Snuffleupagus

There is a very specific, undeniable feeling that belongs to those of us unlucky enough to be living the widowed-life. It is a feeling I have had trouble describing to others in the past, because it’s something that is nearly impossible to imagine, unless you’ve walked in this path of hell yourself. It is a feeling much different than loneliness, although being lonely is a part of it. It is not quite the same as feeling alone, but feeling alone is one of it’s components. It is in the same league as feeling isolated, but isolation doesn’t really begin to cover it. So what is it?

Snuffleupagus. Remember him? He was a big, furry, sort of elephant – sort of rhinoserus-looking thing. Technically, his name was Mr. Snuffleupagus, and technically, he didn’t exist. He was a character on Sesame Street – but unlike the other muppets walking around, he wasn’t real. He was Big Bird’s imaginary friend. Nobody else in the neighborhood could see him, so nobody acknowledged his existence. When they did talk of him, they spoke only to Big Bird about him in condescending tones, as if they were looking right through him. All the people on Sesame Street were uncomfortable and awkward around “Snuffy”, (Big Bird’s nickname for him) so they pretended that it wasn’t happening, and they ignored him.

This is what it feels like to be widowed and living in the world. You feel like Snuffy, and you feel like your dead spouse is also Snuffy. But there is one main difference: our dead loved ones are not imaginary. They are very real, and very missed, and very much alive in our hearts every single day. The problem is this: the world wants to pretend that they are imaginary. The world wants you to forget about them. Move on. Get over it. Stop talking about them. Leave the past in the past. Yes, people who have not experienced true pain can be extremely cruel and heartless. 

Widowed people are forced to live in a world where they no longer fit in anywhere. We have to rebuild our lives, brick by heavy brick, and very few people comprehend or even acknowledge our loss. The more time that goes by, the more we miss the life we had, the more distant we feel from our loved one, and the more invisible we become.

This feeling of being invisible is nobody’s fault. It’s everybody’s fault. Society. Family. A culture that’s obsessed with marriage and kids. A world where very few people deal with death and grief in a healthy way. An environment that pushes people like us away from you, and more toward each other. Pushes us toward the other widowed – the only people that are just like us, and that understand. We cling to one another. We isolate with one another. We vent and we cry and we laugh with our dark, dead-spouse humor. We acknowledge. We give and feel the compassion that we don’t always see coming from the outside world.

It’s not your fault, and it’s certainly not mine. But it’s happening, and it’s about time we talked about it. For me, sometimes the best way to do that and to get across what Im trying to say, is to go directly to the source. So once again, I asked my online widowed friends to try and describe this feeling of being invisible. How much it hurts. What it does to you. When it happens. Here is some of what they said:

(Some names have been altered or changed for those who wished to remain completely anonymous. Only first names were used.)

Brittany felt invisible after her fiance’s death, when she was told she could not receive any sort of bereavement pay or benefits, because “you weren’t married, and that kind of thing only goes to close family members.”

Karen expressed how she rarely gets invited to attend social get-togethers since her husband’s death. One BBQ she did go to, left her feeling alone and forgotten. “There were lots of hellos and goodbyes, but absolutely nothing in between.” Jenni had a similar experience going out to a bar one night with friends. “As everyone danced and laughed and conversed, I sat alone and unnoticed. I felt so lonely in a room filled with people.”

Carol puts it like this: “As a widow, I no longer fit in. Everyone is busy in their own lives, and there is nothing in common anymore. My in-laws have dropped out of sight, and I find myself withdrawing from my own family stuff. It just hurts too much, hearing about all their vacations or weekend getaways, or hearing married friends and family whine about petty shit involving their husbands.”

Erin says that she feels empty inside. “I feel like Ive been forgotten. Ive reached out so many times for support and love, only to be ignored. Now that the drama of his illness and health crisis is gone, so are the people.”

