at recess by a group of boys, as they laughed and yelled: “Ha ha! Grab her by the pussy!”,and: “Trump that Bitch!” It’s about my college students of color, being forced to “call out black” from class, because they were threatened and told to “Stay in your dorms, niggers!” by some drunk Trump supporters “celebrating” their victory. It’s about school children chanting “Build that wall!” at immigrant students, while sitting in the cafeteria. It’s about my Jewish colleague-friends finding a Swastika and the words “Trump is our Hitler!” spray-painted on their garage door. It’s about people, real people – being bullied, harassed, assaulted, pushed, demeaned, and threatened. It’s about fears of losing civil rights, basic women’s rights to things like healthcare and birth-control. Fears of being deported. Fears of losing marriage-equality rights. Fears from my HIV-positive friend, or my friend with multiple life-threatening diseases, who will lose her Obamacare insurance, which pays for her $4,000 per month medications to keep her alive. Fears about this man, who has run a campaign built on hate, who has the temperament of a 5-year old, who has vowed to ship out 11 million immigrants, “ban” all Muslims, and repeal the Affordable Care Act, reverse marriage-equality laws, and “punish” women who get abortions.

It’s about my friends.

So when you say, in your accusatory tone, “Why are you getting so upset over politics? Your side lost. Get over it!”, you are asking me to “get over” everything I just said above. You are asking me to just “get over” hate. No. I will not. I cannot. It’s not possible, and there is no such thing.

And when you said, after my husband died, in your accusatory tone, “Why are you still upset about this? He died 2 / 3 / 4 (insert period of time here) years ago. Get over it!”, you were asking me to just “get over” love. No. I will not. I cannot. It’s not possible, and there is no such thing.

So yes, this is a form of grief, and it is very personal. A lot of my friends are in very real danger of their lives changing drastically because of this election. And truthfully, white males in this country, who have the “privilege” that comes with being white and male – it is insulting to hear you say things like: “Whoever the President is, it won’t affect my daily life. I will still get up and go to work everyday and come home and have dinner with my wife and put my kids to bed.” Well, hurray for you! It sure is nice when racism and sexism and other “ism’s” don’t make any real dent in your life. What about the millions of familes that are made up of immigrants, people of different races, same-sex parents and couples? Do you really not realize that not everyone can say the same thing? That these results WILL affect the daily lives of a whole slew of people, in very big ways? That everything they know and love and count on, is now on the brink of changing, or being taken away? Think about it.

As for me personally, in addition to being widowed at age 39, I am also a rape survivor. So yes, electing a man into office to represent our country – who has been accused by 11 different women and counting of assault, who feels it is okay to grab women whenever you feel like it, and who refers to women using words like “pig” and “disgusting” – is something that is making me nauseous and sick lately. For me, hearing him say these things, and especially hearing him insult the women who accused him of these crimes, by implying that they were not “attractive enough” to be raped – it sends chills down my spine. Hearing this man speak makes me feel sick to my stomach, and the things he says about women and TO women, are oddly similar to the things my rapist said to me. The idea of him representing our country is not only frightening, it’s sickening. He does not respect women. He will not fight for women. He will not fight for anyone, really. But he will continue to demean and exploit women in that special way that he knows how to do best. In addition to that, this man and his sexual assault accusations – they transport me back to that time right after it happened to me, 20 years ago. That feeling of invisibility. That feeling of being totally unsafe. I feel unsafe now, in this Trump America. I feel unsafe.

So yes, this feels personal. And yes, when people very close to me, people in my own family, know the specifics and the horrifics of my rape, and what I went through – and they know my feelings about Trump as a human being – and yet, they decide to vote for him anyway – I will not lie. That hurts. If what I went through is not reason enough to NOT support him, that feels bad to me. And at some point, I have to come to a place of peace with it, because I love my family and I cannot let this tear us apart. But please know that it will take some time, and it is not easy for me. This election, and this man, has brought up so many unexpected triggers and emotions and feelings of intense grief and pain for me, and right now, I need to be around others who understand that pain. Just like when I lost my husband, I needed to be around others who lost theirs too. This is the same thing for me. Like-minded and like-hearted people, and their stories, are the only thing right now that is giving me any sense of hope.

So, dear friends and people of earth who voted for Trump, when you reduce these very real and painful emotions I am having and my friends are having and half of a nation is having, to “whining” or “being spoiled brats because we didn’t get our way!” or whatever else you think this is, that is insulting and completely untrue. This JUST happened. The election was literally 3 DAYS ago. People react and grieve and cope differently. Please don’t tell us how to act. Don’t tell us to stop posting things on our Facebook pages, or to “deal with it, because we dealt with Obama for 8 years!”, when all I heard for the past 8 years was total and complete lack of respect for our current President and the First Lady. Do not lecture me about how I need to show respect for Trump, when you spent every waking hour calling our President and his wife unspeakably racist and horrid things. Do not tell me how to deal with this, when you have no idea what I’m going through or what this brings up for me, or how emotional this is for me.

