Living Inside Uncomfortable

There seems to be an annoying assumption lately, amongst the general public – directed at those of us who have the unfortunate reality of being widowed too soon in life. The assumption is this: Happiness is a destination. Happiness is a Choice. You Hold the Power to be Happy.

You know what? Happiness can suck my ass.

I have heard a lot of comments recently; some said to me specifically; and some said to other widowed friends who then shared their frustrations with me and others. Some of these comments have even been said by other widowed people, which makes me very sad, because if we can’t turn to one another without judgement during this new reality, then who can we turn to? Comments such as: “At some point, you make a decision to be happy. Happiness is a choice.” Or “You need to start living your life again.” Or “you need to be open to the idea that you can be happy.” For me, these type of comments began a few months ago, right around or after the one-year “anniversary” of Don’s death. That seems to be the universally understood expiration date for how long I’m allowed to have feelings. After that point, I suppose I am expected to just discard my husband away in an imaginary file somewhere, forget he ever existed, and just BE HAPPY! Why do I assume this? Because whenever I bring up his name in conversation, most times, people give me these pathetic, pitiful eyes that say: Poor, sad widow. Is she really talking about her dead husband again?

Are we there yet?

So; to the many people who have implied or directly suggested that I “start living my life again” – what does that even mean? What exactly should I be doing that would make you people satisfied? I don’t even understand this comment. Do they mean that I should be dating people? Should I be out there having casual sex with random people? Would that make these people feel better? It wouldn’t do a damn thing for me, and would most likely screw me up even further emotionally, but hey, as long as the outside world is okay with how I’m processing my grief – that is all that matters. Live my life again? I am living my life. Every single damn day, I get up and attempt life. Over and over and over again. My heart physically aches and I am in massive pain, but I choose to get up and try again. I don’t have to. I have no children to take care of or get up for, and most days, it is difficult for me to figure out the point in doing much of anything if I can’t have my husband here to share it with me. But I do it anyway. I get up anyway, because I don’t want to put my family in the same horrific pain that I am in now. The pain of losing someone you love. So, not only do I get up out of my bed each day; I also sometimes get shit done. There have been many accomplishments on my end in the past 16 months. Would you like to hear about them? Good. Thanks for asking.

Performing at Comedy Benefit for my husband …

I wrote a Eulogy to honor my husband. Then I delivered it at his service. I wrote a One-Act Play. Then I performed it in a festival and made the Semi-Finals. I raised $2000 for Organ and Tissue Donation, and walked a 5K in honor of my husband. I moved out of the place we called home together for 7 years, and into a brand new place. I did Stand-Up Comedy as part of a Benefit to honor Don’s life, and continue to perform whenever given the opportunity. I go to work everyday. I teach. I go on auditions. I write my book. I see friends, go to parties, and generally do most things that other human beings do. I live my life. I also grieve. I conquered my very real fears and hesitations about seeing a therapist, and have been seeing an amazing grief counselor for almost a year now. I have attended 3 different Widow Support Groups; with varying levels of success. I feel very real and very raw feelings and emotions about his death. I write about them. I talk about them. I am not fearful to do so. I will not hide away in some grief-closet and pretend like everything is okay, because that is what makes the world around me comfortable. Everything is definitely not okay. But I am trying. What the hell else do you want from me?

To the people who have told me that I need to decide to be happy, that I have the power, that happiness is a choice, I say this: Is it? Was it a choice on that July morning when I woke up, and my husband was already gone? Was it a choice that in one instant at age 39, the entire course of my life changed and I became a widow? Is the PTSD I suffer from every single day a choice? The migraines? The heart-palpatations? The constant anxiety? How about my very first panic-attack, about a month after he died, when I was alone in our apartment and convinced myself that I was going to have a heart-attack like he did? Was that a choice? The fact that I haven’t had one full night’s sleep in 16 months. The very real physical symptoms of grief; the exhaustion, the knee and joint pain, the shakes, the sobbing out of nowhere, the anger, the ache in every muscle, everywhere. The nightmares. The horrible nightmares when I wake up screaming or crying in the night, and I reach for a person who is no longer there. The health-insurance that I lost when he died. The loss of that safe feeling you have as a female, when your husband is there to protect you. The loss of our future. Our life. Our dreams.

