Everything is the Same

This past week, I was staying in Massachusetts at my parent’s house. I hadn’t been there since December, when I was there for an entire month to help my mom through her cancer surgery / hysterectomy recovery (she is totally fine and clear now), so it’s been almost 5 months since I have seen my family. Since I was born and raised in small town Massachusetts, and moved to NYC when I was 18, that family includes everyone. My parents, my brother, his wife, and their two kids (my niece and nephew), Brian and Jillian. Plus; cousins, aunts, uncles, and many, many old friends from high school or from when I was growing up. Whenever I come back here, we spend a lot of time running around visiting this one and that one, catching up with everybody, and generally just enjoying being together with the people who I started my life with – the people who were in my world the most and helped me build the foundation of who I was the first 18 years of my life.

One thing I have noticed each time that I come back “home”, to my home state, to stay with my parents – is this weird paradox of how much everything and everyone changes, yet also stays the same. My parents are no longer in the same home that they were in for 45 years of their marriage – the home me and my brother grew up in and knew our whole childhood lives. They are now in a different home, in a different small town, and have slightly different lives and patterns than in years past. They are now both almost 71 years old, so my dad moves a little slower than he once did – and my mom puts the TV at a volume that some might call “blaring”, because her hearing is perhaps more impaired than it once was. My nephew is now almost 7 years old, and looks like a little man to me some days, as he plays on his soccer team or puts on his little reading glasses and plays his Leap Frog. My niece just turned 4, and she now talks and laughs and dances all around my parent’s house, asking us to watch her do pleas like a ballerina, or sing along to the latest pop song and knowing the words way more than any of us do. My brother seems and acts much more like a real-life dad and a working husband now, than the little pain-in-the-ass kid I remember growing up with. Our friends are all aging, or changing, or switching jobs, or living dreams, trying new things, creating new milestones, buying new homes, moving to new states, surviving through loss, adding new elements and love and volumes to their lives. On the outside, it looks and might feel as if everything has changed, and continues to change.

But it hasn’t. Not really. That’s not the full story.

As much as everything and everyone has changed through the years, they have also stayed very much the same. There are certain aspects of people that will always remain the same. My mom is still one of the best cooks I know, and she still loves making her very grown up children feel loved and feel like kids again, through homemade food and precious family moments. My dad is still a big strong teddy bear who worries about his little girl, and who does whatever he can in practical ways, to make sure she is always safe. My nephew Brian still has the same big and full laugh that he had when he was just 2 years old, and my niece still makes that same quizzical face with her eyes raised that she made when she was only a few years younger. My old high school friends that I catch up with now and then, still have the same great sense of humor and wit that I remember them having all those years ago. My brother still loves his Red Sox, and still gets all worked up when I banter with him about how much better the Yankees are than his team. The small town that I grew up in still gives me that warm, familiar feeling when I drive through it – and coming home to Massachusetts and to my ever-growing and changing family, still feels like coming home.

And what about me? Sure, my husband’s sudden death has changed me forever. How could it not? It has changed me in such intense ways, it is almost impossible to put that into words. His death has made me live my life in new ways. It has made me more compassionate. It has changed my goals and dreams. It has changed how I spend my time, and what things are important to me. It has also given me more anxiety, panic, PTSD, fear, and hurt and pain than I could have ever imagined. At the same time, it has given me resilience, strength, patience (still working on that one), and open-mindedness, like I have never felt before. Yes, I am very different than I once was. The death of the person you love most in the world, changes you forever, from the inside out. It just does. But despite all of that, I am also the same. The essence of who I am is the same.

Why am I saying all of this? Well, something that I have heard often from other widowed people, is the idea that if their dead spouse or partner were to somehow return and come back and walk into their life right now, that they wouldn’t recognize that life, or that they would no longer fit into that life – that the person who has survived the trauma and lives with the loss, had changed so much, that they would no longer be compatible with the person who died. This is something that widowed people talk about with one another – this idea about how our dead loved ones would fit into our lives today – or if they would fit at all. It seems to be of popular opinion for many, that their person would no longer fit into their “new life” – the one they were forced to create when their person died. The one that took years and years to create, and that stole pieces of their soul as they created it. Not everyone feels this way, of course, but I’ve heard many widowed friends say that their deceased partner might not even recognize them, or that the person they have now become, would probably not be with the person who had died. And it isnt even really about the fact that some widowed people have gotten re-married or re-partnered. Its more about the fact that some widowed people feel that they have, in a sense, grown out of the life they had with the person who died. They feel that the person they are now, is SO drastically different than who they were in that life, that the pieces would no longer fit.

Now, normally, I don’t even like to go down these types of roads, these types of; “what if they could come back? What if you had to choose between the life you have now or the life you had with them?” questions. Why? Because it makes zero sense to do this. You can talk about this all day until you’re blue in the face, and you can tell yourself that you would go back to them in a second and all of that great stuff, but guess what? IT”S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN!!!! NOBODY IS EVER GOING TO PRESENT YOU WITH THAT CHOICE! NEVER! So why pain yourself even further by making hypothetical decisions about something that has ZERO chance of happening in real life? I don’t see the point in that. However, with this idea of “growing out of” the person I love who died – or changing so much that they wouldnt recognize me anymore, I felt the need to address it here in my blog. Because I strongly disagree with it. I have thought about this a lot over the past almost 5 years, and I have come to the realization that this assessment is simply not true. Not for me.

The best way for me to try and describe how I feel about my beautiful husband Don fitting into my life today, is to tell you about the first time that we met. We had been talking online and on the phone , for just under three years. I was not ready emotionally to meet him in person for a very long time, due to some trauma in my own life that had severely damaged my heart and turned me into someone who no longer believed in love or good things happening for me. But the frightening and sobering events of 9/11 made us both realize how insanely short life is, and how it was absolutely worth it to take a risk on love – and so I finally agreed to meet my beautiful Don, in the fall of 2002.

He lived in Florida at the time, and me in New Jersey. So he flew from Florida into Newark airport, where I met him, and where we spent the next week slowly and very quickly falling in love with each other. That moment I finally saw Don walking toward me at the airport – after three years of foreplay and anxiousness through phone calls and words – my palms were sweating, my heart was shaking, my soul was awakened. When he was standing in front of me for the first time ever, after three years of talking only with typing and voices, it was terrifying. We looked at each other quizzically, as if trying to figure out a new puzzle, or something we had not yet seen before. For the first twenty minutes or so of us being together in person, it was a matter of trying to re-familiarize ourselves with what was somehow already familiar. We had already known each other, but this was new. This “looking into each other’s eyes” part of things was scary and strange. But by the time we collected his luggage and were sitting on the bus together back to my Jersey apartment, his hand found its way into mine – and everything that was strange or foreign about him only a few minutes ago, suddenly felt familiar again. It was as if we just looked at one another and collectively thought: “Oh. It’s YOU!”

That is how I picture it being, if the impossible were to happen, and my beautiful husband could somehow waltz back into my life today. If he walked into the living room of my parent’s house, which is no longer the house he knew. Sure, my hair might be a little longer or I may have gained or lost some weight again. He might be surprised by how I’ve learned to be more patient like him, or by all the many things that have taken place in my life since he died. He might have to re-adjust himself to my new world, and meet all the new people I have met in the time since he has gone from earth. He would be ecstatic beyond words that I have connected on levels we never expected or saw coming with his adult nephew, his half-sister Cynthia, and his friend and fellow co-worker back in Florida. The new people I have met because of his death and because of what I have tried to do in the life after it – his heart would be full beyond words.

In those first few moments of seeing each other again, we might look at each other and, at first, see only unfamiliar and fear. But then, after a few minutes or so, his hand would find it’s way to my hand, and everything that once was about us, would simply return, or remain in place just where it always had been sitting. My husband would look around my parent’s new home, see our nephew, meet our niece for the first time, and then go out and have a game of catch with my brother, or talk with my dad about cars and baseball, just like they always did. And when I went to hug him again for the first time, I would find that his hugs are still the same best hugs in the world that they have always been. He would still make me feel like everything is okay forever, and like I’m always safe and protected when I’m in his arms. He would still smell like fresh laundry, and his eyes would still be that gorgeous blue like the sky, and his soul and heart would be the same one I fell in love with, all those years ago.

Sure, things would be different. But more importantly, everything would be the same. We would look at one another, and in ourselves, we would re-discover what was already there. In each other, it would still be Home. My husband would look at me, pause for a second , and then say, as if it were obvious from the first moment:

“Oh. It’s you. ”

And I would say back:

“Welcome home, Boo. You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”

The 5-Year Itch

This July 13th will be the 5-Year mark. 5 years since my beautiful husband Don, left for work, and never came home. 5 years since I got that terrible bone-chilling phone call that jarred me awake at 6:30 am, and changed my life forever. 5 years that I have been a widow. In addition to this being my fifth year of widowhood, it also brings with it some other heavy milestones.

The 5-year death anniversary day will actually fall on a Wednesday for the first time – which is, of course, the day of the week that he died. And as of April 13th, just a few weeks ago, I have now been a widow for longer than I was married. On April 13th, Don had been dead 4 years and 9 months, and I was married exactly 4 years and 9 months. That reality felt and continues to feel so incredibly sad to me.

