Please Allow Me to Feel Like Shit

If there is one thing I have always known about myself, it is this: I need to be able to feel my feelings. Much like Madonna, I need to express myself. This is why I write, why I create, why I perform. All of these things are an expression of my thoughts, my feelings, my heart. Sometimes it comes out in the form of a stand-up comedy routine, or a silly Youtube video, or a short play, a poem, a song, or something much more fluid that you can’t really put a title on it. To me; the deepest thoughts that are inside of our souls are what make us who we are. To take those away from someone is just about the worst thing I can ever think of.

This is why I never got into drinking or doing drugs. Even 25 years ago, back in high school and college, I would drink now and then, but never anything crazy. While most of my friends were either getting high or making plans on the best way to “get wasted” on a Friday night, I was always the one who tagged along and stayed sober. I never saw the point in it. Most people act like complete assholes when they are drunk, and most people are complete bores when they are high. They are bores who are under the false impression that they are interesting. The few times I tried pot when I was younger; I felt paranoid, sick to my stomach, and just generally awful. The handful of times I drank too much in college; it made me super emotional, clingy, and sleepy. I never understood the purpose or the “fun” in going out with the specific intention of getting drunk. “Dude, we’re gonna get soooooo wasted, man!” is a sentence that confuses me and makes me roll my eyes like some out of touch grandmother.

But here is the real issue … I like to have control. When you drink or take drugs, you lose control. I do not like that feeling. To tell you the truth, the idea of not remembering something I did or said, or of not feeling like myself due to a chemically-induced evening, scares the shit out of me. There are so many things in life we cannot control. Like waking up one morning to your husband being dead. I had no control over that. It just happened. So why on earth would I want to give up the control over my own mind and body by pouring alcohol and chemicals into it? Why would I want my thoughts to be altered or numbed or just … gone? Some people want that. Some people want to escape the pain, and those people don’t understand that I need to feel whatever the hell I am going to feel. I need to feel like shit and laugh and cry and scream and punch the walls and write and tell jokes and curse profusely and bang my fists on my steering wheel and say goodnight to my dead husband and be exhausted and feel hopeless and want to die. It is the wanting to die and then getting through that, to see the next moment, that makes me feel alive. How can you ever feel joy again if you don’t feel the pain? How can you grieve if you are hiding your feelings in a bottle? You can’t. But everybody wants you to.

People are so quick and willing to push medication or alcohol on you when you are grieving. “Have a glass of wine”, people keep telling me. “It will take your mind off things, relax you.” No it wont. I hate wine. It is not relaxing. It gives me a splitting headache. “If you dont start feeling better soon, you should think about going on medication. Something to help level out your emotions.” No! I don’t want to level out anything. I want to feel it. Why are people so afraid of intense sadness? Why does everyone feel the need to put a timeline on my feelings and what’s inside my heart? Why are some people so terrified of total, brutal honesty? It has been suggested to me by some that perhaps I shouldn’t always post such gut-wrenching, sad thoughts or status updates on Facebook. Some have eluded to the idea that people don’t want to be reminded every two seconds of my loss. Other people worry about me when I post something “sad” publically; as if it’s somehow strange that I would be feeling an intense range of emotions after MY FUCKING HUSBAND DIED!!!!!!!

I don’t understand this thought process. I am not going to censor myself, or only post “positive” things. If I am feeling positive, I will say so. If I am feeling like shit, I will say that too. Let everyone else on earth continue to deal with grief in “steps” and “process” and “journey” and “paths.” That is not for me. For me, it is messy and confusing and horrible and inconceivable and like an elephant lying on your back. I haven’t read one book about grief, or seen one movie, or one anything, that totally gets it right, or that is 100% honest like I am. I will make it my job to be brutally honest about what this is really like. I am not going to sugarcoat it, or say only what people think I should say, or keep silent because it makes others uncomfortable. No. Fuck that. I’m sorry that you are uncomfortable for a few minutes out of your day. This is my life. My life is uncomfortable. I will not pretend otherwise because society thinks it’s better for me to just numb it or take a pill or have a drink because that is what makes them feel better. It will never be better. It will only be different. I am here to tell the truth. This will be the one book on earth that tells you the truth. If I dont tell the truth, why write anything at all? Why be alive?