Sheryl turned into Snuffy around the year 2 mark. “I was with my family over the holidays, and nobody said his name. I feel like I live in a bubble, all alone, surrounded by everyone. It’s like they all assume or want me to just be ‘over it’ by now.” Vanessa gets a similar feeling when around his family. “Its nothing they do to make me feel bad, but they never speak of him, so I feel invisible for him. It’s like me and him are stuck in a time warp and we don’t really exist.”

When I asked around, I started to notice that a lot of the people I spoke with felt the most uncomfortable or alone when around their own families. Or their late partner’s families. It made me sad, because I have felt this way too. Many, many times. I know that most of my extended family is not trying to make me feel bad, but sometimes, it is just how it feels.

My husband, sitting on a rock in Central Park. He lived. He existed. He mattered.

 It hurts like hell when nobody talks about your love, your marriage, your loss. It hurts like hell when nobody says that they sometimes miss him too, or what a great person he was, or how incredibly hard it must be for me to show up on this emotional holiday. It hurts when you are sitting at a table with relatives, and everybody is talking around you. Or you try to relate to a story they tell about their husband, by telling one about yours, and they roll their eyes or look away. Or they treat you like a child, like you were never married, like it didnt happen. It hurts like hell when you have to sit and listen to happy stories of romantic birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, new homes, families and lives; yet nobody asks you about your life anymore. It hurts like hell when you are writing a book, and have a blog that is gaining in popularity, and you are doing things in the widowed community to help people; and you can count on one hand the number of family members who have even bothered to read it or ask about it, or who even know about it. It hurts like hell when your world is gone, and people seem to be running out of patience or time for your pain. It hurts like hell to feel forgotten about.

After awhile, you start to think maybe they are right. Maybe he never existed at all. Maybe I was never someone’s wife. Maybe I never had that incredible love. Maybe I made the whole thing up.

Us

Christine expands on this thought: “It was the first Thanksgiving after he died, and I went to his families house like we always did. I felt truly alone. I sat with my kids at the kids table, and was never asked to join the others. I remember sitting in the corner listening to them go on and on about their families and lives, and not once did they include me in anything. It was like The Twilight Zone.” Jo tells about a similar experience with her sister. “She had already planned my nephew’s 2 yr old birthday party for two days after my husband’s funeral, and she wouldn’t reschedule it. Not only did I have to go, but they all avoided me like I was the plague.”

James feels like he is invisible whenever people respond to his pain by reminding him that he has a little boy to love. As if he had forgotten. “Im tired of everybody saying ‘you have your son.’ Yes, I do, and I love him more than anything. But I cant hold him the way I held my wife, or kiss his neck in the morning. He cant remind me to take my medication, or ask me about my day. Yes, I have a son, but I feel alone all the time.”

Lauren tells this heartbreaking story about this past Christmas, her first one without her husband. “The kids and I were at my parents place, and the weather was awful, so I couldnt get to the cemetary like I wanted. I was really upset about the snow being on him, so another widow friend of mine offered to go to the cemetary and take pictures of his grave. As she sent them to me, I sat there looking at them on my phone, and sobbing. My older sister walked by me three times and didnt say a word. Never even acknowledged me.”

Bianca didnt think she could get through speaking at her husband’s services, so she sat and watched as others did. “His mom gets up and says how cute he was as a child, which is probably the last time she even saw him. His dad says he doesnt know how he will go on without his “little Eric.” Even the priest talked about him as a boy. Not one mention of his grieving wife in the front row. Nothing said about him being married, just on and on about what his parents were going through. I felt like I didnt exist.”

Sylinda felt shut out by her own friends one night at a bar. “Everyone was coupled up. Everyone was talking and I was slowly shoved away from the table and nobody said anything. I felt like I was invited to be the token 3rd wheel, so I left, and nobody noticed. My friend called me the next day and asked when I had left and why. Ive never felt so invisible in my life.”

