Turning the Key

If a tree falls in a forest, and nobody is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?

If a really cool thing happens in my life, and nobody is there to share it, does it still make a difference?

I had a really good week. I had the kind of week where lots of little things happened that could turn into bigger things, and that move me forward in my goals and dreams and aspirations. I became a contributing writer for Modern Widows Magazine, where I will write a monthly, humorous grief column. I landed two really cool performance stand-up comedy gigs, both coming up soon. Some of my former stand-up comedy students started a monthly Comedy Meetup, and we had our first meeting Sunday. The blogpiece I wrote about Camp Widow was featured as a link in The Huffington Post, thanks to my widowed friend Tanya Villanueva Tepper, who was kind enough to reference me and my blog inside her own article. All this, and I’m just 3-weeks away from performing at Camp Widow West in San Diego.

It was the kind of week where I should have been happy, where I should have felt excited. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t. The reason for this is simple, yet heartbreaking. Happy things don’t feel so happy anymore when you don’t have your partner to share them with. When you cannot rush home and run through the door and yell: “Boo! Guess what happened? Guess!!!”, and await the delight and proud gleam in his eyes when you tell him. When there is nobody on the other end of the phone who says: “Oh honey, I’m so proud of you. I know how much this meant to you, and now it’s happening!” When there is nobody to lie in bed with, giggling wildly and holding hands, dreaming about your tomorrows. The biggest things feel like nothing, when there is nobody sitting at home who gives a damn.

Hubby and friends hang out and give me flowers after one of my shows

Hubby and my dad stand in support as our cast takes pics after my Adelphi cabaret.

Now, this is the part where you tell me that I have my family, and my friends, and that I have lots of people who care about me. I know this. I’m thankful for this. I cherish this, and I cherish them. But none of them are the first person I want to tell everything to. None of them put me first every second of everyday, no matter what. I am no longer Number One to anybody. I am no longer somebody’s first priority. My husband was my best friend, my number one fan, my biggest supporter in life. Whenever I accomplished something or began to see a dream realized, my favorite part of that happening was sharing it with him and seeing his reaction. Seeing his whole face light up as he watched me perform onstage, or create a script, or write a funny scene for a show. Listening to him tell his friends over the phone about the latest thing his crazy wife was up to in NYC. Running through the crowd outside and into his arms, after doing stand-up, and hearing him whisper into my ear: “You were the best one.”

Today, after his death, when something really good happens, it’s always the same. In the midst of the good thing happening, I’m on a high and feeling great. Then, that high very soon becomes a very depressing low, as I eventually have to face going home alone from wherever I just was. There is nobody waiting to greet me. There are no flowers or cards or shouts of: “Lets go get pancakes and celebrate!” There is only me and my latest accomplishment, which suddenly feels incredibly pointless.

This past Monday, I went to my private grief-counseling session, like always. Now, anyone that follows my writing on a regular basis knows that I have made it no secret how much I love my counselor, Caitlin, and how much these sessions have helped me and continue to help me. That is still true. Im actually the only person on planet earth who loves Mondays.

But lately, I feel a bit like a broken record everytime I go in there. Like an annoying parrot that only knows how to say 3 or 4 things, over and over again: “SQUAWK! I miss Don! SQUAWK! Why does this still hurt so much? SQUAWK! When will the pain start to ease up a bit?” I feel bad for her, having to sit there and listen to my repetitive drivel. It’s like my heart is the needle on that record, and it just keeps skipping. I’m moving forward in my life – in accomplishments and doing things and making changes – but my heart refuses to catch up with the reality that he is really, actually gone forever. It’s just an old record, skipping over that same part of that old, sad song.

Something weird happens somewhere after the first year mark or so from the death. People no longer know what to say to you. They don’t understand why you are still sad, why you’re not over it by now, and they get annoyed and frustrated and nonchalant – and they begin to pretend that everything is normal and that nobody ever died at all. They start to view you with confused and quizzical eyes, like my counselor did on Monday, as if to say: I don’t know how to help you. And when that happens, like it did during my session, or like I imagined it did, I just keep talking nervously – repeating my same stupid pain, over and over again. But while I was doing that, something weird happened. Something that seemed like nothing, but it took me by surprise and held me down like a wave in the ocean, until I could barely breathe or swim or speak. I was blindsided.  