Perhaps some empathy would be better. Perhaps you should give us a second or two – give us some time – to process that this has actually happened. The man is not our President until January 20th. Please allow us some space to let this all sink in. Let us grieve. Believe me, we are just as surprised as any of you, at how deeply this is affecting us. We did not expect this to happen. We did not expect to be grieving on such a personal level, or to find ourselves sobbing in the middle of the day for no reason other than feeling the gaping hole of emptiness, or feeling isolated, terrified, misunderstood, alienated. Nobody ever told us, that Trump would feel so much like grief.

So please don’t condemn us. Don’t call us childish. Please don’t compare this to that time when you had to deal with Obama in the White House. This is not the same thing. It’s just not. Have some heart. Reach out to the other side. Don’t gloat or lecture or ridicule people who are already scared. We are scared. We are fragile. We have good reason to be. And please know that every single one of us, who does not support this man, hopes upon hope, that we are WRONG. I hope every day that I am somehow wrong about him – and that he is a highly successful President. It’s just that, deep down, in that place where you can feel things very intensely, I really don’t think that I’m wrong about this. But either way, we just ask you sincerely – to be nice. Be kind. Give us time. Space. Let us adjust to this in our own way. Let us come to terms with this. For me personally, I will accept this man as our President, because I believe in democracy, and I believe in our process, no matter how flawed it may be. I will accept this outcome, but I need some time to wrap this around my head. I need to “sit with it”, as my grief-counselor likes to say. So please, Recognize that for some of us, a good number of us, this is a grieving process. We need to find our own path to healing.

And if, after reading this, you still think this is about politics, you haven’t heard a word I’ve said, and you need to start listening.

Thank you.

What to Do With Your Anniversary When Your Husband is Dead

Today is my wedding anniversary.
October 27, 2006.
It is late at night now, and I have gone through the entire day,
of my anniversary,
alone.
Without my husband.

This would have been our 10-year anniversary.
An entire decade together.
All the things that might have happened,
in those 10 years.

The house we might have searched for together,
and bought.
Or the condo,
because my husband always vowed that while he would move his entire life from Florida to New Jersey for me,
he drew the line at having to shovel snow.
So, he wanted a condo, so that someone else would do the snow-shoveling.
The family we might have had,
the kids we may have birthed,
or adopted,
the sons or daughters that would have played with my brother’s kids,
and would have made me a mom,
and made my husband the best dad any kid could ever have.

The job changes,
the moving to new locations,
the decisions of a marriage.
The rough times, the struggles,
the continued financial hardships that we were so used to already.
The beautiful, ordinary days where nothing special happened.
The possibility of new things on the horizon,
the excitement and wonder and comforts and fears
in slowly aging together,
marinating our love together,
exploring and re-discovering each other,
again and again and again.

All of that and more,
so much more.
The “would have been’s” that a decade of marriage brings.
Ten years.
The ten years that never were.
The ten years that I will never know.

We used to talk of renewing our vows every ten years.
This is something that my husband wanted to do,
something that he looked forward to.
“Our life will change a lot in a 10 year span,”
he would say.
“It would be really cool to re-write our vows every ten years,
and to see how much they change, what we would say.”
So today,
on my 10-year wedding anniversary,
I should be renewing my wedding vows,
in some beautiful and serene location,
with my wonderful husband,
and then perhaps sharing an elegant dinner together,
and going home to one another,
to express our undying love.
Lying in each other’s arms,
Safe.
Happy.
Loved.

But no.
That is not what I did today.
I went to work, because as a widowed person holding down the fort alone,
I cannot afford to take the day off on my 10-year wedding anniversary.
Even though it’s so very hard to get through the day,
to pull myself together,
to be out in public with other humans.
Humans who still have their partners and families,
co-workers and people on Facebook,
who get to take trips and vacations together,
or have a vow renewal,
or whatever other lovely thing they might want,
as they celebrate their love.

Humans who post about doing these things,
or post their sentiments on their own anniversary
or birthday,
or whatever other day,
on their Facebook pages,
sharing their happy moments,
as they should.
But it hurts.
Holy hell, does it hurt.
To read those posts from inside the car,
staring at the water,
where pieces of my husband are floating,
or disappearing,
into the calming tides,
in the form of ashes.

