You know those annoying parents of newborns and toddlers and little kids, who count everything in months? You know the ones I’m talking about. It usually goes something like this:
Person: So how old is Dylan now?
Parent: Our little Dylan is 27 months and 2 days old! Can you believe it? His daddy and I are sooo proud of our little muffin man!
Can I believe it? No, I cannot believe that I am required to do math in order to figure out the age of your child, which, let’s be honest, I don’t really care about all that much to begin with. I was only asking to be polite. Now I’m over in the corner like a jackass mumbling to myself: “Okay, so 27 months, so that’s …. carry the 7 … divide by 3 … multiply by 3.14 pi … so … okay … muffin man is 2 years old, give or take a couple months. He is 2. So why the hell didn’t they just say that?”
Fast-forward to today. New Year’s Eve. December 31, 2012. It is exactly 17 months and 18 days since my husband’s sudden death. The old me found this “counting in months” thing to be obnoxious and weird. The new me, however, understands it perfectly. Parents talk in months for the same reason that widowed people do: Because every day counts. Every hour. Every minute. Every second. When a child is young and hasn’t lived a long time yet, you don’t want to say they are 2 years old unless they are actually 2 years old. If that child is 27 months old, that is 3 more months they have been on the planet, alive, and part of your world. You don’t want to shortchange yourself or them of that very valuable time. When a life is starting, every moment counts. When a life is over, every moment counts. For the widowed, Dealing with this hell of a life after such inconceivable loss, for 1 year, is a lot different than dealing with it for 16 months. That is four more months without them. You better believe we want that time acknowledged.
Widowed people count everything. We don’t even mean to – it just happens. It is what we live with, and it is inside of us. We count everything and we know every important day. Days that maybe were not so important when our loved one was here, become vital to us now. They become like air. We need them and we hold onto them just to breathe. Sometimes they act as a lifeline, a saving grace – other times they are simply raw and unbelievably painful to acknowledge, but we can’t help it. Sometimes our hearts and our bodies and our souls remind us that today is a certain day, whether we want to know it or not. Sometimes we wake up in the pain of the grief monster as it pokes at us and screams at us in that grating voice:
“Hey, asshole! Today is one year and 6 months since he died. I hope you weren’t planning on accomplishing anything today, because it’s not gonna happen. You are going to hurt all over, whether you like it or not! I’m gonna fuck you up so bad today, your eyelids are going to burn! There is no part on your physical body that will not feel the tremendous ache of me being here today! So get up, douchebag! The Grief Monster wants to play!”
This is why it is so exhausting to simply exist and get through the day. We are always counting. And if it’s a good day for us, it’s a horrible day for somebody else, another widowed person in the 9 billion online and real-life support groups we have become accustomed to hanging out in, so that someone our own age can possibly comprehend us and what we deal with. Always counting.
38 more days until the anniversary of the day that Don moved in with me. February 8th. And then just 6 days until my 2nd Valentine’s Day without him, and then, February 25th is, of course, the anniversary of the day that we first started talking to each other in that music chat room back in 1998.
The month of March is pretty quiet for me. Not a lot of counting or “sad-aversaries”, as widowed people call them. Old me used to hate the month of March, because it was so boring and pointless and there were no holidays or “fun” things for Don and I to celebrate. I used to tell him: “March is dumb. I don’t get any presents.” Now I love March, because I get to pause and breathe for 15 seconds before the countdown begins again.
April sucks because it reminds me of all the Easter weekends we spent with my family, and how much fun we had. And then somewhere around end of April and start of May, my heart starts reminding me of all the last time type of days – the things that I had no idea would be significant, because I had no idea that in just 2 short months, my husband would be dead.
May 7th. The last time he would sit in the audience and watch something that I had written being performed. (the Adelphi cabaret). It would also be the last time he would see my parents before he died. June 16th. The last time he would watch me do stand-up comedy onstage. The last time we would walk home together through NYC and he would say: “You were the best one, Boo.” July 4th. Our last one together. 9 days later, he would be gone. If I had only known that, I would have stayed home with him that night and relaxed like he wanted, instead of leaving him to go to Sarah’s BBQ. More counting.