Also, this coming October, will be the “would have been 10 years” wedding anniversary. I can already feel that one churning my insides and hurting like hell. So, this whole “5 Years” thing feels like a pretty big deal. It just FEELS big in every single way. It feels emotional on so many levels. It feels like a giant shift in something, or like it should be a giant shift in something. Im feeling a lot of push and pull – old life, new life. That life, this life. This 5-year thing is really doing a number on my brain cells. I feel exhausted just from thinking so deeply about how much being widowed for 5 years has affected my entire being. Here are just a few of the things that I’m feeling as this 5-year mark approaches. Maybe some of you who are here now or who have already been here, can relate. I call it the 5-Year Itch ……

1. RESTLESSNESS. I feel restless. Like every single thing in my life is suddenly up in the air, and I’m completely unsure about everything. I am questioning everything this year. My current job situation, my living situation, even considering leaving NYC for good, which I always said I could never ever do, but everything feels like it’s time for a change, but a change to WHAT, I have no idea. I’m restless and bored and sort of walking away from things that don’t feel like they are feeding my soul or challenging me anymore. I have this need to live a life with more meaning, and I no longer feel ties to anywhere that I am. It is a very odd feeling. I have trouble sitting still lately, but when I get up to move, I don’t seem to know what to do with myself. I find myself just wandering from room to room, day to day, and week to week, searching for something that seems to be forever invisible. What the hell am I looking for???

2. PROFOUND. My relationship with my dead husband feels different. It has for awhile now, but this year especially. This year, I feel like I can actually really feel him around me … his energy, helping me, guiding me, sending me signs and putting people into my path to help me live, and just this strong feeling that we are still a team and always will be. He is still my teammate, but now he’s more like a life coach who just keeps attempting to show me the way. When I miss him, which is all the time of course, even that feels different. Our whole relationship feels more profound.

3. CONNECTED. I feel connected to everything in a way I never have before, like this huge realization over and over that we are all somehow connected in the universe – and yet – a lot of the very early feelings of grief from YEAR ONE are sneaking up on me again, out of nowhere, or when I feel like Ive just “lost” someone or something.

4. CHANGES. I keep having this feeling , like, SOMETHING NEEDS TO HAPPEN, or I need to make something happen. Something different. Something big. I can’t even explain it. Just this weirdly intense urge to kick things up a notch.

5. LETTING GO OF UNHELPFUL PEOPLE. I’m letting people and things fade out of my life, that no longer fit into my life. I no longer care nearly as much what other people think about how I cope or grieve, and I have no problem letting you go if I don’t feel like you’re someone who is helpful in my life. This is REALLY weird for me, because I’ve never been that way before, but this year, I am.

6. ITS NO LONGER OKAY WITH ME THAT I COULD BE ALONE FOREVER. I am more saddened and terrified at the idea of “being alone for the rest of my life” than I ever have been before. For 4 years after Don’s death, I told myself and convinced myself that I no longer needed love in my life anymore, and that my time for that was up. In year 5, the lonely factor has been kicked up big-time. Maybe its because I went 4 years with nothing, in terms of dating and relationships. Maybe its because Im just getting older and thinking about this kind of stuff. Or maybe after 4 years of sitting home alone on Saturday nights with my cats, Im just over it. But for whatever reason, I do NOT want to be alone anymore. Especially when I’m old. I do not want to live the rest of my life ALONE. I want a partner to go through the horrible scary painful stuff with, and to create new moments with. Spending the rest of my days alone is no longer acceptable in my heart, and I know my husband doesnt want me to be all alone with nobody to protect me, keep me safe, and help me through life. I know how to be alone. I did it for years before I met Don, and Ive done it for the past almost 5 years without him. I dont want to do it anymore. It scares me just thinking about it.

7 OPENNESS. I am SO much more open to new things, new types of people, new plans, NO plans, just trying something, seeing how it feels, whatever. I find that I no longer have any expectations about most things, good or bad, and I just sort of take things day by day with no real idea of whats coming next. This is terrifying and not at all natural for me, but also just the way it is.

8. LOSING PIECES. I feel like there are now more things in my life that are NOT connected to Don, than things that ARE connected to Don. This scares me. I hate it. It saddens me. I fear that I will keep losing pieces of him as the years go on. I find that I continue to look for things , people, and ways of staying connected to him always. Anyone who is connected to him in some way, I automatically feel a connection TO. I want to live life now much more than I want to die, but I want Don to come with me, and I always feel like he is slowly fading into the background, just out of reach. I don’t want that to ever happen, but I fear it every day.

These are just some of the strange emotions I have been having during year 5 of this weird new life. Im not sure what any of it means, or if it means anything at all. All I know is that this 5th year feels different and strange and surreal, in every single way imaginable. I will say that I do feel a lot of growth, a lot of healing, and a lot of changes within me, for the better. I am much more able to focus on the love, and have mostly started to let go of the guilt, the anger, and the intense pain that comes from holding on to all of those things. These days, I just miss him with the fierceness of a billion suns, and I know I always will. But I also know now, that he comes alive and stays alive within me and in the universe, each and every time that I say YES to more life.

The Champ

So let’s get right to it. For the first 3.5 years after my beautiful husband died, the very idea of dating or “someone else”, literally made me sick to my stomach. It made me feel physically ill, and I couldn’t even discuss it without having a slight panic attack. The idea of someone else talking to me, touching me, or being anywhere near me, made me want to vomit. That’s just the way it was, and I didn’t spend much time thinking about it. I was in way too much grief to even come around to THINKING about how freakin’ lonely I was.

Then, around the beginning of year 4, there was a slight shift inside me, for no reason whatsoever, or because it was finally time for that shift to happen, that went from feeling physically ill – to feeling sort of “okay” with the idea, but still not willing to actively pursue anyone. Then, about 10 months ago, someone appeared out of the blue. This person was not pursuing me, and I was not pursuing them. But they appeared in such a way and at such a time that it felt like it was meant to happen. This person was not only a fellow widow(er), but also knew my husband. We started talking, and over time, building a budding and wonderful friendship. We met in person in March, and our connection felt more real, because now I could touch it. I could look into this person’s face, and in it, I saw not only kindness and a beautiful soul, but also being around this person face to face gave me this overwhelming feeling of protection and safety – like Don had specifically chosen this man to protect me, because he could no longer do it himself. The details of why I feel this way don’t matter here, because I want to protect this person’s privacy, but the time we spent together over those few days was meaningful, beautiful, and the perfect mix of familiar and brand new, all in the same moment.

When I returned home, I was very excited about this connection. Several people, even total strangers, told me over and over again that I was glowing, asking me point blank: “Have you met someone?” I thought the answer was yes, because when I left this person, we seemed to be on the same page as far as continuing things at a turtle’s pace – but as it turns out, this person is nowhere near ready for a relationship or commitment of any kind. This person is not in a place, emotionally, to move forward with me. He is very aware of how I feel, and he agrees that there is something between us, but now is not the right time. So, we continue to be wonderful friends, and I have chosen to trust in the outcome, and to have faith in the possibilities and potential of what we might become. I’m kind of a romantic like that. Plus, I really do feel this is coming from my husband Don, and he would never steer me wrong. He has sent me sign after sign after sign, that this is him who sent me this person. And I am listening.

Meanwhile, the act of spending time with this person and going out with them to dinner and breakfast and many other things and places – it gave me just a tiny taste of remembering what it’s like to have that special person in your life again. It reminded me what it’s like to spend time with someone who thinks you are special or pretty or who holds the door open for you or kisses your hand and forehead. (Seriously – who does that??? This amazing guy, that’s who.) When I got back home, I started to think to myself just how much I MISS all of that in my life. Having someone to do things with on weekends. Go to dinner with. See a movie with. Holding hands. All of it. So, in a conversation with my incredibly smart friend, she suggested that while this person that I very much care about can only be my friend right now and nothing more, that perhaps I would be a better friend to HIM, if I were getting my own needs met elsewhere; i.e; going out on a casual date now and then. Perhaps if I could have that back in my life again here and there, I would be more content, and therefore, not be pushing my friend to go places he isn’t ready to go right now. This seemed like the most insane idea in the world to me when she suggested it, but the next day, I got an email from a popular dating site, offering one month free membership. Next thing I knew, I was creating a profile and putting up my pictures. That was about 4 weeks ago.

And let me tell you, the past four weeks have been a complete shit-show. (one of my dead husband’s favorite terms, so I figured it was appropriate here.)

Here is what I have learned in four weeks:

Dating sucks. Dating on dating sites sucks even more. The last time I “dated” was decades ago. As in, the mid 1990’s. NOTHING is anywhere near close to the same anymore. First of all, nobody speaks to one another. Nobody knows how to have a conversation. People no longer talk on the telephone. They text. As in, right away. And if you ask them to speak on the phone, they type back in a little box that they “dont have time for all that.” Really? But you have time to sit here and type back and forth like robots? The way this particular site works is that it shows you pictures and profile info about a member, then you click YES or NO on if you’d like to chat with them further. If the feeling is mutual and you both want to talk, the chat box opens up and you can type back and forth. The purpose of this is to keep everything anonymous and safe at first, so you can chat within the confines of the site without giving out phone numbers or even names until you are more comfortable. (most members use a screenname instead of their actual name.)

At first, only seconds after I joined, I was feeling a bit cocky and good about myself, because I was getting a BOATLOAD of chat requests. “Well this isn’t so bad”, I naively thought to myself. Then I started clicking on them. This is when I quickly realized that this was going to be a train-wreck of epic proportions. Here is just a short sample of a few of my first day chat conversations. And no, I am NOT exagerrating or joking. These are 100% real. Names have been changed, obviously. Everything else, real:

John: Hey gorgeous

Me: Hi there, how are you doing today?

