Here Comes the Rain Again

Sometimes, the process and the pain and the intense emotions involved with grieving can take years – with no end in sight even – to merely get through. And sometimes, you are placed in multiple situations over the course of a beautiful, meaningful, complex weekend that force you to face your grief head on, whether you are ready or not. That is what happened to me this past weekend.Parallels. Memories. Flashbacks. Signs. Big huge signs wrapped up in an airport, a lake, a park, an incredible gay wedding, a sudden rainstorm, and much, much more. These are the things that my late husband Don sent to me – and sent to his nephew, Mark. At least, that is what I believe. No. That is what I felt.

It all started with Facebook. I’m going to blame Facebook, because my husband hated Facebook, so he would have been the first one to blame the site for causing this rollercoaster ride of emotions that has been jumbled inside my screwed-up head for the past 3 days. A few years ago, at my continued request and because he wanted to reconnect with an old high-school buddy from California, Don joined Facebook. He hated it. He rarely posted anything, and whenever he did, it was something sarcastic like: “Well here is my once a month status update. Can I go now?” He never did find his friend from high-school, but he did re-connect with his nephew Mark, who he had lost touch with over the years that they both became adults. Mark was now in his 30’s and living in Ohio. Connecting with Mark was sort of a big deal, because Don’s family was and is very strange. It’s a weird dynamic. They aren’t particularly close, hardly anyone keeps in touch or communicates, and there is a lifetime of severe dysfunction that nobody seems to want to cut through or acknowledge, ever. Don was really happy to find Mark on Facebook. I remember him telling me: “He’s just a great guy. Always liked him so much. You would love him, Boo. You two should meet, you would love each other.” The three of us stayed connected via Facebook, talking and laughing and sharing pictures and comments and exchanges.

Don’s Facebook Profile Pic (from our Cape Cod honeymoon suite)

And then, one day, out of nowhere, my husband was gone. Dead. Just like that. When I posted the news on Facebook shortly after I found out myself, Mark was the first person from Don’s family to contact me. I dont recall what he said on the phone that day, because it’s all a blur and always will be. But I do remember that I was instantly comforted by his voice, his presence, his being. The same way I always felt with Don. Safe. Loved.

Over the next few months and as time passed, Mark continued to reach out to me. Beyond the funeral and the first week or so, nobody else in Don’s family kept in touch with me or stayed in contact. But Mark did, and it meant everything. I desperately needed something to hold onto – a branch to grab. Something or someone that was somehow connected to Don by blood, because we never got to have kids together, so I didnt have that person to look to and say: “He is sooo much like my husband”, or “he really has his eyes”. And when you lose your spouse in a split second, you need to have that connection. An extension of the one you love – breathing and alive. And there it was, in this incredibly sweet man named Mark Exlos. Don’s nephew. My nephew. As time went on, I started to feel strongly that Don really wanted me and Mark to connect, and that we were forming a bond by phone and emails, having never met in person, because he planned it somehow, and he wished it. He told me so that day he signed onto Facebook. He told me that I would love his nephew. He was right.

But what my husband couldn’t have known is how much knowing Mark would help me. How much Mark would not only be a link to Don for me, but also someone who could truly understand what Im going through. Ironically enough, Mark himself, years earlier, had also lost his love. The same way. He had a sudden heart-attack while they were pumping gas at a Gas Station. So when we would talk on the phone and he would tell me: “Sweetie, I know that right now it feels like you will never be able to breathe again … I know …” , he really did know. And he was one of the very lucky ones, because he found that love again with another amazing man, and on Valentines Day 2012, he became engaged to his new fiance Russ.

Parallels. Memories. Flashbacks. Signs. They are everywhere.

One night a couple months ago, Mark and I were talking on the phone, and he said that “we are family, and Russ and I would love it if you would come to our wedding. I would love to meet you finally.” Wedding? But wouldnt that be in Ohio, where you live, I asked? “No honey. Gay marriage isn’t legal there. We are coming to New York City. Central Park.”

My heart skipped, or stopped. Or something. Of all the places where they could be getting married, it would be in NYC. Where I am. And of all the places in NYC they could have chosen, they chose Central Park, which was my husband’s absolute favorite place in all of New York. As a couple, we absolutely loved going there together. We would hang out at the tennis courts and watch people play. We would sit in the bleachers and watch random softball or baseball games. We went to Strawberry Fields. Sat on The Great Lawn and watched a free summer Jazz concert. Ate ice-cream and drank lemonade from the vendors. But our very favorite thing to do in the park was to rent out one of the rowboats on the Great Lake, and paddle all around for an hour or two. Don would row me around, and I would sit. It was romantic and sweet and offered the most gorgeous view of the city high-rises from the center of the water. One of my plans, inside my head, has been to row a boat out there soon and scatter some of his ashes in the lake. Except I havent been able to make myself go back to Central Park at all since he died last year. Until this past weekend. There was a very important wedding I needed to be at, and nothing was going to stop me from meeting this sweet, wonderful man. “Yes!” I told him. “I would love to come to your wedding. There is nowhere I would rather be.”

So this weekend, I went to my very first ever gay wedding. I also met my nephew for the first time. And as it turned out, there were many more unexpected “firsts”, parallels, memories, flashbacks, and signs along the way. Mark and Russ flew into JFK airport, which is in Queens, NY. Two weeks ago, I lived in NJ. Now, I live in Queens, a mere 10 minute drive from the airport, meaning I could pick them up. The airport happens to be the exact same airport where I met my husband for the first time ever – just a few short months after 9/11. Until then, we were having an undefined, 3-year, long-distance “something.” After he couldn’t reach me on the phone on that horrible day trying to call from Florida over and over, he said defiantly: “That’s it. I’m coming out there to meet you. We have to take this to the next level so I can move out there and actually BE with you. I can’t be worrying about you like this. It’s making me nuts.”

This was seconds after I stopped crying. Meeting Mark for the first time. JFK Airport.

Have you ever had a moment in life that seems almost identical to another previous moment you’ve had? There was a whole lot of that going on over the past 2 days. I drove to JFK and waited in the downstairs designated area. Baggage Claim. Before 9/11, you used to be able to go all the way up to the Gate, and wait just outside the doors there. After 9/11, they changed all the airport security in NY, and you could no longer do that. You now had to wait in Baggage Claim. Don wasnt familiar with this rule when he flew here, and he had never been to NY before. So that day when he flew out to me, I was waiting in Baggage Claim, and he was waiting just outside his Gate. We couldnt reach each other because our cell phones had no reception, and we were both panicked, thinking that the other one had blown them off or not shown up. Finally – I stopped a passenger that was going into the gate for a flight, and I begged them to please pass on the message to a very tall man they might see there, that he needed to come down to Baggage Claim, because they wouldnt let me up. A short while later, I saw my future husband walking toward me, through the double doors and onto the other side. Into my arms. We both cried from the sheer relief of finally meeting one another, and out of sheer frustration in thinking we had just been stood up. Don was wearing a dark blue t-shirt, and he was so tall and huggable. I wanted to hug him forever. “Hi Sweetie”, he said. “It’s so great to finally meet you.”

I stood there at JFK Friday morning, waiting for my nephew to come through those exact same doors that Don came through all those years ago. And again, there was a long delay. I felt the same kind of nervousness that I had felt meeting Don that day. I waited. I paced. And then – suddenly walking toward me, was a very tall, huggable, sweet man. A man in a blue t-shirt. A man that resembled Don. He has some of his eyes, a lot of his body frame, and similar features. As he got closer, my heart flashed back to hugging Don and never wanting to let go. As Mark gave me a huge, neverending hug, he said: “Hi Sweetie. It’s so great to finally meet you.” But this time, I was the only one crying. I couldnt stop. There I was. Hugging Mark. Hugging Don.

Saturday. Wedding Day. The air felt different. Lighter. From the second I woke up, I felt like something was on my side that day. People were being extra nice to me. Saying hello. Holding doors. Going the extra mile. It was as if my husband knew how hard and emotional this wedding was going to be for me, and he was doing everything in his power to show me he is here, and he is making things a tiny bit easier. I got dressed up and got on the subway to go into the city. About 4 stops in, a tall man in a blue EMT uniform gets on. He is with a woman who is also an EMT. They work for a NYC hospital, and their uniforms are strikingly similar to the one my husband wore. They sit down across from me. The woman puts on her iPod and listens to music, ignoring the man. The man looks at me gently, as if he somehow understands. I try to look away, but I cannot. I keep running my fingers over the green heart necklace my husband bought me. I feel safe. A few stops later, they get up to exit the subway. As he is leaving, he looks into my face and nobody else’s and says simply: “It will be a good day.” He winks at me and at nobody else, smiles, and leaves the subway car.