She was right in the middle of a sentence, asking me if I had seen the interview with British actress Maggie Smith on last week’s 60 Minutes. Maggie lost her husband of 25 years to heart-disease, in 2008. I hadn’t seen the interview, so when I got home, I looked up the text. Maggie was talking about what Im talking about right now – the feeling of no longer being somebody’s number one. She very casually, correctly, and matter-of-factly stated, that “everything seems a bit pointless” in her life now, because she no longer had her partner to share it with, no longer had someone to come home to at the end of the day.

Caitlin expressed that she was struck by the use of the word ‘pointless”, and I expressed that it was the perfect word to use, and that it didnt surprise me one bit. It is pointless. If I finally ever finish this damn book one day and see it published, or win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Comedy Actress in a Sitcom – what good is it If I have to come home to an empty house and stare at my Award in silence? What the hell good is that? And just as Im reaching the dramatic crescendo in my speech about being alone for the rest of my life, there was a noise. It was a noise I faintly remembered, somewhere deep inside my heart, from a life that was lived long ago. It was the simplest and saddest noise I have ever heard.

A key was turning. A husband was coming home to his wife, who happens to be a counselor, sitting with her pain in the ass client who always goes over her alloted session time that is so graciously offered in her counselor’s home. My eyes shifted fearfully over to that door, and I saw that lock turning, as the door started to open. And as my counselor ran to the door, telling her husband to please give her a few more minutes with this insepid, monotonous widow – my heart went straight to my life and my marriage and my love. Suddenly, her door was my door, and her husband’s keys were my husband’s keys, and he was coming inside from work, like he always did. Suddenly, I was in our bedroom in our New Jersey apartment, and I was typing at our computer desk, and the sound of that key being turned and that doorknob opening, meant that my husband was home and safe. Suddenly, I saw our 2 kitties leap off the bed and run charging to that door, forgetting all about me and attacking every square inch of my husband’s body with affection. Everytime that key turned in that door, I would smile, because it meant that my teammate was home, and everything mattered again.

She came back and sat down, and I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry so hard, so deep, right there in the middle of her living room. My whole body was shaking, and I felt like I was underwater and tied up. Something about that noise – that key – the sound of marriage, the sound of comfort, the sound of safety. It tore me up and it ate me alive from the inside out. And there I was, sitting in the one place where I should be crying and getting out emotions and making hard discoveries and shaking and being blindsided by keys turning, and for some reason, I just held it in.

 I didnt want to make her feel bad just for being married. I didnt want her to feel uneasy in her own home. And besides, I didnt think she would or could possibly understand why the hell a key going into a door would send me into convulsions. Hell, I didnt even really understand it. So instead of crying, I started making jokes and lighthearted comments, saying how I felt badly that she pretty much kicked her husband out of his own home. I talked nervously again, until I ran out of words and could get up and exit with some form of dignity.

There are so many unexpected triggers, that bring on unexpected emotions. They can happen anywhere, anytime, even while sitting in the safe-zone that is your counselor’s couch.

I wish that I had let myself break down. I wish that more people could understand my pain, so that I wouldnt feel weird or strange breaking down. I wish that my counselor could know what it’s like, to feel like everything you do is pointless, so that she might tell me that it’s okay to break down.

But those things are all impossible. You cant understand losing your husband, until you lose your husband. I do not wish that on anyone.

I wish my husband could turn that key, just one more time, and come home to me forever.

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25 thoughts on “Turning the Key

  1. I read your blog. You are a very talented writer to be able to convey the very emotions, that I after 4 years, I still struggle with. Yay! Thanks.
    We are members of a club that I hope no one wants to join. <3

  2. I lost my husband 9 years ago to a car accident and this past Sunday I came up on an accident . There were other people there getting out of their cars to help so I quickly asked a young girl if she was ok…and told her to sit back down in her car. I felt alittle bad not sticking around to help but I really knew.I couldn’t . I wasn’t 30 seconds down the road when I suddenly burst into tears. Just the thought of the wreck brought back all kinds of emotions from 9 years ago. I really enjoyed reading whY you had to say

  3. Thank you for this post. A few days ago, I attended the funeral wake of a young widow, and though I didn’t know her well, my heart knew she would go through the unimaginable journey that has its unpredictable ups and downs. My thought at that time was “I can never wish this experience on anyone”, which is exactly what you said in this post. Losing my husband shattered my world, and it is the absence of little things (like going home and sharing mundane details of your day) that will break your heart the most. It’s so awful to go through it that I’m surprised most of us choose to live despite all that. There are no words that can provide any comfort for this kind of journey. Try to be proud of each day, minute, second. You are stronger than you think.