John: I’ll be better when you’re pressing those titties on my face.

DELETE AND BLOCK.

Greg: Hey Darlin … sup???

Me: Doing okay tonight, how about yourself?

Greg: I don’t have time to talk on here. Here’s my digits. Hit me up right now 714-6**-****. Ill be waiting.

END CHAT. (this was 90% of the chats. They DEMAND your number or demand to give you theirs IMMEDIATELY.)

Carlos: Hey baby, I love brunettes. You got nice curves too. Any chance you are kind of bossy and could boss me around and tell me what to do, insult me a little?

Me: WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU MEAN, YOU LOSER!!??? I’M NOT BOSSY!!! NOW LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!!!

Carlos: Oh yeah, that’s so hot …..

DELETE AND BLOCK.

Tom: Hey Sweetie. Love your long hair. I hope you don’t have any of that going on below though. I like my women to be nice and clean , totally shaven. Hit me up (phone #)

DELETE AND BLOCK.

Yeah. WOW.

That is just a small sample of the moronic crap I’ve been dealing with the past few weeks. Most of these people, as you can see, just want something sexual, with someone they don’t even know at all. Then there is the category of men who chat with you, call you on the phone, have a number of nice conversations with you, and then completely disappear forever with zero explanation. This happened to me with 3 different people I was talking to.I am told by others that all of this is “normal”, and that you have to weed through all the crap in order to get to the good and decent guys that are supposedly on these things. It’s sort of like shopping at Marshall’s or TJ Maxx. You gotta spend 3 hours rummaging through 18 racks of awful clothes to find one pretty good pair of jeans.

There are no manners in today’s dating world. No class. No sense of building a foundation of some kind. No courtship of any kind, which is disappointing, because I really do love romance and courtship. The person I met a couple months ago is such a true gentleman, and I absolutely love that. He doesn’t realize just how rare and special he is, but I do, especially now. Today’s dating world is thoughtless. Just mindless and pointless texting that leads to more nothingness. The whole thing is extremely depressing. And just when you think you MAY have found a decent one, you still haven’t. There was one guy who seemed normal, sweet, and we had a nice long chat online. He gave me his number and I called him, and we had a nice phone call too. Our phone call was not sexual in nature by any means, but after we hung up, he sent me a text telling me how sexy my phone voice is. I said thank you and left it alone. Then, two minutes later, he sent me a long-winded voicemail where he basically “got himself off” while describing all the things he would do to me. I WASN”T EVEN ON THE OTHER END OF THE PHONE!!! Later, he left another one. In this one, he referred to his penis, several times, as “The Champ.” As in, “The Champ is so ready and big for you right now. The Champ is monstrous. The Champ is standing at attention.” Finally, I texted him back and told him that “The Champ” would be getting a call from the police soon, if he didn’t stop leaving me these sick voicemails. He stopped. “The Champ” finally threw in the towel.

And then there was my first date. An actual human male that I met for drinks and dinner in person, a couple of weeks ago. We had talked in the mindless chat box, then on the phone twice, and he lives local-ish, so we agreed to meet up in the city at a Cuban restaurant. The evening was nice, but there was no spark between us. It had a friendship vibe, but we laughed and talked and had a seemingly nice time. I would give it around a B- if I had to rate it. At the end, we hugged each other goodbye, and I got back on the subway to come home. In that moment, all I could think about was how if this was my friend that I met in March, he would have been a gentleman and made sure he put me in a cab home, would have made damn sure I got home safely. This guy held the doors open for me at the restaurant, but it didn’t feel genuine. It felt like he was showing off. By the end of the night, once he realized in his own head that he wasn’t into me or that he wasn’t “getting any” or whatever, all the “gentleman-like” behavior stopped. By the end of the night, he was over it.

The next morning, I woke up, and I decided to leave him a message on the site just thanking him for the date and saying I had a nice time, and maybe we will do it again some time. You know, because that is what a polite person does. A few minutes later, I received this message response:

“I will not be seeing you again. I do not date fat girls. You do not look fat in your pictures on the site, but you are fat in person. And I don’t go out with fat girls. Bye.” When I tried to respond back, he had made his account so that I could no longer reach him. He had disappeared with no explanation, as these men seem to like to do.

I was crushed. Not because I give a shit what he thinks – I didn’t really even like him. I was crushed because this is what is out there for me. Crushed because some men are so shallow and mean. Crushed because I didn’t want to do this in the first place, and it was supposed to be fun, and I was supposed to have a lighthearted and fun time with it. Crushed because talking to these idiots and trying to navigate these stupid conversations and figure out what their agenda is and who is being honest and who is going to disappear after a really nice conversation – is really exhausting and not what I want to be doing with my time. Crushed because I’m 44 years old, and I am so tired of being alone. Crushed because NONE of this would be happening, if my husband wasn’t forever and always DEAD.

On my drive to work that morning, just an hour or so after this had happened, I spoke to my friend on the phone. I had to pull over to talk to him because I was sobbing and felt like I was having a panic-attack. I told him what had happened, and told him about why I’ve been doing the dating site thing, and how none of these clowns even come close to the true gentlemen and beautiful soul that he is – and he listened and he said all the right and supportive and lovely things that a good friend should say. And it was the most real and meaningful conversation I have had in weeks – just sitting there pulled over in the car, talking with my beautiful friend – which is right where I wanted to be in the first place.

Love after loss is not for the weak of heart, folks.

Strap yourselves in. It’s going to get extremely bumpy.

(YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME AND APPRECIATED.)

Slight update: Since that awful first date experience, I have talked with and met one really nice guy through this dating site stuff, and we had a really nice time together and will probably hang out again at some point. I have also been talking with a couple others that are very nice people, and it’s been interesting, to say the least. My friends and family keep saying how “proud” of me they are, for “getting out there again”, for trying this, for daring to open my heart again, and for not waiting around for someone who isn’t ready, and instead, putting myself first and getting this dating thing out of my system.

But the truth is, its extremely exhausting. The truth is, I’d rather be talking to my friend on the phone, than going out with most of these people, or spending time trying to navigate all of this. I’m not sure how much more energy or time I really want to devote to this little project. It was supposed to be fun – a way to just be part of the social dating world again for awhile and feel human again and loved again, because I’m finally ready for that and longing for that. And because the person that I want those things WITH isn’t in a place to be able to do that with me, so I’ve been trying to find pieces of that magic in other places. But the truth is, you can’t re-create magic. What I have with this person, is special between US, and will remain between us. I won’t find pieces of that by looking for it somewhere else. So I’ll just have to hold onto it and keep on keeping the faith that one day this person, who is most likely reading this right now, will realize that I AM FUCKING AWESOME, and he should just be with me already because life is really fucking short and why not help each other through it and have some joy within our pain. In the meantime, this dating stuff is starting to feel like work, and I’m not even getting paid for it. It really is like shopping at a flea market or yard sale, and I always hated yard sales. Too much junk.

All I wanted was to go out now and then on a Saturday night, and have a date and be treated nicely and have that feeling of slight euphoria when you come home, at the thought of something new. It doesn’t have to mean anything or go anywhere, except just two people who are hanging out together, because they are tired of sitting home alone with their cat. Is that really too much to ask for? Apparently, it just might be. I wanted this to be SIMPLE. But nothing about dating in today’s world is simple. It is cruel, dismissive, and thoughtless.

And people wonder why so many people drink. Or eat cake.

I’m gonna need a lot of cake to deal with these clowns.

Tribute to My Mom on Mother’s Day …

When you are a little girl, and if you are lucky enough to have the kind of mom that I have, your mom is your protector. You look to her for support and comfort and answers. You watch what she does and how she does it, and you want to be like her. If you have the kind of mom that I have, she encourages you to be like yourself, and to be who you are.

When you are a little older, in your teenage years, you suddenly find yourself pushing away from your mom. Something inside of that adolescent and rebellious body wants to yank that mom away, because you are striving to be independent, and you don’t want to feel like you need her. You watch what she does and how she does it, and you do the opposite. If you have the kind of mom that I have, she is hurt by this, but she understands that it is necessary in order for you to become who you truly are. So she steps back, and waits.

mom seventies

When you are old enough and you decide to leave your small town life and attend college for theatre and live in NYC, she is sad that you are leaving and that you will now live 4 hours away. But this is not what she focuses on. Instead, she takes you on a trip to NYC to look at colleges, and to make sure that this is really something you want and something you can handle. She comes to all of your plays and visits often. She encourages you to live your dreams, and tells you she is proud of who you have become.