Tom feels the most invisible during the holidays. “I am alone, not wanting to impose on the joy of others while they happily get on with their lives as if they have no reason to pause and ask how I am. Because they feel uncomfortable, they simply act as if I dont exist.” And after 19 months of this new life, Lisa is starting to see what it’s like to be Big Bird’s imaginary friend too. “The phone calls from friends and family have simply stopped. Just stopped. Nobody checks in anymore to see if Im okay. I know they have lives, but it feels like nobody cares after a few months. And by the way, Im not okay.”

My last story comes from my friend Stephen, a dad whose kids were only 2 years old, and 2 weeks old, when his wife passed. “In my case, I actually felt most invisible with my own kids. I needed help, especially with my newborn son, and friends and neighbors and family came to help. They helped out a lot, but after awhile, it felt like I was watching my son being taken care of from the outside. It came to a head at my son’s 1st birthday party. I walked into the kitchen to see a crowd of mom’s around my daughter. She had busted her lip pretty bad. Nobody thought to come and get me, her dad. That was when the switch flipped and I bulldozed myself back into being in charge. I want to stress that none of this was done to purposely hurt me or make me feel bad. They wanted to help and Im very grateful. It was just a case of good intentions running out of control.”

My brother, my dad, Uncle Richard, Aunt Debbie, and me. A zillion years ago. Before death and pain.

And maybe that is the point here. None of us quite know how to communicate with each other, so instead of dealing with that very real issue, everyone runs away or pretends as if nothing is wrong. But something is wrong. When you lose your life partner, your love – you lose your world. Your balance. Your joy. Your sense of purpose and footing. You lose your rhythms and your patterns, and often-times, you lose a lot of your friends and family too. Why? Because people forget how to communicate with you, or they dont want to see or feel or hear about your pain, so they shy away. Or they have good intentions by not mentioning your loss, or your loved one. I truly hope that those people who are not widowed and are reading this will understand how much it means to us to simply be acknowledged. To feel like we still belong somewhere. Anywhere. In our own families.

A few weeks ago, my parent’s good friend of over 30 years died. His name was Al, and we didn’t always get along, especially politically. He was a hard-core Republican and Obama-hater. He also was one of the many people who said something hurtful to me when I lost my husband. In response to one of my blogposts, much like this one, he wrote me an email, that said, among other things: “It is clear to me that you need to move on from this now. You need to get over it and stop writing about the past.” He said this just a few weeks after my husband’s death. At the time, I sobbed my face off and wondered how anyone could say something so cruel. Now, almost 19 months later, it still hurts, but I realize that he just didnt know. He wasnt trying to upset me. He was just being Al, and that is something Al would say. It wasnt meant to be cruel, it was just his take on things. Al was more than just a conservative Republican who sometimes said harsh things though. He loved jazz music and comedy, and would often talk to me about comedians and acting and the world of entertainment. He was funny and he was a friend of our family for years, and of my dad’s especially. They had years of amazing memories.

Our friend Al …

So when he died, I felt like I needed to attend the funeral. I was visiting my parents in Massachusetts anyway that week, so I decided to go. I wanted to do it for my parents, and also for his wife Sue, another very good friend of our family. It would be only my second funeral since my own husband’s.

The morning of the funeral, as we were getting ready, the phone rang. It was my Aunt Debbie. My Aunt Debbie; who is married to my Uncle Richard; my dad’s brother. Years before, Debbie and Richard’s daughter Tricia, my cousin, became a suicide widow, when her husband hung himself in their garage. On this morning a few weeks ago, my Aunt Debbie told my mom that she was calling to speak to me. I got on the phone, and this is what she said:

“I just want you to know that I have been reading everything you write in your blog, and that I think you are so brave and so courageous to put your emotions out there like that, and to use your own pain to help so many other people that are like you. I so wish that Tricia had something like this to read when she was going through it, because it really would have helped her tremendously to not feel so alone and invisible. I also think it is really incredible of you to go to Al’s funeral today, and I know that cannot be easy for you. I just think everything you are doing is so right on and so wonderful, and I know it hurts everyday, but I just wanted to acknowledge you and let you know that somebody notices and cares, and that I love you.”

