Criminal

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

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

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

And I miss you,
saying that you miss me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was when it hit me.

I know this feeling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s about my friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

What to Do With Your Anniversary When Your Husband is Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

boo on florida beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last year, on this saddest day ...

Last year, on this saddest day …

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

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

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

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

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

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

kissing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you know who did all of those things?

My husband.

Don Shepherd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Scenic Route

I just ended a relationship with someone I had been seeing for about 4 months. Like me, he is widowed, and I met him on a dating site. I guess you could say we “broke up.” Is that still what the kids call it these days? I have no idea. I didn’t word it that way when I ended things between us. The phrase “breaking up” almost sounds too childish and immature and teenage-like, for everything that we both have been through in our lives up to this point. “Breaking up” doesn’t really gel for two middle-aged people who have suffered through individual trauma, grief, loss, illness, and the death of their beloveds.

No. Instead, I worded it like this: “I think it’s time that we transition this relationship into more of a friendship, and no longer a couple. I don’t see a future for us, and it feels unfair and wrong at this point to continue in this way.” It was all very mature. I was mature, he was mature in the way he handled it, everything was mature. But it still hurt. Inside of my soul and my heart, it did hurt. It hurt him, I am quite sure, even though he downplayed it. And it truly hurt me to be the cause of pain to a fellow widowed person, and someone I care about very much. But if we had stayed together any longer, with me not being able to reciprocate the feelings in that “you have my heart” way that everyone deserves, the pain would have been multiplied down the road, and so I ended it.

But please don’t spend any time feeling sorry for me or feeling sad for me, or for him. Yes, it was difficult. And yes, I will miss a lot of things about dating this person, and the time we spent together. However, we mutually feel like there are good things waiting on the horizon for the both of us, individually – things that are still yet to be discovered, that haven’t fully formed yet, or that can’t quite be seen at the moment, because they are too far off in the distance – hiding behind the foggy mist of fear and uncertainty. And this person and myself – we will remain friends – always. Which is why I prefer to call this a “transition.” Not in that Bruce to Caitlyn Jenner way, but in that “adult and widowed” way that two people have to collectively decide what is best for them, and their hearts.

To be completely honest (and when am I ever NOT in my writing), I am very proud of myself, and it usually takes a LOT for me to say that. The first four years after my husband died, I had no interest in dating, and the very idea of “someone else” made me sick to my stomach. Nauseous. And even though all around me, other widowed people were getting into relationships and dating and finding ways to “get out there again”, I didn’t do any of that. I didn’t even think about it. For over four years, thoughts of intimacy or loneliness or being part of a couple again, didn’t even cross my mind really. I was much too busy grieving, and in massive amounts of pain from the loss of my husband, my forever love, to even consider the idea of anyone else. People judged me constantly. I was asked weekly and sometimes daily by strangers, friends, family, EVERYONE, over and over and over again: “So, are you dating yet? Why not? You should be dating. Be happy. You’re not getting any younger. He would want you to be happy.” Yes. He would. I do know this. But he would also want me to do things when I’m ready, in my own time, when it feels right, and not on some fictitious, made-up timeline, or because people who are well-intentioned but clueless, are pressuring me.

So I waited. I lived my life. I tried to get by. I existed and breathed in and out as best as I could. And then in June of 2015, I received a beautiful email from someone who had just found my blog, and who happened to be widowed also, and who also happened to know and worked with my husband , many years ago, as fellow EMS / paramedics. He told me he found my blog, and he thanked me for the words in it. He said lovely things about my husband, and told me how him and his wife who died and my husband who died, all knew one another and worked together all these years ago. And we started talking via email, and then on the phone. And thus began what has turned into a lovely connection, a wonderful friendship with so much potential for more, one day. We met in person, in March of this year, and it was organic and natural and real. It was effortless and familiar and new. It was a blanket of warmth and safe things, and all things good. It was that place that felt like home.