When you are 35, and you have fallen in love and decide to marry the man that you plan on sharing the rest of your life with, your mom supports your choice to have the wedding in New York, and she co-officiates it, and finds a seamstress friend of hers to make your original “Christmas, silver-toned” wedding gown. She fixes your veil about 45 times in a row, when it keeps falling off in the wind, and she doesn’t mind at all when you finally say that you hate the veil and don’t want to wear it anymore. She takes in your husband like a second son, and makes him part of the family – the kind of family that he never got to have growing up. She makes him his favorite meals on his birthday, and wraps up gifts in a stocking for him on his first Christmas with you, and dances the “mother-son” dance with him on his wedding day, because his own mother is too dysfunctional to attend. She spends the next four and a half years loving you, as she always did – and loving your husband, as if she always had.

mom shower carmines

When you are 39, and you wake up one horrific morning to find that you are suddenly widowed, your mom is your rock. Your breath. Your sanity. She is the first phone call you make, when the nurses hand you the phone in that tiny, private room where your world changed forever. She is stunned into silence, and she is in her car immediately, driving the 4 hours to get to you, so that you don’t have to be alone for any longer than a person should be. She holds down the fort at your apartment, and handles the chaos and the fog of friends and people that fill the living room, not knowing what to say or do. She becomes the buffer that they talk to while you run into the bathroom, run the shower water, and sob. She stays with you in your apartment, so that you don’t have to face that first – or second – or third night, alone, with the knowledge that he is not coming home. She puts aside her own pain in order to let you feel yours. She is your protector. You don’t know how to walk or breathe or speak anymore, and so , just like when you were a little girl, she shows you. She allows you to become who you are, all over again.

veil

In the coming weeks and months and years after the death that rocked your universe, she helps you put the pieces of your life back together. She tells you over and over that you always have a home there in Massachusetts, with them. When you tell her that you NEED to stay in New York and pursue your dreams, now more than ever, she supports you and worries about you and tells you she is proud. She never tells you how to feel, and never tells you to “get over it” or that it’s “time to move on.” In fact, she often says: “I cannot imagine how you feel.” She reads everything that you write so that she can attempt to understand better how you might feel. She thanks the friends and family that have stuck by you, and comes to your defense against those that haven’t. She never judges you, or tries to change your mind or heart on how you need to process and feel. She doesn’t take it personally when you decide it is too painful to spend your first, or second, Christmas with the family – the way you had done for years. She is probably hurt by this, but she understands that this is necessary in order for you to become who you are now – and she comprehends that you will never be the same person that you were, before you lost “your person”, to death. She does whatever she can to help you, and she understands that sometimes, she simply cannot help you.

I am writing this today, not only to let you know how much I love you and how aware I am of what a beautiful mom I have, but also to show you how much you HAVE helped me. Thank you for being the kind of mom that promotes these kinds of words. Thank you for always supporting me in becoming the person that I needed to become, and then become again.

mom

COMMENTS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME AND SO APPRECIATED.

Prince Died and I Can’t Tell You Because You are Dead Too

When the person you thought you would spend your whole life with is dead, there’s this weird thing that happens each and every time a person of fame or celebrity dies. It kind of goes something like this:

“Holy Shit! Prince died! I have to tell Don, he LOVED Prince! Oh, shit. I can’t tell Don that Prince is dead, because Don is dead too. Well, FUCK!!!!! ”

It is an odd feeling to crave and long to share the death of someone else, with your husband, but then realize over and over, that you can’t, because he is also dead. And then you start to wonder weird things, like, does he already know that Prince is dead? Maybe he knew way before I did. Maybe his Purple energy showed up somewhere nearby my husband’s energy and their energy hung out together. I don’t know if I believe all this stuff people say about them “playing guitars together in Heaven”, or anything like that – it just seems rather silly. But I do know that energy exists forever – it cannot be destroyed and it cannot end – so if we are made up of energy, and energy lives on and on, then Don is energy, and he is somewhere. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I know that on some level, it helps me to keep going when I tell myself that.

So maybe Prince and his genius mind and musical talents have somehow met up with Don and his passion for all things guitar. Maybe their souls are chatting, if souls can do such things. Actually, I know souls can do such things, because Don’s soul has chatted with me many times. So who the hell knows what goes on after we die? I do not pretend to know such things. I just know that whenever someone dies here on earth, I always long to tell my husband. To share in the experience of processing their death, together. And each and every time it happens, it always feels weird to me that I can’t share it with him. There are so many weird things about loving someone who is dead. This is one of the weirdest.

Also, the way that we, as a people, treat a celebrity or icon’s death, is so very strangely different than the way we treat a civilian death. I always LOVE what immediately happens when an artist of some kind dies – people start collectively sharing every single thing that artist has ever done. They share it on social media, from their phones, their computers, posting links to all of the massive talent everywhere and anywhere, sharing it with the world. Eventually, people find long lost clips of this artist, and they share those too. Longtime fans of this person bask in the memories of their talent, while newer and younger people become fans for the very first time. This artist is remembered in the healthiest and most beautiful way possible – by sharing the legacy of what they left behind. It is in this way, that a true artist never dies. They live on for generations, through their albums, movies, videos, dance routines, songwriting, epic guitar shredding, and whatever else. This is a beautiful thing that people do. Sharing with the universe, and keeping these people alive forever.

So why on earth do people NOT allow us to do this same thing with people we love who have died, people who are literally a piece of our very soul? Why is it that it’s perfectly acceptable and normal and celebrated, to share the work of famous people who have died, and share their legacy – but when a widowed person shares a photo or a memory or anything at all about their spouse – they are told to “move on”, or made to feel as if they should put those pictures away. They are shamed into thinking that remembering and honoring the person who was their very heart, is somehow wrong and unhealthy, and that they must not be grieving properly if they can’t let them go by now. There have been so many times where I have shared a photo or a memory or even written a blog post about my dear husband, and some person who knows next to nothing about losing a spouse and knows nothing about my life, feels the need to condemn me or give their baseless opinion about how “unhealthy” it is to be sharing that stuff. Really? Is it unhealthy to love your person forever into eternity? Is it unhealthy to make damn sure they are never forgotten by the world at large? Is it unhealthy to live your own life in honor of theirs, and in honor of the love you will always and forever share? I don’t think so. I think it’s goddamn beautiful.

We, as a society, should be embarrassed at the ways in which we make people who are grieving feel. If you have shared video links of Prince or David Bowie or anyone else famous who touched your soul and recently died, yet you are uncomfortable or judgmental toward someone who shares pieces of the person they lost who died – you should be rethinking your behaviors. Everyone leaves behind a legacy. The ones who are famous just get seen on a larger level. But everyone is a legacy to someone. Just because a person isn’t known to the world, doesn’t mean that perhaps they were someone else’s world. And that person wants to share them with the universe, so that their soul stays alive forever. When the people we love die, that is all we have – our memories, and that eternal soul connection. Our relationship with that person continues on a soul level, and that literally means everything to us. Don’t ever take that away from someone.

Keep sharing the people you love who died.
Share them with the world, and NEVER be ashamed.

RIP Prince – legend of guitar, innovation, and beautiful lyrics.

“I feel like Im looking for my soul,
like a poor man looking for gold.”

“When the day turns into
the last day of all time,
I can say I hope you are
in these arms of mine.

And when the night falls
before that day,
I will cry.

I will cry tears of joy
cuz after you,
all one can do,
is die.”

“In this life,
Things are much harder than in the after world.
In this life,
You’re on your own.
And if the elevator tries to bring you down,
Go crazy, punch a higher floor.”

– PRINCE

(COMMENTS ARE SO WELCOME AND APPRECIATED)

Longer

This isn’t going to be some brilliant, profound, incredible blog post.
It’s not going to win any writing awards.
Sorry.

I’ve just been a ball of nothing for the past few days, and I need to write, because what else can I do.
The sobbing has been non-stop. It just comes on. Then again. Then some more. Then I eat something. Or I dont. I keep forgetting to drink water. I’m having trouble getting out of bed. I’m going to work and keeping my plans and doing all the things I need to do and have to do in life that are responsibilities and obligations.

But I’m a mess.
I can’t think.
I can’t sleep.
I can’t exist.

I spent 2.5 hours yesterday staring at the wall in my bedroom. It needs new paint.
I watched way too many episodes of “My 600 Pound Life.” They are all the same. Same premise. Same ending. Same fucking doctor even. Are there NO other doctors on earth who perform gastric bypass except this one guy?

I’m at a crossroads. I feel like everything and nothing is about to happen.
I can’t explain what I mean.
Nothing makes any sense to me right now.

On Wednesday, it will be April 13th.
Four years and nine months since my husband’s sudden death.
On Wednesday, it will be April 13th.
Four years and nine months that we were married.
On Wednesday, April 13th, I will have been a widow longer than I was a wife.
This is maybe the saddest thing I have ever typed.
It feels so wrong to have to type that.
Or to have to live that.
And yet here I am.
With no choice, really,
but to try and live.
Somehow.

I’ve been trying.
And failing.
I opened myself up to the idea of living.
I thought it was going well.
But then it wasn’t.
I don’t know what to do.

I have reached the point where I no longer want to be alone.
I no longer want to be lonely.
I no longer want to sit home by myself every weekend.

I got a tiny taste of feeling something again,
spending time with someone again,
being excited about someone again.
And I loved it.
I still love it.
But it was just a taste.
It’s not the right time.
And that’s okay.
Really.
But losing my friend is not okay,
and I’m hoping that isn’t what’s happened.

I know I’m not making any sense.
Nothing makes any sense.
Except me and Don.
We made sense.
We made so much sense.
And then he was gone.
Why?

I just miss you so very, very much, my Boo.
I miss you every day.
I want to go back,
to when I didnt have to think about things such as this,
because I was someone’s wife,
and I had a beautiful husband.
And we were so happy.
But now,
soon,
I will have been a widow,
longer than my entire marriage.
I just can’t wrap my head around it.

Time to go cry again.

