Anxiety

This new version of life.

This life that exists in the now.

The one where my husband,

is no longer my husband,

by law.

Because he is dead.

And you can’t be married

to a dead person.

By law.

You might still FEEL married,

like I did,

for almost 4 years,

after his death.

You might feel as if even looking

at another man

is cheating,

and it feels wrong

and awful,

and you feel like a terrible wife,

like I did.

You may still wear

your wedding ring,

or his.

Or maybe you move it

to your other hand.

Or have it made

into a necklace.

Which is your right.

And an honor

to do so.

Or

you lose it,

or you notice one day,

that when you look down

at your hand,

to do that thing

you always do,

where you roll your thumb

over your ring

because it’s oddly

and stupidly

comforting,

that the ring is missing.

Its not there.

Its gone.

Disappeared into thin air,

just like your husband.

And your hand is naked.

And you go numb for awhile.

And then you cry

until you cant breathe.

And you feel guilty for months.

And you feel like he just died

all over again.

And nobody understands.

And you get accused

of being over-dramatic.

You get told

to get over it.

You get told

that you aren’t

married

anymore

anyway,

because he is dead.

You get told

that losing your

wedding ring

was “a sign”

that it’s time

to “move on.”

And you want to punch

the person who said that

right in the eyeball,

and then kick them

over and over again,

until they hurt

until they bleed

until they scream

in pain,

as much as you do,

Everyday.

But you know

it wont help.

You know

they will never

get it,

until

they get it.

Until they find

themselves

running their

thumb

along the finger

where their

wedding ring

used to be.

Because their husband

is dead forever,

and the ring,

the symbol of that

great love,

one of the only things

that comforts them,

is physical proof

Evidence,

that he existed.

Because sometimes,

lots of times,

they have to

remind themselves

that their love

really

happened.

That they

didn’t

just

imagine it.

And the ring

is the perfect reminder.

Until it’s not.

Until it’s gone.

Until you find yourself,

in a corner,

looking through

your wedding albums,

peeking at

your wedding video,

hearing the sound

of his voice.

Watching him smile

and laugh,

and dance,

and then running

into the bathroom,

to throw up.

To have a meltdown.

To shake

and panic.

Anxiety.

Again.

Because your husband,

no longer smiles,

or laughs,

or dances.

Those are just video clips,

from a time,

that is gone.

And seeing that,

watching that,

up close,

is heart-wrenching.

But you miss him

SO MUCH,

that you keep watching,

sometimes,

even though,

you know,

it will bring you torture.

But

torture,

is better

than the nothingness

of him

being

forever

gone.

Six years later.

2 days ago,

in fact.

Your new love,

has gone a few hours,

without responding,

to your texts.

You were

supposed to talk,

later that night.

But he goes silent.

Hours go by.

You leave voicemails.

Text him.

You pace.

You worry.

Panic sets in.

You know the drill.

People disappear.

They die.

With no warning.

You start talking

to yourself.

All the what if’s.

Maybe he had

a heart-attack,

with no symptoms,

no warning.

Just like

your husband.

Maybe he collapsed,

and was alone,

for too long,

to be saved.

And maybe

you will have to

go through

all the guilt

and the pain

the torture

All over again.

Who would even tell you,

if he died?

You aren’t his wife.

You love him.

He loves you.

But the relationship

is new.

And not many people

in his world

know yet,

who you are,

or know your number,

to call you,

and tell you,

that your world just ended.

So you panic.

Because you

CANNOT

go through

this again.

You cannot

lose this person

already.

NO.

And so,

six years later,

you find yourself

rocking back and forth,

sitting in your dead husband’s

recliner chair,

crying,

but the silent kind of

crying,

where it just happens,

without any effort,

or sound.

And your thumb,

starts to slowly move,

out of instinct,

over and over

that finger,

where your

wedding ring,

used to be,

and hasn’t been,

for 4 years,

since it went missing.

But now,

that naked skin,

it oddly comforts you,

to stroke it,

even though

nothing

is there.

It fans the

ANXIETY

to a dull roar.

It forces you

into a rhythm,

of breathing again.

“It will be okay.

It will be okay.

Everything

will be okay.

Today.”

Later on,

the next morning,

when he finally calls you,

and tells you that

he simply fell asleep

early

the night before,

you breathe

a sigh of relief,

and feel almost

silly,

for all the panic.

But you know,

what you know,

and this is just how it is,

in your mind.

And you wonder,

how the hell,

am I going to do this,

how am I going

to lose

someone I love,

to death,

Again.

One day.

Someday.

I might have to

figure

that out.

I might have to.

But that

day

is not

Today.

Today,

I take comfort,

in the naked skin,

where my love

once

slipped

a beautiful ring

on my finger,

and we smiled,

and cried,

on that snowy night,

in the cold,

one week

before Christmas.

And we lived.

We existed.

And we loved.

We love.

And the fact

that I can love

this man

now,

today,

so much,

that I cannot bear

to picture life

without him,

is Evidence,

along with

the nakedness

of my finger,

that

Love

Grows

Love.

Right now.

Today.

In this second.

Everything

is

Going

to

Be

Okay.

Threesome

Six years after my beloved husband’s sudden death,

I finally found love again.

I am deeply, madly, passionately, in love.

It is wonderful.

It is terrifying.

It is crazy weird.

Being in love with two men.

Im not into bigamy.

Im not even into threesomes.

But really, truly ….

that’s what this is.

A threesome.

But not the kinky kind.

Not the sex kind that youre thinking of.

Its a new kind of threesome.

One that widowed people invented.

One that makes little sense to the outside world.

One that gets easily judged,

and ridiculed,

by those who don’t understand.

It’s a new kind of threesome,

And it goes something like this ….

You’re standing in your kitchen and your dad and your new love are having a conversation. You are a bystander, a witness. They are talking about cars and mechanics and other boring “guy” type things, when suddenly you are silently consumed with a feeling of terror and deep confusion, as if you dont know whats going on or where you are or who this man is that is talking with your dad. He isn’t your husband. He looks nothing like your husband. Suddenly your mind switches back to the times when your husband and your dad had similar conversations about cars and mechanics and man things, and now youre sweating and panicking because this man in your kitchen is not your husband, and your husband is still dead, forever. And somehow you are just realizing this and knowing this, for the very first time, even though you have realized that he is dead, about ten billion times before. Right now, in this moment, it feels like the first time again. You have to slow down the breathing inside yourself and just pretend that everything is normal, because telling your new love that for a second, in your mind, he turned into your dead husband in a flashback type scenario – doesn’t seem like the best idea.