We spent a few days together, hanging out, connecting, getting to know each other more. The connection we had on the phone was even more undeniable in person, and we marinated inside of the moments spent honoring our forever loves, while also finding peace and joy in one another’s company. But because we are “adult and widowed”, emotions are complicated, and hearts are damaged from ill-intentioned people and the wake of self-doubt and darkness they leave in our souls. And so, our connection and our bond and our “what could be” remains in neutral, idling in the driveway – or like a pot of Sunday sauce, that just needs to simmer a lot longer before it’s truly ready.

In the meantime, meeting this incredible person made me realize that I was now in a place where I was missing having intimacy, dating, being part of a couple, having someone to do things with, having someone to hold hands with and share kisses with, and cuddle with, and hang out on a weekend with and watch movies or walk around a lovely neighborhood on a nice summer day with. Just having those few days with this new person who felt so familiar, made me so very aware of life again, and of that feeling when someone makes you feel alive. So because he wasnt ready to further explore that with me, I did something I never in a million years ever thought I would do – I joined dating sites. Plural. Three of them. All the free ones. I started chatting with people. I met some people. I had dates. Some were total disasters. Others were total assholes who literally called me “fat”, and others would build a phone relationship with me for weeks, only to completely fall off the face of the earth and stop all contact. I learned, in the dating world today, there is a term for this. It’s called “ghosting.” How ironic, for a widowed person to be ghosted. I also learned that some people just plain suck. The site called “Plenty of Fish” should be called “Plenty of Fucking Douchebags”,but that’s another story altogether. There were endless jerks and weirdos on these sites, and a whole slew of people who just want to crawl into bed with anything that moves. Or doesn’t move. I don’t think they much care, as long as it’s female.

But while sifting through all of the garbage, I was able to find a bit of my own self-confidence again. I was able to SEE firsthand, actual proof, that there were real men out there in the universe, who actually found me attractive. And lots of them were very nice men, too. We didn’t click or connect or things didn’t work out for whatever reason, but they were good, decent men, who thought I was beautiful. This shocked me. One of my biggest fears after losing Don, was always that not only would I not be able to love again, but that nobody out there would ever love me. I was pretty convinced that nobody would be interested in old, overweight, broken, traumatized and with issues, PTSD and anxiety-ridden, forever in love with my dead husband, weird, me. But the more people I talked to, the more I understood that having someone who was actually attracted to me again, might be possible. Maybe Don isn’t the only person in the universe that doesn’t find me repulsive, but who thinks I am special and worthy and pretty and amazing. Making that discovery was worth all of the douchebags I had to meet along the way.

And then, after a few dates with others on the site, I met the guy who I just ended things with, and we were the exact right thing in each other’s lives, in the exact right moment. There was a chemistry there from the start, and it felt so incredible to feel wanted again in that way. We gave each other confidence again. We gave each other confirmation that others would find us desirable again. I had my very first relationship post-loss, my first full intimacy, my first entering into the world of being a couple again. We also helped each other heal in many ways, and provided each other with some new tools on the road of widowhood. And now, I am very certain that the dating I have done and the experiences I have had these past 5 months or so, were all necessary for me in my process. It was time. I was ready, and now because of these experiences, I know with absolute certainty, where my heart lies. It was not easy. It was extremely messy. I didnt know what the hell I was doing. There were times where I was getting to know 3 or 4 guys at the exact same time, and I didnt know how to stop it. I didnt understand how this was all supposed ot work. But I was doing it anyway. There were lot of tears, triggers, grief-attacks, and mistakes made. But I have never really put much stock into “mistakes.” All they are to me, is the universe telling you that you are supposed to be somewhere else. Sometimes you just have to take the scenic route to get there. But you do get there – in time. When you’re ready. When the time is right. And when you grow tired enough of where you currently are.

So, I’m proud of myself. Anyone that knew me in my first 3 years or so of widowhood, could tell you how cynical I was and how negative and non-believing I was, at the idea of even the possibility of ever loving or being loved again. But what I have learned is that sometimes, you have to go the wrong way for a really long time, in order to find the right way. A different way. And that “wrong way” isn’t even wrong, technically. It’s just not the right path for you. So after all of this traveling down all of these scary and foreign paths, I now know for sure, where my heart wants to be. And it’s going to take awhile to get there, because it’s still very far off in the distance, and there are never any guarantees. There is no guarantee that I will get there at all, or that I will be welcomed with open arms when I do get there. Nothing is guaranteed, and there is a whole lot of this that I have zero control over. I might get my heart shattered into a million pieces. But the heart wants what it wants, and feels what it feels. I am powerless to stop it. And so I’m willing to take that risk.

