There used to be about 3 minutes of time each day where I had a tiny bit of peace. Where my husband wasn’t gone. Where my life was the life I knew again, the life I loved. For about the first year or so after his death, these 3 minutes happened each and every morning, the second I would wake up. It was that state of groggy, half-asleep, fog-like thing; where you’re not quite sure what is real and what is part of the previous night’s dream. In those 2 or 3 minutes of time, I could convince myself or really believe that my husband was alive. That he never even died at all. That this was all some big misunderstanding and that he was here all along. Sometimes I would smile in that zombie-like state, or even call out his name to say good morning, or reach over in bed to put my arm around him and snuggle.
But as minute 4 approached, and that fog slowly wore off, I would be slammed with the harsh truth. My arm would land on the empty sheet beside me, a loud thump that yelled: “He’s dead, you idiot. Why do we have to go over this every single morning?” That realization was always horrific and crushing, but it was worth it for the 3 minutes that he was still alive. It was worth it to get back 3 cloudy minutes of my old and wonderful life. Those 3 minutes used to be my favorite part of the day. My favorite part of the day had already ended, just 3 minutes after awakening. Doesn’t exactly inspire motivation to get up and tackle my life.
It’s been 16 months since my husband’s death, and the last 6 months or so have been a lot like that one minute of time between minute 3 and 4 in the mornings. The fog has lifted. The mask is gone, and the awful face of death and this new life lies underneath. For the past 6 months, that span of 3-minute bliss in the mornings has happened less and less often. There are some mornings where it is still there. Most mornings it is not. Most mornings are like this morning. I wake up inside the war zone. I am already in the hell. No buffer to ease me into it, no dream-like zen to give me peace. The peace is gone, and all that is left is me, alone with my memories of us and our short life together. And let me tell you, memories suck a giant bag of dicks when you can no longer turn to the person that you shared them with, and say: “Remember that?”
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and I want to throw myself off a cliff. While families all over are spending the day watching 47 football games and sitting in folding chairs at large tables and trying to keep the giant bowl of mashed potatoes warm, I will be spending my day in a NYC-restaurant, having an overpriced, pre-fixed gourmet dinner with other people like me, who also want to throw themselves off a cliff. The new friends I have met in my life – the other young widowed girls – would completely understand when I say that while they are great, they are not my husband and my family and I wish like hell we didn’t need to be together on Thanksgiving, hiding from our painful memories, our families, and our lives.
Everyone on earth talks about “the first time you do anything after his death will be the hardest.” They tell me how the first holidays will be the worst, and once I get through those, all will slowly get better. Who are these people and why do they lie to me? LIES!!! Last Thanksgiving happened mere months after Don’s sudden death, and like most years, I drove home to mom and dad’s in Massachusetts and we spent it at my cousin Tabatha’s house with our large and wonderful Italian family. And I don’t remember one second of it. Nor do I remember hiding out at Foxwoods Casino on Christmas Day with my parents, or going to our friends party on New Year’s Eve. I know I was at these places, but I can’t recall specific things that happened or what it was like. I was still a zombie then.
My zombie time is up now. I’m a human with a severed heart, and the expiration date on how long others will allow me to grieve has long passed. The more time that goes by, the less I hear “So how are you doing?” from my friends. Well, my non-widowed friends. That is the other thing about this new life. I actually have regular friends, and then “widowed friends.” That is just not normal for most people in their late 30’s and early 40’s, but that is now my reality. It is a tough thing to balance. My regular friends don’t “get it” (how could they? It’s impossible to comprehend this world until it happens to you), and so, try as they might, they are often exhausted from my constant grief and changed emotional state. Most times they are simply unaware of the pain I am feeling. They often say things that just don’t apply, or that are unhelpful, or that are the exact opposite of what I am actually dealing with. This is not their fault – it’s just a fact. We are not at the same place in life anymore, and sometimes, people who are not going through the same things in life, are exhausting to be around. For me, and for them.