Maya Angelou says: “When you know better, you do better.” Al didn’t know the intense pain of losing your partner to death, so he told me to move on. And while most people have no idea what to say to me, my Aunt Debbie knew, because she went through and continues to go through it with her own daughter. She knew, and now Im sharing it with all of you, so that you can go home to your widowed sister or brother or friend or son, and reach out to them more. Open the lines of communication. Acknowledge their loss. Mention their loved ones name. Talk about them. Trust me. That is what they need. That is what they want. 

When you know better, you do better. So now that you know, you can no longer pretend that you dont see Mr. Snuffleupagus, sitting alone in the corner. Now that you know he is real, go over and say hello. Ask him how he has been. You’ll be shocked at how little it takes to make a ginormous difference. 

This is Snuffleupagus – signing off.

Fishes

Don and I were only married just under 5 years when he died of a heart-attack, smack in the middle of his life, in July, 2011. We never got to start our family. Would we have had children? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Probably. It was something we talked about often, and something we both wanted to make happen one day. Adoption was one thing we fantasized about. Don loved the idea of helping or “rescuing” a child that was in need of a family, just like he loved rescuing animals.

Sammy naps with his Poppa (Don) …

There were many nights we would lie in bed and talk about what our future son or daughter might be like. We talked about names, created future scenarios for our imaginary child, and laughed about Don’s hatred of New Jersey, the state we lived in, and how he wasn’t going to be raising any “mafia wanna-be” who walked around saying things like “Fuggett-about-it!” The idea of kids was something we both hoped for.

Ever since losing my husband, people like to rationalize and insinuate that it has to be somehow “less painful” for me, because after all, we didn’t have children. To me, it feels like they are saying we weren’t really an actual family, since it was only me and him and our pets. I’ve also had lots of people wrongly assume that we werent planning on having kids anyway, so therefore, I didnt really lose anything in the way of a future family.

Sometimes I really hate people and their unbelievably cluelessness and insensitive remarks. Who cares if we were planning on having kids or not? Does it matter? The point is; the possibility, the hope, the option; was taken from us the second he died. Not only do I grieve the loss of my husband – I also grieve the family we never got to have. Each time I see other families playing happily together, kids swinging on a swingset, a little boy that maybe looks a bit like Don, a little girl with his sense of humor, a dad and his son tossing a ball back and forth. All of these scenarios are cruel reminders of what will never be. There won’t be any kindergarten or 1st year birthday parties or school functions or science fairs or graduations or marriages or grandparent days – not for us.

The only thing that hurts me more than the fact that I will most likely never be a mother – is that my husband will never be a dad. This reality pains me to my core, because Don’s own father was never much of a dad to him, so he never got to be a son, and now he will never get to be a father. My husband was robbed from both ends – his childhood was abusive and dysfunctional, and his adulthood ended at 46. He never complained, but he was hurt. This is why he loved animals so much. “They never leave you. They just love you, all the time, no matter what”, he would say to me. His lack of a loving family broke my heart into a billion tiny little pieces.

Don with our nephew Brian, as a newborn

And that is what I got – pieces. Before he died, during all the years I knew him, I got to see little pieces of what kind of a dad he might have been. I saw him play with our kitties, love them, take care of them when they were sick, brush their teeth with the patience of a saint, and hold them when they passed away, whispering in their tiny, furry ears: ” You’re going to be okay sweetie. My sweet Isabelle … poor little Ginger ….”