Last night I saw a local NJ production of the rock musical Next to Normal. My friend Debra played the lead role of Diana, and she was absolutely brilliant. She has one of those singing voices where you just listen to her and start to tear up. Not because you are sad, but because the sound is that beautiful. Only a few voices make me tear up that way. Barbara Streisand. Burnadette Peters. And my friend Debra. The show won all kinds of Tony Awards on Broadway in 2009, and it’s about a wife and mother who is bipolar; and what happens when her son dies; and how it affects the entire family. She is sent to therapy immediately, and put on several drugs to help her cope. The play is very powerful, and poses the question “what is worse; the symptom or the cure?”, and “Who is the crazy one? The patient, or the doctors who keep shutting her off from her own feelings?” The only medication I have taken since this whole thing happened has been Tylenol PM, to help me sleep. I dont even like taking that, because it makes me so damn groggy that I dont feel like myself.

I will not medicate my emotions. I will not stuff them into a box or fit them into some timeline that other people find appropriate. I will just be me; because really; in the end; what else do I have left? If I lose myself and become a shell of nothingness; then there is no reason to be alive.

Please allow me to feel like shit, so that I can stay alive.

I’m In Love With a Dead Guy

Today is March 13, 2012, and it has been exactly nine months since my husband died. It’s been nine months since I have felt him hold me or touch me, or take his index finger, put it on the tip of my nose, and go “BEEP!” He really loved doing that, and it was so incredibly silly. We would pass each other on the way to the kitchen, and he would stop and go “Beep!” on my nose. It’s been nine long months since I’ve heard my husband speak words to me, or laugh with me, or start his sentences with: “You know …” while folding his arms across his chest. Nine months since he sat in his favorite chair while I would present him with various fun “prizes” like candy bars and toys. Nine months since he tapped his fingers on my arm or leg, to the beat of the music, while trying to learn a new guitar chord. Nine months since he put his key in the door while coming home from work, snuck in slowly so as not to fully wake me, and said out loud while pointing at each of us: “One kitty, two kitty, and a Boo. Everyone is safe.”

 For the past nine months, I have eaten meals alone. I’ve watched movies without pausing them every 10 minutes so we can give each other mini-reviews throughout: “You like it so far? Cuz I love it!” “Yeah! This is awesome!” For the past nine months, I have been to the grocery store and only bought foods that I like; avoiding the aisles that contained all of his favorites; telling myself not to look too long at the Special Dark Bars, or the Barq’s Root Beer, or you might cry. For nine months now, I haven’t been able to ask him his opinion, or get his advice, or his take on something I’ve been writing or performing or doing. For nine months, I’ve shut off the bedroom light with no fanfare, instead of racing my husband to be the first one into bed. He would usually beat me, and yell victoriously: “HA HA! I’m in bed first! I win! You have to shut the light! Ha Ha!” For nine months, I’ve been throwing my hair up in a wet ponytail after my shower, instead of Don gently towel-drying it for me while standing in front of me, humming some made-up song.

It’s hard to comprehend that it’s been nine months in this life. It feels like an eternity without him. Each day that goes by feels longer; like just another 24 hours that I dont get to spend with him. It also strikes me that nine months is the length of a typical pregnancy, and that in the time since my husband has died, another family member has been born. Our brand new niece; Jillian; came into the world on March 7th. After my mom called  to tell me she had been born, I hung up the phone and started crying. I felt so alone and so sad for Don; who would never get to meet this beautiful little girl. He will never get to meet anyone ever again. Jillian’s birth is one of the first, significant things that have taken place, completely in the span of time that Don hasn’t been here to know about it. Nine months is a long time. He doesn’t know a lot of things. He doesn’t know that our dear friend Rodney got married, and he didn’t get to see the unique and beautiful ceremony where Andrew married them. He missed Sarah’s 40th birthday party, and he doesn’t know that John is in college now, taking film courses; or that his best friend Rob got yet another promotion. He doesn’t know that a Comedy Benefit was put together in his honor, or that I went to New Orleans, or that Posada retired this year from baseball. My husband has no idea that I’m driving an entirely different car, or that my parents are living in a different town. Enough time has passed since his death, for me to write a play about my experience with grief; and to be performing it in the Network’s One-Act Play Festival. Don will never get to read my blog, or my book about him, or know all the things I am trying to do just to honor him and my love for him. He has missed so, so many things.