None of these things were a choice, and I don’t appreciate constantly feeling like some sort of Widow-Fail, because I am not getting “over this” (no such thing) or “through this” quickly enough for the world at large. I do realize that most people just don’t know what to say and are only trying to help. Okay. But it is equally important that we begin to get rid of this very wrong idea that grief has a finish line, and that you should be well on your way to it after a year or two. We live in a world that is terrified of emotion. I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink alcohol. I express my feelings. I feel them, with no filter. I tell the truth. In this blog, and in my life. That frightens a lot of people, and confuses others. Honestly, I feel like if I were “coping” with my grief by downing bottles of vodka and medicating myself on endless pills, most people would be way more comfortable with that, then they are with someone who actually feels their feelings and puts them out there for everyone to see. That is sad, and it still shocks me on some level. People are so uncomfortable just sitting within themselves. I am not uncomfortable with myself, and I have learned that in order to really grieve, you have to be able to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Grieving sucks, and it’s a process. Ebb and flow. No beginning, no end. It shifts. It changes. Stops and starts. Sits in neutral. But you can’t speed it along. You can’t rush it. You can’t turn to the last page of the book, because the book has no ending. Grief changes you. Forever. This is the new me. Darker. more aware. Open-minded. Sometimes hopeful. Sometimes fearful. Feels joy, but lives inside sad. Always. It’s just there. Like breathing. It’s there.

Happiness is not that simple, and it’s not a place you get to, like driving in a car somewhere. It comes and goes. Like A.M. Radio. It’s there. It exists, but the signal is weak. It lives inside a fog. It’s like the wind. Sometimes it’s there. Sometimes it’s gone. I have felt happiness. I have had joy. But like everything else since his death, they are emotions, and they are fleeting. They come. They go. They return. They leave. They are unexpected and weird and shift and change out of nowhere. Today, for example, I felt pure joy and intense sorrow in the same 30 second period. An old friend of mine from college, Nicole, got married last year. Her wedding happened to be the same week as Don’s funeral. She came to the services, which was incredibly sweet of her.

Me with my friend Nicole. Long ago. Happy.

Today, she gave birth to her very first child. She posted a beautiful picture of her new daughter on Facebook. As I looked at the picture of the new life, I felt such joy for her and her husband. I smiled. And then I read the comments underneath the photo. “Welcome to motherhood – the most important thing you will ever do in life.” “This will be the happiest time for you and your new family.” “There is nothing as wonderful as being a parent.” Suddenly, my face turned hot, I was nauseous, and I began sobbing uncontrollably. Ran to my bed and cried for almost an hour, when seconds before, I was happy. Reading those comments underneath that picture was like 37 stabs to the heart, and there I was – bleeding. I would never experience a family with my husband. We would never hold a baby together, or look at a sonogram together, or name our child together. He would never get to be a dad, and I would never be a mom. And just like that, the happiness was gone. Fleeting.

People often say that grief is like being on a roller-coaster. I think it’s a bit more like a board game. A really bad, lame, torturous board game, that you are forced to play over and over again. Alone. There are no other players, you are stuck inside this game, and you just have to keep going around and around the board. Forever. Each time you think you are moving forward, you are pushed back by something unexpected or painful. Each roll of the dice is riddled with the unknown. You have no idea what will happen next – you just know that this is your new existance now, and there is nothing you can do to change it. Just play.

START. Wake up. Ringing phone. You are now a widow.

Roll Dice. Advance Token to Hospital to View Dead Husband in small, private room. Go back 3 spaces due to extreme shock.

Friends gather in your tiny apartment, armed with fruit and bagels. Escape to bathroom for your first real cry.

Planning of husband’s funeral creates Stress. Go to bed. Go directly to bed. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

Move in with mom and dad for 2 weeks. Feel like you are 12 again. Return to apartment you shared with husband – alone. Wish you were 12 again.

First day back at work. Students whisper about you in the hallways. Advance to your car in between classes. Sob like a baby. 

Collect one-time Social Security payment of $250 after annoying phone-call with Town Clerk office. This will act as your only form of financial help from authorities/government. Ever.

Death certificate arrives in mail. Husband’s name in print, next to the word “Deceased.” Go back 2 spaces.

Community Chest Card: Friends offer to take you to lunch. Dinner. They want to stop by. All the time. You appreciate it, but you need time to process and wish everyone would just leave you alone.

Roll Doubles. You now have double the bills! Double the rent! But you are alone. Must pay these bills alone. One paycheck.