I watched him chase my cousin Tabatha’s daughter Ana around her house when she was a little girl, and how she always wanted to climb him because he was so tall. I saw him take care of our Nana when she was feeling sick, and I saw him help our elderly neighbor and friend Uncle Chuck into a chair after he had fallen, talking him gently into going to the hospital. I saw the way every animal and every child gravitated to him and loved him, and I saw him turn into a little boy while playing with kids and their toys. Mostly, for 2 1/2 years, I saw the way that he was with our nephew, Brian. He would lift him onto his shoulders, or lie down and toss into the air over and over, or we would read stories to him together on the couch. Don helped to teach Brian how to throw a baseball one day in my parents front yard, and he also taught him the word “ocean” when our family spent the weekend together on Cape Cod. Everytime I saw my husband with Brian, I would get that tingle inside me that wanted nothing more than for him to be someone’s dad. The way he was with little kids and animals – it was magic.

Brian laughs as Uncle Don lifts him into the air…

About 11 months ago, my brother and sis-in-law, Jen, had their 2nd child, my niece, Jillian. She was born after Don died, so she will never know him. But Brian knew him, and my husband really loved that kid. A few months ago, my brother told me that lately, Brian had been asking questions about Uncle Don, out of the blue. He was only 2 1/2 years old when he died, and now he is 4 and very curious. He wanted to sleep in the bed with me when I went home for a visit, because he said “Auntie Kelley is sad.” He whispered into my mom’s ear during dinner one night that he had a secret. “Uncle Don died”, he told my mom. “But don’t tell Auntie. She doesn’t know.” My mom laughed nervously and said: “Im pretty sure she knows!”

My mom babysits Brian and Jillian once a week while Dave and Jen are at work. She called me tonight to tell me this story of the dialogue that happened between her and Brian during their time together today. I scribbled it down as she was talking, so while it’s not exact wording since I wasn’t there, it’s close. The conversation began when my mom noticed that the fish in Brian’s fishtank were no longer there.

Mom: What happened to your fishes, Brian?

Brian: Oh, they died.

Mom: Oh, they did? Im sorry to hear that. How did they die?

Brian: They died because I forgot to feed them. I didnt feed them and they died, like Uncle Don died.

Mom: (taken aback) That’s right, Brian. Uncle Don died, and we all miss him very much.

Brian: Did Auntie see Uncle Don die?

Mom: No, but she went to the hospital to see him afterwards.

Brian: He used to pick me up and then go really really high , almost to the ceiling, Grammy!

Mom: That’s right honey. He did. He loved playing with you.

Brian: (putting his hands on his hips and getting very serious, like an adult) You know – he was a very nice guy. Uncle Don was a really nice man.

Mom: Yes he sure was. He was the best.

Brian: He was a really good, good guy. A very nice guy.

After that, Brian went back to playing and jumping around and being a little boy, but my mom was stunned by the seriousness in his tone. She said it was as if she was having a conversation with another adult, instead of a 4-year old boy. Now, I am quite sure that the most logical explanation for this “nice man” thing is that Brian has probably overheard my brother and Jen say things like that about Don, and he is just repeating it. Or maybe it’s something more.

They say that when people die, their souls or their spirits are easiest to reach by both kids and animals. Im convinced that our cat Autumn sees Don in the ceilings and talks to him, because of the strange way she acts. And as crazy as this makes me sound, I often see Don through Sammy’s eyes when Im petting him. I sing to them and I tell them how much I miss their daddy. Maybe Im nuts, or maybe I just dont have any children to see my husband’s eyes in. Maybe I see him wherever good things are, and because he never got to be that wonderful dad he should have been, maybe it makes my heart sing and skip a beat to hear that he left some sort of impression on a boy who was only 2 years old. Maybe that boy remembers and understands more than we think and know.

Or maybe he was just a really nice man, who now sleeps with the fishes.

My Husband Is Not a Rainbow

There are a lot of things that people say to the widowed that are extremely insensitive. I have spoken about these types of dumb comments numerous times in this blog. Comments like: It was God’s will. There is a reason for everything. He is in a better place. You’re young, so you’ll meet someone else. Blah blah blah. If you are widowed, then you have heard them all.