Me and Don at cousin Tabatha's house on Thanksgiving, 2008

Me and Don at cousin Tabatha’s house on Thanksgiving, 2008

You are on the phone sobbing with your new love, and when he asks you what’s wrong, you say you don’t really know, and that you just got really sad for no reason. You tell your new love how much you miss your love who is dead, and in the same sentence – you also tell him that your missing of the love who is dead, takes away nothing at all from how deeply you love HIM right now, today. He says: “I know that,” and continues to comfort you. You wonder how on earth he could possibly know that, or be that amazingly empathetic, considering he is not widowed himself. You sigh deeply as you realize again how incredible this man is who lays beside you today. You tell him that even though you know it makes no sense, that you wish like hell that he and your love who is dead, could know each other and be friends. He says that he wishes he had met your dead love too, which also makes no sense logically, but makes perfect sense in your world.

You lie in your bed and cuddle with your new love, and then roll over and silently say goodnight to your dead love, whose remaining ashes sit inside a christmas tin, which has a Yankees ornament on the lid, because your husband was a huge fan and would like that. Next to the ornament, you have added the meditation rocks that your new love gave you, spread across the top of the cover. Its all blended together, and when you say goodnight to your dead husband, you smile and cry a little all at once. Life and death are merging, and the beauty of it overwhelms you.

You make a joke that your dead love would have found hilarious, and your new love doesnt really laugh. It’s okay. You know logically that they are very different people, and that their reactions to things you do and say, will be very different. You are not comparing them, but the lack of laughter from your new love, in that moment, makes you suddenly think about your dead love’s huge laugh that took over his whole body and made him shake, and you miss it.

Your new love says something or does something that your dead love used to do or say. Or he tilts his head a certain way, and reminds you of him for a second. You feel as if they are somehow connected, though you dont know how that could be possible. Something inside you knows it is true, and you decide to believe it, because it means that your dead husband knows of and approves of your new love, and he is thrilled for your joy.

Your new love kisses you or hugs you or brings you flowers, and you feel a love so intense and so like nothing you have ever felt before. You feel giddy and happy and filled with brightness. And then you feel a tinge of guilt. Not because you are happy. But because maybe you are MORE happy than you were with your dead love. Then you feel even more guilt for even thinking such a thing, and then you realize that the person you are today, has been forever changed by death – so comparing one joy to another is futile, and you need to stop. You realize that the joy you feel now is not better than any past joy – it just feels that way because it has taken so long for you to feel ANY joy at all. You realize that your dead husband brought you an insane amount of joy, and that your new love doe the same, but in HIS own unique and wonderful way. It feels new and exciting, and it feels like the first time you ever felt joy. Then you get a headache from overthinking all your damn joy.

The threesome is ongoing. It is emotional. It is a lot of adjusting.

Learning the quirks and habits and details of the new love,

while holding the quirks of the forever love in your heart.

Feeling sad and thankful and curious

and happy and melancholy,

all in the same second.

Knowing that your emotions are normal,

but feeling anything but.

Learning and growing and evolving,

using all the love you collected,

from your forever dead husband,

and blending it with all the love

you are receiving,

from your beautiful new soulmate.

Knowing that your heart

keeps expanding,

as it creates a nest

big enough for three.

java house

Hiatus (written on July 28th)

(NOTE: Im so ssorry for ignoring this blog for so long. It wasnt on purpose. I was really sick, and I couldnt write or read or do much of anything for almost 6 weeks. Im MUCH better now. The following post was written back in July when I was sick – I wrote it for the Widows Voice blog, and it should help explain why Ive been Missing in Action from my own blog. Im back, baby!!! Thanks for all your support, and as always, I welcome and LOVE all of your comments. )

So I moved back to my home state of Massachusetts at the end of last year, after 26 years in NYC, to finish writing my book, live with my parents temporarily, and get back on track financially, after 5 years of struggling pretty hard following the sudden death of my dear husband Don.

Living with mom and dad at age 45 is sobering. It feels like going backwards. Going from my active and independent social life in NYC, to small town suburbia where your parents know your every move, is just strange. The first few months here, I had no car, no job, and not much of a life. I came here to write the book, and that is what Ive been doing. But you can only write so many hours in a day, and so many days in a week. After awhile, my eyes start to hurt, I lose focus, or I’ve just had enough emotional toll for one day and cant do it anymore.

The past few months, things have started to brighten up some. I have started feeling more like an adult again. I started dating on the dating sites here, mostly so Id have something to do on weekends and have a social life. I picked up a small, part-time job working as the Social Media advisor for a local Real Estate Agent, I got myself on my parent’s car insurance so that I could have access to driving a car, and I started a local Massachusetts Soaring Spirits Regional Group, planning 2x per month social gatherings for widowed people. And then, about 6 weeks ago, from one of my many dating experiences on the dating site, I found my person. My “next great love story.” I fell in love.

And then, soon after all of that, like within 2 weeks time, I got really sick. Right as things were starting to find their rhythm, everything went into full-stop hiatus. A great big stall in my life. I went to the ER twice in one week. Once, because I was so lightheaded, I almost hit the deck while brushing my teeth. And the other time, because I woke up with the worst headache I had ever experienced in my life. Truly. Tests were done. Cat-scans. Brain scans. EKG’s. Heart stuff. Blood was drawn. And drawn. And drawn. More tests. More being sent home and not being able to move from dizziness and nausea. Being so tired that simply taking a shower made me out of breath and finished for the day. Not being able to read words on a screen, look at a TV, or hold a conversation even, because it made me so dizzy the rooom wouldn’t stop spinning.

We finally got a diagnosis. Vertigo, which Ive had before and its a nightmare, combined with a virus called CMV – a form of mononucleosis, that generally sticks around for a month or so, elevating your liver levels to the point where your urine turns a scary color, and your eyes and face turn jaundice and yellow. There is no appetite, NO energy, and no life. Every part of me felt so lifeless. I was terrified. My new love was also terrified. We JUST found each other, and now I was going to fucking die??? Yeah, this is how the mind of a widowed person thinks.