(As always, comments are welcome and so appreciated)

couch

Explosion

Im not sure quite how to say this without sounding all “Oprah”, but for me, this year of 2016, feels like an important year. It feels like it already is and will be an important year in my life, for many reasons. And when I type that, a small part of me gets the chills, because I really need to be more specific when I say things such as that and put them down in writing. After all, the year of 2011 felt like an important year too. It just did. Don and me would be coming up on our 5th year wedding anniversary that year, in October, and my September birthday would mark “the big 40.” I remember sometime in February or March of that year, I had a feeling, much like the feeling I’m having today – that it was going to be a big year for us. So I put up a status on Facebook that said:

“2011 is going to be a big year for me and my husband. Big things are going to happen. I can just feel it. Bring it on!”

Well, life certainly “brought it on” alright, when my beautiful husband left for work on July 13th, and never came home. I remember looking back at that status update and sobbing and cursing at myself, saying: “Dammit! Why did you write that? You should have been more specific! You should have said GOOD things are going to happen this year! Not BIG things!!!” As if somehow, what I had written controlled or set in motion my husband’s massive and sudden heart-attack. Obviously, what I wrote that day had nothing to do with what ended up happening, but it sure felt like it did. I remember being so excited that year, along with my husband, that we would be married 5 years. We were planning a special trip for that anniversary – maybe a weekend getaway somewhere new and different. Months after he died, I found his research online for romantic getaways in Cape May, Montauk, and a few other places he was looking at. He also was teasing me endlessly that year about the fact that I would be turning 40, and I was teasing him that my presents better be good. “It’s a surprise, Boo!” He would say, smiling. Yeah, well, “Surprise!!! I’m dead!”

My husband was very excited about seeing me turn 40, as he was 7 years older than me, and was always teasing me about being younger, and warning me with almost devilish excitement about all the aches and pains coming my way the minute I turned 40. “You just wait – this will be you in a few years and Im gonna just laugh and laugh and laugh,” he would say, as he got his latest prescription for contacts or reading glasses, or had another back ache, or picked up his “Just for Men” hair dye to keep the grays away. (He would kill me for telling you that, but he’s dead, so he can’t. I win. ) We were struggling big time in those early years of marriage, always working our asses off to pay bills and feeling like we could never get ahead. Don had picked up a second job at Pet Smart, on his days off from EMS. He was exhausted and worn down, but also excited about the idea of getting us out of that New Jersey apartment, maybe moving someplace a bit bigger and nicer, and putting away some money in savings to buy a new car that wasn’t always breaking down. We had many talks while lying in bed at night, about having our own family, having children, and when the best time would be to make that happen. We were at that time in our life where things weren’t YET happening for us, but they were about to. Or we wanted them to. We were trying to build a life for ourselves, and we were starting to envision what that life might look like together.

That life never happened. Don never got to tease me even once about turning 40, because he died while I was still 39. We didn’t get to take our anniversary trip, because we missed the 5 year mark of marriage by 3 short months. Instead, he died well before any of our dreams could be realized, or even begin, really. I was left with that shitty car that always broke down, a crappy Jersey apartment rental, no savings, no life insurance, loss of health insurance (was covered under his), and absolutely no clue how I was supposed to keep going – keep living – keep breathing. In one traumatic second, my world went from one of hopes and possibilities, to “what the fuck am I supposed to do with THIS???”

Now, here I am again, with those two big and important milestone dates coming up and staring me in the face. This July 13th will be the 5-year mark of my husband’s death, and it is also the first one that falls on a Wednesday, which is the day that he died. The 5-year mark, to me, just feels like a huge deal. I cant articulate exactly why, but it does. It feels that way in my soul, in my heart, in my mind. It feels like it’s going to affect me in a different way, a new way, than any of the past death anniversaries. This is neither a positive or negative thing – it’s just a thing.

This year’s wedding anniversary also feels like a very big deal to me. It would have been our 10th wedding anniversary, this coming October. Ten years. It stings everywhere inside, even just to type it. The fact that we didn’t even get HALF of a decade, never mind a decade, will always hurt with a pain that is difficult to describe. The tears are forming as I type this, for the loss of our future that never was.

Lastly, this year, on April 13th, to be exact, marks the year that I will have been widowed, longer than I was married. My fingers want to run away from the keyboard as I type that sentence. It pains me inside every cell to say that and to BE that, but that is what it is. On April 13th, which also will fall on a Wednesday, I will officially be a widow for longer than I was a wife. Holy shit.

It feels like 2016 is a year for my soul. A year for my soul to think with new eyes, to see with new eyes. All of these milestones and dates on the calendar, they make me incredibly sad and they feel like a big deal to me. But they also feel like the most important reason ever to live in color, find some fucking joy, and go after the things I truly want. Right now, its only April 1st, and already, this year has provided so many new and exciting things for me. I filmed a movie in Los Angeles. I presented in my 9th Camp Widow event. I had my first “anything” since my husbands death – my first real feelings for someone that isn’t him -after over 4 years of not being able to feel anything other than nausea at the thought of “someone else.” The best part is, I’m ready for these feelings to be there. There is zero guilt or weird thoughts about that. It’s a complicated situation, yes, and I’m still not quite sure what it will turn out to be or how it will play out, but it feels really good and really nice, and it feels like something that Don would absolutely want for me. This year, I have really started to feel what it means to have joy and pain in the same breath. I have started to understand that whole “bittersweet” thing, and what it means with life after loss. This year, it has been cemented in my soul, that we only get one life. And yes, I’m going to love and grieve my husband forever, but I’m also going to honor our love and his short life, by living mine at volume 11.

In February of 2005, that man moved mountains so that he could be with me. He moved his entire life into a Pensky moving truck, and left Florida to come live in New Jersey. (I will never forget his self-written wedding vows to me. He said: “My love for you defies all logic. After all, who moves to New Jersey? On purpose?” He was so proud of the huge laugh that one got from the crowd.) And not only that, but he met me during a time when I was nowhere near ready for a relationship. I had been through a trauma, and I was filled with anxiety, fear, and self-loathing. But he waited. That man spent THREE YEARS talking on the phone and computer with me, without meeting in person, because that is what I was comfortable with at that time.

And then, when I was finally ready, we met. And we fell in love. But it was slow, and for him, it must have been painstakingly slow. I have always seen these actions as huge sacrifices on his part. All the waiting on his end, and then moving his life for me, for us. But now, all these years later, and being in a personal situation myself that is eerily similar – I understand. It is as if I can see through the lense of Don’s eyes now. For him, these things weren’t a sacrifice. I mean, they WERE, of course, and they took great patience and great hardships and change. But he never saw it as a sacrifice. Not really. For him, it was simple. It was this is what needs to be done if there is any chance of us being together. If he hadnt have thought in that way, and if he hadnt have been courageous enough and beautiful enough to be the one to offer to move his life, then we would have never had the 4 years and 9 months of marriage that we had. In so many ways, he gave us the life we had together.

Thank you, Don. For loving me. For showing me how to truly live again, and for putting me on the path I am on right now. Thank you for always remaining beside me, and for giving me sign after sign that you really, actually haven’t gone anywhere at all. I love you so much, and I will never stop. And Im going to take that love, and with it, create more love. Isn’t that the whole point of this thing called life? To love and to connect as much as we possibly can, and to create something beautiful out of the amazing love foundation that you left with me. Out of love comes love, and nothing means much of anything without Love.

This feels like an important year. A year of GOOD things filling in my soul. I’m still terrified about what’s going to happen next, and I still fear losing everything all over again, and I still long for that life I had. But I think all of that will always be true. There will never come a day where I DON”T feel all of those things. Yes – things will always be complicated in this “after”-loss world. Things will never quite make sense. That is just how it is from now on – and how it’s going to be. It’s going to be one big, giant cluster-fuck of massively beautiful chaos. And I’m so ready for the explosion.

(I welcome your amazing comments, as always!!! Anyone passed the 5 year mark who can tell me if it felt “different” in some big way? Im curious.)

Loser

Back in high school, when I was a lot younger, and a hell of a lot more stupid; I used to go out with my friends in groups. We would go to the mall, the movie theater, out for drinks, or multiple other public places. We were cocky and a little bit mean with our nonchalant, seemingly innocent comments about other people’s lives and things we observed along our teenage travels. We weren’t really trying to be mean or awful – it’s just that we were truly selfish, stupid kids who knew absolutely nothing about anything, so we said lots of things without ever thinking for one second how that thing might affect the person we were talking about. Or, in our case, usually whispering and pointing and carrying on about.

I remember that we enjoyed making fun of people who were out somewhere alone. We used to find it funny to repeat the phrase: “no friends”, as in: “That lady has no friends. Her and her no friends are shopping today.” Again, not once did it go through our little pea-brain heads that perhaps this person was alone for a reason, and that maybe this person was, in fact, hurting and in pain. Maybe it also was the first time this person made the decision to go out somewhere alone since their divorce, or the death of their partner, or since their son or daughter died, or since whatever awful and horrible thing happened that turned their world upside down. I remember being at a movie theater with my friends this one night, and a man who was somewhere around my age now, walked in with his popcorn and drink, and sat down two rows in front of us. He was alone. We giggled under our breath as the previews started, and we made jokes to each other about how he had “no friends.”

As I sit here today, right this minute, knowing what I now know about life and death and loneliness, I cringe at the memory I have of me saying out loud to my group of friends: “Who goes to the movies alone? What a loser.” Yeah. Not my proudest moment. But as I said, we were typical teenagers, and typical teenagers don’t normally think about anything, other than themselves.