GET OUT OF WORK FREE Card. This card entitles you to not go to work, so that you may pick up your husband’s Ashes and then collapse into your own emotional pile of dust.

Chance Card: Months pass. Your friends stop calling and asking how you are. You get your wish to be left alone. Everyone leaves you alone.

Advance token to the nearest Wedding! A dear friend is getting married. Move up 7 spaces for getting through the day. Lie in bed for 3 days afterward, shutting yourself off from the world. Go back 4 spaces.

Congratulations! You wrote a One-Act Play and made the Semi-Finals of major Festival! Move up 20 spaces.

Performing play about Grief forces you to re-live actual grief and first days surrounding his death. Start Game Over.

You get the idea. Of course, I could go on, because this is just a tiny sample of my life, and I’m sure many of my readers are already uncomfortable reading it. It’s okay. I’m uncomfortable too. I’ve just learned how to live inside of uncomfortable. Everyday, I am learning how to cope with the very real pain that sits in my heart. Lingering. Loitering. Hanging around, unwanted.

I get up. Everyday. Some days are fine. Some days are hell. Happiness comes. Shadowed by sorrow. Joy is present. Wrapped inside hurt. Sometimes I laugh. Sometimes I scream. Wail. Yell. Sit. Breathe. Fight.

In certain moments, there are things that help. Friends. Family. Writing. Being me. Acting silly.

In other moments, nothing helps. Sometimes there is nothing at all you can do, except feel the pain, sit inside of it, marinate in the hurt, feel the discomfort, don’t run away, get up again and try tomorrow.

Facing the grief. Living life. Telling the truth. Moving forward when your heart is gone. Walking through shattered glass. Taking off the mask and the phony timeline behind grief, and revealing the sickening reality that lies underneath. Living in that world every second, terrified as you may be.

That is a choice. That is my choice, and I won’t apoligize for it.

Happiness is not a destination or a goal that you try and achieve. It’s a feeling, and like all feelings, it is not permanent. Ask me if I am happy right now. No. Ask me again in 2 hours. Could be yes. It is temporary. Life is temporary. Most things are. The strange part is – once you realize this and come to accept it – there is something very oddly comforting inside of that knowledge. Terrifying, and comforting.

Or maybe it’s just me. I’ve always preferred the truth over unicorns, the sarcastic joke over the inspirational message, the reality over the fantasy.

Happiness will be there. And then it won’t. But for now, it can suck my ass.

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30 thoughts on “Living Inside Uncomfortable

  1. True to life, as always. I know, sometimes I want to say, so where is this place you call Happiness, and didn’t I know it once? Yeah, I can travel, just can’t seem to find it. My happy life was ripped from me. No one person in particular is responsible, well, maybe the cardiologist who he saw for 10 years and never thought it was a “big problem”????? Maybe it was going to happen anyway. And oh yes, those who say, well, if he lived, he would have not been happy with his quality of life with the oxygen, the limitations, etc….No, he wouldn’t have. I want to know WHY it had to happen at all??? I AM thankful we did not live with the knowledge he was very sick and going to die. But please don’t tell me how long I have to realize this thankfulness. I miss my husband, I loved him deeply and I am not going to be over it ever. If I am lucky the pain will lessen with more time (I mean, after all, 3.5 years??? Come on) but for now, my life sucks without him. I don’t really see myself with someone else. Ever. So quit telling me it will happen. Just let me BE. Be happy, be sad, be crying, be laughing. I’m a widow. My feelings change like that. Thanks Kelly Lynn for putting into words what so much of us feel most of the time. I do have moments of laughter when I read your posts. Keep writing!!

  2. I think everyone feels like that, when they lose someone, people are getting overloaded with information and news of suffering, so they filter out all of it, not realizing they’re doing it not only to the abstract “people” on the news, but their loved ones as well. I don’t know your pain, and won’t even pretend to, but people can be very callous towards anyone who doesn’t act like some expertly written television character(perky and perfect, with one or two quirks, and gets over any crisis or distress in 30-60 minutes with commercials), as it reminds them that they may have things they should deal with, but drowning in material things and intoxicants is “easier”. I’ve also noticed an alarming trend among people towards responding to any bad news with the phrase “I’m sorry to hear that” which to me equates to “shut up, you’re bumming me out, now I need more whatever to make me happy”, whatever happened to “I’m sorry you’re going through a rough time, what can I do to help?” Seriously, tell me to just leave you be, and I’ll still be annoying asking(every week or so, just because people that are in emotional turmoil, sometimes don’t “want to bother others”), but at least it’s a reminder that you matter, and someone cares. There is no “statute of limitations” on human emotions, and stifling them for the sake of others’ feelings is just wrong, and no caring, compassionate person should ask that of anyone. We avoid what makes us uncomfortable, but being human, shouldn’t be uncomfortable.