So Its now been a few weeks, and Im starting to get better. The doctor said every day, I will feel better and better, get back more energy, and slowly get back into life. My liver numbers are back at normal range, and I have more blood work Monday to make sure everything is going in the right direction. I am hopeful to be on a plane with my doctor’s blessing in a week and a half, to San Diego, to give my latest presentation at Camp Widow. The last few weeks, I couldnt write these blogs. Today, I can. It feels good to be getting pieces of me back again.

Its been very scary to be sick with something, and not know what the hell is wrong. My mind went to some pretty bad places, thinking I had horrific brain tumors or that I had a heart attack the day before the 6 year death anniversary of my husband’s death, from a massive heart attack. Oh – right. Did I mention that all this started the day before the 6 year death anniversary of my beloved Don, so I was forced to go to my BIGGEST grief trigger place, the ER, and re-live all the horrific pieces of “that day” in my mind? Yeah. That was fun. It’s been a rough few weeks.

However, when you spend a few weeks being hostage in the house, and going nowhere at all except back and forth to the hospital for more appointments or blood work or ER visits, it forces you to slow your mind and heart. I am so thankful that I am here in my home state while all this is happening, and with my parents, because they have taken such great care of me, and Massachusetts has one of the best health insurance programs for people not working like me, so Ive been able to see all the doctors and specialists and get all the proper tests done and everything that needed to be done to ensure that I wasnt going to fucking die. Im still broke as all hell, because I havent been working at all, due to being very sick, so at the moment I have probably $14 in my bank account – but at least I have health insurance. If I had gotten this sick and was still living in NYC, not sure what the hell I would have done or how I would have paid for my care.

Its also given me a chance to really sit and think about the wonder and the beauty of finding love again after loss. Its been such a long, hard road for me after losing Don, filled with heartache and false starts. But I never gave up on love. I worked hard for it, and I put myself out there again and again, even after having my heart shattered several times. And honestly, my heart STILL hurts from those shatters. It probably always will. But now, it is here. Love is here. He is here. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

My life has taken a short hiatus, but when I am sitting perfectly still, looking into his beautiful bluish-green eyes – for the first time in a long time, I can see my future. And it makes me smile.

I Didn’t Know …

After my husband died, I spent a whole lot of time grieving. And existing. And just trying to breathe. In and out. Sometimes more in than out. Sometimes hyperventilating. Sometimes forgetting that oxygen is a thing.

Make it through that hour, that minute, that day. Whole lot of time spent sitting in his car that I was left with, in the university parking lot, wondering how the hell I was going to get out, walk into that building, and teach 4 classes. Dreading all the questions from the clueless but well-meaning people. Listening to the whispers in the hallways: “That’s her. That’s the professor whose husband dropped dead.” Getting dizzy from all the tilted heads, showing their pity and their sorrys at me, as I tried to stare anywhere except directly into their eyes.

I spent a whole lot of time in grief counseling offices, trying to find someone that made some sort of sense when they talked. Someone who wouldnt just throw cliches at me, tell me it was time to “move on”, or try and “fix me” with a pile of pills and meds. I wasnt interested. I somehow knew that I needed to live and sit inside the darkness, in order to ever see some light. I knew that pain was something that would be at the nucleus of my core for awhile. I knew that I had to process every nook and cranny, dissect every corner of his death, in order to gain any peace. I don’t know how I knew these things, but I just knew.

Here’s what I didn’t know …

I didn’t know that it would take me four years to be able to even consider dating again.

I didn’t know that I would still “feel married”, and that the very idea of being with someone else, felt like I was cheating and made me sick with guilt and pain.

I didn’t know that not only would I not date or kiss or be intimate with anyone for years, but that I wouldn’t give a shit about any of it. That I would just shut it off, like a faucet, and pretend that Im a human who doesnt need another human to love her.

I didn’t know that “self-love” would be a failure over and over, because it would always result in me thinking about my husband, and that would result in me sobbing endlessly, and never being able to “finish”.

I didn’t know that my first relationship and my first time sleeping with anyone again, 5 years after my husband’s death, would be with a fellow widower, who would end up being a very sneaky and dishonest person.

I didn’t know that I would then fall in love with another widower, who knew my husband years and years ago, and that we would have a beautiful friendship that would eventually and unexplainably, dissolve into nothing.

I didnt know how awful the heartbreaks would be.

I didnt know that I would develop connections with several men, who held special places in my heart.

I didnt know that I would be brave or courageous enough to have a really great “friends with benefits” situation, that was actually quite lovely, fun, and very respectful.

I didnt know that I could be the type of woman who says: “I really want to kiss you right now”, and then does.

I didnt know that when I had my first kiss post-loss, I would literally hear my husband’s voice cheering for me: ‘YES!!! Go get some!!! Its about time!!!”

I didnt know that men ending relationships or connections with me abruptly, and with little or no explanation, would hurt me so very deeply – or that it would take me right back to my husband getting up for work one morning, and never coming home. Or that it would also take me back to being raped in my apartment, in the middle of the night, and being told by my rapist: ‘I would kill you, but you’re not worth it.” That men leaving me with no reason why, would make me feel so worthless and so filled with hurt and empty, just like I felt, sitting in a heap, clinging to the corner wall of my living room, 21 years ago.

I didn’t know that people could be so cruel. Or so beautiful. Or that you could meet and experience both, so close together.

I didn’t know that living, would be so very much harder than existing.

I didn’t know that ‘love at first sight” might actually be a real thing that could maybe happen to me.

I didn’t know it would terrify me this much, or bring up so many triggers in my heart.

About a week ago, I met someone on a dating site. After meeting a lot of other someone’s on a dating site. And after endless heartbreak and broken promises and casual abandonment of my heart. This man appeared. I made the first move and messaged him. I saw something deeper in his tough guy profile picture. His eyes looked sad and lovely and full of life and death. He looked like he knew pain. The thought in my head was “I need to know this person.”

Since then, we have been talking endlessly, every day. The talking never feels like enough. We always want more talking, more time with each other, more discovering of each other. We meet Sunday. It feels like something that is different than all the other things. It feels very real. It feels like that ‘L’ word thing, that I cant seem to say out loud or even in type.