As my friends and I watched the movie that night, laughing and giggling and making light of this man and his pain, little did I know where my own life would end up, just 21 short years later. Boy, do I wish I could take those words back. I wish I could go back in time to that movie theater, sit down next to that man, and just let him know that I get it. And instead of calling him a loser, I would congratulate him for leaving his house that day and taking a risk. It actually hurts me inside to think about that memory, and the memories of all the other times my friends and I judged people for no reason other than to entertain ourselves. When I think about that man sitting there with his popcorn and his face with his eyes that looked dead inside, it makes me very emotional. If there is one thing that this grief walk has changed in me, it would be that I am far more compassionate of a person than I ever used to be in that other life. And honestly, sometimes I am a bit ashamed of that younger, naive version of me who mocked others with no thought or empathy. If only I knew then, what I know now. That one day, I would become that man.

Yesterday, I officially became that man. Well, truthfully, I became that man on July 13, 2011, the day I became a widow. But yesterday was the first time in over 4 years of going places by myself, where I truly felt like that man. I truly felt every ounce of the loneliness, in all it’s delight and wonder. After my husband’s sudden death, it didn’t take me long to begin going places by myself. Actually, I had always been quite independent, even while married, and so I never thought twice about sitting in a movie by myself, or even grabbing lunch alone, going to the park, and whatever else. There were times when Don didn’t want to see a movie and I did, so I would go and he would stay home and strum his guitar. And then we would hang out later that day. We were two independent souls who absolutely loved each other’s company, but who were also totally fine spending time alone. So, at first, when he died, and once the parade of friends and family taking me out for lunch and dinner stopped around month 3 or 4, I would go out alone often. The hardest part of doing that was always seeing other couples, out together enjoying each other, the way Don and I used to do. Seeing families together, or dad’s giving their little boy a piggyback ride, or teaching him how to play catch in Central Park. Many times, I would end up cutting my plans short and running home in tears. But in those early days, I had to get the hell out of that apartment – that place where we lived together that was now just walls slowly collapsing in on me and suffocating me with memories and “stuff” from a life that no longer existed. It was pure hell being there, so I went out as often as I could. When I would come home, I would cry myself to sleep most nights, if I could sleep at all.

Somewhere around year 2 or 3 of this “life after loss” madness, I started to get more used to being places by myself, in the sense that I no longer ran out of the room in tears. It still hurt, but I learned to ignore it or just became numb to it, or something. I started bringing books or playing on my phone when alone in a restaurant. Or I would bring my laptop to the park and write something, with a cocktail, on a lovely spring day. I got into the habit of lying to waiters and servers and movie ticket people, as if I had to justify my aloneness to everyone. “Oh, Im back at work a few blocks away in a couple hours, so I’m just trying to kill some time”, I would find myself saying. I had all kinds of stories at the ready. “Yeah, Im directing a show nearby and I needed somewhere to come and do some paperwork.” I’m not really sure why I felt the need to explain. Maybe somewhere inside, I was hoping like hell that these servers weren’t going back to the kitchen and saying to the cooks: “That woman at table 3 is eating lunch alone. What a loser.” I would always be extra nice and leave a great tip, so that they wouldn’t say bad things about me, but instead might say that I was really friendly or left more than they thought I would have. Sometimes I would leave my business card, which has this blog on it, so they may read it and know my story, and then know that I’m not a loser with no friends, but someone whose husband was dead and who was sometimes extremely lonely but still wanted a nice steak dinner. In any case, I got to the point where being alone and going places alone just became my normal. If my friends were busy or people were with their own families or doing their own couple-things or singles-nights or date-nights or whatever, I wasn’t letting that stop me from going out anyway and doing what I wanted to do. It wasn’t always joyful or even pleasant, but it was just the reality of my life. And for a long time, it stopped bothering me.

Until yesterday.

Easter Sunday. It’s one of those holidays that always makes me extra sad for some reason. In our early days of dating, Don would call me “Cuddlebunny” or “BunnyBoo”, and I would call him “CuddleBear” or “BooBear.” I know. Pathetic. Anyway, when I was 3 years old, my parent’s hid a stuffed Bunny underneath the sewing machine for me to find on my Egg and candy hunt, and I loved him like crazy and named him “Bunny.” (“How original”, noted my husband.) I kept him (still have him), and Don got such a kick out of that thing. He thought it was adorable that I slept with a stuffed rabbit. So each year, on Easter, he would buy me a new stuffed Bunny so that Bunny could have friends, and he would get me my favorite chocolate truffles and marshmallow-filled chocolate eggs. After we were married, we would usually drive to my parents house in Massachusetts over most holidays, and Easter was one of those days. It was filled with laughter, sarcasm, family-banter, the homemade cooking from my mom and my Nana, and all the comforts of being with the people you love most. On the years where Don would have to work and we couldnt make it home, we had each other. We were our own little family, and if we didnt have plans with friends, we would make it special somehow for just the two of us. It never really matters what you are doing when you are with the person you love most. As long as you are together, you are happy just doing nothing at all.

And then he died. And then I had to sell his car. And leave our apartment. Get a roommate. Change my whole life around. Make sacrifices. Work more jobs. Make more income. Survive, survive, survive. I couldnt afford to get home for Easter anymore, not with mine being the only paycheck coming in. I couldnt get time off on the days surrounding Easter, so no time to go home anyway. Most holidays I would end up staying local in NYC, so that I could afford to be home with mom and dad and everyone else for an extended time over my Christmas break. When the only family you had in NY was your beautiful husband, and your beautiful husband is now dead, holidays can be rough. My dear friends started inviting me for Thanksgiving at their house in upstate NY, and so that has become a tradition of sorts. Last year, on Easter, another friend invited me to go to her family’s house, and I did. It was nice. But I don’t know. Something about this year felt very different. I was invited by two seperate widow friends to spend the day with their families, and my roommate also had suggested that the two of us maybe make dinner or do something together. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t feel like cooking, and I didnt feel like being with other people’s families, if I couldnt be with my own. Right now, today, something about that idea made me way too sad, so I decided in my head to do something very different and random. I went to see a Broadway show. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. It is a show I have been wanting to see forever. Multiple Tony-award winner, and an old college friend of mine happens to work tech for the show, and she was able to get me a single seat at a highly discounted cost, due to the holiday matinee and the fact that I only needed one ticket. So off I went to the theatre.

On the subway ride into the city, families were everywhere. Everyone had bouquets of spring flowers, casserole dishes, and Easter dresses. Children were dressed with ribbons in their hair, and the boys with little bowties and adorable-looking tiny shoes. Dads were laughing with sons and daughters, while holding their wives hands. People were coming from church or going to church, or getting ready for family dinners. My stomach started knotting up immediately, and I tried like hell to ignore it. I get off the train, and walk through Times Square, which any true New Yorker will tell you is nightmarish and a place to avoid at all costs. New Yorkers generally hate Times Square. Its filled with screaming tourists, and an ungodly amount of people. The amount of people in those few designated blocks of the city would make anyone want to commit homicide. But that is where the theater was, so I had no choice to angrily pace through the chaos. A church choir was singing a song about family, and a block away, an Easter wedding couple was taking their pictures against the backdrop of the crazy city. Of course. I kept walking.

Once at the theatre, I got a backstage tour with my friend, and then she sent me off with my ticket. I was led to my seats, which were Box seats. For those who don’t know what Box seats are in a theatre, they are private boxes, usually 4 seats in one designated area. They are usually reserved for VIP people, as they are seperated from the rest of the audience and up in a balcony. Think Abraham Lincoln on that fateful night. Well, maybe that’s not the best example. Anyway, I had an amazing seat next to the railing, where I could lean over and look down right at the stage. A couple was seated in back of me, and they argued about their seats and then she got really annoyed with him and then they got up and left. Another woman was seated next to me, and then ten minutes into the production, SHE got up and left. So I had the entire Box to myself. Although it was actually nice having the entire section to myself, I began to feel very alone as I sat there reacting emotionally to this amazing production. Nobody to bounce my thoughts off of, nobody to run and get us a glass of wine during intermission, nobody to talk about how incredible the leading actor is in the complex role he plays. Nobody for anything. Just me.

After the show was over, I headed across the street to this really nice restaurant that was recommended to me by my friend, and that had a theater matinee special on some entrees. Originally, I had thought she was going to come with me for dinner, but I must have misunderstood, because she said she had to head home to spend Easter dinner with her kids. So off I went to have dinner alone, on Easter Sunday. And yes, it was just as depressing as it sounds. I honestly dont know what the hell I was thinking, doing that, on a major holiday where families are all together, eating, publicly. But dammit, I wanted a nice dinner, and just because I’m alone and don’t have my person here with me anymore, does that mean I shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy some delicious food on Easter? So I walk in, and the hostess looks at me and says: “Just one?” “Yes.” I say. “Just me.” She takes me to a small booth in the corner upstairs. The server comes by, pours me some water, and says: “Will anyone be dining with you today?” “No. Just me,” I say again, beginning to feel like I should just wear a giant sign that says: WIDOW: PARTY OF ONE. EATING ALONE AGAIN. NEXT SHOWING AT 7 PM. She goes away for a few seconds, then comes back with a head tilt and a slightly condescending tone: “Can I just remove this place setting here, if nobody is joining you? Great!” “Sure, no problem!”, I say cheerily, finding that today, I just don’t have the energy to make up some story about why I’m sitting here alone eating a meal on Easter.