    • Helping others through this horrible journey is the catalyst to helping you. It’s so amazing how many you have helped and will continue to help.

      We, who have never gone through this nightmare can only imagine your journey. Keep on helping others and know that will be your “key” to a future life that will no longer be pointless.

      You are amazing and loved beyond belief dear Daughter.

  4. Its always the smallest of things, the ones that we see, experience everyday that slap the crap out of us. I never thought a bar of soap would send me on a crying jag for half an hour, but it did. That and a million other things that were once so mundane have become reminders of a life that is no longer mine.

    The pointlessness you speak of is maddening. At least grief incites some response, you cry, scream, brings you to your knees. Its the pointlessness that just sits there in your soul like a great weight.

    I hope you publish this book with all the blogs you’ve written . You bring to light a dark place that so many of us experience and put it to paper so beautifully.

  5. Oh Kelley. Yesterday I had to learn to operate a pallet stacker. It’s very sensitive, and to do it I thought back on what Dan taught me about video gaming, that you never need to go as hard or as far as you want to. I don’t know why, but I just really wanted to share that with him, that I figured out this new thing really quickly, and it was because I drew on something that meant so much to him.

    And I had a very similar experience at therapy the other day. Like my therapist is trying to guide me in a direction that she thinks will help, but I won’t budge, I won’t even get in the car. And I saw that interview with Maggie Smith and it resonated with me too. And the keys. I live in a condo, and when I hear my neighbors going into their units, it’ sthe same sound I want to hear so badly, but coming from him. Or when I lock my car door, and it beeps. It was his car. That sound meant he was home. But it doesn’t anymore. And it hurts, it hurts so badly in a way that no one but another widow could ever understand.

  6. Hi Kelly Lynn.
    Yes, it is OK to break down! In fact, it’s darn good stuff! One of my most significant I called the Grief Tsunami and it was really cathartic. It showed up on my husband’s birthday.
    I hope it’s alright if I may suggest that you give yourself permission in whatever way you need for your grief now and/or later. One of the hardest moments for me was to recognize that if I did that all out Oprah “ugly cry” it meant (to me) I was having to let go of my husband with the tears. And that forever hurts. I also learned that it was me who had to give myself what I wished my husband was around to provide – most often he gave me permission to just be me and feel like I felt in a safe place called home. I find comfort in bringing him into my heart this way.
    You are a powerful writer and communicator. Thank you for sharing your life. Your reach is further out in the pond than you imagine. Congratulations on your new work and opportunities! There are many who share your pain in understanding as we read, if only each in our own way.

  7. I feel like a broken record on your posts, but this is sooooo perfect once again. It brings tears to my eyes with how spot on it is. People don’t understand why happy things aren’t as exciting or meaningful or why I don’t really care about the good things anymore. It is a pain that I wouldn’t wish on anyone and one people definitely won’t get until faced with it. I stop talking about it as much because of those “I don’t know what to say or how to act” looks. Rex was my #1 fan, best friend, etc. he knew me inside and out and all my emotions. He was the only one that knew how to respond to my various emotions and make me smile even when I didn’t want to. I need him to make me smile and laugh like I used to. I have a lot of family and friends there for me, but its NOT the same and it isn’t Rex. Triggers suck and they are everywhere and at the most random times.

    Once again thank you for these!!

  8. That was very cinematic – the way you had that “vision” from the sound of the key in the lock. I saw it all in my head like a movie. You are an extraordinary writer!

  9. A very beautifully written and powerful blog, Kelley. Really brings home the point that any moment, any little thing that happens in the course of a day, can trigger a very pure and involuntary reaction……and that must be one of the hardest things to deal with. Like the woman who witnessed the accident and was brought back to her husband’s experience of nine years earlier.

    I am unhappy that some folks, who seem to lack true empathy, can express frustration or annoyance with how you are dealing with life. I understand more those who seem to appear nonchalant, perhaps, or have that quizzical look. I guess that is where I see myself (the “nonchalant” thing.) When we meet on occasion and talk, I am “there” , in that conversation. But one side of me always thinks, “I wonder how Kelley is doing today?” I don’t verbalize that…..I think you would find it strange if I started every conversation with, “So, how’s it going today with your life, your healing, your pain, etc.?” So I talk about the “normal” stuff, whatever everyday topic comes up at the time.