Im so happy.

Im so terrified.

Grief Terrors.

The very real joy, followed by the very real thought, that this will all go away. That it will all disappear. That he will change his mind and realize he isnt really into me after all, or he will fall back in love with some ex, like all the others have. Or that he will just stop contacting me, and never tell me why. Or, the big one – the all-consuming fear – that he will die. That I will fall in love with him, and then wake up one morning on a perfectly ordinary Wednesday, and he will already be dead. And then I will have to figure out all over again, how to go from existing, to living, and figure out if I really even want to.

I am terrified. The grief terrors follow me everywhere.

But I can’t let them win.

I won’t let them win.

I will fight them with my heart.

I will fight for my joy.

I will fight for my time at the “L” word.

Because love is King.

Love is everything.

And if it all falls apart,

well at least I had it for awhile.

I won’t turn my back on Love.

Not when it finally showed up for me again.

Not when this feels so good, so right, so real.

I don’t want to be in the dark,

when it comes to Love.

I don’t want to turn away out of fear,

not letting it in,

and being left with the emptiness of never feeling it.

I never want to say of Love,

that I didn’t know.

So,

Grief Terrors.

Night Sweats.

Panic Attacks.

Heart palpitations.

Bring it on.

It means Im living again,

and Im so ready.

UPDATE: We met yesterday. It was incredible. It was beautiful. It was everything.
And it’s about damn time.

Dear Dead Husband,

Dear Dead Husband,

It will be 6 years next month, since you died.

So, I think that’s more than enough time to conclude the following:

This widow thing?

This “you being dead” thing?

This “not what I signed up for” thing?

Yeah.

Not a fan.

I’ve decided I don’t care for this.

I will, of course, keep trodding along,

keep finding new meaning in life,

keep helping others,

helping myself,

blah blah blah,

all that shit,

because what choice do I have?

I would never end things.

It is not in me.

Even when I really want to.

Even when Im just so tired of trying,

that I feel like I cant function.

I wouldnt end things.

I would not cause that pain,

to those who love me.

And I would not give up on life,

knowing,

that you would give ANYTHING,

just to still be here.

To be able to live your life,

with me.

So I wont do that.

But I just wanted you to know,

that this shit sucks,

and that even though the raw, horrific parts of grief,

have mostly subsided,

NOW,

now is, in some ways,

even harder.

Because now I am living.

I am living again,

instead of just existing,

instead of just grieving,

instead of just trying to get through the day.

Living,

thats the hard stuff.

Searching for love.

The kind of love that I KNOW,

you want for me.

The kind of love that I deserve.

The kind of love that you would give me,

if you were allowed to still live.

You want that for me.

And I want that for me.

And thats how I know its out there.

I just wish it would make itself clear.

Ive been looking.

Ive been dating.

And dating,

and dating,

and dating.

Ive been dumped.

Hurt.

Betrayed.

Left.

Abandoned.

Cheated on.

Given the “you are beautiful and funny and amazing, but ….” speech.

Or the “You deserve love more than anyone I know. It just cant be with me” speech.

Or the all-time favorite “disappearing act”,

where they just exit my life with no explanation,

no reason,

no conversation about it.

Just, Gone.

I haven’t found anyone,

that sees my worth,

the way you did.

The way I now do,

because of you.

So,

this shit sucks.

And its not just the dating.

Its the living.

Doing life without you.

Its hard.

Very, very hard.

There are so many things,

I want to tell you.

Everyday.

I suppose that will never stop.

I just wish things were easier.

I wish I wasn’t struggling.

I wish money was a thing I had.

I wish I could stop stressing about finances.

I wish I felt more secure.

I wish I could afford to travel more.

To experience new places, new ways.

I wish I didnt always feel stuck.

I wish I knew what path to take.

I wish I had a clue.

Im writing my book about you.

About us.

About your life and death,

and my life now.

And I feel like I dont know how to end it.

How do you end something like that?

I dont know.

There is no ending.

No big life lesson to learn.

I was hoping,

that by now,

six years later,

that the ending would become clear to me.

That I would have found new love,

or some big revelation to it all.

But no.

What I have found,

is this:

The end, is the same,

as the beginning.

You are still dead.

Forever.

And this shit sucks,

forever.

The End.

Change Your Mind, Change the World

On March 31st, in NYC, I was honored to be chosen to give a TEDx Talk, at Adelphi University. My talk was about how we, as a society, need to change the conversation about grief and loss and death, and change the way we treat both the people we love who have died, AND those that are left behind to miss and grieve them. The talk was performed live in front of an audience of about 400, and also was live-streamed on the internet all over the world. The response was insanely amazing and instant, to the live talk. For the past month and a half, I have been patiently (impatiently) waiting for the green light from the TED corporate people, to release my talk into the internet, and be able to finally share it all over social media. Well, my release date was Wednesday, and so it is now out there for the world to see, online, where it will remain forever.

In just under 2 days, the YouTube video of my talk already has 10,000 views and counting. Over one thousand people have shared it on Facebook, and the numbers are growing larger and wider. People are telling me their stories. Stories of loss and hope and frustration and grief and pain. People are sharing with me, in private messages and emails, because I shared with them. People are proving that what I said in my talk is true – Love Grows Love.

My husband’s death almost 6 years ago now, has been something that continues to change me and make my life different, every single day. I wish it didnt happen. I wish he was here. I will always, always wish that. I will always miss him and want him here with me. But he isnt here. And no matter how much I wish for that, it wont ever happen. So, I choose to make his life a legacy, and to remember him and love him, by living life forward, and by using my own life to do my part in changing the world however I can. I want for people such as myself, who lose their very world in a split second, to not have to put up with people telling them to move on or to get over it. I want that language to change, and Im going to do whatever I can to help make that happen. Even if it takes years. Or decades. Or forever. Because I believe it is THAT important, and I believe that the people we love who have died, deserve better. And so do we.

Here is my TEDx Talk. Please share the link like wildfire, until we learn to tell each other’s stories, forever. Thank you.

Collecting the Hurt

I figured something out this morning, about grief.

It is this …

Things that happen to you, after the loss of your person, that are painful,

hurt way more.