And then I sat there. The food was delicious, but my insides were being ripped out every moment I was in that tiny booth. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run. I wanted to fade into nothing from the shame of my own existence. For 4 years, I had talked myself into the idea that I was okay being alone, that I was fine spending time by myself in restaurants, in theatres, at the park. And then, suddenly, right in that exact moment, it just didnt feel okay to me anymore. Yes, I can spend time alone. Yes, Im capable of doing that. Yes, Im an independent woman who can take care of herself. But I don’t want to anymore. Or, at least, not as often as I have been forced to, and definitely not on a major holiday. I want a “person” in my life again, that I can create new traditions with, and that I can miss my old life with, and that I can live THIS life with. I want to cook our food together and have our friends over and hang out with our families instead of someone else’s family. I want to make a life with someone while Im still here to be alive. I dont want to sit here anymore, or sit anywhere, by myself, and feel like a loser.

And the thing is, I know I’m not a loser. I know that. But that is how it felt, and that is how it feels. And my mind went to that poor man in that movie theater that night, all those years ago, and how I called him a loser out loud and laughed a little too loudly. I thought once again about compassion, and empathy, and about how none of us ever really know someone else’s story or what someone else is going through, and how sometimes people are grumpy or bitchy or stand-off-ish or aloof, because they are right in the middle of going through their own personal hell, and how nobody should ever judge anybody else because they are sitting in a restaurant alone on Easter Sunday.

The thing is, at any time, on any day, probably when you least expect it – you could be that person that other people are laughing and pointing at, and calling you a loser. I never thought that could be me. Until it was me.

It was a rough holiday. And I’m tired of being alone.

ps. Comments are welcome always!!! I love comments!!!

Pray to Live

I’ve been thinking a lot the past few weeks about something other than death.

Life.

I’ve been thinking about life, and the true meaning of it, and how that meaning is different for everyone, and how maybe that meaning changes and shifts when you have been through trauma or loss or grief. I have been thinking about what it all is, what it all means, really and truly means.

I know. Pretty deep stuff for a Friday morning. But let’s go with this thought process for a few minutes, and see what comes of it. Like many days and weeks in my life after loss, I woke up this morning with a feeling that I needed to write today, but had no idea what to actually write about. And then these jumbled, yet somewhat clear thoughts, appeared in my head about life, love, death. So I followed my brain cells, and I started writing about that.

In my jumbled up mess of a brain, I was also thinking about loneliness. Well, not so much thinking about it, as feeling it lately. Feeling that intense loneliness that happens when you have lived FOUR whole years of life without intimacy – without a partner – without a best friend. Since much of this past four years has been spent just trying to exist/live/get through the day, and grieve at the same time for the loss of that life I knew, the loneliness sort of got pushed to the side for awhile. It was there, but I pretended for a long time that it didn’t matter to me. I told myself I didn’t need to have anyone in my life anymore, that my dead husband was it for me, and that I would live my life alone. I told myself that nobody would ever love me again anyway, and nobody would ever be able to put up with this version of broken-down and battered me, and how on earth would I be able to feel anything again for anyone who wasn’t him, ever? I told myself that maybe he WAS the only person who thought I was worthy of love, or that I was beautiful, or that I was any other good thing. All of the relationships and situations I had with men before my husband, were complete shit, so I talked myself into the idea that having more love, just didn’t matter.

It didn’t seem possible, so I kicked it away and focused on work and other aspects of my life that didn’t involve the idea of “someone else.” I didn’t date. I didn’t think about dating. I didn’t think about sex. Truly. I honestly didn’t think about it, or even want it. I just somehow shut off that piece of myself from life, as if shutting off a water faucet and then exiting the room. And if a person of the male species dared to look my way or flirt with me, or god forbid, ask me out in some ridiculously overbearing and out of line manner, I felt sick to my stomach. A few times, after being hit on by a random guy, or feeling uncomfortable in a situation with a man who was showing interest in me, I actually would go home and throw up. I’m not joking. That is how sickening the very idea of someone that was not my dear husband, was to me. It made me feel ill. So I stayed alone.

And let’s be clear – being alone is very different than being lonely. I can do alone. I have been alone most of my life – all the years before my husband, and now, the 4.5 years after his death. I left small town Massachusetts home at 18 years old, for my big dreams in New York City. I lived alone in apartments for years. Ive paid all my own bills, walked home alone at night from subways and trains and busses, lifted my own damn suitcases and bags and everything else, for years and years and years. I’m fiercely independent, and I know how to survive alone.

But that is very different than being lonely. And what I have discovered in the past 4 plus years, is this: I don’t want to be lonely anymore. I don’t want to live a life of loneliness. Even if every single dream I have ever had for myself, career-wise or other, were to come true, I would not truly be happy if I were alone. For what is the point of living, what is the point of anything – if you have nobody to share it with? Nobody to come home to at the end of the day, and say: “Honey, I’m home.” Or “Honey, I had the worst day today. Can we just sit on the couch and let the world fall away?” It reminds me of a scene from the Kevin Costner film: “For Love of the Game”, where the main character, a major league baseball pitcher, has the best career day of his life. He pitches a perfect game. He is being interviewed, and the bright lights are on him, and he is the star in everyone’s eyes. He is all over the media, his name is everywhere, his dreams have just been realized. And then, after all the hoopla, there comes that moment when it has finally reached “the end of the day.” He goes “home”, to his hotel room, alone. He doesn’t have anyone in his life with him to share this major achievement. He sits on the corner of the hotel bed in silence for a few minutes, and then he just cries. Best and happiest day of his life – ruined and stolen by loneliness.

What made me start thinking about life, death, and loneliness so much, you didn’t ask? Well, dear readers, I will tell you. Recently, I have been “talking to someone”. I have “met someone”, in the sense that I have physically met them, and in the sense that, to me, they are someone very special. I am not going to call it “dating”, or whatever else, because things are rather complicated with this situation, and we are moving in very slow motion, which includes not labeling things just yet. Also, I am very protective of this person’s privacy, because he is way more private than I tend to be with things such as this, so it’s important that I respect that right now and keep things vague in public forums, until we have shifted into more of a place of knowing what this actually is, and what it might become.

I will say this – the act of talking with this person and then meeting them and spending some really good quality time with them – has made me start to think a lot about the meaning of life after loss. It has awakened that part of me, that I truly thought was dead inside. It has made me feel joy again in my personal life, and made me see that while I will ALWAYS love and miss my husband and that life, the life I have now is still very much happening, whether I like it or not. And even though I could survive alone and be alone, I don’t want to be. I want more memories, more life, more love. I don’t want the good pieces of my life to be tarnished and stolen by loneliness. I want to love my beautiful husband who died, forever and ever, while also feeling love for someone else, who is very much alive, in the very same breath.

And whether or not that turns out to be this person or someone different, the important thing right now is that I have finally let these feelings in. In 4 years time, I have gone from pushing them away, to welcoming them with a warm, yet terrified embrace. For so long, I was not ready. And the people that were approaching me, were not even close to worthy of me being ready. Then, about a year or so ago, something shifted, for no reason whatsoever, and I suddenly and finally felt ready to let the concept of “my next great love” into my heart. There was no new person in my life at that time. I just all of a sudden felt different about it. The idea of someone else no longer made me sick to my stomach. About 5 months later, this person showed up, and we began a slow and beautiful friendship. I believe it is much like what my friend Tom Zuba says: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

Yes, Im scared. Losing the person you thought you would spend your life with to death, makes a person very scared. I’m terrified that I will open my heart and then be rejected. I’m terrified that this person will disappear entirely, either via sudden death, or because they just decide they don’t feel like doing this with me anymore. Both of those things have happened to me in my life, so it scares me every single day. I am walking around a terrified mess. But I’m also happy. And I’m emotional too. Letting someone into that vulnerable and soft part of yourself, it brings back the grief. Caring about someone new brings back the intense missing of your person, and the missing of the life you had. I’m not really sure why, but it does. In moments that are hard with the new person, you start to think things like: “Well if my person didn’t DIE, I wouldn’t be having to deal with this right now! DAMMIT!” I have learned that all of this is normal. I have learned to sit with 37 emotions at the same time. That is what this widowed life is. That is what it does. Instead of fighting that, I have decided to just let it happen. Sure, its exhausting and all kinds of complex and really, really hard. But it’s also a hell of a lot more fun and meaningful to actually be alive inside my own life, instead of just sitting around waiting to die.

Which brings me to the title of this piece. Pray to Live. I am not a religious person. I do believe in God, but I believe that God is whatever we want God to be. A concept, a symbol of love and all things good, a power or force of energy that nobody can really ever totally understand. I am not big on religion, as I feel it generally seperates people more than not, and that it uses itself to promote hate and judgment more than love. But that’s another post for another time. Today is Good Friday, and Sunday is Easter, so I want to leave my widowed friends or any friends who are struggling, religious or not, with these thoughts to ponder …..

There was a time, for a long time, after my husband’s death, when I kept just wanting to die. Or, to be slightly more accurate, I was not interested in living “this” life, the one without my husband in it – the one that was shoved at me without my permission or consent. There was a time when I begged and begged, and maybe even prayed and prayed, even though I am NOT the praying type, that God or nature or the universe or whoever, would just take me in the middle of the night while I slept, so that I wouldn’t have to wake up to yet another day of this unbelievable pain.