You may not, however, have heard this one. This comment that was made to me did not make me angry or upset. It just made me laugh, and it gave me endless material that ended up in my stand-up comedy, as well as being the topic and title of both my One-Act Play about grief, and my eventual book. In reality, it is really more of a story than a comment, so here is the story that inspired so many future creative projects and ideas:

My husband, at his volenteer Petsmart job, cleaning the kitty cages

There is a very sweet woman who ran the cat adoption volenteer section of Petsmart, where my husband volenteered and worked with the animals. This woman’s name is Mary, and she was a wonderful friend to my husband. They worked together, and they shared a love of animals. Mary is somewhat religious and very spiritual, and she seems to have a strong sense of faith. A couple days after Don’s funeral, Mary was at our apartment helping me take care of our two kitties. As we sat there, she got very serious suddenly, and she told me this story:

  “Kelley, the most amazing thing happened to me while I was driving to the funeral that morning. It was so incredible, I just have to tell you about it.” Her eyes widened with anxiousness, as she anticipated the wonder of her own tale. She leaned forward.

“I was in New Jersey heading to Hasbrook Heights for the services, and I was driving along Tonnelle Avenue, and I started thinking about Don, and how I just couldnt believe that he was really gone. I started crying really hard, and I couldn’t stop. I almost had to pull over because I was sobbing so much. And then, out of nowhere, I saw something. Something amazing.” 

As she continued talking, I noticed that she had tears in her eyes. I, on the other hand, remained in the same shock mode I would continue in for at least 6 more months after my husband’s death. I sat there and listened, like a robot. She delivered this next part of the story as if she had never been more sure of anything in her entire life. Meanwhile, I was attempting to suppress my laughter, at the sheer ridiculousness of what she was about to tell me.

“Do you know what I saw, Kelley?”, she said dramatically and with purpose. “It was a rainbow. I saw a rainbow, Kelley. It was Don. I know it was. Don was a rainbow, and he was there in front of me, telling me not to cry, and that everything would be fine. And then I felt better and I kept driving, because Don came to me in the form of a rainbow and made everything okay. Isnt that amazing?”

If I remember correctly, I think I replied to her with a simple and confused “Sure. Yes. Amazing.” But inside my head, I was thinking all of this:

Seriously? A rainbow? Where do I even begin with how hilarious this concept was to me? I will start with this: I know my husband extremely well, and he would NEVER come back as a fucking rainbow. Not ever. That is just NOT his personality, in any way, shape, or form. As a matter of fact, he would be laughing his ass off right along with me, at this wonderfully epic story. Next; if he ever did come back as a rainbow (which he wouldn’t), it would never be on Tonnelle Avenue, of all places, in freakin’ New Jersey, the state that he despised and made fun of constantly. He hated New Jersey, so I just cant see him bothering to bring it rainbows and such.

And if that WAS Don, then explain all the other hundreds of people who were also driving along, and who also saw that same rainbow and don’t even know him. To them, it’s just a rainbow! And no offense, but if my husband were to come back in any form, You really think he’s going to waste his one cameo appearance on YOU? Not his wife? My husband’s biggest passion was music – he loved playing his guitars. If he were going to come back as anything at all, it would be in the form of a kick-ass guitar solo in an old Aerosmith song. And it would be for ME. But a rainbow? A rainbow? No. That just wouldn’t happen.

playing guitar and jamming with friends……

Fast-forward a few more days. My mom had come up to our New Jersey apartment to stay with me for a couple of days and help me out with some of the endless, annoying “widow chores” that had to be done. This involved closing accounts, opening new ones, figuring out passwords, copying death certificates, and making a whole slew of phone calls to a whole slew of people I did not want to talk to. One of those phone calls was to AT&T. I was attempting to change our “family plan” on our cell phones, over to a single plan of some sort, for one person. This is what happened instead during that phone conversation with customer service:

 Me: Hi, my husband recently passed away, and I’m calling to switch our family plan account over to just my name.

Her: Okay ma’am. We can certainly help you with that. What is the name on the account please?