If I had known it would be their last conversation, I would have made sure that he and my Dad made it a quality one, when we called him to say Happy Birthday on July 11th. And if I knew that the next morning, I would be waking up to a new world in which my husband was already dead, maybe I could remember what the hell we even talked about or did on July 12th, before going to sleep. What we said. If I told him I loved him. I don’t know.
After July, the dates and the numbers and the counting get a little nutty. We go straight from his death-day right into my mom’s birthday a week later. Then my brother’s. And then my birthday. September 26, 2011, I turned 40, without my husband. And then 41. We go from that nightmare into the next – our wedding day. October 27th. Then his birthday on November 6th. Thanksgiving. December 18th, the day he proposed to me under that Rockefeller Center Tree. Christmas. And somewhere inside all of those days, are the ones that are only important to us. The ones that hurt like hell, but with nobody else noticing. The ones I count inside my head, like a raving lunatic, desperately searching for some small thread to hold onto.
Like the day we first kissed. Or the day he told me “I love you” for the first time. The first time we were intimate. The day we adopted each of our individual kitties. The days that we lost our sweet Isabelle, and then Ginger. The night we talked about having a family. These are all days that I know in my heart. I know the date that they happened, and my body remembers it when it rolls around. These times and these moments are between a husband and a wife, between him and me. And he is no longer here to share them with, so I sit with these days in silence. I feel the pain in silence. Counting the memories in silence. Memories are brutal when the person you shared them with isn’t there to help you remember.
So tonight is New Year’s Eve. I’m invited for an early dinner reservation at Sage Bistro, my best friend Sarah’s husband’s restaurant on Long Island. I will go to that dinner, and then I will be home and sitting alone by 10pm. I do not want to celebrate the coming of a new year. I do not want to wear funny-looking glasses and sing songs and drink champagne. I have no desire to hear about New Year’s Resolutions or come up with my own, and I really do not feel like watching happy couples kissing and hugging one another at midnight. Last year was my first New Year’s Eve without my husband. I didnt know how much it would hurt, until it was suddenly happening. I was at a dinner-party with my parents, and a few minutes before the countdown to midnight, I felt sick to my stomach. I had to get out. I wanted to cry for hours and days and never stop. I told mom and dad that we needed to leave, and I sat in their car in the backseat. When they said their goodbyes and got in the car, I told my dad: “Please dont put the radio on. I cant hear the countdown. I just cant.” And so, 2011, the year that my husband died and left me with this new life, passed and turned into 2012. I did not celebrate it. I did not hear the countdown. It happened anyway. I ran into my parents bed that night, and cried myself to sleep. Eventually.
Do you know what I was thinking about? What was so upsetting to me? It was not the idea that other couples had one another, or that I had nobody to kiss at midnight, or that New Year’s Eve was something we celebrated together. It was none of those things. It was much bigger than that. It was the idea that my husband would never know another year. 2011 would be the last year that he would ever know. He would not see another President get elected, or another sunset over NYC. I would not get to take him to California on the trip we were planning to go back to the area he grew up in as a kid. He would never meet our niece, Jillian. He would not see our nephew Brian grow up. He would never be a dad, or play another guitar chord, or hear another song. No more seeing a great movie together, or watching the Yankees almost, not-quite make the World Series again this year. No more future. No more tomorrows.
That is why I cried right through midnight last year, and why I will once again turn off all electronics tonight, and just be alone, sitting with the pain in silence. It doesn’t really matter anyway. 2013 is coming. It will be here tomorrow, with or without my participation. With or without my fanfare or my confetti or my wacky noise-maker. And to be honest, I am exhausted. I am tired from all the counting. For the past 17 months and 18 days, I have done nothing but countdown to the next sad thing. And since my husband cannot ever countdown to a new year, ever again, I don’t want to either. It just all feels terribly wrong.
So please don’t wish me a Happy New Year. Really. It is nothing personal. I just don’t feel much like celebrating, and there is not much about it that seems “happy” to me right now. Maybe next year. Maybe later. Maybe never. I just don’t know.
I only know this:
While the world watches the ball drop in Times Square with douchebag Ryan Seacrest – loudly and excitedly yelling and counting down from 10 all the way down to 1, I will sit in the silence of the cold, dark night; finding the only ten seconds of peace, where I can finally stop all the counting.