Because of this, I see them less often, or I pretend more. That is the choice I am always faced with. Do I feel like pretending today, or should I sit this one out? Will so-and-so understand if I don’t come to his play or her comedy show or his birthday party or her dinner thing, because “my husband died 16 months ago, and today just isn’t a good day?” So I go. I pretend that I’m doing okay, and then I come home and crash and cry, because it’s exhausting to pretend and act all day long, especially when you’re not even getting paid for it. The truth is, it’s exhausting to be surrounded by a world filled with people who have no idea what you are going through.
My widowed friends do get it, but because they get it, they are often wrapped up in their own personal struggles, emotions, and grief. Sometimes us widowed folk find it helpful to hear about a fellow widow and his or her spouse, and everything that person is going through at that particular moment. Other times, it is much too painful to take in someone else’s hurt. It’s exhausting. Exhausting to pretend – exhausting to be inside your own life. This is why the young widowed feel so alone, so often. Because most days, you just want to run away somewhere. Except there is nowhere to run to, because everywhere you go, they are still dead. And if you drink alcohol or sleep it off or get lost in unhealthy addictions, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t help. The pain is still there when you wake up – right where you left it.
Last year, I had several invitations from people to spend the holiday with them and their family. I was in no place emotionally to be with someone else’s dysfunction and love, so I declined. This year, nobody asked. It really is true that people get back to their lives, and in the end, no matter how many friends you have or how great your family is, the ongoing grief and emotional turmoil are all yours to deal with – alone.
There is this thing that tons of people have been doing on Facebook the whole month of November, leading up to Thanksgiving Day. It’s called “22 Days of Gratefulness”, or some Oprah-shit. Every single day on their FB page, they post in their status update what they are grateful for. The first few days of this, everyone’s posts are mostly slightly different versions of the same thing. “Today I’m grateful for my family. My mom. My dad. My husband. My kids.” Blah blah blah. Then they start going to their health, their friends, their life. After that, it goes from minor annoyance to purely obnoxious. Some of the posts I have read give me douche-chills and make my eyeballs hurt. Stuff like: “Day 7. Today I am grateful for the shoes on my feet, because not everybody has shoes, and not everybody can walk.” Or: “Day 14. Today I am grateful for string cheese and trail-mix, and snacks that give me energy to keep going.” (I’m not joking. Someone actually wrote that.) My favorite was somewhere around Day 18, when people were really starting to reach for things to be grateful for in this pointless online exercise that makes people feel like they are doing something wonderful, when really, they are doing nothing at all. One of my Facebook friends wrote simply: “Today I am grateful for pumpkin seeds.” Really? Pumpkin seeds? That is just pathetic. If pumpkin seeds is all you got left on the list, I think it’s time to hang it up.
I have no issue with people being thankful. If it is real and true and coming from a good place. If they started posting about it for no reason at all, in the middle of March sometime. If they acted in ways that showed they are thankful people, in their day to day lives. But seeing it coming at you from 37 different directions – it becomes kind of annoying. It’s like those people that post all the silly-ass “causes” type shit, where they vaguely threaten you with their passionate stance on some dumb thing. “Repost this message about Koala Bear Rape. Did you know that Koala Bears are being raped at an alarming rate, in my head? This must be stopped. If you don’t repost this, then you must not care about Koala Bear rape and the hype I have created about it in my own mind. 97% of people will not have the courage to repost this.” Fuck you. If you actually cared about the random raping of koala bears, then get out there and DO something about it. If that is actually a real thing and you are passionate about it, then help. Clicking “share” on some idiotic Facebook post does absolutely nothing. And saying “I’m so grateful” for 22 days in a row doesn’t really do much except make you really stretch for things to be grateful for – like pumpkin seeds.
So, in the spirit of my widow-bitterness and Thanksgiving, I have come up with my own “22 Days” list leading up to tomorrow. And Im so passionate about my list, I was able to post all 22 things in the same sitting! So while everyone else is so busy being “grateful” because it’s Thanksgiving and that is how they are told they should feel, I have a different emotion in mind. Feel free to create your own personal list in the comments. It might not accomplish anything substantial, but it does help in forcing yourself to be a tad less homicidal during these goddamn holidays. Trust me.