Me: The account is under my husband’s name, Don Shepherd, but this is his wife, and Id like to switch it over to my name.

Her: I do understand, however, I am going to need to speak with the person whose name is on the account. Mr. Don Shepherd …..

Me: Right. Believe me, I would love to speak with him too. But I can’t. And you can’t. Because he is dead.

Her: We do understand that ma’am. However, we are not authorized to switch over that account without speaking to the account holder on the account, and that would be Mr. Don Shepherd …..

Me: Once again, I would loooove to make that happen for you, but you’re going to have to talk to me. Im pretty sure he cant come to the phone. You know, being dead and all ……

Her: We here at AT&T are so sorry for your loss, and wish to offer our condolences at this time. (long pause) I do need to speak with the account holder in order to move forward.

Me: (losing it at this point) Okay. Hold on a second please. (calling out to the next room) Honey? Boo? You have a phone call!!! (back into phone) Nope. Still dead.

Her: Ma’am, you can also utilize our services online at our website, but you would need the account holders password or his authorization. Perhaps that would be easier for you and Mr. Don Shepherd to work out.

Me: Okay, that’s it! What part of DEAD aren’t you comprehending? My husband is dead. He DIED! He no longer breathes air. (no response) You know what? Let me try putting this into terms you can understand, okay? My husband is a fucking RAINBOW, okay? He is a rainbow on Tonnelle Avenue in New Jersey, so why not go over there yourself and see him, when it’s kind of sunny and kind of rainy, and get his goddamn permission to switch the goddamn account over to my motherf$%**ng name!?!?

Actually, that is not what happened. Well, the entire phone call went down exactly the way I just told it, no joke, except for the ending. That thing about the rainbow is how I wish the phone call ended, because it’s funny, and it’s a great story, and a great comeback, and that is why it became the way I tell this story in my stand-up comedy act. In real life, however, the ending was much less dramatic and much more real.

What actually happened is that this woman on the phone frustrated me so much, and I was in such pain and grief, that I started crying right there on the phone out of sheer stress. I just couldn’t take her stupidity any longer, and I cried my head off. My mom, who had been sitting nearby the whole time listening, grabbed the phone out of my hand and went into classic-mom-protective-mode. “Now you listen here”, she said defiantly to the AT&T idiot. “My daughter just lost her husband and she doesn’t have time to deal with this kind of bullshit. I don’t care what you have to do or how you do it, but we are not hanging up until she gets that cell phone account in her name.” And just like that, it was done.

But the whole rainbow story, and the way that phone call ended versus the way I wanted it to end, got me thinking. It got me thinking about how almost nothing about this “journey” (including the fact that people refer to it as a “journey”, which is unbelievably annoying) is ever portrayed how it actually is. What you see on TV shows, in films, even in grief books – is mostly a plastic, shallow, often-times glamorized version of widowhood; as if losing your spouse in the prime of your young life is somehow romantic or whimsical.

 In films, the widowed people who are left behind are always gorgeous and perfect-looking, first of all. And they always find love again, almost immediately. They maybe have one big emotional breakdown, perhaps after the funeral, maybe sobbing while sliding their body down a wall in slow-motion or looking out a window pensively. They always have children. Always. And the children are adorable and not at all bratty or a pain in the ass or affected by the tremendous loss, other than to say perfectly -timed, cute dialogue like: “Is mommy in heaven, daddy?” Cue the sappy-ass music.

This is why I tell the truth in my blog. There are already enough lies out there, and lies only promote more lies. The misconceptions about grief and loss will continue until the end of time if someone doesn’t start telling the brutal, messy truth.

Can you imagine me trying to turn my story into a film? Taking what I have written on these pages, and creating a screenplay for a movie? I can just see the first meeting now …..

Producer: We love your script. A beautiful story about the sudden loss of your husband, and how you are living your life since. We are very interested in producing it for HBO ……

Me: Great!!!

Producer: We just need to make a few changes. Tiny changes….

Me: Changes? Like what kinds of changes?