  3. Happiness can kiss my ass!!!!I havent laughed that hard in 15 months an and I cant thank you enough for that. I sat here in my friends basement ( my daughter and I have been here since Hurricane Sandy wrecked our home) reading everything I have been feeling and thinking and havent had the balls to write anywhere here on your blog. I have tried to buy into the happiness BS that we the widowed tell ourselves over and over that things will get better and I have failed miserably. Im 53 years old, spent 24 years with the love of my life and now that hes gone I spend my days attempting to have some semblence of a life, something resembling what I use to have. Well it aint working for me either. Thank you for your honesty, your sense of humour and for giving a fellow widow the best laugh shes had in a long time.

  4. Love this! Perfectly written and truthfully explains exactly how I feel. The board game analogy is FANTASTIC! Thank you!

  5. WOW – Well said – would be an amazing board game (perfect name for it too – RIP the life I knew) to give a few ‘friends’ and relatives that I know so they could see what we actually have to go through and deal with daily — a perfect present

  6. Wow, Kellie–powerful, honest, true to life words! I appreciate your sharing with others; you are so talented. And Susig–sounds like our death experiences are very, very similar–we had a lame cardiologist and primary care physician, too–“You’re a very healthy fellow, see you in six months”–dead after emergency bypass/valve surgery–never woke up, I never got to tell him goodbye, it tears me up inside. You are all right that we didn’t “choose” widowhood.

  7. You’ve no idea what this blog has done for me. I’ve not got over my dad dying July 14th 1975 at 6 pm on the dot. Nor have I got over my mom dying December 14th, alone around 6 pm, nor over her being cremated on the 16th, her birthday. Dear friend John Slater who was murdered in 1986, still hurts sometimes. My most beloved Marc, I knew from the start that it would hurt, not always, but forever. Every loss has changed me. Add a few more crappy life events, and I do good to be at peace. It is quite a feat for me to be happy. It isn’t a goal. All I live for is no regrets. I wish I could make you feel better Kelley. Sorry I can’t. Thanks though, for making me feel less sorry for being so often sad. You are more precious to me than a rainbow unicorn.

  8. It has been 14 yrs . It took me awhile but I did find a way to move on and now can remnber him with great joy. I did find happiness again and got married again 4 years and I am blessed again with love and yes I am very happy. Bg eing happy does not mean I still don’t grieve for my late husband as i do have those moments when grief sneaks up life a indian stalking, you know when you are fine and you start to feel so sad and you wonderr where the sadness was hidden?
    But grief does take time . There is no limit or ending ,just acceptance that as trite as this is “Time does heal all wounds”

  9. You know what makes me uncomfortable about this? It’s that apparently you have been eavesdropping inside my head. Cut that out! Seriously, you nailed it. Again.

  10. I’m living inside that board game – what a perfect way to describe our lives. I’m not as far along in my journey – just 7 weeks since my life was torn apart. I still have days where I think this nightmare has to end and he will walk in the door. Thanks for allowing the rest of us inside your thoughts with this blog.

  11. Kelley, I am so proud of you and, especially, all the people that you have helped go hrough this horrible event in your life. Relating to the “game” is genius!!!! Because that’s how it is..some days you are ok and then, and it may be in the same day, you go back 3 spaces. That’s how it was the first year Nana passed, but dealing with Don’s passing is much more …. and you are doing amazingly well, despite what others may say or make you feel.

    Keep on keepin’ on, I so admire your courage and so proud that you are my daughter. I can’t “fix” this and that’s is what is so hard for me as a parent. In time I know you will heal, but it will be in your time and not in the time that others think.

  12. I love this post. And just look at all the comments you are receiving. Beautiful. Meaningful. It is a blessing to have you in my life. The board game analogy is so spot on, so exactly how it all feels. I am going to share yoru post on my blog, I want others to read this. <3 All my love!