The more time that passes, the more that I miss him. I cannot believe how much I miss him. Sometimes I’m instantly struck by how much I ache for him, and I have to literally catch my breath and rejoin the world again. Other times, it’s the world that brings me to my knees with it’s constant reality in my face. The world always finds ways to twist the knife a little bit harder in cruel demonstration that he is never coming back. It has become more and more difficult to simply be with other people. Family, couples, friends, and even people just talking about their significant others in conversation. There are so many times when I think I’m doing okay one second, and then I’m suddenly not okay at all. Like last night; after watching Rodney’s acting debut in the Festival, and witnessing my friend; his now wife Sheri; come up and give him a quick little supportive kiss in the lobby after the show. It was no big deal – just one of those little things that married people do – and it instantly transported me to the numerous shows of mine where Don did the same thing. Knowing that the person you love most, your life-partner, is out there in that crowd smiling and proud of you while you’re onstage, is everything. Performing has become an entirely new experience for me now. I feel lost when I get off the stage, because there are no arms waiting to hug me. No lips waiting to kiss me and say: “You were amazing.” Nobody to whisper in my ear privately: “My Boo was the bestest one up there. You always slay everybody else.”

 It is these little, everyday things that are the worst and the saddest for me to deal with. On Sunday, I did my second play performance in the festival; and my mom, Aunt Debbie, and Nancy all came out from Massachusetts to see it. We stayed at a Marriott that night together, and the next morning, had a really nice relaxing breakfast in the hotel restaurant. We were sitting there talking for a long time, and the subject turned to a long discussion about my mom and dad, Aunt Debbie and Uncle Richard, and Nancy and Ron. They were each bringing up different issues; big and small; about their partners, their marriages. They talked about different quirks and habits their husband’s had, things that drive them crazy, things they have gone through together over the years inside the marriage. Suddenly; I felt so uncomfortable and out of place. I got that feeling again, like I wanted to run away and cry. I will never know what it’s like to be married to someone for 25 or 40 or 50 years; or to go through those mid-life changes with each other; to go through losing other people together. This scares me more than anything else – that when I have to lose people in my life, Don will not be here to help me get through it. I will not have my husband to lean on ever again, to get us through those times where everything seems wrong. There are some days where I don’t feel as if I can exist or function with normal, everyday people. Nobody is in my situation. Nobody in my everyday life knows what it’s like to deal with this.

Nine months is a long, long time. And then, when you think about it in terms of life, it’s not a long time at all. Nine months behind me; still a lifetime to go. When you marry someone; you just assume and hope and think that you’ll be together forever. You don’t think one of you will lose their life this way, this soon. And so when that happens, and you are left here on earth without that person that you vowed to be with for life, it is an extremely confusing time. Most people become widowed when they are old, and while it is still very sad to lose your spouse at any age, they dont have to face decades of a future without their love. This is why losing your spouse is so different than losing anyone else in your life. Everything you do and everything you are, is intertwined with that person. To lose them suddenly, is to throw you into mass chaos. Who am I now? What am I doing? Where do I fit? What does it all mean without someone to share it with? What is the point without love? I vowed to love this man until forever; until “death do us part.” But what if only one of you dies, and they die at age 46? Where does that leave the other? Just because he is dead, does not mean I love him any less. In fact, my love for him has never felt stronger and more alive than right now. My husband is gone, and I love him. I do not know how to stop loving him, and I don’t know that I would ever want to. But how do you continue life when you are in love with someone you can no longer be with? I wish I knew. My heart is stuck on forever, and I don’t know how to not love my husband. I am in love with a dead guy. Tell me – what am I supposed to do with that?