The ceremony, right against The Great Lake, Central Park.

I meet Mark, Russ, Mark’s very sweet sister Cathy, and about 7 other incredibly warm and friendly friends and family members of the groom and groom at their hotel, and we all walk over to the park to catch up with the officiant who will perform the wedding ceremony. It is gorgeous outside. A bit warm. Near 80 degrees, which is warm for the first day of fall. There were warnings on the news of afternoon showers, but the skies were sunny and nice. As the officiant walks us all over to the area outside where the ceremony will be, I notice we are getting closer and closer to the Great Lake. I start to see all the happy couples in love, rowing their boats in the lake where Don and I rowed every single fall for years. We literally stop at the exact spot where we used to rent out the boats, and there is a pavillion there, where the intimate and beautiful ceremony is being held. Of all the many, many places inside of this ginormous park, the ceremony will be held right at this lake. Our spot. Our favorite spot. Don is here.

 

 

Rings

 

My heart is beating outside my chest. As the officiant begins speaking his words to start the ceremony, I listen intently. Then I don’t. It’s too much. At one point he says something about how life’s moments are so much more meaningful when you can share them with the one you love. I feel myself shaking. It takes everything inside me not to cry right there. I try to breathe through it, and I hear Don’s voice in my head. He says: “Look at the lake, Boo. Think about us rowing around in the lake and laughing. I love you.” I watch Mark’s face, and the smile in his eyes is the same as Don’s was on our wedding day. The love in the air and inside everyone witnessing this union is so big. It is so big I feel as if my heart will explode. I focus on Don’s voice. “I’m right here”, he says. “Look at our lake. You can do this.”

Our vows

After the ceremony and pictures and things, I am very close to breaking down. The emotions are just too much, but Im trying to hold it together. Mark notices this and comes up to me, asking if Im okay. I say yes, but I mean no. He gives me a long hug and says in the most calming voice as I cry into his shoulder: “He is with us. He is here right now and he is with you always. Always. Don’t you ever forget that.” So many people have said things like that to me that were very similar – but in that moment, from that person, on that day – it was comforting and I needed to hear it.

The rest of the day was spent walking up 5th Avenue and seeing the popular sites of the city – Trump Towers, St. Patricks Cathedral, Radio City. Since I live here, it just sort of naturally happened that I was kind of “leading” everyone around as we walked. They followed me, so I led. And as I walked up 5th Avenue, pointing out all the different stores and places of interest, I suddenly recalled holding hands with Don and walking up 5th Avenue that first day that we met and I picked him up at the airport. After making him lunch at my apartment, we went into the city all day long and did the same touristy walk I was now doing with his family. There is no weirder feeling in the world than being with your husband’s family members, in the absence of your dead husband. It is bizarre and heartbreaking on so many levels, and sometimes, while being with them this weekend, it would hit me over the head without warning. The unfairness of it all. Why couldnt we make time to get to know these people when he was still alive? Why does he have to be dead in order for this to occur?

Walking around NYC during Christmastime

 

We walk by Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center. It is warm outside and there is no Christmas Tree up just yet, but it doesnt matter. It still brings me right back as if it was just a second ago. Don’s marriage proposal. It was right there, at the base of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. It was 25 degrees outside. December 18, 2005. He was acting so weird and his hands were all shaky. It was freezing. He had earmuffs on, and I had on a scarf and mittens. He got down on the concrete in the freezing cold and asked me to be his wife. Hundreds of tourists and people surrounded us and started clapping. My fingers were frozen and I couldnt put the ring on. We kept laughing and crying simultaneously. It was so cold, my tears were stuck to my face. We passed our phones back and forth calling our friends and family with the amazing news. I remember we kept kissing each other. Quick, little kisses. Over and over. And in that moment, that incredibly thrilling moment – maybe there was someone there who was like I am now. Widowed. Lonely. Pissed off. Hurt. Maybe she hated us for our happiness, in the same way I often hate perfectly innocent people, simply because they get to have more time together with the one they love. Pain sucks, and its hard sometimes to be logical.

I did not go anywhere near that damn Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree last year. My first Christmas without him. I did everything in my power to ignore the whole damn city last Christmas. Holidays were my enemy. Still are. So, Mark’s wedding put me on the path back to the place where our tree is. Where it will be again in a few short months. Where other joyous couples will become newly engaged. There is nothing quite like that feeling of becoming engaged. You feel invincible, like your love can conquer all. Never in a million years do you think about death, or the possibility of it. Now? Everything I see has death attached to it. Once you have seen death, you can no longer ignore it. It’s there, and it’s coming. It’s just a matter of when. But nobody wants to think about those things when standing in front of a giant Christmas Tree in NYC.

Auntie Kelley and Mark. Russian Tea Room.

 

Later that evening, we had dinner at The Russian Tea Room. It was there that Don decided to say hello again and sort of remind me that he is still “around.” As we walked into the restaurant and were being seated, one of the servers recognized me and called out my name. Her name was Janine, and we were both Theatre Majors together in college, but she left after the first year. We got to talking, and she asked me, out of nowhere, if I am a paramedic. “No, but my husband was.” “Oh, well I saw you and your husband a couple years ago walking in West New York. He was in his uniform and you were holding hands.” Turns out she lives in West New York, the very small town in NJ that I just left two weeks ago, after living there for 7 years with Don, and 12 years total. The fact that I ran into this girl in the first place , that she lives where we lived for years, and that she SAW us two years ago walking together, was all a bit too much for coincidence. I thought about the EMT on the subway, and how he winked at me and smiled with zero creepyness. I dont know what was going on here, but it felt like one overlapping hug from the universe.

Modern Crazy Family

The gang from Ohio wanted to see Times Square all lit up at night. So we walked towards it, and then through it. It was a beautiful day that had turned into a beautiful night. Slight breeze. Clear sky. As I walked along with Mark, he said suddenly: “Oh, I just felt a raindrop.” I replied that I had been getting signs from Don all day, but if it started pouring on us right now in the middle of Times Square, that would be a downright guarantee that he is right here with us. Why? Because on October 27, 2006, our wedding day, the weather was beautiful and clear. No rain. Gorgeous. Our reception ended around 11pm at night. I will never forget leaving The San Souci in Sea Cliff – and walking to our own car to drive ourselves to the hotel. We thought a limousine was a dumb thing to waste money on, so we drove our own damn selves to our hotel, him still in his tux and me in my wedding gown. As we were walking out to the car, suddenly there was a roar of thunder. Loud. Seconds later – lightning. And then, the sky opened up in a fierce way, and the biggest torrential downpour you could imagine came out of nowhere. Fast. Don and I laughed hard as we got completely soaked, and it continued raining and storming like that overnight and into the next morning. Our wedding day was beautiful. Our wedding night was a monsoon.

Times Square as it starts to rain

Walking through Times Square, Mark and I looked at each other knowingly as a loud rumble of thunder came from the sky’s voice. Then, the most amazing and wonderful pouring, driving rain fell from above. We all huddled and stood underneath one of the many marquees in the city. “I can’t believe this”, I said to Mark, laughing. “It’s JUST like our wedding night. And now he’s sending you one on your wedding night too. We are all together. This is amazing. He sent us a monster rainstorm.” “He sure did”, said Mark as we both looked up into the night sky.

As I said my goodbye’s to everyone, I felt the rush of tears coming. I wouldnt be able to hold back much longer. Yes, I had cried and broken down a couple times during the day of emotional events for me, but I was always keeping it at bay. Crying was one thing, but the last thing I wanted to do was ruin Mark’s wedding day by turning it into a sob-fest funeral. So I tried like hell to control myself, keep it together. But now was my time. I saved my last big hug for Mark, because I knew it would start the emotional wave for me. And as I walked away from the group, letting the rain fall onto my clothes and skin and face and not caring one single bit, I heard Mark call out from a block or two away, really loudly and sweetly: “I love you!”

Standing under marquee to keep dry

I love you. He said “I love you.” I stopped in my tracks in the middle of Times Square. In the middle of NYC. In the middle of the pouring down rain. My heart was instantly transported back to the end of that first week I had finally met Don in person. We were back at the airport, and it was time for him to go back to Florida. At that point in our relationship, our long-distance “something” was strong enough for me, but Don had not yet quite figured out his feelings for me, because we hadn’t met yet. I knew I was in love with him before meeting him, but it was never said out loud. Not yet. But on that day, at the end of our amazing week together in NYC, we held each other and cried. I will never forget letting him go and letting him get on that plane, and how I wanted to stay like that, holding him, forever. And as he started to walk away from me, and I was just out of reach, he said those three powerful, incredible words. For the first time. “I love you.”

