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:
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.
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 ……
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.
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.