I went to work,
and sobbed in the car the whole ride there,
and taught classes and faked my way through it,
and then got back in the car and cried some more,
and then drove to Sea Cliff, Long Island,
across the street from the venue where we married,
ten years ago today.

To the bay and the water,
where I sprinkled and let go some of his ashes,
his cremains,
5 years ago,
on this day,
our wedding anniversary.

I went there,
today,
with the intention of walking around in the sand,
talking to the seagulls,
trying to feel some gust of wind or some shift in the sky or
something,
ANYTHING,
that might, maybe, sort of, could it be,
a sign from my husband.
Something that would tell me he was there,
with me,
always.
Something,
just something,
that felt like a tiny fragment,
of being with him.

But instead,
I had to stay in the car,
and not get out at all,
and not walk around in the fall breezes that we married in,
the gorgeous colors of the leaves,
that were the backdrop on our special day.

boo on florida beach

No.
The one thing I wanted to do,
the sad and pathetic thing,
the only thing I could do,
to go sit on the bench and be one with my husband,
in the only way I know how,
I could not do.
Even that, I could not do.

It was pouring rain.
Absolute downpour.
So I just sat there,
and I talked on the phone to my dear widower friend,
and we talked about the death of our spouses,
and about the unfairness of it all,
and about the “Why?” –
that never-ending question,
that we both desperately want an answer to,
but there is no answer,
or if there is,
apparently we are not allowed to know it.
Which just creates another “Why?”
to another question,
that has no answer.

If you haven’t been through this,
if you haven’t sat inside a car,
unable to get out and sit closer to the ashes,
that are now what your husband is,
but isn’t,
then you just don’t understand.
You don’t understand
That ACHE,
that longing,
that thing where you can’t swallow,
or can’t quite breathe right,
because the grief sticks in your throat,
and because the way you used to breathe,
when the person you love was alive,
no longer exists.

If you haven’t sat in a cemetery,
at a grave site,
with some wine for you and your love,
or some flowers,
pulling up a lawn chair,
or sitting up against the headstone,
or on top of it,
in the grass,
just to get a little closer,
to where they are,
or aren’t,
or sat by some water somewhere,
where you tossed some ashes once,
because maybe,
possibly,
those ashes are still floating,
somehow,
nearby,
and maybe his essence is still there …

If you have never done those things,
then you don’t understand,
don’t comprehend,
the intense and forever sadness,
the not knowing of what to do on this day,
this day that represents forever,
and love,
and a life together,
and vows,
and future years and plans together,
and every other damn thing,
that you will never, ever get to have.

If you haven’t been through this,
and your future
and your present
and your past,
have never been yanked from you,
for no good reason,
or for reasons you will never comprehend,
you might have said to me today,
with wonderful and every good intention,
“Happy Anniversary!”
But, no.
That phrase makes me cringe,
and want to cry without stopping.
What is happy about it?
What is happy, please tell me,
about it being my anniversary,
and my husband being dead?

You might have said to me today,
“He is still your husband!
He will always be your husband!
Celebrate that today!”
But, no.
Love never dies,
and so our love lives within me,
forever.
Yes.
But he is not my husband.
As much as it hurts with a stabbing pain to type that,
as much as I hate it with every fiber in my being,
it is the truth.
He is not my husband,
and I am not his wife.
Not anymore.
I was his wife,
and it was my honor,
every precious and too-short moment.
And now,
I am his widow.
And it is my honor,
and my responsibility,
as his widow,
to keep him alive,
to keep his soul alive,
in all the ways that I live.
To live my life fully and with purpose,
because he doesn’t get to have that choice.

Last year, on this saddest day ...

Last year, on this saddest day …

But he is not my husband.
Husband’s are alive.
They breathe in and out.
They rewrite their vows on their 10th wedding anniversary,
they take their wife out for romantic dinners,
on this day,
and then they come home together,
and fall into each other’s embrace.
My husband exists only in my memories,
my stories,
and that certain shift in the wind,
that I question and doubt,
and wonder if it was ever really him.

You might have said to me today,
“Celebrate the memories! All the love you shared on that day!
Think about what a beautiful day it was!
Go and do something nice for yourself!
He would want that for you today!”
But, no.
The memories are beautiful,
but they always end the same way –
him being dead.
Me not getting to have that life we promised each other,
not getting to live those vows we said,
not getting to grow old together,
or create little humans together,
or adopt little humans together,
or keep learning about each other,
in sickness and in health,
until forever.
(thats the phrase we used to replace
“til death do us part.”)