The only thing that stopped these thoughts, or made these thoughts come less often, was making tiny and microscopic movements toward life. At first, it was taking a shower that day, or getting an errand done that my husband would have normally taken care of for me. Later, it was accepting lunch invites from friends, or getting through my workday without falling apart. Right away, I began writing everything down, because it felt like a lifeboat to me, to be able to put my emotions into words and then release them. Slowly, I began meeting other widowed people, and finding many ways to honor my husband and his life. For a long time, that is what my life was about. Honoring him. It gave me something to do, something to look forward to. Creating a one-woman show about him or doing a benefit concert in his name, or walking a 5K to raise money for Organ and Tissue Donation – anything that kept his name alive and out there and relevant. I didn’t really see a life for myself personally, so I would live for him. I would live because he did not have that choice. This is what kept me going in those early days, for the first couple of years, actually, until, eventually, I started to be able to see pieces of life , mixed in with all the pain. I was still in tremendous pain, but there was life. Still there. Lurking.

Now, 4 plus years later, there is still pain and grief. There always will be. And there are still days and weeks and moments when it overtakes me again, or when I feel like Im going backwards again. But Im not. That’s just grief, and that is just what this is. It is ALWAYS going to be hard. And now that I know that, I can handle it better. Recently, I have heard a lot of my widowed friends having these same thoughts that I had early on. I have read their words or heard their voices, and the ones who are religious, they keep saying that they keep praying to God that they would just die, and that God never answers them. They say: “Why cant I just go and be with my love in eternity?”

Well, I don’t know why. I don’t know if anyone does. But praying for death and praying to die – it doesn’t work. I don’t think it works that way. I don’t know what the reason is, and none of us do, but I do know that life has meaning, and life has the meaning that YOU give to it. For me, being here on earth is all about connecting with people, loving as much as you can possibly love until your last breath, and then leaving behind something good in the world, something that made a difference to someone, or to lots of people. It is in this way, that we all live eternally, through the beautiful lives and stories of other people. I don’t think we were brought to earth to live a life of loneliness and sorrow. There is a lot of sorrow in life, and there is a lot of grief – but there is also Love. So much beautiful, neverending love.

So what Im asking from you today, those of you who are struggling – is this: Instead of praying for or begging for death, or for God to end your time here, maybe you could begin a new thought. Maybe you could start praying for life. Pray for the courage or the strength or the shift to happen, where you begin to see more life. Pray that you are able to see or smell or feel a simple little joy today. Pray that you are alive to hear a gorgeous piece of music, or to witness a beautiful sunset, or to accomplish something new and strange that you never saw coming. Pray for the day to come, where your grief and your loss does not rule every minute of your day. Pray for the scales to tip to more joy instead of hurt. Instead of praying for the desire to die, pray for the desire to live. And then just keep living, one microscopic moment at a time.

It is what your loved one who died wants for you. If they could be here themselves to live with you, they would. They would move mountains and heaven and earth to be here. But they can’t. And yet, here you are. Still alive. Still on earth. Learning and growing and connecting with humans everyday. Living life to the fullest. It is what they would want for you. It is what any person who loves another person, wants for them. And eventually, it is what you should and will want for yourself.

Pray to find that meaning of life for yourself. Pray for more love to enter your heart, when you are ready to accept it. Pray to be able to blend new love with forever love, and to know that having both is very, very possible.

Pray to live.

And then go live.

I promise you won’t regret it.

P.S. If you just read this, please leave me a comment!!! I looooove comments!!! They are like a bunch of little Christmas presents, just waiting under the tree. I will try to do better at replying to them as well. Please comment!

Nightmares

Many years before I met my husband Don, there was an extremely traumatic event in my life. It happened back in 1996, and it was the kind of thing that changes a person forever. The kind of thing that can end up defining you, if you let it. The kind of thing that steals your soul for awhile and grabs at your eyeballs and pulls them out and onto the floor and then stomps on them with tiny little needles until they bleed. It’s the kind of horror that I can’t properly put into words here and now in this blog piece, because it’s so much bigger than that, and because if I start talking about the specifics, I will go back to that dark hole that I hate going back to, and I might end up staying there for much too long. Now, 20 years later, I don’t think about this traumatic event too much. It doesn’t control me, and it doesn’t run through my mind all the time or torture me regularly anymore. But, it is always there. It will always be there. It is NOT who I am – it is something that happened to me – and that makes it a piece of me forever. Even though I don’t want it there. Even though the very thought of it makes me shiver and get chills of nausea. Even though, even though ……….

I cannot get rid of it. It is there.

The two worst moments of my life both happened while I was asleep. In the middle of the night – very early in the morning – and while I was home, supposedly safe in my comfy bed, and sleeping. The first of these moments was this traumatic event in 1996, and the second, of course, was the death of my beautiful husband, who was collapsing from a massive heart-attack at work, as I slept unknowingly in our bed. Because of these two events, I have severe issues surrounding sleep. Intense insomnia, waking up over and over, unrelenting guilt for sleeping at all (its that feeling of “bad things happen when I sleep”), not being able to relax my body into sleep mode, re-living the trauma that I had all those years ago, and then re-living the moments that I never witnessed, in the minutes and hours before my husband’s heart stopped beating. Unbelievably horrible nightmares. On and on and on ….

All of these things have lessened over the years, but they never go away. When I hear a noise in the night, or when I wake up in a cold sweat and realize Im completely alone in that moment, or when I wake up actually in mid-panic-attack and have to try to control my breathing – everything comes rushing back, just like it was yesterday again, and I feel like a small and insignificant child, terrified in the night, and calling out to the canyon of echoes. Nobody answers. I am paralyzed by fear, and I have to remind myself to breathe.

It happened today. No particular reason. It is not the anniversary of either of these horrible events or anything like that – it just happened because sometimes, shit happens. I woke up in the early morning of the time when the actual events occured, and my body flung itself into a sitting position, and I woke up feeling as if someone was choking me. I couldn’t get any air. Logic was nowhere near my brain in this moment – the only thing present was terror.

In the early days of meeting Don, or talking with Don (because we talked online and on the phone for almost THREE YEARS before finally meeting in person), it was about 2 years after living through my trauma, and I hadn’t really told anyone the story of what had happened. I also never saw a therapist, never did anything healthy in the ways of dealing with it. My coping skills included eating fast food and hibernating in my apartment for days and hours and weeks. I would go to work, and then come home, and I would cower in a corner with my TV and my food. I didn’t know this at the time, but my thought process was something like: “If I gain enough weight to be disgusting and awful, it will somehow shield me from the pain. Nobody will ever love me again or touch me again or hurt me again. Nobody will ever want me again, and I can just live inside this protective shell forever.” Over the next year and a half or so, I gained over 100 pounds, and truly became a person that was in no way myself. I became someone I did not recognize. I became the very definition of darkness.

What happened next was something I didn’t expect. What happened next was that, right smack in the middle of my darkness and my hopelessness, a Saint or a savior in the form of a human showed up in my life. Not only did he listen to me when I was most afraid, but he saw right through my “I’m strong and I don’t need anyone” routine, and he called me on it. One night, on the phone, he called me on it. He instinctively knew something was wrong, that something was “off” with me that night, and in general. He said: “Kelley, you can trust me. I feel like something happened to you. Something awful. You don’t have to tell me, but I want you to know you CAN tell me, and I will sit here and listen for as long as you need me to.” Everything fell out of me that night, and before I realized it, I was telling my future husband my story. He listened. He got furious that such horrors could happen to a person. He cried with me. And even though he had to be up for his EMS shift in just a few short hours, he sat on the phone with me for FIVE hours. The sun came up while we were talking – both literally, and figuratively. He said to me in that phone call: “I’m going to stay here with you until you feel safe enough to hang up. I’m going to be your safe place to fall. ” My husband saved my life that night, and he continued saving my life for every single day after, for the 14 wonderful years that I knew him.

One of the hardest parts of waking up to that darkness, now, is knowing that my safe place of Don is no longer here. He can’t hold me until I stop crying. He can’t whisper in my ear that it’s going to be okay, and that I’m safe now, and that he will never let anything happen to me. He can’t say with 100% certainty: “I will never leave you, Boo. I’m always here for you.” He can’t be the one who saves me anymore, and that hurts and stings like an open wound, and it’s something I have to live with. Over the past 4.5 years without my husband, I have started to learn to save myself. I have learned that when Im afraid, trying to bring up his voice in my ear, and trying to really feel it, helps. I have learned that when I have no idea what to do next, to ask myself honestly and freely: “What would Don say to me in this moment? How would he make this better?” Doing this is not even close to the same thing as having my husband here in reality, but it’s a whole lot better than the nothingness that lives inside those echoing walls.

Recently, I’ve been talking with a new person – one that I feel a deep connection to, and one that I’m forming a beautiful friendship with, at the very least. He is a widower, and for reasons too complex to explain here, he is connected to Don in many ways, as is his late wife. So it feels as though the four of us are in this together somehow, and that this connection was meant to happen. It feels as though Don knows that he cant be here anymore for me physically, so he sent me someone wonderful, so that maybe we can heal our broken pieces together.

This morning, when I woke up in my state of panic and terror, instead of getting myself through it, and trying to be strong, and all that crap that I really didn’t want to do – instead, I took a risk. I texted him, and I asked for help. I asked him, in the early hours of the morning, if he could call me. And he did. And he helped me breathe in and out again, and he helped me to feel a little safer in that moment again. And he told me he would be there for me, next time I need to hear someone’s voice in the night, providing evidence that there is more than just a lonely echo.

We are all broken. Eventually. Sometimes. To different degrees.

If we can find the missing pieces to our puzzle, the ones that will sit with us and help us to find the best of ourselves again, to want to try again and live again, to dare to feel again ….

That is worth everything. Even the nightmares.