Because my heart, my intuition, and my beautiful dead husband, are all pointing me in that direction – to that place that felt like home. So I don’t much care how long it takes to arrive, or how long that Sunday sauce needs to simmer – because being inside of the adventure and appreciating every tiny moment of what it is right this very minute, is really all that matters to me. I will worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. Right now, I just want to stay inside this warm blanket place, where my heart feels everything good.

For I keep hearing my dear, dead husband’s voice, whispering in my ear:

“You’re on the right track now, Boo. Keep going. I got this. It’s going to be okay.”

Vernacular

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with my dear widower friend, and he said something that really stuck with me. “You know what I miss the most?”, he said.
“I miss her vernacular. That way that she spoke, that only she could speak. The way she spoke to me.”

After thinking about this long and hard, about what he said and what he meant by it, I realized that the thing I miss the most about my husband, is this very same thing also.

Vernacular.

What a perfect word for it.

“noun [ C/U ] US ​ /vərˈnæk·jə·lər, vəˈnæk-/:

The form of a language commonly spoken by the people of a particular region or by a particular group, esp. when it is different from the standard language: the word choices or speech patterns spoken by an individual person.”

Yes.
This is it. This is what I miss most.
Beyond his touch.
Beyond his hugs.
Above and beyond his laugh.
All of those things I miss so much.
Every single day.

But …
sometimes,
if I sit completely still,
and let my breath turn to silence,
and if I focus really hard,
but without trying at all,
sometimes,
in that moment of nothing-ness,
I am able to bring back in my heart or my soul,
or somewhere I can’t quite identify,
what it felt like,
what it sounded like,
what it was,
to be hugged by him.
to know his laugh.
to sense his touch.
And in that tiny fragment of time,
in that one small measure of music,
I am allowed to be with him again.

You see …
there are certain things,
very specific things about a person,
that you can hold onto,
or bring into focus,
in different ways,
after they die.

Their eyes.
Their hands.
A memory.
Stories or events or places or songs,
that instantly take you back to them.
Pictures.
Videos.
Hand-written cards or notes.
The cologne they wore,
or the way their shirt smelled.
Their favorite foods.

None of these things are enough to satisfy,
the forever ache that comes,
from your person being gone.
Not even close.
For that ache,
it is a monster that lives inside of you.
It resides there,
like a nail sitting in the depths of your throat.
You can’t swallow.
You can’t ever swallow.
At least,
not the way you used to.
Because that ache acts like a blockage,
like a gate,
stopping any kind of normalcy,
from ever entering again.
And now,
in this version of life,
you have to swallow through that ache.

So having a measure of time with a memory or a song,
something that brings you back to them,
it is never enough to dull that ache.
But,
it is something.
And when it comes to grief,
and missing your person,
and craving to feel anything,
that brings them close to you again…
When it comes to the forever death,
of your person,
something,
is always better
than nothing.

So you hold onto those somethings.
You cling to them,
because they are all that you have now.
A change in the wind,
a feeling in the air,
a shift in the moon or stars,
someone that reminds you of them …

And for a second or two,
sometimes,
they come back.
Sometimes,
you can recreate
in your heart and mind,
pieces of them,
that exist within you,
and around you.

And so,
just as there are things like that,
which you can hold onto,
there are other things,
that you can never get back.

Vernacular.

That way in which he spoke to me,
spoke with me.
The word choices he used,
which were often,
strange.
odd.
Him.
That pitch in his voice,
the tone of his whisper,
the beautifully specific sounds,
the phrasing,
the places where he stressed the syllables,
the sexy without trying,
the calm,
the tranquil,
the peace and safe feeling,
that lived within his rhythms.
The way that he would respond to things,
that would leave me equal parts baffled,
fascinated,
and in awe,
of his intelligence,
his wit,
his sarcasm.
What he would say,
in conversation,
with friends,
with family,
with me.
The life that breathed air,
through his speech.