They hurt more than they did in the previous life.

The “before” life.

In this “after” life,

the one where my person is dead forever,

things that hurt,

hurt more.

They hurt deeper.

They feel more personal.

More tender.

Its like poking an open wound,

again and again,

and again.

So each time you open it,

and poke at it,

and let others poke at it,

inviting them in to see your wound,

and then jab at it,

the pain is worse,

and bigger,

and more intense,

than the last time.

And your insides,

become raw,

and broken,

and scarred,

and it hurts like hell,

and it burns like fire,

and it bleeds

from your skin,

and your heart.

By now, I have learned that grief changes. It changes and shifts and moves. It is always moving. All the time. Even when you are perfectly still and you don’t want to live life or breathe air, your grief is still moving within the stillness. Even when you are stagnant, your grief is plotting. Silently waiting and ready.

And here is what I discovered ……

At first, and for a very long time, after losing your person to death, it is all about the missing of them. It is about missing them intensely, and everything that comes with that. You just miss them like mad, and you want them back, and you cant ever understand why you cant have that. You fight against it, you rage, you whine, you barter, you beg, you question, you surrender, but never fully. You accept, but not really. For how can you accept something so inconceivable, so vicious? How can you accept your life and your heart and your universe, just vanishing into thin air?

You can’t. I can’t. I won’t.

There is a difference between knowing that its real, being forced to live inside the new reality – and accepting it. I live in this reality everyday. I know its real. But it will never be acceptable to me. It will never be okay with me, that my husband is dead forever. It just won’t.

So you come to a place where you make a decision to either open your heart up again, or not. For me, this happened about 2 years ago, when I let my very first “new person that isnt my husband” inside my heart. Formed a friendship. And since that time, in the past couple of years but especially this last year, I have been hurt again and again and again. Because I let that person into my heart. And then I let another person into my heart, and also into my bed. And then another. And all of those people that I had let in, turned into dust. Eventually. And in different ways. But the result was the same each time. Me being left behind. Me being left alone. Me being abandoned, and blindsided, and losing people that I thought cared about me. And having no say in the matter. No conversation about it. Much like my husband, they just disappeared into thin air. And that eats away at your insides. It hurts from a place deep within, where you begin to wonder if something is truly wrong with you, because all these people keep leaving. And all these people keep seeming to say some version of: “Youre not good enough.” Or, “I like you, but Im choosing this other person.” Or “you don’t deserve an explanation as to why I’m taking our connection away. You’ll just have to live with it.”

And so each time this happens, it feels like another death. It feels like someone has died, because they have taken away access to their life. They still exist in the world, but I am not allowed to speak words with them or laugh with them or be near them in any way. When someone you care about deeply, ignores you or cuts you off or shuts you out from their world like it’s nothing, it hurts with a pain so fierce. And when it happens a couple times in a row, it feels like your insides are on fire.

So, now, because you have opened your heart to new people, the grief starts to shift again. Now, after all of these people have hurt you, you begin to collect all of the hurt, and it piles up into heaviness. So now, Im not just missing my husband who is dead forever. Now, Im missing my husband who is dead forever, and Im also missing that person who I thought I would be friends with for life, and who I thought cared about me in a special way and would protect me and be my friend and look out for me. And I am also missing that other person, who I started to fall in love with, within a short but intense period of time, and who I felt such happiness with, and who felt like a new beginning. So now, when Im grieving and missing, I have all of these things and people to miss. And I miss them deeply. And it hurts. All of the collected hurt that sits inside of my skin – it aches and it dulls and it stabs.

So again, Im faced with a choice. Do I keep putting my heart out there, so I can collect more hurt and more pain and more people who will leave me behind or blindside me or not want my love for them or choose someone else that isnt me? Or do I close off my heart, and stop giving access to anyone in the future, so that I wont get hurt anymore.

This is why people shut off their hearts. This is why people decide to just exist and not really live. This is why people are terrified to love.

I dont want to be one of those people, who shuts off the world. I don’t want to be one of those people, who remains stuck on bitter and angry and alone. I don’t want to be lonely anymore. I don’t want to be alone anymore.

BUT ….

I don’t want to keep going all in, only to get my soul shattered. I don’t want to keep falsely believing that THIS might be the one, the person who actually does choose me, the person who looks at me and says “Yes. It’s you. It’s always been you.” I don’t want to keep telling my story to male suitors, hoping and praying they wont run away. Hoping that my life and my trauma and my grief and my pain, is not too much for them. I dont want to keep thinking that something is happening between me and this person, only for them to shut me out and turn me away with no thought. I just don’t want that anymore.

I have another first date on Sunday. And on past first dates, I was excited or at least anxious and nervous, in a good way, to go out and meet and discover somebody new. But now – after all the games and all the lies and all the things that I thought were one thing and turned out to be another – I can almost feel my heart shutting down. I can feel it happening.

I can feel myself not caring.

I can feel myself growing bitter and angry.

I can feel myself not being able to trust anyone.

I can feel all the walls going back up again.

I have collected too much hurt.

My collection is too large.

There are too many people I miss now,

whenever I start missing Don.

I miss the days when I just missed Don.

Now, I miss Don,

and then I miss that beautiful friend,

and I miss that new beginning,

and I miss the innocence of a first kiss,

or butterflies in your stomach,

before I knew,

that those butterflies,

would end in nothing.

Do I open or close my heart?

I want to open it.

I want to keep it open.

I want love to find me.

But how many times,

can a person be let down?

How many times,

can a person be blindsided?

How many times,

can a person,

not be the one,

for someone else?

How many times?

My hurt collection keeps growing,

there are too many people to miss.

Too many people that chose to walk away.

How do I not take that personally?

It hurts.

It aches and it stabs,

and it hurts.

And yet,

I keep choosing,

to collect more tries,

at love.

Just one more try.

Or maybe two.

Because just a chance,

at love,

is Everything.

I just want it to be my turn.

When is it going to be me?

Im tired of collecting hurt.

And really,

Im just tired.

So very tired.

Come find me, love.

Please don’t take too long.

Sewing My Widowed Oats

Okay.

So let’s just do it.

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about love and dating and sex.

Yeah, I said it.

Sex.

And widowhood.

Lets not forget widowhood.

I need to talk about this.

It’s time.