Producer: Like the way he died. Massive heart-attack? Too boring. We were thinking of a tragic fire, or maybe he was shot.

Me: Shot? Why would he be shot?

Producer: He was shot by his partner. While on-duty. He was a cop.

Me: A cop? But my husband was an E.M.T.

Producer: Yeah, right … about that. Nobody really cares about E.M.T’s. Firefighters and cops are much more glamorous. So … he’s a cop. Now let’s discuss casting. Did you have anyone in mind to play the part of you?

Me: Yes. ME. I would like to play the part of me.

Producer: Oh no, that won’t work at all.

Me: It won’t work for me to play the role of me?

Producer: No, no, no. You’re too old.

Me: How can I be “too old” to play ME? I am MY age!

Producer: Yes, but we were thinking maybe someone younger. Nobody wants to hear about a woman in her 40’s. Besides – you’re too fat. We can’t make a film about a Fat Widow. Nobody will care about you if you’re fat.

Me: Wow. Harsh. Okay, so Im too old to play myself and too fat to play myself. Who did you have in mind to play me, instead of me?

Producer: We were thinking along the lines of maybe an Amy Adams or a Megan Fox.

Me: But those actors look nothing at all like me!

Producers: Exactly. We would also like to switch out your 2 cats for 2 children. People generally hate cats, and let’s be honest: nobody cares about a childless, fat widow. We need to give the story a couple of kids. Tears at the heartstrings.

Me: But that isnt MY story! We didn’t get to have our family. He died too soon. THAT’S the story that tears at your heartstrings! The truth!

Producers: Yeah, nobody gives a crap about that. Last few things – we need a great chase scene. And we would like Sally Field to play your overly-emotional mother who cries a lot. There should also be flashback scenes with your husband. We would like David Spade for that role. Or Larry the Cable Guy. We need explosions. A bank robbery. A gas leak. Maybe someone like Samuel Jackson tries to kidnap your children? And we want some sort of conflict between your husband and someone else at work. Maybe his partner was jealous because Don got the promotion over him, or maybe Don was cheating on you with his wife, so he shot him to death.

Me: WHAT??? No! Don would never do that to me. He loved me. This is a love story! You are stripping away every single thing that is good about us. This is no longer our story at all. Is there ANYTHING at all that you plan on keeping from my original script? Anything?

Producers: Yes, of course. That bit about your husband being a rainbow. We really loved that. What a great image. That is how the film ends. Megan Fox, playing you, is driving her car through L.A. traffic, and she looks up, and she sees a rainbow. And it is Ron.

Me: Don.

Producers: Whatever. She sees the rainbow, and she looks up to the sky and proclaims out loud: “My Husband Is A Rainbow!”, because she has finally found peace in her husband Ron, who comes back to her in the form of a rainbow.

Me: But … you missed the whole point of that story … my husband is NOT a rainbow… he ….. isn’t, he wouldn’t …. oh never mind. Do whatever you want. Any other positively lunatic things you have planned?

Producers: Yes. We are not totally sold on the Megan Fox thing. We may go with a more “urban” cast, in which case, the role of you would be played by that huge chick from “Precious.”

Me: Seriously? Precious can play me but I cant play me? She is waaay bigger than I am!

Producers: True, but fat and black is “sassy.” Fat and white is disgusting.

Me: Okay, I’m done with this insane conversation now. Clearly you people have absolutely no clue how to take a very real and beautiful story and birth it into a film. Even though I’m afraid to ask, my curiousity must know. What is the name of this urban-trainwreck that you call a film?

Producers: “Phat Widow.” Get it? Phat?

Me: Yeah. I get it. Please kill me now. Thank you.

 

The end. And that, dear friends, is why I am determined to turn this blog into a book one day that will be published. Because I am all about the truth, and we need more truth out there. Truth promotes truth, and it all starts with someone like me – just a fat widow who is brave enough to not lie about who she actually is, and who just wants to tell her story.