22 Days of “Fuck You!”
Day 1. Fuck you, South Park. You were my husband’s absolute favorite show, and we watched you together every week. In 16 months, I haven’t been able to watch you again. I try, but 30 seconds into the opening song, I’m in tears. There are many shows we watched together, but you were the one where Don usually laughed the hardest. It sucks when I can picture his big, loud laugh as he sat beside me, but I can no longer hear it. I want to laugh at the jokes, but all I hear is the silence of nobody enjoying the experience with me. My husband left me with his entire collection of South Park DVD’s. I have every single season, and I can’t watch any of them.
Day 2. Fuck you, couples. Happy ones, young ones, ones that constantly fight, married ones, older ones that got to have decades together, ones that clearly don’t belong together, ones that always complain about each other, ones that hold hands and kiss and laugh in my face. Fuck all of ya.
Day 3. Fuck you, grocery store. I’m sick and tired of going out and buying food and items that are essential for me to stay alive, and having to avoid aisles 4, 6, and 8, or close my eyes when I go by them, so I dont get blindsided by the cereal or the candy or the root-beer or the blah blah blah that he loved.
Day 4. Fuck you, Congressman Abidos. My husband is dead. Check your records, asshole. Stop sending him cards every year with your phony messages of “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”
Day 5. Fuck you, people with blue eyes. You all remind me of my husband, and you also don’t, so it hurts to look at you, because I can’t ever look at him and his blue eyes again. I want to see his blue eyes, not yours. No offense. Fuck you.
Day 6. Fuck you, bladder. Having to pee in the middle of the night 2 to 3 times has always been the norm for me, and Don knew this. He used to get up to get ready for work at 4:00am most mornings, and when he was in the shower, he would leave the bathroom door open for me so I could just come in and pee while he was showering. That is the difference between sharing a bathroom with your husband, and sharing a bathroom with a roommate. This morning I had to pee so badly, and I heard the shower going. It made me cry that I no longer had a husband who left the door open for me and my weak bladder.
Day 7. Fuck you, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. This movie made me and Don laugh like hell, and it became a tradition of ours to watch it every Thanksgiving night, while putting up Christmas decorations together. At the end of the film, you find out that the wife John Candy’s character, Del, keeps referring to, has actually been dead for 8 years, and Del is going to be alone on Thanksgiving. I used to tear up at the end of that movie at the thought of losing Don, like Del lost his wife. Now I can no longer watch the movie at all, because I am Del, so it’s no longer just a movie. It’s me.
Day 8. Fuck you, The Sound of Music. Yup, another movie memory I can no longer handle. Sure, I watched this movie for decades before even meeting my husband, but it was a film that I introduced to him. He had never seen it, which I simply couldn’t believe, so I made him watch it one holiday season with me, and he fell in love. We would watch this one each year together when it came on TV. Don was one of the few straight men I have ever met who absolutely loved musicals and Broadway shows. Loved it.
Day 9. Fuck you, floss. The last year or so of Don’s life, he had a bunch of prettty serious dental work done, and had his top teeth all fixed up after decades of ignoring them. That last year, he was adament about taking care of his teeth. Every single time he ate anything, he would run into the bathroom and floss immediately. He finally had the smile that he wanted, and the teeth that he wanted, and then a month later, he dropped dead. I can’t floss or brush my teeth without him running through my heart.
Day 10. Fuck you, dreams. None of them seem to mean anything anymore, when I dont have my soulmate to come home and share them with.
Day 11. Fuck you, period. You were always a huge pain in the vag to my life, with your cramps and your back pain and your migraines and your hot flashes. But now? You are nothing but a cruel reminder that I will never have children with my husband. He will never be a dad. I will never be a mom. I don’t need you, period. You serve absolutely no purpose in coming around each month, other than to make me even more miserable. Go away.
Day 12. Fuck you, dinner. It sucks cooking and eating for one. I miss my husband saying: “Everything you make is so yummy, Boo.” I miss our conversations at the kitchen table. I miss how he used to eat way too fast and then I would be left there eating slow while he watched and waited for me. I miss going out to restaurants together. Everything about eating food now has become lonely.