  13. Beautifully written, Kelley. I think you’re 100% right that most people are uncomfortable with strong emotions. And I think that social media puts a lot of pressure on us to present ourselves as constantly happy. Does traffic suck today and you’re sick of it? I’m sure there are a few people on your friend list who will jump to remind you about how GRATEFUL you should be that you can afford a car or that you have a job to commute to. Sometimes it feels like we’re not ALLOWED to process ANY type of negative thoughts. I wish more people would express their real emotions as well as you do. Wish I had something comforting to say.

  14. This is it EXACTLY!!! I’m at four and a half years now and it hasn’t changed very much.
    Did anyone tell you how freaking awesome you are? Cause you are.

  15. You dont know me, i dont usually read or post on blogs much. I lost my husband almost ten years ago. it happens. the happy comes back. the happy will happen in time, without the tears to follow. i never thought it would happen to me but it did. i wont tell you how long it took because it’s too much for someone so early out in their loss to look that far ahead and too much for me to want to look back at it. the time will just come and you will know it when it does. until then just be you, its all any of us can do. prayers for peace to you.

  16. I loved this Kelley. I haven’t suffered a horrific loss like you have but your raw honesty touches me. I wish you all the best as you continue through your journey.

  17. I love this. I’m going to forward it to my yin yoga teacher, she’ll love it. In class we practice being in certain levels of discomfort, not trying to move towards anything “happy” or move away from any hard emotions/experiences. You are in the ultimate tough practice of being in “what is” and you’re kicking ass! The buddhists would approve, for whatever that’s worth.

    I deal with a lot of this attitude since I’m currently in the midst of two and half years of infertility. Though less tragic and life shattering, it has been a tough life changing challenge filled with sadness and loss. Needless to say, people are delusional. After 2 and a 1/2 years, 5 failed IUI’s, one surgery, and countless wholistic measures all which have reaped absolutely nothing, I’m told to have fun and stay positive, and that starting a family should be exciting. Which is about as sane as telling a cancer patient going through chemo to have fun and that watching a fatal car accident is exciting. I do not know how you feel Kelley, but I have some idea about the misgiuded happy happy happy joy joy joy cultural beast of which you speak.

    I do agree happiness can be a choice though – when you are willing to NOT be true to yourself there are PLENTY of cheap and easy choices available. Fake forced “happiness” being one of them. A great way to dishonor yourself, if you ask me. I’m tired of being spoken to as though I’m doing something wrong because I’m in pain (over things that are not under my control!!) a lot of the time. Someone who was implying I should change my attitude and approach revealed later that they “didn’t like seeing me in so much pain.” Well isn’t that just too fucking bad! My infertility is in no way my fault or of my making. My response was that if pain is what I really need to feel then I don’t want to see myself in anything but.

    I’m so proud of you for making the ultimate courageous choice of being in what is with one of the toughest things a person can go through. And I know Don is too.

  18. Kelley you are absolutely 100% correct when you say that people are so uncomfortable around other’s emotions. They don’t know what to say. They don’t know how to act. They don’t know how to make it better. And what comes out of their mouth sometimes can cause us more pain than anything else. I have not experienced a loss to the degree that you have. But I do have a son who was diagnosed with autism almost 20 years ago and have felt like you about many comments from people who just didn’t understand that really crushed me.

    I read about Sarah mentioning your post and since I love reading her posts I just had to come over and read yours. All that I see with both of you is two incredibly courageous women that have been widowed way too young before their time, yet somehow somewhere find the ounces of courage and strength to continue not just on their journey in this life without a partner/husband, but yet choose to find the time, the energy, the love and devotion to educate the rest of the world through your writing about the pain and joys you are experiencing. I cannot say that I understand. I do not. But I try to have my heart open wide to what it must be like for each of you.

    I’m sending you love and blessings… may your heart be healed and may you be surrounded by those who care deeply, so they can help somehow with the nurturing that your tender heart needs and deserves. xoxo

  19. Love this so much and can relate to most of it. Lost my husband 16 months ago to a heart attack! Thank you for putting your thoughts down…

  20. so true…i was just attempting to explain similar feelings like this today…it’s only been a month and 5 days for me and I know there is a long road ahead, I see there is no end to it, I wish it “ended”, the sadness, hurt and loneliness. I was lucky enough to have a child with my fiance yet know the day will come when I have to tell this story to her, she’s only 7 mos now, but it scares the shit out of me. Thank you so much for sharing this…such truth…

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