So,
when I think about the memories,
I cant yet smile.
Maybe 5 or 7 years from now,
maybe never.
I don’t know.
But today,
right now,
I can’t think about my wedding day,
without sobbing.
I can’t watch our video,
without breaking down.
I can’t see him moving and laughing and talking,
and ALIVE,
without immediately thinking,
that the second I turn that off,
he will still be,
forever dead.

And I don’t want to treat myself to anything,
on this day.
I don’t want to pamper myself,
or take a vacation, even if I could afford such a thing.
No.
What I want,
the only thing I want,
is to spend this day,
this day that is solely about US,
and our union,
and the beautiful world where we chose each other,
I want to spend this day,
with my husband.
And I can’t.
Not in the way I want to.
And right now,
today,
I haven’t found a way to be okay with that.
I haven’t found a way to handle that.
I want to love my husband,
on my anniversary.
I want to hold him and kiss him,
and tell him how much I love him,
and that I would choose him 100,000 times,
again and again,
forever.
I want to laugh with him,
and watch our wedding video together,
and go to our venue and drink peppermint hot chocolate with candy canes,
and lie in bed together and read our new vows to each other,
or recite our original ones.
I want to be in that world,
where I chose him,
and he chose me,
and everything was going to be okay always,
because of that fact.

But, no.
When your husband is dead,
on your anniversary,
you have all these feelings of love,
that you want to express to him,
and things you want to do with him,
and say to him,
and you have nowhere,
NOWHERE,
to put any of it.
So it just aimlessly wanders,
and stays,
meandering around inside your soul.
And you don’t know if he knows,
or if he will ever know,
that he was
Everything.
That he will always be
everything.
The only thing you know,
is that your husband is no longer your husband,
and he only exists in that shift of the wind.
So you hold onto that,
you hold onto anything,
ANYTHING,
that brings you,
just a little bit closer to him,
and just a bit further away,
from the Hell of life,
without him.

Today is my 10-year Wedding Anniversary,
and my husband is dead.

kissing

You Said You’d Protect Me, But You’re Not Here

This week, I released a piece in this blog, sharing that 20 years ago this year, in the middle of the night, in my apartment, I was raped. (if you want to understand more about that post or why I chose to speak up about it now, you can find it right here, in the post previous to this one, or all over my Facebook page by doing a quick scroll)

The reactions to this piece, and to what I went through, have been, for the most part, unbelievably supportive. I have heard from family members, friends, and people I haven’t spoken to in years, in some cases, sending me private Facebook messages or emails or comments on my blog, just to say slightly different and heartfelt versions of “I’m so sorry this happened to you. I had no idea. ” It has felt like one big, giant hug, at a time when I definitely most need that. In addition to that happening, I have also received countless private messages and comments and texts, from other women who read the piece, and who, in return, chose to then share the details of their own horrific and heartbreaking stories of rape, sexual assault, harassment, and other awful things that happen to women every single day. I have also heard from men who are fathers, brothers, husbands, or just really good and decent men who love and protect the women in their lives and who hate that this is happening anywhere, to any woman. Ever since writing the post and publishing it, which was an absolutely terrifying thing to do, I have had the craziest mix of emotions going on inside my head and heart. I am equal parts thankful, humbled, intensely sad, angry, shaken, fearful, worried, determined, disgusted, scared, anxious, nervous, inspired, and nauseous.

I am also unbelievably exhausted. I’ve had an off and on migraine since publishing the piece, and my heart has been pounding outside of my chest in a field of anxiety and panic. I feel rattled and re-awakened to the traumas of what actually happened, because sitting down and writing it all out took so much out of me, and was so very hard. What has been even harder, is reading all of the countless stories from others, who bravely shared them with me, and who continue to do so. It is my honor to read them and to hear them, and to be that person who finally makes it feel safe enough to let it out – because I went for so long without that, and so I know how invisible that feels.

But hearing story after story about sexual trauma – the details, one after the other, the horror of it all – it hurts my heart. It stings at my soul. It makes me ache in a way that is not possible to describe. On Wednesday, after reading through and responding to the 11th or 12th or 23rd story that day, I finally lost it. I just sat in my room and cried. I cried for that girl that I used to be before this happened to me. I cried for the way that I have to live now; a life-long insomniac who freaks out at any sound in the night and who flinches with terror when someone touches her suddenly. I cried for all the many, many women out there like me, who have been living with the deep dark secret of having been molested, or attacked, or abused. I cried, I cried, and I cried…..