The first thing that I will say about this, is that each of us is completely different, when it comes to our feelings about love, dating, and sex – after becoming widowed. And often, those feelings change and shift, depending on our circumstances, or with the passing of time.

Some people start dating again right away. Other people wait a very long time. Some people choose not to date at all. Some of us use dating sites. Some of us meet people through friends, or by socializing and going out. Others leave it to chance or fate. All of us do these things in fear. All of us.

When it comes to love, some of us really want it again. Some of us don’t. Some of us might want it again, somewhere deep inside, but are too terrified or too heart-damaged to believe that it can happen. Some of us want to love again, but are so scared that our new love will end the same way our other one did – with them dying and us being left here to pick up the pieces. Again. Some people will close their hearts off forever, because they are so afraid of getting hurt. Some of us will open our hearts again and again, because we really don’t want to be alone for the rest of time. Some say they will love their person who died forever, and they will never love anyone else. Others say they will love their person forever, AND they would also like to love someone else. Some are doing a fragile dance, when it comes to love. A balancing act of shutting down and opening up. All of us are living and loving, or not loving, in fear. All of us.

When it comes to sex, everyone is different. Some can seperate sex from love, and enjoy the physical act of it. Some use sex just to feel something again – or to zone out from the pain of grief and feel nothing. Some find comfort in sex, because of the intimacy, the skin-to-skin touch with another human being. Some need to feel sexy or wanted or desired again.

Some of us turn off sex like a light switch, and don’t even think about it after our loss. Some of us feel sick to our stomachs or nauseous, at the very thought of anyone else who is not our dear husband, ever touching us again. Some seek out safe and fun “friends with benefits” situations, so they can have the intimacy without the worries of love creeping in. Some people don’t have sex or want sex again after their loss. Some people convince themselves they don’t need or want sex again after their loss. Some can practice “self love” and be content with that. Others have trouble doing that, because when they go there, they think about their husband, who is now dead, so it kind of kills the mood. Some people change their minds about sex, or their libidos want it eventually, even when their stubborn brain doesn’t. All of us are in fear. All of us.

Why do I feel the need to talk about all of this today, right now, in this moment? Because it’s time. Because I’m scared. Because Im lonely. Because I miss my husband every single moment. Because I know the reality that he is never coming back. Not ever. Because the fear of being alone forever, and never feeling great love again, is now greater than the fear of having my heart broken into tiny little piece that shatter into oblivion. Because humans need humans, and because nothing is worth much of anything, without love.

It will be 6 years this July, since my husband’s sudden death. Six years since the life I knew ended, and this uninvited one began. For almost four years after he died, I was one of those very people described above, who felt nauseous and sickened by the very idea of “someone else.” For four years, I did not date. I did not have sex. I did not have intimacy in any way. Self-love did nothing except make me depressed, because every time I tried, my heart would start thinking about being with my husband. The pain and the realness of him being dead, overwhelmed any “turned on” feelings, and I would stop. And then I would cry. For a long time, I didnt like it when anyone touched me. I hated being hugged. By friends, by family. By men. Im not sure why. It just made me feel sick. I wanted to be alone with the thoughts of my husband, and if I could no longer feel his hugs, then all hugs were nothing.

One day, for no real reason whatsoever, the nausea feeling I got from thinking of dating or “someone else,” turned into more of a neutral feeling. It was around that time that I began what turned into a beautiful friendship with a widower that used to know my husband, and contacted me after reading my blog. We got close. I felt connected. I felt a kinship and a bond with him. It felt like it was coming from my husband, like he wanted me to have this person in my life, so that we could help and support each other. I experienced my first “feelings” for someone – someone that wasn’t my husband. I had my first kiss. Held my first hand. Felt my first butterflies. Made my first mistakes. Did so many things wrong. Didnt know what I was doing.

Last summer, I had my very first relationship, post-loss. It was while still living in NY, and it was with another widower who I met on a dating site. We were together about 5 months or so, and he was my “first time” after my loss. Sleeping with a man, who wasnt my husband. I think it was made easier, and less weird, because he was also widowed, and understood the strangeness of sex for the first time after loss. This person ended up hurting me pretty badly, because I trusted him and he chose to throw that away and disrespect me in the way he ended things with us. My self-esteem took a hit, and my walls went back up, into protection mode.

Last month, I flew to Tampa for Camp Widow, and my heart was broken again, when I was blindsided by my dear widower friend not only refusing to see me again while I was in Florida, but by his non-response to my every attempt to contact him. This is the last time I will mention of him in my public writing, because even though he hasn’t spoken to me in months, I told him I would stop writing about him publicly, and so I will. I dont know what happened between us, why it fell apart. It breaks my heart into a billion pieces to speak of it, because I miss him every day. It feels like he is dead, because Im no longer allowed into his world. And I truly thought we were friends. I thought we were life-long friends. Im not giving up. I cant make him be my friend, but I can still have hope that he will reach out to me again, and that I can hear his voice, and sigh from the relief that I still know him. The ache in my heart from missing him, stabs with a dull pain, every day. I dont think that will ever go away.

When I returned from Tampa in mid-March, my heart was hurting. I had gone from talking with this person almost every single day, to nothing. And I didnt understand why. I still don’t. It just felt like yet another person who chose to leave me behind again. Another person who disappeared out of my life with no explanation, with me not having a say about it. I felt like I didnt matter enough to them, to deserve a conversation. It hurt. It still hurts. It will always, always hurt.

I got back on the dating sites, and soon after, met a great guy. We went on a couple dates, shared some really great moments, and have decided to keep things casual and always be friends. Soon after, I met another great guy. This time, everything happened fast, but it didn’t feel fast. It felt good. It felt right. We connected on many levels. We bonded over our different experiences in life with trauma and loss. He made me laugh. He brought me Easter lillies. We saw each other several times in just a few short weeks, because we simply loved spending time together. We had breakfast together at a mom and pop little local place, where everyone knew him. He cried in front of me while talking about his 2 sons being proud of him for a recent accomplishment. He lived on a farm. We kissed in a barn with donkeys and chickens watching. We kissed more on his couch in the dark. We got intimate, but not fully. But enough for me to care. Enough for me to feel very real feelings. I know he felt real feelings too.