Vernacular.
It is a thing that only exists in real time.
You can’t recreate it.
You can’t even remember it.
You can try.
I have tried.
Nothing comes.
I sit and try over and over,
to find that thing,
that way,
that language that only we knew,
with each other.

But I can’t.
When it’s just me,
alone,
in a room,
as much as I want to,
I can’t.
I try and I try,
then I try again,
because I want it so badly,
but I can’t.

Because there are some things,
some very specific things,
about a person who died,
your person,
that you just can’t get back.
Some things,
are just gone.
And in that darkness,
in that nothingness,
it is always so much better,
to have something,
some morsel,
rather than nothing.
And this,
this is nothing.
Nothing comes.

Because the truth is,
there are some things,
like vernacular,
that are so uniquely precious,
so incredibly special,
that they turn into dust,
into nothing,
at that very moment,
when that life ends.

A Path Built on Love

BIG. LIFE. CHANGES.

I will be leaving NYC.

I will be leaving my apartment, my teaching job of 16 years (that one hurts), and the greatest city in the world – the only city I have known and called “home” for the past 26 years, since I was 18 years old and moved here from small-town Groton, Massachusetts.

I know this is the right decision for me at this time, and I know it is a decision and a choice that will bring better things to me and to my life – but that doesn’t make it any less sad or hard or heart-wrenching. What is keeping me sane and keeping me from crying my face off every second of the day in sorrow, is the knowledge that I have built a family here in NY – and that family will welcome me back, and NYC will welcome me back with open arms, whenever that might happen.

It has ALWAYS been a struggle living here. This city likes to make life impossible, and that “impossible” became excruciatingly harder when my husband died 5 years ago. It is SO much harder doing this alone, on one crappy income. The dreams that we had for our future, are much more realistically chased, when you have another person who can hold down the fort while you go on that audition – or who can work extra shifts and get you both through the summer, because you lost your summer job unexpectedly. So, I am not giving up on my dreams. NEVER. I am merely shifting them a bit in order to make them more reachable, for the life that I have today. I’m taking a slightly different route to get there. Let’s call it the scenic route. And it will be a terrifying, beautiful, and absolutely poetic adventure.

So where will I be going, you may ask?

I can finally announce and say with absolute confidence, that the book I have been off-and-on writing for the past 3 years, will be published and released, sometime in 2017. How do I know this? Because I have a plan. This will be my last semester teaching at Adelphi (again – still can’t talk about that without crying. Told my boss and friend of 26 years, Nick Petron, yesterday, and it was so emotional for both of us. Going to miss those kids/students like mad …) This year, when I go home to mom and dad’s for Christmas break, I’m not going to be returning to NY. Instead, somewhere around December 20th or so when the semester is over, I will be packing up a U-Haul one more time, with my 2 kitties and everything I own that I don’t choose to throw away – and driving it home to mom and dad’s house in Massachusetts. For the last 2 years, ever since I did the fund-raising campaign for the book, I have been super-stressed out about writing it and finishing it. When Im not working multiple jobs teaching, writing, directing shows, just to get by – Im STRESSING about NOT working, and trying to find work. I can’t write in a constant state of stress.

The portions of the book that still need to be written, is our love story. How we fell in love. Our dating life together. Our engagement. Our wedding. Our marriage. The highlighted beautiful moments that live in my heart. These parts must be written from a place of joy and happiness, and absolute hope. I can’t get to that place, emotionally, when the space around me is filled with stress. So I can’t write. And when I can’t write, I stress out about not being able to write, and I stress out that I OWE YOU PEOPLE A BOOK – all these beautiful people who donated and who believed in this book. All the beautiful people who continue to read and follow this blog page. I kept saying over and over these past couple years, that if only I could have a few months of sanctuary – where I could just write my book in peace and quiet – with NO worries of job or money or bills – then I could FINALLY get it done.