And for the first time all weekend – I walked in that pouring rain, and I let each drop of water mix in with my tears. The rain and I cried together. We laughed and we cried. We cried hard, and we didnt stop. Walking and crying. It just kept coming. Endless buckets. From the sky, from my eyes, from the deepest part of inside my heart.

Cried my soul out in the middle of Times Square. It was NYC. Nobody cared.

It was absolutely wonderful.

Widow – Party of Four

I’m supposed to be happier. I’m supposed to be getting “better.” I should be “grateful” for having such a great love in my life in the first place. Some people never experience such a love, you know. I was very lucky to end up in such a nice, new living situation – with a wonderful, genuine, new roommate. I need to be thankful.

At least – this is what everybody keeps telling me. Or implying to me. Or saying to me with their judgemental, no clue what they’re talking about because they haven’t ever lost a spouse, eyes.

So why the hell do I feel so sad? Ever since moving to my lovely, amazing apartment in the sky in Forest Hills, I feel this wave of nausea over me, like something desperately needs to get out. It feels like I will burst into tears at any second. But I never do. Don’t get me wrong. I was sad as hell in my old apartment in New Jersey. I was surrounded by our past, by “stuff”, and I felt like I was suffocating. Choking. I was miserable. But there was a certain, sick comfort in that horrible misery, because I was living in the place where my husband and I shared our life together. We ate there. Slept. Kissed. Napped. Laughed. Cooked. Had Christmas parties and get-togethers. Brought adopted, rescued kitties home. Cried and grieved over those kitties when they died. Tried again. Brought more pets home. Loved them deeply. Had talks about having children. Had minor arguments and discussions about what our future would hold, where we would live, would we ever have a family? We were a team in that apartment. We lived a life in that apartment. We had dreams in that apartment. We wanted out of that apartment. We breathed air in that apartment. It was dusty, unclean air – and it was an overcrowded, cramped, ancient, pain-in-the-ass place to live. But it was our pain-in-the-ass place, and it meant something to us. Sometimes, it meant everything.

Me with my “teammate”

Living in that apartment for the past 14 months since Don’s death, I have been overwhelmed and consumed by piles. Piles of our past. Piles of migraine-inducing emotions that left me heavy at night and unable to sleep. Piles of unpaid bills, unplayed guitars, unrealized dreams. Part of me didn’t want to ever leave. But I had to. If I didn’t, that apartment would have killed me. My spirit and my will to keep going would be gone. Too many ghosts in the corners. Too much dust had piled up. There were so many piles of our “stuff”, that there wasn’t any room in there to grow. If I had remained there any longer, I would have emotionally exploded from too much pain.

This new apartment brings with it a new kind of pain. It is different than what I felt before, but it is just as harsh and just as stabbing. Sometimes it feels worse because I feel guilty for feeling it at all. This is the neighborhood I wanted to live in. There is a beautiful sunset and a crazy-good view of NYC shining in lights at night from my bedroom window. The people here are friendly and say hello. My commute to work has been cut in half, and my stress levels are down some. My roommate is a wonderful human-being who cares about me and my kitties. Life feels lighter, and I can feel the breeze now. I am no longer suffocating in piles. And yet …  I just want to cry. I just want to fall into a ball of fetal position, curl up forever, and cry.

I want to cry because my husband cannot see the glorious sunset. He cannot eat cupcakes with me at Martha’s Bakery on Austin Street. He can’t have a great burger at Bareburger, or get a beer and watch the Yankee game. My husband cannot see how happy our kitties are here, or how hard I’m trying to love them in the same, incredible, selfless way that he did. Can he see me brushing them? Can he hear me talking to them and telling them how much we miss him? Does he laugh when I sing our silly songs to them and annoy them? I don’t know. People say that he can feel these kinds of things, and maybe he can. But I don’t know. And even if he can feel them and see them and hear them, it’s not enough. It’s just not fucking fair and it’s not enough for me. I want to touch him. I want to hold his hand and look at that sunset together. I want to take long walks in my new neighborhood with him, and talk about how we finally made it out of that crappy Jersey place. I want to make dinners in this awesome kitchen, and sit at the dining room table with our friends and play board games and mock life. I want to make him all his favorites like chicken parmesan and Swedish meatballs and Shepherd’s Pie. I want him to be here, dammit! And it sucks that he isn’t. I don’t want to be alone. I was alone for decades before I met him. I struggled and paid bills alone and carried my own damn groceries and luggage and everything – alone before I met him. I got married so I wouldnt have to be alone ever again. So I could be part of a team. The best team in the world. Marriage. It’s not fair that he only got to be around for the struggling parts of our life. And it’s not fair that my teammate is just gone. He is gone and this place is beautiful and I just want to cry.

In our old Jersey neighborhood, there was nowhere to really walk to, no real life in the streets aside from a random little pharmacy or store here and there – so for the past year or so, I sat home a lot at night. Inside. Alone. In my new home, however, life is all around me. People are everywhere. They walk their dogs and they buy fresh fruit at the Farmer’s Market and they laugh as they stroll along the crowded streets that are filled with stores and cafes and bars. When I am busy with friends and I have plans, things are much more tolerable. The grief gets pushed down or at least distracted enough by good conversation, jokes, banter, fun. It is all that time in between working and having plans, that makes me want to jump out my 21-story window due to extreme loneliness and pounding pain.

Weekends. One of the many examples of “things I used to love that I now dread.” Friday nights are all about couples. Dating. Love. Saturdays and Sundays are made for families. Kids. Relaxation. Movies. Beaches. Malls. Time spent with those you share a home with, a life with. This weekend my roommate went away with some friends, and I was here alone for the first time. I had asked a bunch of people if anyone had plans, but it seemed as if everyone was busy. On Friday night I was sitting here at the computer, looking at Facebook to kill some time. My screen was filled with people talking about their wedding anniversaries, summer vacations, kids birthday parties, marriage issues, and general family life things. I couldn’t look at it for one more second. The words “Happy Anniversary!” sting in my chest, even in type. Sometimes it’s simply too much to cope with, and I have to just get away from everyone’s happiness and joy for awhile. 

The Yankee game was on, and I started to watch it here in my room, when suddenly it felt extremely depressing to be watching a Yankee game alone in my room. So I went out. Walked around the neighborhood. Figured maybe sitting in a Sports Pub watching a Yankee game with other humans was a bit less pathetic than being alone.

Don looking over Yankee Stadium

I was so very wrong. From the second I left the safe, cozy, bubble of my apartment and entered into the world of humans outside – love attacked me and snuck up on me along every corner. Life was everywhere. Relationships. New ones. Old ones. Good ones and bad ones. Couples on first or second dates, having awkward conversations. Having no conversations. Making out and making plans and making “I want you now” eyes at one another.  As I turned onto 72nd Avenue, a young male gay couple was lost in each other’s pupils. A block away, an obvious husband and wife well into their 80’s walked side by side extremely slowly in their matching walkers. Seconds later, I was struck by the force and energy of a Latin couple with their 4 children. They were standing outside of a frozen yogurt place, giving their complicated order to the woman standing in the walk-up window. The man was rubbing the woman’s back as she placed the order. He grabbed all the cones and handed them to each child, then instructed them in his heavy accent to sit on a nearby bench. They seemed overwhelmed but happy. He was very loving and patient with his little kids, the way that Don would have been if we had a family. My heart skipped a beat or seven as I turned the next corner and noticed a woman, desperately trying to get the attention of her man as she followed him, cursing loudly. He was ignoring her as he chatted away on his cell phone. She looked exhausted by life. He looked clueless and like he didn’t give a shit. Why the fuck do they get to be together when they clearly don’t even appreciate each other?  Why do they get to have more time to continue to fuck up that relationship, when my husband and I had a perfectly awesome one and it was TAKEN away for no reason? It doesn’t make any sense.

Sitting there inside The Irish Tavern with my Diet Coke and my Yankee game – it hit me how alone I truly am. One couple in their 30’s or so was talking up another young couple. The husbands were laughing and joking around about their wives. The one guy was a Salsa-dance instructor for a local studio. “I can’t even get my wife to go dancing”, he said to the other, as he gave his wife a knowing and teasing glare. “She just wants to come here, have a drink, and watch the game.” “Well yeah”, she shot back. “Screw the dancing. I’m tired after a long day. I want margaritas.” They all smiled and talked about mutual restaurants and dance clubs they had all been to in the area, and then the one woman who didn’t like dancing said: “I can hardly see the game from here. What’s the score?”