The Fog

Every single night since my husband’s death has been an adventure. Not the fun kind of adventure; like when you are on vacation and anxiously await what today will bring in the way of new and exciting activities. No. This is more like the: “what kind of hell am I facing on this night, as I simply try to get a few hours of sleep so I can perhaps function and be a human being in the world tomorrow?” type of adventure. The word FUN does not exist in this reality.

The very idea of going to sleep each night brings on anxiety, panic, and unease. There are just so many factors involved. If I have done a lot of intense crying that day; which normally is the case but not always; then I might want to take some kind of Excedrin or Advil for my horrible headaches that always follow the massive crying spurts. But then sometimes my back, shoulders, and entire body are aching so badly from doing things Im not used to doing yet; like lifting EVERY SINGLE THING I OWN from my car in the parking garage across the street; to my apartment on the 3rd floor; day after day after annoying goddamn day. Heavy bags of groceries, cat litter, lugguge from spending time at my parents place, boxes of Demo Products, my gigantic shoulder bag for teaching, the microphone stand and mic I bring for my stand-up comedy students; and on and on and on. All things that Don used to just automatically carry for me, always.

In addition to that, Im doing all the cleaning, all the car stuff, and basically anything and everything else that needs to be done or comes up. Although we both did quite a bit of “stuff” around the apartment, Don was always the “take care of things” guy. He did all the carrying of heavy things, all the fixing of things that broke, and all the killing of frightening bugs or other unidentifiable creatures. That is just what he did. I would panic – he would fix. Now I just panic. And ache. So if its been THAT kind of day; then I might need some sort of Ibuprofin pill to stop aching so much so that MAYBE I can get 3 hours of sleep that night. Of course; just falling asleep and then staying asleep is another terrible adventure in itself; as in; it rarely happens. So 90% of the time, I take two Tylenol PM to help get me to slumberland. This doesnt always guarantee I will get a good nights sleep, but it will, at the very least, knock me out for an initial 3 hours or so. After that, who the hell knows what will happen; but it almost always ends or begins with the clock somewhere around 4:30am, and Sammy the cat on my pillow, pawing and clawing on my face.

So, the anxiety and ease has already begun before even attempting to sleep. Which pill do I take? What is worse: my headache, or my not being tired enough to NOT be up thinking for hours? If I have to be up at 6am to teach the next morning; this anxiety is then magnified. Or should I take something for this pain that is in my shoulders, back, and arms? My arms are absolutely killing me. They feel like they are on fire. Its got to be from all the lifting of incredibly heavy bags, but of course, the very idea that they are always hurting or feel sort of numb then throws me into further panic mode; thinking: “Holy Shit! Am I having a heart attack? Am I going to die like he did?” This thought goes through my mind on a loop, every single day. It is awful. Then the second, immediate thought is always: “If I die, Im totally alone here in this apartment. Nobody will even know Im dead. It could be days, or a week, before anyone knows Im gone. I will just be lying here. Dead.” When you lose your husband in an instant the way I did, you end up with severe anxiety that the same thing can very well happen to you, or to anyone you love. You end up obsessing and thinking about death way more than you should, because you now have the harsh knowledge that it can all be over, for any of us, in a split second. There is no sense of comfort or peace anywhere in this “journey.” (Those who have been reading and following so far know how much I HATE it when this horrific life of grief is called a “journey.” Yuck.)