Enter my wonderful parents. My dad called me one night with an idea. Knowing that I have been feeling restless lately about NY, and about just wanting something different, and knowing that I want to finish the book desperately – he said: “Why don’t you come here and live with us – temporarily – for 3 or 4 months or however long it takes – with the specific intention and purpose and goal of FINISHING THE BOOK. You’d have your own room / home office to write in, your kitties can come with you and we will take them in, and no worries about bills or rent. Plus, you could see your niece and nephew more, and be home with family for awhile. You could treat it like your full time job. Get up 5 days a week, and just write, until its done. Once it’s done, then you decide what comes next, where you’ll end up, what you’ll do. Hopefully all of that will become more clear once your book is out there. It might open up new doors.”

As soon as my dad said these words, I could literally FEEL the stress slowly leaving my body, just at the mere thought of having the tranquil space and time and luxury of no job or bills hanging over my head – to write in peace. It made me feel so calm, and that is how I knew, it was the right decision. When something or someone gives you that feeling of peace and tranquility – that feeling of calm – it is my opinion that you should keep that thing or that person close to you, and bring that thing even closer.

So, I will be in NYC until late December, and then going home to complete the book. I’m guessing I will be there until March or April, but I’m not really going to worry about it. My goal is to finish it, and then continue down whatever path appears in front of me. There have been many signs pointing me toward Chicago lately, as a possible city for me to attempt life in for awhile – so that is a very big possibility. There also may be a specific gig / situation happening in Florida (another top secret thing I can’t talk about just yet – but if it happens – it would bring me to that state eventually), so I could end up in a number of places, and right now, I feel open to all of it. The future is in front of me, and the unknown path awaits.

I’m terrified. I’m anxious. I’m incredibly excited. And I’m ready.

I have no idea what’s going to happen next, but I’m following my intuition, my heart, and a path that’s been built on love. Isn’t that what life is all about???

The Choice That Isn’t A Choice

There is a question that I hear asked within the widowed community, over and over again, time after time, on an endless loop. Widowed people, for whatever reason, seem to like asking one another this question, and seem to enjoy dissecting the meaning of the various answers to the question, when asking another fellow widowed person. The question that is posed, is usually some version of the following:

“If you had to choose between the life you have now, and the life you had with your husband/wife/partner who died, which would you choose? If your person could come back right this minute, but in return, you would have to give up every person and every thing that you have met and know since after their death – would you do it? Would you turn back the clock and choose to have them back – but knowing you would also go back to being that person you were before they died? What would you choose?”

Now, let me first say that I get it. I understand the need that some may have to dissect and answer and discuss this question. I also understand that, for some people, the answer to that question is not only complex, but heartbreaking and very difficult, emotionally. People that have perhaps found love once again after the death of their person, or people who have grown and learned and become something much different than what they were in the days where death didn’t shape everything – those people must struggle with this question in their hearts. Really. I do understand the reason that some people feel the need to ponder this question.

At the same time, I have never felt this same need. And while I understand the emotions and the complexity to this kind of question, for me, there is only one response. My response is this: I would choose my husband, and that life, in a billion ways, endless times, forever and ever, until eternity. Even if my current life was filled with bliss and joy. Even if my current life had found new and amazing love. Even if my current life was being lived with a level of elation that I couldn’t even have imagined. Even if all that were true, I would still choose him. I would still choose us.

In my comedic presentation at Camp Widow, I often tell my widowed audience: “I love each and every one of you people, but I’d throw you all away in a flat second if I could have my husband back.” It always gets a laugh, and lots of understanding nods. As much as I could ever love this life and those I have met in it, it will never be the life I had – the life I knew, that was taken away. I will forever wonder what that life could have been, and so, I will forever long to have it back.

That being said, this is the life I have now. Nobody can change that. Believe me, I wish they could. I wish that for myself, and for all my beautiful widowed friends. I wish all the time for them, that I could bring their partners back. I wish I could bring Don back. But I can’t. Nobody can. It will never happen. Not ever. So, this is the life I have. It will never be the one I wanted, but it’s the one I have.