He loved sunsets like I do. He made me feel safe, like my husband used to. He was a paramedic, just like my husband. The day his life changed forever and the day that my husband died, was the same day on the calendar. July 13th. There were so many signs that we were meant to connect with each other. I had never gotten closer with someone, in such a short period of time. We talked and texted all day long. We flirted and made each other feel good, all day long.

And then it was over. Just like that. He ended it with a text message, informing me that he was still in love with his ex-girlfriend, and that he was devoting all of his energy into a relationship with her. He wished me well in finding someone, and said I was a “good person.” Just 2 hours before that text, everything was normal. And then it was gone. It felt like a business letter. It felt like shit. I felt blindsided. Another death. Another person who brought me into their life, and then snatched away access. Another person who didnt choose me. Why do people keep leaving me? Why is my love either not enough, or too much? Why am I never the one?

Which brings me to today.

My heart has been shattered. Torn apart. Busted open and cracked and damaged.

Yet I still keep trying.

Because for me, I do not want to live a life with no more love.

I do not want to live a love-less life.

I do not want to live alone, or grow old alone, or die alone.

I want my next great love, and Im not stopping until I find it.

In the meantime, the heartbreak I went through in Tampa, led me to a new feeling. Its a feeling of courage. A feeling of taking risks, when it comes to men and dating. Its a feeling of “why the hell not?” The day before leaving Florida, I took a last minute boat tour of Tampa Bay. The co-captain on the boat was flirting with me, which I was completely unaware of, until my friends pointed it out. Upon learning of this, I went back and gave him my card. He called, admitted to the flirting, and we have been in touch ever since. He sends me pictures of the Florida sunsets, and we talk of maybe spending some time together the next time I make a trip down there. That wouldn’t have happened without my new brave attitude.

Lately, on the dating site I am using most often (Plenty of Fish), I have had an endless stream of men who are interested in meeting me, dating me, talking with me. Some are nice, others are weird, some are not for me, others might be. The point is, something has changed inside me, to where Im attracting people toward me. Im not sure what it is exactly, but it wasnt there before. Ive also been reaching out to guys on there, if I find them appealing or attractive. I never would have done that before, but now I figure, who the hell cares. What do I have to lose? Right now, Im talking with 2 potential future dates, and we will see what happens. Im trying like hell not to take anything too seriously, or too personally. Im trying to not get hurt, and the fact is, I will probably get hurt many more times. That’s life. Im terrified. Im lonely. Im ready.

And now, almost six years later, the same woman who didnt want anyone touching her or hugging her, is feeling incredibly sexual. (sorry, mom – if youre reading this) Maybe its the fact that I had zero intimacy for FIVE years after my husband died. That I waited five years before I slept with someone. Maybe its the fact that lately, I have had “some” intimacy, but it got stopped short for various reasons, before turning into intercourse level. Maybe its the fact that at age 45, my sex drive is through the roof, and I have nobody to share that with. I don’t know what it is, but I can tell you that while Im waiting for the next great love to appear in my life, Im having a lot of fun. It is not the kind of fun I ever wanted, because what I want, is for my husband to not be dead. But since thats never going to happen, there is a lighthearted and carefree release in flirting. Flirting and chatting and accepting words from men who want to call me sexy or beautiful, or who spend time talking with me online, or on a phone call, where we make each other feel really nice for awhile, and then continue on with our forever friendship. It is respectful, it is harmless, and it is very much necessary, when you have been starving for male companionship for so long.

A lot of this type of flirting, happens between widowed people. There is a special bond that exists between widowed men and women. Its a friendship, but its more than that. Its a deep understanding of all that is missing, when you lose your spouse or partner to death. The person who used to call you handsome or pretty. The person who used to cuddle with you. The person you said goodnight to, and good morning.

There are private, secret groups on social media, filled with widowed men and women. We talk. We flirt. Sometimes people find love with one another, and the rest of us cheer and applaud. But other times, men and women can provide some innocent flirtation in the middle of the night. Or some words of intimacy or comfort. I have many widower friends in this new life. Some are just friends. Others I have dated at some point, or maybe even just once. Some, I have an understanding with, that if we are both ever single at the same time, maybe we can spend some intimate time together, no strings attached. Some live in other parts of the country, and some live international. They are all special to me. They are like brothers, in a way. They are protective of me, they want good things for me. They know the pain. They know how hard it is to open your heart again. They know that not every non-widowed person understands the loneliness, the isolation, the judgment. They know, and so they become like anchors we can hold onto, until we find our way again. When one of us finds love, we send them off bitter sweetly, wishing for them, every good and beautiful thing.

I want to find love. Im here. Im ready. Im looking.

But until it finds me,

my heart has been damaged,

my wings are torn,

It hurts to fly.

There’s a lot of birds out there,

all trying to find their piece of the sky.

So until i find mine,

maybe I’ll just keep fluttering around,

and enjoying the view.

There’s really a lot of lovely birds up here.

The Duality of Widowhood

The definition of the word “duality” is as follows:

1. the quality or condition of being dual

2. an instance of opposition or contrast between two concepts or two aspects of something; a dualism. “the photographs capitalize on the dualities of lightness and dark, stillness and movement.”

I think it is more than safe to say that every widowed person understands the concept of duality. Maybe you didnt know the exact definition, or you weren’t sure what to call it, or it was maybe more subconscious than conscious in your own mind – but at just about every moment in time, some more elevated than others, widowed people are living and existing in a dual reality. The above definitions describe it perfectly. After all, what is grief and loss and widowhood, if not the duality of stillness and movement? Joy and pain? This life, and that other life?