The way that the tables were placed in the pub, it was apparently awkward for them to be able to see the Yankee game from where they were sitting. I could see it fine from the 4-person booth the hostess seated me in earlier. There was some chatter between them, and then one of the women came over and very nicely asked me if they could switch tables with me so they could watch the game. I don’t know why they assumed that I wasn’t watching the game also, but they did. Maybe it was because I was alone, by myself, and maybe people would never think that someone would have a reason to go to a sports bar alone on a Friday night to watch a Yankee game. But you do have a reason when the person you watched every single game with is dead, and when you can’t look at sunsets or foliage, or eat delicious food, or experience new and amazing things, without feeling a pain and a stab inside you each and everytime. There is nothing at all wrong with watching a baseball game alone. But when you have to watch a baseball game alone, because the other half of your team no longer breathes air, that is devastating.

Before I could even respond to her request, I quickly got up and walked out of the pub. I may have mumbled “sure” or something of that nature. I honestly can’t recall. I just know that I felt so lonely at that very moment, and I felt so lonely on the long walk back home. When I got into my bedroom, I sat in my husband’s recliner, pulled the quilt with the pictures of us and our life all over it into my body, and cried.

Hubby’s favorite chair that now sits in my bedroom, comforting me.

When I was living in our old place alone after his death, I felt suffocated inside the apartment. Now – I feel suffocated outside. A loner in a world filled with love. A single soul – trying to fill the space and time with cups of coffee and walks and drives around town. A widow in a booth for four.

This place is filled with beauty and life and joy.

Technically, it is “better” to be in this gorgeous environment, than in the stifling one I was in before. Making this move was something I had to do, and it was the right thing to do. But is it worse to be alone surrounded by the past you shared together – or alone surrounded by the future you will never share together?

Like I said before – it’s a different kind of pain. In this new world of “better things” for me, I feel so hollow, and I miss him more than ever.

29 People Are Dead, and Counting …

Why is the death of a spouse so damn hard? Well, I believe I can give you quite a few reasons. 14 months ago, I lost my husband to an unexpected, sudden, out of nowhere, massive heart-attack. On that day and everyday since, I have come to realize that I lost a lot more than just my husband. I also lost the following people, just to name a few:

 

1. Car Mechanic: Before my husband was a paramedic, he worked at Cadillac, as a mechanic, fixing cars. He loved his car, which became our car, and knew every nook and cranny inside and out. If the service engine light went on, I didnt call AAA. I called him. If something went wrong, he got underneath the hood and figured it out. I never worried when I would drive the car long distances, because I knew he would somehow get to me and come out and save me. Now? Everytime I start up the engine in my car, a tiny part of me freaks out and panics inside, begging the car to just please work correctly forever and ever until the end of time, or until I die.

2. Killer of Bugs, Rodents, and all Things Scary: The very first time that Don met my parents, I was having a mouse issue in the apartment, and so him and my dad were installing traps and filling in tiny holes in the walls – together. They basically said “nice to meet you”, and then immediately got to work pulling out the refrigerator, stove, and looking under all the scary places that I refused to go. In our marriage, I would regularly wake Don up from a deep sleep by shaking him while saying something inaudible like: “Ummm … there’s a … a scary thing… in the kitchen … go look.” He would get up, half asleep, groan at me, and go inspect whatever I thought might be a frightening, human-killing insect. Most times, it was just a large piece of dust or something else that was not alive. “It’s a piece of fabric, Boo. You woke me up for a piece of fabric. Goodnight.” He would roll his eyes and throw himself back into bed. About 2 months after he died, one night I was in our bedroom at about 3am when a large cockroach scurried across the floor. I screamed, cried, and grabbed a broom and held it for dear life as if I was starring in a horror film. As I tried to end the insect’s life by beating him to death via broom, I realized for the first time that I would have to do these type of things alone from now on. I had no other choice, and that scared the shit out of me. That night marked my very first of many emotional breakdowns.

3. Kick-Ass Water Maker: I love water. But the water I love is made a very specific way. I cannot drink luke warm water. It makes me feel nauseous. It has to be ice-cold, with LOTS of ice in it. There is a whole process involved. You “make” it ahead of time and prepare it, in order for it to be perfect. You take a large plastic water bottle – Smart Water is my favorite bottle to use – and you fill it about 3/4 with filtered water. Then, you fill the rest of the bottle with ice. (I have those special ice-cube trays that make the ice that fits into the narrow long neck of the water bottle. I told you – this is serious stuff.) You then put the bottle in the freezer, and you set a kitchen timer for exactly 45 minutes. When it goes off, your water is finished. You take it out of the freezer, lightly squeeze the bottle, and all of the ice turns to this incredible slushy consistancy. Not quite frozen, but almost. It’s like a water treat! I call it “Kick-Ass Water.” Don used to prepare my kick-ass water bottles for me while I drove home from work. I would call him when I was about 45 minutes away, and say: “Boo? Can you prepare me a kick-ass water?” “Yes Boo – I’ll make it now”, he would say. When I got home, he would hand me my water bottle , all perfectly prepared ahead of time. It was great because he worked nights, so he was home to make me my special water treats. Sometimes he would surprise me with one when I didnt even ask. That was the best. Lately, Ive been making my own kick-ass waters, which isnt nearly as fun. In fact, it really kind of sucks. I now call it “Suck-Ass, Lonely Water.”

4. Take-out Food Delivery Pick-Up Guy: Like most couples who live in or near a major city, we ordered a lot of take-out. There were multiple places just down the street. Chinese. Pizza. Italian. Brazilian. Deli. We had our system. I would always call in the order, and Don would go and pick it up. Most of the places were anywhere from 2 to maybe 10 blocks away, and they delivered. But he would always say: “Nah, I’ll go get it.” I was much too lazy for that, but he would get up anytime, no notice, and go down the street to get us food. When he died, I started to feel extremely lazy the couple times I asked them to deliver, and they were only 2 blocks away. One time I actually lied to the guy on the phone and made up some elaborate story about why I couldnt walk there. “Oh, I broke my ankle and can barely move. Can you deliver it?” Im convinced they all laugh at me everytime I hang up the phone.

5.The Sane and Logical One: Don was one of the most calm and easy-going people I have ever met. Nothing ever stressed him out. Everything stresses me out. I would get panicky about something, make a billion assumptions, and flip out and create drama where there didnt need to be any. He would laugh and say calmly: “Boo, calm down. Everything will turn out fine. It’s going to be okay.” I panicked. He comforted. This was true whether I was auditioning for something, whether we were on an airplane together and I was digging into his arm with my fingernails preparing for the inevitable crash, or whether I noticed a small dot on my back and would ask in a frightened tone: “Boo – what is this? What is this thing on my back? Oh my God! Its cancer. What if its cancer? Do you think Im dying?” “No, Boo. You’re not dying. You’re fine. It will go away in a couple days.” And it did. It always did. Now I just panic, and panic some more, and nobody is there to tell me it will all be okay.Everybody needs a calm person in the relationship. Everyone needs balance. Without balance, it’s hard to stand up.

 

6. Editor / Co-Writer / Critic: Whenever I would sit at my computer and come up with new stand-up comedy material, I would run it by my husband. “Is this funny?”, I would say, and read it to him or tell him the idea. He would not only tell me if it was any good, often times he would add something brilliant to the joke. He would help me write the stuff, and then he would be so happy and proud whenever his piece of writing made it into the set. “I wrote that part – Boo thinks Im funny!” I also write TV reviews for the entertainment site www.poptimal.com. My husband would always be the first one to read them after they were published, and he would crack up laughing at my mocking writing style. He loved it. We would watch Dancing With the Stars together and he would say things like: “Oh, you HAVE to comment in your review about how Chaz Bono has plumber ass every week in his outfits.” Now, when I write or create something, I try hard to imagine what Don would say, what he would like or find funny. He had such a great sense of humor, and it sucks to not be able to toss around ideas with him anymore.

7. Light Turn-er-Off-er: Yes, english professors, I know that term is not a real thing. Shut up. Every night when we went to bed, we would both try and run into the bed first, and then yell at the other person: “Haha! You’re the last one in bed! You have to turn off the light!” 95% of the time, I would win this game, and he would turn off the light. Now, I am the first one to bed, the last one to bed, and the only one who turns off the light.