This thing that happened to me 20 years ago – it is not something that defines me, nor is it something that I even think about most days anymore. In fact, most of the time, it just sits in the back corner of my soul and my person, lying dormant. But now, it’s back again, because I made the choice that didn’t really feel like a choice, to bring it back, and with it, comes all of those old feelings of trauma and triggers and terrors in the night and feeling unsafe in the world. Except this time, I’m alone.

And before you say anything, such as “you’re never really alone”, or something like that, please just don’t say that. I know that I have so much support from so many people, and believe me, that does mean the world to me. But none of those people are there with me in the middle of the night when I cant sleep, or when I wake up sweating or feeling like I’m being choked or restrained. None of those people hold me when I wake up screaming, stroking my hair and gently repeating: “Youre okay. Youre safe. I’m here, and I’m never going anywhere. Nobody is going to hurt you like that ever again. I wont let them. I will always protect you.” None of those people have sat with me for minutes or hours, in total silence, just holding me or letting me cry, after an unexpected trigger or flashback of the trauma occurs.

Do you know who did all of those things?

My husband.

Don Shepherd.

My knight in shining armor. The man who saved my life, in all the ways that matter, every single moment that I knew him. He sat with me in that darkness. He wiped my tears. He dealt with my crazy. He was my safe place, my tranquility, in a world that was filled with chaos and bad things and no hope at all in sight. He was that little light that kept shining, when I thought that I would never see light again. He lived with me and accepted me and loved me, when I had no ability or desire to love myself, or anyone else. He loved me into believing in love again. He sat with me in the place where I was, and waited until I was ready to move. He reminded me over and over that he cared, and that he wasn’t going anywhere. He was my anchor. My life boat. My raft.

Today, as I deal with all of this trauma that is once again re-emerging, and all of the emotions that have overwhelmed me, he is not here anymore for me to lean on. When I wake up in the middle of the night, its just me. When I need to be held and told that I’m safe, nobody is there to tell me that. And all of the people who have been so supportive and wonderful and amazing – they keep telling me over and over again how strong I am. “You’re the strongest person I know”. I have heard this over and over again this week.

But its not true. And I don’t like hearing it. Because I don’t want to be strong. I don’t want to be this pillar of strength. I just dont want to. I dont feel like it. It took everything inside of me to simply put all those words down in type, and write that post, and put that out there to the universe. THAT took every ounce of strength that I had left.

And now, I would just like to sit in a comfy room and be wrapped in a blanket, and be left alone for awhile. Just until this feeling of nausea passes. Actually, that’s not true at all. I don’t want to be left alone. I want to be with my husband. God-fucking-dammit, I want to be with him, and for him to lay with me and whisper in my ear as he strokes my hair that it’s going to be okay, and that I’m safe, and that I will be safe forever because he will make sure of it. But that’s not true, is it? It’s just not true anymore. Because he’s dead. He said he would protect me forever and not let anything happen to me ever again, but it’s kind of hard to protect someone when you’re dead. Why did I have to go through this awful, terrible, horrible thing in my life – and then meet someone who I FINALLY felt safe with, only for them to DIE??? Why??? The whole thing just seems incredibly unfair.

The only thing I want, the ONLY thing, just happens to be the only thing I can never have again- to be in my husband’s arms, my head resting on his chest – knowing that everything will be okay, that we are together, and I am safe. And I cant ever have that. Not ever.

Who is going to lay in bed with me, and love me through this now? Who is going to be the strong one, so that I don’t have to, because I don’t want to? Who is going to care, really care, that this is a dark and awful piece of my life that isnt ever going away, and that because of that, I will always need to be handled and treated with extra kindness, tenderness, and in a gentle way?

Our “would have been 10 years” wedding anniversary is this Thursday, and the churning inside my stomach has already begun. I need him more than ever, and more than I have in a very long time. I need to feel safe, in this world where I suddenly feel so unsafe. I need for somebody to make me feel safe and to tell me I’m safe and to just sit with me and next to me in the dark spaces and let me just BE, in that silence. For some reason, whenever my husband sat in the darkness and told me simply: “You’re safe with me”, I believed him. I always believed him. And therefore, I was.

Now I just feel wide-open, lost, and alone.

Happy Anniversary, my beloved husband.
Why the fuck did you have to go away?

Sexual Assault Survivors – Stand With Me – Say NO to Trump

“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” – Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo.

There are only 3 people in this universe that know the entire, full story, with details, of what happened to me 20 years ago this year. One of those people is a dear, fellow widowed friend, whose very presence in my life makes me feel safe and protected and heard. The other is my incredible therapist and grief-counselor. And the other is my beautiful, but forever dead husband. And now, today, in just a few minutes when I hit that “publish” button after writing this, however many of you read it, will also know too. The details surrounding what happened will still remain in the confines of these above 3 people, for now, but the rest of it must be said out loud. Or typed out loud. Finally. Today. Before this election happens.