When I started my blog 4 years ago about this tsunami of grief (I still refuse to call it a “journey”- it’s a tsunami, dammit!), there were many things I could have named it. My Husband Is Forever Dead came to mind. Or maybe Widowed at 39. Or lots of other things. But none of those fully encapsulated the concept and the very real truth that when your spouse or partner suddenly dies, you are not just losing and grieving a person. You haven’t “only” lost your husband to death. The truth is, while all loss is impossibly hard, the death of a partner or spouse is the only kind of death that literally affects EVERY SINGLE aspect of your life. There is no piece of your life that this loss does not touch or affect. Where/how you eat. Where you shop. Your living situation. Your finances. Your job. Your parenting (if you have kids). Your loss of the dream of a family (if you didnt get to have kids). Your friendships. (Some grow stronger. Some grow weaker. Lots disappear altogether. ) Your dreams. Goals. Desires. Your sex life. Love. Your daily habits. On and on and on …

When my partner died, I not only lost my husband, but I lost my best friend. My biggest fan and supporter in life. My teammate. My car and computer and everything-else repair-man. My kitty-cat co-parent. My lover. My home nurse who took care of me always. My “run to Wal-Mart at 2 am because my wife is out of printer ink and has a writing deadline in the morning” guy. My sounding board. My gentleman, who treated me with such kindness and respect. My helper. My resident dork who guaranteed that I laughed at his silly humor at least once a day, and who guaranteed that I always knew how he felt, and who called me beautiful at least once a day.

When you lose the person you thought you would spend the rest of your life with and grow old with, it is not just the loss of a person. It’s the loss of that life. Everything you planned. Your future that wont ever happen. Your past that now sits in only your memory bank. Memories that the two of you shared, and now there is noone to turn to and say: “Do you remember that time when we ….” Your day to day life, that was taken, stolen away by thieves. Everything. All of it. Gone, in one horrifying moment, when you know that his heart stopped beating, and that the life that you knew is no more. That is why my blog was appropriately titled: RIP The Life I Knew.

So, with a loss such as this, one that affects every fiber of your being forever, it becomes a part of you. They become a part of you. And there are moments, often actually, where the life you have right now and that other life, merge together on the strangest bumpy path, and you are left there to navigate. You are standing there, inside of it, and yet, none of it makes any sense. This is not a negative or a positive thing – most things aren’t. Its simply a thing that happens when the life you had and the life you have, begin to marry.

This feeling of duality begins to happen more and more, as time goes by, and as you begin to live your life instead of just existing. It happens right in those very moments of passionately living. It has happened to me quite a bit lately, and each time is no less strange or surprising than the last.

Having my first “time”, post-loss, (last July) and right in the middle of it, hearing my dead husband’s voice literally cheering me on and saying: “Yes! Good for you! You deserve this! Finally!”, in that hilarious way that he might teasingly say such a thing. And yet, somehow, being able to completely get lost in the feeling, 100%, and enjoy it’s every wonder.

Doing my TED talk last month, about my husband’s death, and about the power of sharing each other’s stories to keep the people we love alive, and knowing that my husband would be so damn proud of me in that moment. And then immediately wishing he were there to see my talk. And then realizing there wouldn’t BE a talk, if he wasn’t dead. And then crying in the backstage dressing room area, because he IS dead, and I just gave a talk on a big stage about him being dead. And then wishing he were there to give me my favorite yellow roses and lots of his amazing hugs. And then shaking my head in confusion, for the one hundred billionth time in the last 5 years, that Im really, actually, truly a widow, and that my husband really did collapse and die. That was a thing that actually happened. And then laughing at how ridiculous and all over the place the inside of my brain can be.

Last Sunday. Standing in the kitchen of my parent’s house, which is not the same kitchen and not the same house that they lived in 5 years ago, in that life where my husband wasn’t dead and where my parents still had their home in Groton of over 45 years. Standing there, in a daze, as if frozen, as my date rang our doorbell. Watching as my mom answered the door, because I was too paralyzed by my fog to handle that task, and invited him inside. Giving him an awkward hello with a half-glance in his direction, as I accepted the beautiful Easter lilies he brought for me. Somehow not comprehending that they were, in fact, for me, and not for some other confused widow. Retreating back to the corner of the kitchen, hiding myself without realizing it, as this man who I was meeting for the first time, and who was about to take me out on a lunch date, had a conversation with my parents. Hearing only snippets of that conversation, but also not hearing anything at all. Noticing that sounds and words were happening, but being stuck in that duality of this life/that life. Looking right through the three of them, and into the television set, while thinking to myself every bit of this:

“Who is this man standing here talking to my parents? How did I end up here, on a first date, at age 45, living with mom and dad in fucking Fitchburg, Massachusetts? Who lives in Fitchburg? Just a few years ago, my husband was talking to my mom and dad, and I was happily and newly married. How is this happening? Is this real? What are they talking about, anyway? I think I heard something about Cape Cod. That’s where we honeymooned. The best week of my life. This man in my kitchen seems familiar to me, and I cant figure out why. I feel like I have met him somewhere, somehow. Is that possible? Thats probably not possible. Maybe its just because he’s a fellow paramedic, like Don was. Why do you keep putting EMS guys in my life, Don? Whatever message youre trying to send me with that, I GET IT! You can stop now with the EMS theme. He seems to be getting along with my parents really nicely. How long have we been standing here? It feels like a long time. Should I say something? He seems really genuine and really sweet. I like him already. I feel like Don would like him too. I wish he could somehow know Don, or that Don could somehow meet him, and know that Im hanging out with a truly good guy today. Maybe he DOES know. Maybe he is the one who is making all this happen. I hope he knows. Im excited to spend time with this person. But Im also not going to get carried away in my head. Its just a date. Stop overthinking everything. Okay, my sweet dead husband, let’s do this. We can do this. Hopefully he won’t run away screaming after being held hostage by the shit that goes on in my brain. He’s cute. I feel myself smiling around him, even just on the phone or in text. Im going to shut up now, and try like hell to just be in the moment. ”

This life, and that life. Merging together, as if stuck in traffic and down to one lane. Co-existing in the same space. The past. The future. The now. Like my friend Michele says about widowed life: “Finding a way to blend what was, with what is, with what will be.” A tapestry. Chaotic and calm. Tranquil and stormy. Heartbreaking and joyous. Death and life.

Living the life I have now, and being excited and hopeful about it ….

While always acknowledging and honoring, and yes, always missing,

that life I used to know.

They can breathe together.

They can marinate.

Everything is connected.

The joy. The grief. The hurt. The death. The love.

All of it.

Together.

Sometimes, in the same, complex and wonderful second.

Ain’t life a beautiful thing?

Seaworthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I went outside.

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

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

And in those moments,

with the wind in my hair,

and the music sounding like a lullaby,

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

In that one moment,

for that one measure of time,

I was more than Enough.

I was Alive.

And I was Seaworthy.