8. Errand Runner: My husband was always willing to go out, even in the middle of the night, no matter how tired he was after work, and do annoying and stupid errands. I never had to do any of them. He always volenteered before I got the chance. Printer breaks in the middle of the night? Don is in the car driving to Walmart to buy a new one so I can finish my grading. Ran out of cat food? No worries. Don will go down the street and get some more. Car needs an oil change? We need more toilet paper? Don will get it. He just didnt mind doing those things. Now, if its pouring rain and lightning outside and I need toilet paper, nobody else is going out to get it except me. Let me tell you something – errands suck.

9. Personal Nurse: It is kind of a known fact that most men can be babies when it comes to being sick. They whine and act like they are on death’s door when they have a slight sniffle. Not Don. First of all, he was never sick. He rarely had a cold, and when he did, it would last about 14 seconds. He never had a headache in his entire life. He told me that one time, and I was so confused. “What the hell do you mean, you’ve NEVER had a headache? Never?” “Nope. Dont know what they feel like. Never had one.” Despite all this, whenever I was sick with a cold, or got one of my terrible migraines, Don was the best nurse / caregiver of all time. He would wrap me up in a blanket, make me soup, green tea with honey, and sit with me and make me laugh. He would say “Aww, poor Boo is sick”, and make a pouty bottom-lip face. He would go to the pharmacy, get all the necessary drugs and other essentials I would need, and treat me like a queen. I would get lots of hugs, and when I would say: “But I dont want to get you sick too”, he would just smile and say: “Aw I dont mind. I just want you to feel better.” One time, a few years ago,  I threw out my back, and was literally sitting in his chair for a week, unable to move. He walked me to the bathroom daily, cleaned up my puke when I had a terrible reaction to the percacet they gave me, and literally took care of my every need for an entire week without a complaint. He was the best. Today, I often fear getting sick and being alone. It is one of my greatest fears. My personal home nurse never ever got sick. He just got up one day and died.

10. Professional Hugger: He gave the best hugs in the universe.

11. My Number One Fan / Support System: Don moved his entire life from Florida to NJ, so that I could pursue my dreams. From day one of our relationship, he supposrted those dreams 1000%. Not only would he come to every show he could, he would be beaming from the audience and so proud of me. He told me early on after moving here, after a comedy show I did one night: “My favorite part of the night isnt watching you perform. Its afterwards, when all the people are coming up to you and telling you how funny and great you were. I love to watch you succeed.” That’s a man.

12. Professional Laundry Do-er and Clothes Fold-er: I know, I know. This is also not a real thing or real words. Fuck off. The day after my husband moved in with me to my apartment in February of 2005, he said something that would make me love him until the end of time. He said: “Boo, you got any laundry you need done? I have to do my work uniforms anyway, so Ill just do all our laundry. It’s no big deal.” And from that moment on, he did all of my laundry. He even folded everything. In perfect, thin, little squares. He was in the Air Force, and they had to fold everything in a very specific way for room check each morning. One time I felt guilty so I started to fold our clothes. He walked in, looked at my pathetic folding job, said:”Really?”, and then took over. What an angel. To this day, I loathe doing laundry. LOATHE IT!!!!!!

13. Onion Chopper: I did all the cooking in our marriage. Don couldn’t cook to save his life, and he loved my cooking. But I cannot chop an onion. It makes my eyes burn and hurt. Don would always ask me if there was anything he could do to help, and I always said: “Yes. You can chop the onion.” His eyes didnt burn at all and he had no effects whatsoever. Im starting to think he wasn’t human.

14. Teacher: Don knew things about random things. He was a trivia master, a weird-fact knower, and a big-time documentary watcher. A bit after he died, my brother made a statement that was so true. He said: “Whenever I was around Don, I always felt like I was learning something new.” Yes. Don taught me how to play tennis. He taught me how the scoring works too. He taught me to skeet shoot. When I was afraid in the plane, he would explain to me how the engine works and why it was very unlikely that we would crash. He taught me patience (even though Im still the most impatient person on earth, but Im trying.), kindness, and compassion. He taught me to take time to say hello or have a nice day to people. Sometimes he taught me things and I only half-listened; like how to change my tire on the car or what all the different things inside his EMS Emergency Kit did, in case I ever needed it. I really, really wish now that I had paid closer attention. Everytime I dont know something today, big or small, my first thought is always: “Well, Don would know. Let me ask him.” And then I remember that I can’t.

15. Eater of the Gross Colors: My husband and I had the perfect food relationship for sharing, especially with candy. If we got Chuckles, my favorite colors are green, orange, and yellow. He liked the red and purple ones. I hated them. Those are the gross colors, but he loved them. So he ate those, and I got the rest. M&M’s too. He liked the brown ones and would let me have the green ones, which are clearly the best ones. The best example of this sharing ritual was those bags of miniature chocolate bars that have the krackel, hershey, Mr. Goodbar, and Special Dark. Nobody actually likes Special Dark bars. Except Don. He loved those damn things. So I got the yummy Krackel while he got the gross Special Dark. Everybody was happy.

16. Political Partner and Peacemaker: Although our views do tend to depend somewhat on who is running for office, my husband and I both tended to be more democrat than anything. We walked down our street together in 2008 to the polls and voted for Obama. Most of my family, however, are republicans. Sometimes the discussions at holidays and gatherings can get heated. Don had a gift for being able to hold political discussions with people who did not agree with him, and somehow keep the peace. He also knew his facts and made tremendous points. I hate talking politics because I never feel like I can back up my thoughts with actual knowledge, but I really loved it when Don would get into it with somebody over politics. I would cheer him on in the corner as I watched him slowly render the other person speechless, but never with a condescending tone. He would somehow debate you and you wouldnt even really know it.

17. Fellow Yankee Fan / Buddy: Don got me into tennis, and I got Don into baseball. When I first met him and we would talk on the internet for hours, I would always have the Yankee game on in the background. “How can you watch that?”, he would say. “Baseball is so boring.” Boring? BORING??? Oh, you have so much to learn, young grasshopper. And with that, I taught him all about the NY Yankees. It didnt take long for him to become a bigger fan than I am. We watched every game together, and if one of us was at work, we texted back and forth the score and highlights of the games. We spent a week in Florida so we could go to Legends Field over and over and watch them play spring training. We went to many Yankee games together. We had such a blast loving baseball together. Even now, whenever I watch games at home, I still reach over to my phone, ready to text Don the great play that his favorite player Texeira just made. I havent been to Yankee Stadium since he died, and I didnt start watching the games until mid-way through this season. Some things are just tough to accept, and having nobody to commentary with during baseball is one of them.

18. Personal Pimple-Popper: Gross, I know. But that’s the point. This is what husband and wives do. They pop each other’s gross things off each other’s backs and faces. If I had a nasty pimple, he was the first one to point it out to me. “You got a big pimple on your face,” he would say ever so tactfully. “Come here, let me pop it.” And he would. I couldnt stand popping them myself, but he would do it like it was his profession. I am reminded of this today because I have a disgusting pimple on the corner of my lip, and I just cannot make myself pop it. Yuck.

19. Garbage Man: He took out the trash. Always. No questions asked.

20. Bathroom Cleaner: Again, no questions asked. When we first started living together, he said “I’ll clean the bathroom. I dont mind.” We had our rhythms. I did all the grocery shopping and cooking and most of the dishes and kitchen stuff. He did all the car stuff, trash, bathroom, and laundry. And about a million other things. Hey – sounds fair to me! It was a pretty sweet deal until he went and dropped dead on me. How rude.

21. Security Guard: No matter what the issue, big or small, when Don was around, I always felt 100% safe. Always. Losing your spouse means losing your feeling of security, safety, and that everything will be okay. These past 14 months have taught me that, no, sometimes everything is not even close to okay, but you just have to keep going anyway.

22. Reaching Things That Are Up High Guy: Don was almost 6 ft 4. I am not. Any bulbs that needed changing on our ceilings, smoke detector issues, or that casserole dish I need to use but cannot reach – Don was the guy. Countless times I called him into the kitchen and pointed to something that I could not reach. Nothing makes you feel like more of a fragile useless female than having to call your building Super everytime the lightbulb goes out in your kitchen, because you cant change it yourself.

23. Music Partner: We met in a Music Chat/Trivia Room on AOL. Talking about 1980’s music. He owned 8 guitars. I’m a singer. He loved my voice. I loved to hear him play. We made a couple recordings of me singing and him playing, just for fun, in our friend’s basement recording studio. Whenever he came home from a long workday on the ambulance, he would sit on the couch for hours and just strum that guitar. The place is silent now, his music is gone. I miss hearing the music.