So, for me, the question of which life would you choose feels like a pointless one. It feels like some form of weird torture, to ask yourself such things, when you know as well as I do, that those things can never happen. The question is an invalid one, because it is not based in any reality. That person is no longer here, and they never will be again. They live inside us, they live on in who we are and who we become and what legacy we make of this life, but they will never physically be here again – and we will never get to know what that life is. So why on earth would I want to sit around asking myself which life I would choose? It’s a fairy-tale question. It’s not real. That choice doesn’t exist, and it never will exist. At no point in your life, going forward, will someone ever ask you to make that choice. Because you can’t. It’s not possible.

So, whatever your personal answer is to that question, try not to let it bother you too much. I know widowed people who feel so guilty because they are happy again, or they wonder if their new partner feels like perhaps they can never “compare” to the one who died. Truth is, they WON’T ever compare, because they are not that person. They are their own person. The love you had and have for that person who died, will always be the most special and beautiful and wondrous thing that it is. And this new love will never be that person, but why would you want them to be? The new love you feel and have will also be it’s own thing, and it will be special and beautiful in all the ways that it flourishes and grows. At the same time, I know many other widowed people who just want nothing more than to have that other life back again. And they feel like maybe they haven’t coped well enough, or they beat themselves up because they have struggled so much, and haven’t yet found a way to embrace or even accept this current life they have now. To them, I say, you will get there. Or, you will get to a place that you cannot currently see, today. It takes as long as it takes, and there is nothing wrong with you. And lastly, I know many widowed people who float somewhere in between the two worlds, never quite knowing which to embrace – or just feeling lost.

Well, guess what? I have good news for you. You don’t have to decide. You never have to choose between this life and that one. Because you can’t. You had a life and a love with someone, and that person died. It’s completely unfair. It’s literally the worst thing ever, and it sucks and it hurts more than anything has ever or will hurt again. But it is what happened. That life is now gone, because they are not here. That love is NEVER gone, because love lives on, and we carry it forward into all that we are. So don’t waste time worrying about a choice that was never really a choice. There is no choice in this. You had that life, now you have this one. The only choice to be made here is this:

How will I choose to live THIS life, the one I have now?
For some, it could take a decade or so to be able to figure out their answer to that question.
But in the end, it really is the only question that is valid, and that makes logical sense.

For me, I almost look at it as two seperate lives, or entities. There was the life I had with my husband, and there is life now. As I said above, I would do anything on earth to have that life back and to have him back again, but that’s never going to happen. So, all I can do is live this life as brightly as possible, and in a way that he would be proud of, and happy for me. All I can do, is keep letting good people into my world, and hold them tightly, as I believe they are gifts from my husband. All I can do is keep finding ways to love and connect and grow, which is what life is all about, really.

And while I cannot ever have my husband back, what I can do is make the choice to live the life that he never had the choice to experience. I can accept the love and the gifts that he is sending me, and try to create something beautiful. I can know, deep in my soul, that love grows from love. I can know without question, that should I be in love again, it is a way to honor our forever love, because that love is the very foundation that all new love stands on. I can know, that while that life we had and the life I have now, are two individual things – they will always find gorgeous and meaningful ways to merge.

And in all of those profound ways, the life we had, is not, in fact, dead.

It is re-born, over and over and over again.

Your Death Is a Pain In the Ass

Beyond the missing of you …..

Beyond the not having my best friend, my teammate, my lover, my all-things-in-life go-to person ……

Beyond not having our future to look forward to, or our today to live …..

Beyond all of that, and above and in addition to all of that ….

Quite Frankly ……..

and let me be blunt ….

Your death is a pain the ass.

I am on month 2 of no income, no job (aside from a few very tiny at-home, temp work opportunities that are barely enough to cover groceries). I go back to work in September, but I don’t get a paycheck until October 1st. I lost my summer teaching job – the one I have had for years, each summer, that normally gets me through the 3 month stretch just fine until fall semester starts up again. Well, this year, and going forward, the powers-that-be decided that my courses were no longer needed in the list of required courses for graduation. So nobody signed up, resulting in the courses being cancelled. I will no longer be teaching in the summer months.