After finally deciding on my drug of choice for the evening, I usually climb into my bed, and that is where the real “adventure” begins. First of all; it’s our bed. OUR bed. So every night; I have to get in it, look over to his side, and see the nothingness. The empty pillow with nobody’s head on it. There are nights I lay there for minutes or hours; just picturing his face looking back at me; or remembering a specific night of us being intimate, or kissing, or holding hands, or just talking. Or laughing. We laughed a lot in bed at night. Im not sure why. I think in a lot of ways, lying there together was like our “silly time.” It was where we would really let go and just be immature and make each other crack up at stupid things that wouldnt ever be funny to anyone else. We would sing silly songs to each other, or to the kitties; and they would climb up on us and purr. Most nights; when Don and I were sleeping facing one another; Sammy would wedge himself right in between us; and he would lay there like a little person; this third head right smack in the middle of ours. It was pretty much the cutest thing on earth.Then Autumn would sleep right at my feet; and I would always end up kicking her by accident several thousand times during the night.

 I also remember that anytime we would go to my parents house for the weekend; which was a lot; mom and dad would give us their bedroom to sleep in; and dad would sleep downstairs while mom slept in the smaller bed next to their bedroom. There were so many mornings where mom would say to us in the kitchen: “What on earth were you two laughing about last night? I heard you laughing like hell in there for the longest time!” I don’t even know what we were laughing at most times, to be honest. We just really loved to laugh. Now; there is no more laughing while lying in bed. There is just me; trying like hell to get through the night; so I can get up tomorrow and try like hell to get through the day. So that I can maybe get through the night. To get through the …. you get the idea. It’s an exhausting and endless cycle.

Lying in bed most nights; many things happen. I start thinking. Then I think some more. Memories. His voice. His touch. His hands. Things that were said. Moments. The tears usually come pretty fast while trying to sleep. One of the cats will jump up on his pillow next to me; or sleep behind my head on my pillow. A lot of times, the very presence of the kitties sends me into emotional turmoil. I think about how much he loved them; how he took such good care of them; and how much they miss him being here. How he would brush their fur and their TEETH so patiently. Yes, he brushed their teeth. It was amazing to watch. Now; in my new reality; several times; I have held onto Sammy and cried into his fur; holding onto him for dear life. The strange thing is; he lets me. He knows. He will cuddle up to me and let me cry, or place his head on my arm or up against me while I’m a sobbing mess. Most nights; Autumn will lay at the foot of the bed, by my feet. She is a lot less cuddly than Sammy; but she has gotten a lot closer to me since Don died. She will come up and purr into my pillow, or give me a quick lick on my hand, then rub her face all over me. We all lay there together; mourning and asking why it’s just us. I talk to them. I feel like a crazy person; like what everyone thinks a stereotypical “widow” is; but I talk to them. I might say: “You miss Boo Bear too, don’t you? I know, honey. I know you miss him too. I miss him so much.”

Sometimes I see Sammy on Don’s pillow, and he is looking at me with his huge, beautiful eyes, and Its like Im trying to see my husband through his eyes. It sounds nuts, because it IS nuts. But it’s what Im left with, and its what I do. I will look at Sammy and say: “Boo Bear? Are you in there, Boo?” Then Ill start laughing at how ridiculous I sound. As Don would have said: “You’re not all there, Boo. You’ve finally lost it.” We weren’t much on religion or Heaven or any of those things, but Don believed, or HOPED, that when it was his time, he would be with his kitties Isabelle and Ginger again somehow. He also believed that if there was a God; or whatever God was; that animals had the closest access. He believed that animals knew more than humans did; that they were on a different playing field somehow to that other world. Sometimes I feel him, or try to, through our pets. We lie there together with the TV on all night; for noise. I cannot stand the silence that comes with being alone. I need to keep the TV on, so I can trick myself into thinking Im not alone here forever. I hear noises. The realities of being a female alone in her apartment and vulnerable, hit hard late at night. I don’t feel safe. There are thoughts that go through my head each night; especially when the TV is off and there is darkness. It is a terrrible, unsafe feeling.