My hands are shaking, and each individual finger is shaking, as I type this. I’m pretty sure my eyeballs are sweating, and the inside of my throat has the texture of 900 cotton balls, sitting stagnant.. Every time I try to breathe in and out with purpose, it feels as if I have swallowed a nail. I’m absolutely terrified of the varied and shocked reactions that will certainly come from many friends, family members, and lots of total strangers on the internet. There will be judgments, assumptions, people who just will never understand, and probably even some cruel and horrific comments. Some people might even accuse me of using my trauma to further my political opinion or “agenda.” But those people would be very wrong. Despite the title, and despite the topic, this is NOT a political piece. It is a piece about the human heart, and about preserving and protecting our collective soul as a nation. Which is why I genuinely feel that I have a responsibility, as a female, a voter, and a human being, to type the following truths, through my very shaky fingers, and to express the importance of how those truths pertain to the upcoming election. Despite all my many fears, today feels like the exact right day, to let free this caged and horrific monster of a secret. So here goes …

20 years ago this year, in 1996, while living in my first NYC apartment and just 2 years out of college, I was raped. It happened inside my apartment, while I was sleeping, in the middle of the night. It happened by the hands of someone whom I was dating for a few months, and had just broken up with a week prior. In my post-break-up haze and innocent ignorance, I had forgotten that I’d recently given him an extra key to my place. Or, to put that more clearly, I had forgotten to get it back when I ended our relationship.

Things between us were a whirlwind from the start. It all happened so fast, and it shouldn’t have happened at all. He wasn’t my type. He was very quiet, kind of mousy and small-framed, and a rather serious, humorless, business man on Wall Street. A little bit possessive, a lot entitled. The only thing I saw back then, however, was that he was interested in ME. Everything else, I was blind to. We had almost nothing in common, but he made me feel wanted and pretty and sexy, and I was insecure, frumpy, and awkward. He would say things like: “Your eyes are going to get me into trouble one day”, or “I can’t control myself around you. You just give off this vibe that makes me want to do things.” I was too young and too inexperienced and too green to know that what he was saying, was a form of control, and dangerous. A few months into the relationship, he had casually asked me one day if he could have an extra key, just temporarily, so he could get into my apartment while I was still at work, and surprise me with a romantic dinner. I gave him the key, the dinner never happened. A couple weeks later, a series of events took place within a few hours, that opened my eyes to the reality that I had been dating a pathological liar, and someone who was quite possibly psychotic. So I had a very hard conversation with him, where I ended things between us. He said he understood, but he walked away with a cold and unfeeling look in his eyes. And, unbeknownst to me at the time, he still had my key.

Four days later. My roommate had gone away for a week to visit family, so I was alone in the apartment. Apparently I had told him this weeks before, or he knew of it, or something. I don’t recall. I went to sleep that night sometime around 2 a.m. or so. The next thing I remember is lying in my bed, with a long t-shirt and underwear on, and my eyes opening to the sound of a key in the door, then a hand clasped over my mouth, and a sweaty body lying over my own. As I slowly realized what was happening, I tried to scream, but it came out silent. I think I kept screaming, but everything sort of went white, and I was only half awake. He was holding something over my mouth and nose. A rag or something, with it pressed up into my nostrils. It smelled like chlorine or alcohol rub, and I was in and out of consciousness. My insides were begging to get up from under him, but my legs felt paralyzed, like jello. And then it got a lot worse. He took a lighter, holding it onto different parts of me for a few seconds at a time, creating fear and scarring and skin irritations that are still there today, and emotional scarring that will last even longer. I don’t know why he was burning me, but he was burning me in slow motion, placing the fire for just a second or two at a time, underneath my breasts, on my hips, and around my labia area. I felt like I kept falling asleep, and so I would wake up in the middle of this horror, over and over again. I don’t know how to accurately describe what that is like, to keep waking up, literally, in the midst of hell on earth in full attack. Somewhere in between fog and half awake, he took my key, the one that he used to break into my home with, and he shoved it into me violently, over and over and over. I kicked and I yelled and I cried, and noises came out of me that didn’t sound human, but it all felt quiet and muffled and ignored. I was invisible forever, and nobody could see me.