24. Lifter of All Things Heavy: For the almost 7 years that Don lived here with me, during our engagement, and our marriage, I never once had to carry of lift anything that was even close to heavy. My husband did that. He was a gentleman, and that is just what he did. If I had heavy things to put in the car early in the AM, he would pack the car for me the night before, and then move the car out front so I wouldnt even have to walk across the street to the parking garage. For the past 14 months, I have used muscles I didnt even know I had. Groceries, packages, suitcases, luggage, and especially the last month or so, which was consumed by moving out of our NJ apartment, into this one here in NY. I never want to lift another thing, ever again. But, of course, I have to now.

25. Animal Specialist / Number One Kitty-Cat Dad: To say that my husband loved animals doesn’t even begin to describe it. He volenteered at animal shelters. He loved spending his time with animals. But more importantly, animals loved him. Our kitties were never happier than when they were cuddled up to him, or when he would brush them weekly. There was also a time way back when the vet told us to brush our late kitty Ginger’s teeth. I have never witnessed a cat sitting so still with absolutely no fear or panic, as I did when Don brushed Ginger’s teeth. He was magic with animals. They flocked to him, climbed him, and loved being around him. Our pets love me too, of course, but it’s just not the same. I don’t have that same magic that Don had with them. There have been many nights since he died where I would sit holding Sammy or Autumn and actually apoligize to them over and over as I cried. “I’m so sorry that I’m not Don. He was such a good Dad. I’m sorry I’m not as good. I’ll try …”

26. Professional Confidence Booster: It’s easy to feel badly about yourself, especially when you gain weight after getting married, get lazy, and stop having motivation to change. But Don would always make me feel better, saying: “I will always think you are boo-tiful”, or “You look Boo-tiful!” (Since he called me “Boo”, he would say “Boo-tiful” instead of “beautiful.” It was cute.) My husband made me want to be better. Since his death, it has become quite hard to care much what I look like. It is sort of the last thing on my mind right now, and it shows.

27. Health Insurance Provider and Half the Bills Paid Guy: Yeah. This one sucks. Aside from all the emotional hells of being without your life partner, you lose half of the income that used to come into your home, if you both worked. My health insurance was provided by my husband’s job, so when he died, that died too. Suddenly I was on my own with the bills and rent, with only my crummy salary from teaching. We also had a system for all the bills and how we split them up, so when one of the two teammates disappears with no warning, it’s hard to figure out what his system was for his bills. Days and weeks were spent just trying to figure out passwords and what bills were paid when. Incredibly stressful. I am still getting back on my feet, and the first step to doing so was to move out of our apartment and into a new one, with a roommate.

28. Future Husband / Future Life: Losing your spouse is not just about losing your past and present together. It is about losing your future. Your plans for life together. The family you wanted. The dreams and career goals and wishes you shared. Present day husband is so hard to see disappear – but even more difficult is the realization that your new future is not the one you had in mind, and it no longer includes your partner by your side. You also find yourself asking what he would have been like, had he lived to be older. What would he look like? What would you have done together in the future days and years? What might have been, is one of the saddest realities out there. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

29. My Best Friend: If you are lucky, your best friend and your spouse are the same person. In my case, I was extremely lucky. Don was the person I laughed with, dreamed with, cried with, trusted with everything, ate meals with, went to movies with, sat home bored with, made plans with, and went through life with. My best friend. To wake up one day and not have that anymore is not only shocking – it’s just plain awful.

A spouse holds many places and many purposes in your life. They are, in a sense, the other half of you, or at least, the other half of your rhythms and patterns. When you lose that, it’s like you forget how to breathe. You forget how to be. Everything becomes harder. A spouse is so many, many things. So many people are hidden inside that one person who died. When they go, you lose all of their pieces. It’s like if you had a puzzle, and suddenly dropped it down a manhole, and only one piece survived. That piece is you, and all the rest are gone. You find yourself doing the job of what feels like 47 different people. You have to do things you are not used to doing – AND you are grieving. After the last 14 months, it really is no wonder Im so damn exhausted. Taking on all these roles is draining, and often feels impossible. Honestly – at this point – I just would like to take a nap for a couple of hours – or months. Maybe a year. Seriously, just let me sleep. I am really, really tired.

Something Old, Something New, Something Gay, Something Blue …

People talk of signs. Other widowed people. They tell me that their husband sent them a butterfly, or they see their wife each morning when the hummingbird comes to their window. Maybe a special song plays on their radio and it’s a sign from their late spouse. Birds, stars, rainbows, coins, feathers – I have heard it all. Are these signs real, or are they simply people missing their loved ones and wanting desperately to feel them in some way? Hell if I know. And really – who cares anyway? Does it matter? If it gives the grieving person comfort, then who am I, who are you, to tell them it isn’t real? How can you question someone else’s experience? Personally, I don’t think you can. If someone says they felt their husband’s presence because he left them a penny on the car seat, then who am I to argue with them? The thing is – I have never received any of these kinds of signs. No. That is not my husband. In life, my husband took care of me. He made my life easier, better, safer. He supported me in everything I ever did or wanted to do. He was my biggest fan and my best friend. Why would his energy or his soul or whatever the hell he is now, be any different?

Since Don died 13 months ago, I have had exactly 3 dreams where I felt his physical presence – and there have been 3 scenarios / circumstances that occured, where I felt strongly that he made them happen. Somehow. I don’t pretend to know the first thing about how someone who is dead can make things happen. I don’t even know what I believe in or don’t believe in at this point. Is my husband a star? Is he energy floating around in the atmosphere? Is he part of the earth? The sky? Maybe he is a cloud or rain or a piece of one of the planets. Or maybe a soul is just a soul and it isn’t something you can see with your eyes. I have absolutely no clue. What I do know is what I feel, and my feelings with these 3 situations are so strong, that I don’t even question them. I just choose to believe that my husband is somehow looking out for me, making things easier. Being the husband that he vowed he would always be. Here is how I know:

Scenario One: His car. Our car. And now, my car. His Grand Prix Pontiac 1997. He got it in 1999 down in Florida. I remember how excited he was. He loved that car immediately. It was his baby. He polished it and talked to it and loved it like it was human. Typical guy behavior. I mocked him of course, but secretly, I found it sweet. When he moved up to NJ after our 7 year long-distance relationship in February of 2005, he drove up in that car, in the snow. And from that first day that he moved in, he shared that car with me. My husband not only shared that car with me, but he made sure I knew that it was now ours. He really enjoyed sharing his things with me. It made him happy. “Now you can get to work easier , Boo. You dont have to take a bus to a train and all that anymore. You can drive our car.” So we shared it – me driving it to work and having it home by 4pm – and then him taking it to his overnight EMS job.

Years went by, and in time, New Jersey and the shitty roads took a toll on our car. “My poor baby”, Don would sigh everytime he drove over yet another pothole, or brought the car into the mechanic for the 3rd time in 5 months. “This place is killing my baby.” About a year before he died, we had started to talk about getting ourselves a new car. Of course, the very idea of this saddened Don beyond belief. He didnt want to let go of his car, ever. “Maybe when we get the new car,” he would say hopefully and desperately, “you can drive it and then I can just keep driving this one and tinker around town with it.” “Boo, we have to let the car go soon. Two cars means two parking spots, two gas tanks, two everything. We can barely afford one car.” “Yes, Boo” he would say, and pout his bottom lip at me. And with that, he was on a mission. He took a second job at the local Petsmart stocking shelves, in addition to the volenteer job he already had there taking care of the kitties. He started researching new cars on the internet, because this is what my husband did every single time before a big purchase. He researched. Of course, he wanted HIS car, but Pontiac no longer made that car. He did find a Pontiac Bonneville online that he fell in love with. “Look Boo! Maybe we can get this car. It looks just like ours, except it’s newer and safer.” And so, he went off to his two jobs to take care of his family and try to get us a better life. Until, of course, the morning that he left for Petsmart, and never came home. My husband collapsed and went into cardiac arrest while trying to make our life better.

Fast-forward about 3 weeks after Don’s death. The funeral had happened, the ceremonial formalities had ended, and our little family was left to put the pieces of our lives back together. I had driven our car to mom and dad’s house in Massachusetts, talking to it the entire 4 hours, begging it: “Please just get me home one last time. Please don’t break down. Please don’t break down.” The last couple years or so, the car would always have issues, break down, or “Service engine” light would appear, whenever I was driving it. Never when Don had it. So I begged the car to get me home. And it did. 