 And then, there are the nightmares. Every single night; I have some kind of dream. Most nights; I have several dreams; one right after the other. The most common one that I’ve had over and over again; is where I either re-live the morning he died, or make up some other version of it in my sleep, and then re-live that. Sometimes the nightmare is the actuality of waking up to the ringing phone, rushing to the hospital, being told he is gone, the utter shock. Seeing his body and talking to him, not knowing what I was supposed to say. Other times; the nightmare is coming from his viewpoint. Since I wasnt there when he had his heart-attack and can only go on what his co-workers tell me of that morning, my mind makes up the worst, most chilling scenarios, and plays them back to me while I sleep. I picture him lying there, collapsed, on a cold Petsmart floor. In reality; I am told he was there for a couple minutes at most before they saw him and called for help; but my nightmares have him lying there for ten, twenty minutes; begging for help. Nobody coming to help him. He reaches for his cell phone to call 911, or me, and he cant get to it before becoming unconscious. Or he is in and out of consciousness; and aware that he is going to die. He is scared. He wants to live. He wants to see me, see his kitties. I picture the ambulance ride to the hospital. Was he coherant? Did he know what was happening? Did he know the tables were turned, and he wasn’t driving the ambulance this time, but the one lying on the stretcher? WAS HE SCARED? I don’t know how Im expected to sleep with these kinds of thoughts inside my head. If I don’t get any sleep, I am exhausted the next day and can barely function. If I DO get some sleep, I have so many disturbing dreams, that I wake up exhausted from them and can barely function. Its an endless, ridiculous cycle.

The dreams that seem sweet at the time are almost worse, though. There have been many dreams that seem pleasant and beautiful. One night I had a vivid dream that I was pregnant; and it wasnt planned; and in the dream, I was telling Don the news, and he took me in his arms and jumped up and down with me, saying: “Wow! What a wonderful surprise, Boo! I’m gonna be a dad? This is so cool!” Another one Ive had often, is that I get the call from the hospital that morning, but instead of saying “We have your husband”, they say: “We have your husband. He had a minor heart attack, but he’s fine. He’s going to make it.” He gets a second chance, like so many others have. He gets to live, and I get to see him, and my world isn’t turned upside down in an instant. I have also had several dreams where Don and I are going through the process of adopting a child; something that we talked about doing many, many times. In these dreams; he gets to be the incredible father that he himself never got to have. He gets to finally be the dad that I know for a fact he would have been. The very thought of him never having that chance, and of me having to let go and mourn the idea of having a family with my husband, brings me to tears everyday. To be faced with families everywhere in the real world is bad enough – to dream about it all the time is awful. These dreams are unbearable, because you wake up happy and giddy for a few seconds; believing that what you just dreamt is the reality. Then you slowly realize it was just a dream. There is no baby. There will never be a baby. No child to give a family to. No family. Oh, and by the way, your husband didn’t make it. He died. It hits you like a ton of bricks and you cry for an hour sometimes before you can pull yourself up. And you have to pull yourself up. Employers don’t understand “I had a terrible dream” as an excuse to call out of your teaching duties.

There have been times where I’ve told people of these dreams; and they always say the same thing whenever I report dreaming about Don. “It was a visit. He was visiting you.” This drives me nuts. So far; there has only been ONE dream where I FELT like it could have been Don “visiting” me, or his spirit, or whatever it is you believe or want to call it. That was the dream that I referred to as “Eleven”; where we had sweet, very realistic dialogue, and I could FEEL his hug on me. That dream was so powerful physically and emotionally, that it affected me for days afterwards. I felt like I needed 2 days off just to recover from the intensity of that dream. As far as all the other dreams; they are just dreams, and most of them are not at all comforting. They are my mind and my heart, remembering. Wishing things were different. Wanting to bring him back.

The other night, I had a dream that was very basic. It was just me and Don, sitting at a Yankee game. We were enjoying a baseball game, the way we used to. Two people told me that dream was him “visiting me.” No it wasn’t. It was me wanting to be at a baseball game with my husband, and hang out with him again. It was me missing him. My mind never stops. The dreams never stop. The only thing worse than trying to get through the day, is trying to get through the night. It hurts to be awake, and it hurts to be asleep. Everything in between is a fog. Will there ever be any peace?