Day 13. Fuck you, Central Park. Our favorite hangout in NYC.
Day 14. Fuck you, Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. You come back every single year, taunting me with your lights and joy. You are the place where my husband proposed to me. Underneath you. I haven’t been back to see you since. Stop appearing on my TV and all over the damn place, all season long. You are very difficult to ignore, and I can’t handle the pain that you bring right now. Leave.
Day 15. Fuck you, posters. On our Cape Cod honeymoon in 2006, Don and I went into this cute little store in Falmouth and bought some really cool posters to frame for our apartment. Movie posters from The Pink Panther and James Bond, (his favorite), a classic Beatles pose, The Rat Pack, and an Aerosmith bluesy picture. Now, 6 years later, they still sit inside their plastic, all rolled-up. We never did frame them. Something inside me cannot hang them up. They were ours. We picked them out together. How can I look at them everyday when he isn’t here to look too? And yet, I can’t make myself throw them away either. So they sit here – in my bedroom – leaning against the wall – waiting for a purpose. Like me.
Day 16. Fuck you, California. My husband grew up there, in Whittier, and he hadn’t been back since he was a kid. One of the things we really wanted to do was go back one day and see his old neighborhoods, visit my uncle out there together, and I really wanted to show him my favorite area of California – Pacific Grove. It never happened. We never got there. We kept saying “someday” – and then someday turned into never. And then he died.
Day 17. Fuck you, Don’s heart. You couldn’t give us some kind of warning? Symptom? Something? A sign maybe that you were going to just stop functioning and cause death? Thanks a lot for making my husband a walking, clueless timebomb. Thanks for nothin.
Day 18. Fuck you, New York City. Everywhere I turn, there is either a memory from somewhere that we went together, or there is regret from somewhere that we never went together. Fuck you for being so damn awesome and overwhelming, that we barely got to explore you.
Day 19. Fuck you, eyes. My husband wore reading glasses and contacts, and I wear nothing. He was 7 years older than me, and he used to always tease me: “Just wait til you turn 40, Boo. Everything falls apart. Suddenly you can’t see, you’re dying your hair, you have joint pain. Your eyes might be fine now, but I can’t wait to laugh at you when we are going to the store to pick out your reading glasses.” Well, I don’t need glasses just yet, but when I do, Im going to have to shop for them alone. He was right though. Everything did fall apart at 40. Just not in the way he expected.
Day 20. Fuck you, pumpkin seeds. Because you’re stupid and nobody should be grateful for you. Fuck you.
Day 21. Fuck you, me. I try not to regret things, and try not to beat myself up over decisions I made, but it’s easier said than done in most cases. One thing I really regret is that I never changed my last name when we got married. There wasnt even any reason. I just got lazy and never got around to it, and it didnt seem important to Don either way, so I didnt do it. But now, I really want more than anything to officially be a “Shepherd.” It kills me that I cant even say: “Well, at least I will always have his name.” On paper, we dont look related, and that bothers me. I hate that. So fuck you, me, for not doing something important out of sheer laziness.
Day 22. Fuck you, Thanksgiving. Fuck you with your traditions and your gratefulness and your gravy and your stuffing and mom’s apple pie that Don loved so much. Fuck you with your happy toasts and your yams and your annoying relatives and your autumn-leafed tableclothes and your football. Fuck A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving that Don literally knew all the words to and word say out loud as we watched it together. Fuck the holidays for making my loneliness and my fears and my lack of partner so apparent, in your rooms and warm houses filled with happy families carving turkeys. Fuck you for stabing me in my soul with change, and the knowledge that nothing will ever be the same, ever again. Fuck you for serving up my loss on a silver platter, every single year, forever. As all the young kids say today – Fuck my life.
There. I don’t know about you, but I feel slightly better.
Now I can get through Thanksgiving without throwing myself off a cliff.
Christmas is a whole other story. I don’t even want to talk about Christmas.