My mom, dad, brother and I sat at the dining room table, trying to come up with ideas for my life. What would I do next? Was it possible for me to remain in our apartment for a little while while I figured it out? Could I survive on my job alone, without Don’s income? These were all things that needed to be discussed. The elephant in the room was that the car needed to go. It was no longer safe for me to drive it, and it was time. As my parents brought up this topic to me, I became overwhelmed with the loss of everything, and broke down crying. My brother looked at me, heartbroken, grabbed my dad and walked outside. A little while later, they both returned, and my brother said simply: “I have an idea.” His best friend Brendan apparently had a car that he wasn’t using, that was basically sitting in his driveway not being driven by anyone. Brendan’s new job gave him a free car to use/drive, so he never needed this one. It was a 2002 with about 80,000 miles on it. (ours was a 1997 with 145,000 miles on it.) He was planning on selling it for a few thousand dollars. My brother David explained the situation, and asked him if he would sell it to him for say, somewhere under $2k, so he could give it to me? Brendan agreed, and then Dad and David sprung into brother and Dad-type action; getting new tires for the car, having new wipers put in, washing it inside and out, and spending days and weeks making sure it was safe for me to have. My brother bought me a car. My brother bought me a car. He said he just wanted to do something to help, and this was what he could think of to do. Honestly, I cant think of many things more sweet or thoughtful than that.

 Here is the weird part – the car was a Pontiac Bonneville. It was the same exact car that Don had looked at online, just months earlier. The car was so similar to our car, it was scary. The inside was exactly the same. The feel of the seats, the dashboards, everything. The outside was silver, ours was beige. Other than that, it looked and felt like my car. Don’s car. Our car. It was important to me that Don’s baby not just get hacked into pieces and sold as junk parts. My brother put an ad on Craigslist to try and sell it for me, but he warned me that it most likely wouldnt sell. Even if it did, he would only get $400 for it tops, he thought, from someone who would use the parts. The idea of Don’s precious car being sold for junk parts did not sit right with me. Kind of broke my heart. My brother waited a couple weeks, and then got a call from a young couple living in New Hampshire who wanted to come see the car. They drove over 2 hours  from the White Mountains area to come look at the car, and my dad and brother showed it to them. They bought the car for $800. My brother gave me the money to help me live and get by. Later that night, my dad called to tell me about the couple who bought our car. “You wouldnt believe it,” he said to me. “They were two of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. They reminded me of you and Don when you first got married. He is a mechanic, like Don was, so he said he can fix it up himself. And he wanted something just like this for his wife to drive around locally. They couldn’t have been more excited or happy to own this car. It was almost like it was a brand new jaguar to them. They will take very good care of it.” I felt like our baby was in good hands, and began to breathe.

The day I drove my “new” Pontiac back home to New Jersey, my brother did a few more things that blew my mind. “Let me show you something”, he said, and took me outside to the car. “Before I sold Don’s car, I took a few things off it and switched them with your new Pontiac. I figured this way, you could still have little pieces of Don and his car in this car.” The floor mats in the front seat. The Pontiac logo from the hood of the car. The rearview mirror. All of these things, my brother swiped from our original car, and put them on my new car. It seems like such a tiny thing, but when your husband is gone, it is everything. When I touch that rearview mirror, I know that he touched it over and over again. My feet go where his feet went on those floor mats. And today, when I drive this Pontiac around, that looks and feels exactly like our other car, I can feel Don in there with me. I love this car now the same way that Don loved his car. His baby. Now, with all of that information in this little story, one could believe that a bunch of coincidences took place and my incredible brother bought me a car. Or – you could believe – like I do – that my husband is still finding ways to take care of me.

Scenario Two: Caitlin. My grief counselor, who is so much more than just a grief counselor. I have never in my life been in any kind of “therapy”, nor have I wanted to be. I’ve always had this sort of nightmare vision of therapists as these evil, condescending people who try to keep you sick so they can keep collecting their money, and who don’t really give a shit about you at all, and never really listen to what you’re saying. And they are always so concerned with time. God forbid if you go over your alloted time by 45 seconds. Plus all those meaningless platitude things they say like: “Let’s discuss your repressed memories”, or “Tell me more about your mother”, or “how do you feel about that?”, sort of make me want to puke. That’s how I feel about that.

However, sometime around last Christmas, I was talking to my good friend Frank, who is a dark and wonderfully cynical comedian, and rightly so. He lost both of his parents, and his best friend in the world commited suicide. And that’s just the tip of the iceburg. The guy knows pain. He begged me to call his grief counselor, whom he loves. It took him awhile to convince me. “Please just try”, he kept saying. Finally, I gave her a call, and her schedule was booked solid! She gave me the name of a colleague of hers, I went to see her, and she was very nice. Then at the end, after I had poured my heart out, she says: “Im not sure I can help you, because I’m not a grief counselor. That’s not my specialty.” Then she gave me the number for her colleague. Her name was Caitlin, and even though I felt like giving up before I had even begun, I called her.  She had a soothing voice on the phone. She sounded like a real person who wasn’t putting on some crazy, overly-quiet “doctor” aura. We made an appointment, and I started seeing her sometime in January.

What I can tell you about Caitlin is this: She stands in her doorway and holds the door open to welcome me everytime I see her. She has never once said in that “you’re just a case study to me” way that we are “out of time.” She curses. She lets me curse. She laughs. We laugh. I cry. I feel safe. She gives me a new perspective on things all the time. Makes me see things in a way I didn’t think about before. She reminds me that I’m stronger than I give myself credit for, and that I’m often too hard on myself. She is insightful and keen and sharp, and often says something surprising or not what I expect to hear. For example, when I told her one time that Im afraid to move forward in the grieving process because then I would have to let him go, she said: “No you don’t. You don’t ever have to let Don go. Not ever. That’s not the goal here. The goal is to find a way for you to live this new life, and to find a place, eventually, for him to sit in it. He will always be a huge part of you. Always. He is part of what shaped you. It would be impossible to let him go. You take him with you, and its about shifting your relationship with him to somewhere different, because he is no longer here. It’s not about letting him go.” I think that was the greatest thing she has ever said to me. It gave me such huge relief and a reason to breathe again. I kept hearing all these people talking of “saying goodbye” to my husband, and It broke me into pieces. Why the hell would I ever want to say goodbye to him? I refuse. We didnt get divorced. He died. I love him. I will always love him, and I will take him with me wherever I go. Having that idea validated as being okay meant so much to me.

Caitlin is someone who really, truly cares about me. It’s not just a job to her. Or an act. (or, if it is, she is the best actress I’ve ever met.) She is a phenomenal human being with a huge heart. She remembers everything I tell her. Names, when things happened, small details. She writes nothing down, and isnt recording the sessions. The “sessions” often feel like a great talk with a really close friend, who just happens to be incredibly wise. When I performed the play I wrote about Don in the One-Act Festival Competition, she came to see it. When I did a 5k Walk to honor Don, she donated to the cause. She not only helped me come up with the idea for “Pay it Forward for Don Day” on the one-year mark of his death, she also participated in a big and thoughtful way.

Here is the thing that I hope doesn’t freak her out, but it’s true. She reminds me of my husband. She has his quick, sharp wit and his friendly, laid-back nature. She says things that make me feel comforted, just like he did. When I go there and talk about Don with her, I actually feel him in the room with us. With me. It is a strong feeling, and it happens over and over again. It feels like a hug. He is there, and I know that he somehow brought her to me. She was a gift from him. Another way to make sure that I’m safe and to take care of me. A couple of weeks ago, she said to me: “One day, you won’t need to come here anymore. You won’t need to see me anymore.” I felt as if someone had just shot me when she said that. Not need her? Not want to see her? What on earth was she talking about? Had she lost her mind? There are days when the only thing that keeps me going until tomorrow, is knowing that I have that place to go to on Mondays, and just be. The thought of losing “that” makes me feel sick.

 I truly believe that she is more than just a counselor in my life. When I met Don, I was in a terrible place, and going through the after-effects of a trauma. Don saved my life. I believe he saved it a second time when he brought me to Caitlin. One day, when I may not “need” to see her anymore, I hope we can be friends. I already see her as a friend. I care about her the way I care about my friends. You can’t tell someone that much about yourself and what is inside your heart week after week, and not feel something for them. At least I can’t. I’m just not built that way. If Im crying and laughing and opening my soul to you, you better believe Im going to care about you long after that “hour” is over. I don’t know how to explain it or how it’s even possible, but my husband is responsible for this relationship. It is very hard for me to be this open with many people. With most people I don’t know well, I just feel awkward and fake. I trusted her immediately, the same way I trusted Don immediately. I just knew they were exceptional people, and I knew I could tell them anything. I could tell them the thing I hadn’t told anyone. I knew. Don knew too. And that is why he sent her.