He started talking as he held me down and forced himself into me. I will never forget lying there, tears sitting still on my cheeks, half-seeing my floor lamp and focusing my eyes on it, trying to form a plan to grab it and hit him on the head with it. He saw my stare, and he moved the lamp so that it was out of my reach. He took my one escape plan. And then he raped me and he stole every piece of my soul with his violence and his illness and his blackness. He said that I was nothing. That I was a fat worthless pig. I was a bitch and a whore and he had been lying to me for months and sleeping with his ex and living with her off and on. And how dare I break things off with him, when I should be honored and grateful that someone like him, would even sleep with someone like me. That I should be dead, and that he would leave me for dead in my own apartment and nobody would care, but that I wasn’t even worth killing, so instead, he would just leave me torn up and bleeding and broken everywhere, forever. That if I told the police or anyone at all, he would come back and find me and actually kill me. He said that if I told anyone, he would find my family and harm them or kill them. He told me these things as he was choking me and hurting me. I don’t know how long it went on, because time became meaningless, and it just kept happening. I remember wondering when he was going to end my life. I think he got off on the promise, the threat of doing so, because it just kept going. And then he spit on me. He SPIT on me. Like I wasn’t even a human being. Like I was this pile of trash that he was forcing himself onto and into. I was this “thing” where he could dump his liquid sickness, his disease and his evil. And in that moment, I died. I just died. I lost the person that I was before that night, and I didn’t know how to get her back again. She was gone, and nothing would ever be the same again.

In the days and weeks and months and years that followed, I told NOBODY, except for when I tried reaching out on a rape hotline, and it was a total disaster. When I told the person on the phone what happened, they implied that it was my own fault for giving him my key, and that because he used that key to get in, it was never a break-in at all. Nobody was interested in helping me. Nobody said things that didn’t sound condescending or like they were somehow blaming me for what happened. I stopped looking for help, I became silent, I told nobody. I became a different person. A dark one. A person my friends or myself did not recognize. There was emptiness in my eyes. I spiraled and gained almost 100 pounds and acted in destructive ways with more horrible men that I met in destructive places, and put myself in more horrid situations that were dangerous or just plain stupid, because somewhere inside, I thought that is what I was worth. My life felt pointless, and his threats to kill me or hurt my family stuck with me and kept me from speaking out loud. I felt useless and stupid and non-human and humiliated and like I was made of all things bad. My life was spinning out of control. I didn’t even know who I was, and I was fatter than ever. Over 300 pounds. Probably more. 350. I was sick in every way that you can be sick. I just wanted to disappear.

And then one night, in the darkest of darkest places in my life, I met the beautiful man that would become my husband. Don Edward Shepherd. He made me feel safe and protected and loved from the minute he typed hello in the 1980’s Music Chat Room on AOL, and he made it his life’s purpose to take care of me in all the ways that you take care of someone’s soul when you love them the way that he loved me. Something about him, his heart, his patience, his energy – made me know I was safe with him, and I could tell him what had happened to me. So I did. And when I was done, he said: “You’re safe with me. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to leave you or abandon you. You’re safe and you’ll always be safe with me, from now on. ” This became his mantra with me. No matter how many times I warned him to run away from me, no matter how fucked up I felt or was, he wouldn’t go away. He refused to leave me. He told me I was beautiful, worthy, smart, sexy, and that one day, I would feel like me again. But until I did, he would just have to keep reminding me.

Our relationship was beautiful, our marriage, a love story. We were 4 years and 9 months into our amazing and precious life together, and we were so unbelievably, nauseatingly happy. And then, on an ordinary Wednesday, July 13th, 2011, my husband left for work, and never came home. And for the second time in my life, I was jarred awake to the most horrific thing a person could ever imagine – in this case, a ringing phone over and over and over, that would lead me to the news that this beautiful man who saved my life everyday that he was in it, was unfairly and forever dead. And me? Well, I was dead too. Again. And creating a different version of myself has taken years, and will be something I keep doing for the rest of my life. My safe place, my sense of safety in the world, was stolen from me. Twice. I cannot imagine it being stolen from me a third time, by having a Commander in Chief, who makes me feel uneasy, and unsafe.

When a woman is sexually assaulted or raped, there are many reasons why she might not come forward, why she might not tell a soul. There are so many valid reasons why a person might not say one damn thing for a year, or five years, or ten, or even twenty, like me. It is terrifying. It is embarrassing. Sometimes your job is at stake. Or your reputation. Or there are fears, such as your rapist threatening you or your loved ones. Or you stayed silent for too long, and so now it feels almost pointless to mention it, because people will question you or make you feel even dumber for your decisions. Or the person who assaulted you is famous, and you are not. Nobody will believe you over them, nobody will care. And when these thoughts are reinforced by the very people who are supposed to be helping you, that is what leads to hopelessness and darkness and feeling like the loop of hell will never end. When society’s first reaction to a victim coming forward is doubt, accusations, and pointing fingers back in her direction – you come to a place where you almost assume that saying it out loud will only lead to more awfulness.