So, since about mid-May, when the spring semester ended, I have been scrambling around like a madwoman trying like hell to find work, or some source of income. My email inbox is literally filled with rejection letters and reply emails that begin: “We received your resume and application, and unfortunately, there is nothing that you are a good fit for at this time.” Which is sort of how I feel right now, in life. Like I’m not a “good fit” for anything, and I don’t know quite where I belong. The things I want to happen can’t happen right now. The things I want to pursue, I cant pursue. The things I do have feel shaky and all over the place in my brain, and the things I had that I loved, are gone and dead. After 5 years of that reality, where do I go next? Where do I fit? Where am I the “good fit” that someone or some thing is searching for? I really have no idea. But those are the bigger issues. Right now, it’s the “other” stuff that is currently pissing me off daily, and making me want to constantly scream at Don for dying, or at his heart or God or the universe or whoever or whatever force, decided that he should be dead. How dare they?

Yesterday, while smack in the middle of writing my weekly TV review, my computer went down, as did the entire Wi-Fi system. After cursing up a storm because my almost-written review was now gone, I spent over an hour playing with wires and buttons and plugging and unplugging and rebooting and on and on and on, until FINALLY, I got everything working again. Turns out the power cord was bad, so I had to replace it with a different one. In the end, I spent over 90 minutes in total frustration on something I know nothing about, and it ruined my mood the rest of the day. When Don was alive? It would have gone like this: “Boo, the computer just went down.” “Ah, okay. Let me see what the problem might be. Oh! There we go. Looks like a bad power cord. Let me change that for you.”

Your death is a pain in the ass.

Yesterday, I was searching around the apartment for the longest time, trying to find something that looked like it might be worth eating. Since Im nearing the end of whatever I bought on my last grocery trip, the choices are slim, and I’m not. After looking for what felt like years but was probably 20 minutes, I unenthusiastically decided on some elbow macaroni with butter and parmesan cheese. Yeah. This is basically the typical meal of my 3 year old niece, but I had nothing else, so that’s what it was going to be. Until I picked up the pot to put it in the strainer, tripped over the damn cat and dropped the pot of macaroni all over my kitchen floor. If Don were still alive, I wouldn’t be in the situation where I would be desperate enough to eat that lame excuse for a meal in the first place, therefore I wouldn’t have dropped it anywhere.

Your death is a pain in the ass.

This morning, I woke up, and proceeded to walk out into the kitchen to make some coffee and get started on my daily ritual of looking through endless job sites and emails. I noticed the refrigerator door was wide open. So Im guessing it was open all night. Why? I have no idea, other than the fact that my roommate and I live in an apartment with a crappy and old refrigerator that has weak megnetics on the door, so the slightest change in breathing might cause it not to close correctly. Washed down the door, scrubbed the inside, tried again and prayed that all our food hadn’t gone bad already. If Don were here, I wouldn’t be living in this apartment at ALL, never mind with this shitty refrigerator from the Carter adminstration. Who knows where we would be living by now together? I do know it would NOT be in weird and annoying Flushing, Queens.

Your death is a pain in the ass.

All the little things, and bigger things, that I now have to do because he is dead. Killing roaches. Killing mice, or picking up the ones that my cats leave half-dead on my bed or on the floor by our entrance-way. Dealing with the idiots on dating sites, and dealing with dating, period. Yes, there are moments when I feel joy or when it’s exciting to discover someone new and everything they bring to the table. But in the moments when it feels really hard, or where I feel like I have no idea what Im doing or if Im going to end up hurting someone or hurting myself – I just can’t help but want to scream: “I WOULDNT HAVE TO DO ANY OF THIS IF YOU WEREN’T FREAKIN’ DEAD!!!!”

Does that ever go away? That whole “Six Degrees of You Being Dead” thing? Where every single thing you do, somehow relates back to them being dead? Will there ever be a day where something goes terribly wrong in life or Im having a really awful time with something, and I DON’T immediately think: None of this would be happening if you didn’t die.

Honestly, I don’t know if that will ever happen. I don’t know if I will ever be able to seperate the two things. Life after losing my husband, and his death. Can those two things ever really be seperate? Probably not. Because one led to the other. So maybe that’s just the way it is. I don’t know anymore, and I don’t pretend to know these things. I only know this:

Your death is annoying.

Your death is a nuisance.

Your death is a pain in the ass.