Scenario Three: A place to live and a roommate that doesn’t suck. About 16 years ago, I moved into a great little apartment with my best childhood friend Sarah, in Forest Hills, NY. We loved it there, and it was a fantastic neighborhood with all kinds of shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, everything you can imagine right within walking distance. We were only blocks from the subway and the LIRR train. Super easy access to NYC and Long Island, right in between both. When I was there with Sarah, I was probably not the best roommate at that time. In fact, I know I wasn’t. I was not myself. I was going through a recent trauma, and I was all over the place emotionally. I was a huge mess for a long time. While living there, I met Don online. Our friendship did not develop into a “relationship” until a couple years later, but the first time I spoke with my husband in that music chat-room, I was in Forest Hills on Sarah’s computer. Back then, I didnt know it, but I was starting to heal. It was an apartment of healing.

 Fast-forward to this past year. My husband was gone, and I was left in our crappy, dusty, old apartment – with double the bills and rent, no health insurance, and only my income. Add to that the emotional toll that came from living in the place where we shared our entire life together, and it was a disaster. I was sad every night, couldn’t sleep, and saw no real way out. About 6 months after he died, I started to actively look for an apartment, a new place to live. I did not want a roommate. I’m 40 years old, I told myself. I’m not in freakin’ college. The only person I want to share space with is my husband, and since I can’t do that anymore, I want to live alone, dammit! My finances and budget strongly disagreed and put me in my place. Soon I found myself looking at “apartment shares” on Craigslist. Weeks and months went by where I responded to post after post after post. People looking for a roommate. It was horrible. Some of them were in their 20’s, and wanted other partiers in their college years to live with. The ones that were not in their 20’s were in their 60’s and creepy. One older gentleman was looking for someone to rent one room that was literally the size of a phone booth. He was creepy as fuck and probably would have murdered me in my sleep. Most of the postings were scams. They would either demand all your credit card information just to SEE the apartment, or it would be some weird-ass dude named “Zolof” who was renting his pad while he was away “doing ministry work in Ugunda.” They would post a picture of a very real apartment that they had copy – pasted online somewhere, say it was theirs, then ask you to wire money in exchange for the keys. Is anyone out there really this stupid to fall for this shit? Other people wanted nothing to do with my two cats. “One cat – maybe, but two? No. Sorry.” I kept hearing my husband’s voice in my head from a couple years back, when we were searching for an apartment together to possibly move out of our crappy one. “I will live in a shoe or under a bridge before I get rid of my kitties,” he would say defiantly. Then he would turn to them, pet them and say: “You will always have a good home and you will always, always be loved. No matter what it takes.”

Sammy in new home

We had looked at place after place that wouldn’t accept us because of our pets, and we were getting frustrated. One day we went to an Open House at this beautiful “luxury living” apartment complex in Hackensack, NJ. It was a high-rise with carpeted floors and central-air and a parking garage and lovely, friendly people. It was way out of our price range, but we dreamed about that place for months afterwards. We kept talking about it, about one day getting out of this craphole and being able to live there instead. When we got married, during our reception, we were introduced as husband and wife to the theme song from The Jeffersons. (“We’re Moving On Up … to a deelux apartment … in the sky …) Don kept referring to our someday apartment as our “dee-lux apartment in the sky.” During our search, I took him to Forest Hills one afternoon, and we spent the day there walking around. I wanted him to see where I lived when we met, and the place I wanted to one day come back to. He loved it. “This place rules”, he said. We talked about looking for our deelux apartment there oneday soon. One day.

Austin Street in Forest Hills

Meanwhile, in after-Don-death-land,  months of searching and getting nowhere was starting to grate on me, and I was starting to think that I would have to live alone in our sad memory-box apartment in New Jersey for the rest of my life. I didnt see a way out.

Then, one day, I was robotically going through the postings on Craigslist, as had become part of my daily routine, when I came upon one from someone named Michael. As I started to read it, I felt something. Part of me thought it was too good to be true, but a stronger part of me said: “Write to this man. Tell him your story. Just do it.” It was the same feeling I had the very first time I talked to Don, the very first time I talked to Caitlin. I didnt know what would happen, but I knew this person was something different, hiding amongst all the crap. Something he said in his posting that struck me right away, was that the most important thing to him was to live with a roommate who was “kind.” He spoke about kindness a lot. My husband was the epitamy of kindness. He lived it every single day. After emailing this stranger with my sad tale of woe and death, I received a response a short while later that gave me hope. We made plans to meet, and then for me to see the apartment. We hit it off immediately, and I moved in August 28th. Until then, almost every single place I had looked at was somewhere on Long Island, or somewhere that I would have moved to because I “had to.” Couldn’t afford to live alone anymore – financially or emotionally. I needed to get out. Michael’s apartment could have been just another run-of-the-mill, average, acceptable place to reside. But it wasn’t. Don made sure that I got more than that. He made sure I got what he couldn’t be here to have.  Michael’s apartment was not just an apartment. It was a new home. A high-rise. 21 floors up. In Forest Hills.

Autumn in her new home. A dresser drawer.

There are other reasons I believe that Don brought me back to Forest Hills; this wonderful little neighborhood that is something old, something new. There are reasons I believe he crossed my path with Michael’s. Too many strange occurances. One day we were texting back and forth about the apartment details, and at the end of each text, he kept calling me “Boo.” It sent shivers up my spine. Of all the things to call me – he chose the one thing that my husband and I called each other solely, for years and years. We never even used each other’s names. It was just always “Boo.”

There was another day when I announced on Facebook to my friends that I had finally found a new apartment and wonderful roommate. Michael left a comment saying: “Welcome to your new home. Our deluxe apartment in the sky.” It came with a picture attached from his living room window. The beautiful sunset view from inside the apartment. He had no knowledge of our Jefferson’s theme song joke, or the fact that Don called our future apartment that exact same thing. It was weird. It was fate. It was right.

Picture Michael took from living room window. Sunset.

When leaving my NJ place, the thing I constantly said I would miss most of all is the NYC skyline view, especially at night. There is nothing like it in the world. The city lights up the sky and sparkles. Don used to say: “This is the best part of living in New Jersey. Staring at New York. This view never gets old.” The first night I slept in my new Forest Hills home, my bedroom window shades were open, and something was twinkling in the night sky. It was New York City. The same exact view, except this time, I didnt have to walk outside to the street to see it. This view was in my BEDROOM! Don took the one thing that I would miss about living in NJ, and made sure I had it here too. I know it.

My new bedroom

My husband also made sure that I would be living with not just any old roommate, but one of the most caring and selfless people I have ever met. What can I say about Michael? He is like a big, Gay Angel. He sparkles like that city does at night. He has an abundance of energy – all the time. He walks around singing showtunes and humming. He is funny and smart and so damn nice. He not only accepted our kitties into his life and home, but he called me about a week before I moved in, and asked me to “put them on the phone” so he could talk to them. He said he had been walking around the apartment practicing talking to them and saying their names. Only Don, the biggest animal lover I know, could have sent me someone like this. Michael has a very small bedroom, and gave me the huge one. He saved exactly half the space for me and all my stuff – in all the closets, cabinets, everywhere. He has a whole slew of silly nicknames that come out of nowhere for me – crumbcake, love muffin, precious, dear heart. He is zen and calm and peaceful and warm. He is a writer, like me. He is an actor, like me. He loves his privacy – the same way that I’m used to living with my husband, is the way he likes to live. Don and I got along perfectly because we always respected each other’s space and alone time, yet we adored each other’s company. We rarely fought in a tiny space because of this fact. My new roommate is the same way. He is like nobody I have ever met, and at the same time, like Caitlin, he reminds me of my husband.

Something old. Something new. Something Gay. So that maybe one day, I won’t have to be so blue.

I don’t get butterflys and pennies from my husband. He doesnt send those kind of signs. No. My husband sends Pontiacs, and counselors, and wonderfully gay men, and beautiful sunset and city views, and apartments in the sky. My husband vowed on our wedding day to always be the husband I had dreamed of, and to take care of me and make sure I was safe. And that is exactly what he is doing. From his dee-lux apartment in the sky. Just like he promised.