When the Republican candidate for President of the United States, is accused of sexual assault by multiple women, just weeks before one of the biggest elections in our time, and the victims are met with these same type of judgments and questions from the public about “why are you coming out about this NOW?” – it becomes easy to ask yourself where this country and this society places the value of females, and our voices. It becomes easy to feel invisible once again, powerless once again, and violated once again. When people question the truth of the fact that a Presidential candidate who refers to women as “pigs”, “disgusting”, and as objects that he can just kiss by force or “grab them by the pussy”, can and does in fact bring back very specific moments of a victim’s own personal rape or assault, it becomes easy to lose faith in the empathy and compassion of mankind. When that same Presidential candidate’s reaction to the accusations is not to apoligize, but to comment and further insult these women with: “look at her”, implying that said victim is not attractive enough for him to sexually abuse, this reinforces the idea that rape and assault have anything at all to do with sex or with being “attracted to” a person. They don’t. They have nothing to do with that, and everything to do with the need to have power over someone, and to make someone feel small and insignificant, while under the spell of that power. When the male candidate who is running for President, speaks about women with such absolute carelessness, disgust, and aloofness, it is easy to not only worry for what this orange lunatic might do in a place of power with access to that nuke button, but also what he might do to the collective souls and hearts and spirits of females in this country. Not to mention the men in this country, and the boys and girls who are growing up and looking at our next President as a role model, or something to aspire to. Having a President who refers to a woman as “piggy”, or rates women with numbers according to the size of their chest, seems like something out of The Twilight Zone.

So why did all these women come out now, so close to the election, with these allegations on Trump? For the exact same reason I wrote this blog piece, 20 YEARS after this horror happened to me. Because it was eating at my soul not to write it. Because him saying “grab em by the pussy” DID, in fact, bring up all that trauma from two decades ago, and I couldn’t just let it sit there, like a nail in my throat. Because we cannot have someone of this ridiculous and insane character, in our Oval Office. Because this very dangerous person, in many more ways than one, is just weeks away from either being our next President, or going back to whatever wacky universe he lived in before. Because, we, as Americans, have the choice to either create a chain of hatred, violence, and sexism – or a chain of love, empathy, and compassion. Because our First Lady was right in her speech, when she said: “Enough is enough.” Because when a Presidential Candidate doesn’t stand up for me and who I am and what I hold dear, then it’s time for me to stand up against him and speak my truth. And I hope I am not the only one who will do so. For I truly believe that when we have the courage to tell our story, our deepest and darkest story, it gives others permission to do the same. Maybe if everyone who is reading this who has also been through a sexual assault or trauma, would be brave enough to speak up and say something in the comments or in their own blogs, then we could use our collective voices as an instrument of power. We could show people that this is not a joke, or casual “locker room talk”, but an actual and very damaging thing that is happening to women, every day, all the time. We could demand to be heard and demand to be seen, and for society to stop making us appear invisible. We could share this piece all over the internet, and we could keep adding our own stories to it, creating a gigantic wave of powerful truths, that demonstrate what beautiful strength humans are capable of, when faced with adversity.

As I said at the start of this blog, this is not a political piece. It is a piece about the human heart. It is about the power of what can happen when we make a decision to move toward light, or toward darkness. Donald Trump represents everything dark and bad and frightening in our world. He comes from a place of divisiveness and anger and temper tantrums on Twitter. If he is leading our country, then that tone is being set for every single one of us, on a minute to minute basis. We will become a country of ugliness. We will destroy ourselves. We will suffer a Soul Apocalypse. Why am I telling my story today, right now, before this election? Because if I wait any longer, it just might be too late. We might find that we suddenly have a man in charge, who doesn’t wish to hear our voices, and who refuses to listen. And he will continue to ignore us, until we slowly disappear into nothing. That kind of regime terrifies me, and I’m quite sure I am not alone in that terror.

I am only one person, and my story is just one small story. But if you tell your story, then we are two people, and then three, and four, and ten and eleven, and on and on and on. My story is your story, and your story is my story. Whenever we connect as humans, we usually come to find that our similarities are greater than our differences. And as we sit inside of that knowledge, that our collective stories can help change the world, we have to know that we deserve so much more than Donald Trump. We have to know that hate grows more hate, and love grows more love. And just 20 seconds of insane courage, will always bring something great.

When you vote on November 8th, please keep all of the above in your heart, and bring that 20 seconds of insane courage with you to the polls.

Thank you for reading, and thank you to anyone who joins me in telling their story, or in sharing mine.