    Like your friends, I’m really glad to hear about your good week……someone mentioned taking pride in all those moments and accomplishments, as well you should. Someone talked about how you are helping others to heal with your insight and your truths, and this is an amazing gift. I know that you can’t share this with Don…..but it doesn’t lessen the accomplishment or the significance of your words and deeds, most especially to those who are going through the same things in their lives.

    Anyway, as so many always say, we’re here for you…….even if we are sometimes a little awkward about it.

    • Thank you Michael. This means a lot to me that you would take the time to comment in here and that you continue to support me and read my blogs and writings when you can. You are such a great person and friend. Thanks xoxo

  10. Kelley, you’re right. I can’t understand in the I-know-what-you’re-dealing-with way. I can empathize with you. And you do bring me into your world for a few minutes as I read your blog. But I cannot imagine it. I still have my hubby, and I know that some day I will share in this.

    I am proud of your accomplishments. I’m excited for you. But you’re right. I’m not the one you want to run in and see light up with joy for you. I understand that completely.

    You are such an amazing voice, because you CAN write this in such a way that those who live it see someone express what they feel….and those who do not can understand where you are.

  11. Without sharing everything you’re experiencing, I wouldn’t even know how to begin to imagine the challenges and obstacles you, as well as others who have lost a spouse, face every day. Thank you so much for writing this. I feel like I’m becoming a better person every time I read a new one.

  12. Holy crap. This post hit so close to home Kelley. The image of the key in the door is spot on. I can’t wait to give you a big hug at Camp Widow to thank you for your raw, honest portrayal of our life.

  13. As usual, love your latest writing. I’m so glad you’re making the effort, and getting back out there, even without the current self fulfillment. I totally get that, and have felt this surreal, dark pointlessness time and time again.
    You know my story, the four consecutive losses, and when I stay at home, one day leads to another which leads to 3 which leads to a week, which leads to a month of isolating, as so on. I’m not saying I feel great when I’m out and joining, but there are more little moments of healing and bits of promise than when I’m staying in bed watching another “Little House on the Prairie” marathon.
    When something good happens for me, I like to think it’s my sister watching over me. When a familiar song comes on, my best friend of 33 years sending me a sign. My mother’s birthday is the expiration date on the lid of a jar of apple sauce, is that something? My reflection in the glass on the subway, suddenly looking like my dad.
    It’s a 24/7 lifestyle, it shows on my face, my memory is GONE, finally, for the first time in my life, nobody is shocked when I tell them my age. I used to get “NO WAY, YOU LOOK SO YOUNG!” Not anymore.
    I think that new, positive changes coming your way can only do good. If anything, you’ll continue to grow as an artist, and that’s a good thing.
    Love you.

    • Frank, love your attitude, in the face of loss like that. Incredible. Inspiring. Right there with you on the memory, aging. Finally I’m not carded anymore! It is indeed 24/7. May the signs continue and grow more clear for you. Lost the love of my life the day after Thanksgiving. I ask God for signs and they come. It doesn’t fix it … but it helps.

  14. I agree the pain is triggered by the smallest of things. But in the emotional gripe, I focus on all the blessings. I’ts not the old normal but makes me smile for we truely loved each other.

  15. What a great way of explaining how such a small thing can trigger such a huge impact. Others may not understand how something so small and something that usually goes unnoticed impacts those who have lost someone important. I love that you can put this into words so that us, readers, can get a glimpse into what a day that is typical to the rest of us, is so untypical and earth shattering to you. Great post.

  16. You always hit the nail right on the head and you’ve done it again! Your writing so eloquently speaks for a lot of us out here in the world and I also send congrats for your accomplishments. But I also totally understand the “pointlessness” of things.

  17. Your blog post had me in tears. You so eloquently stated pain that so many of us widows feel and try so hard to express. I am going through a horrible point right now with the woman I have called my best friend for over 20 years pushing me away because all I do is talk about my grief and expect everyone to coddle me instead of being a friend back like I used to do. I’m struggling with how to handle it. Could I be a better friend? Yes; however, I have always put myself on the back burner and been there for others, and now I really want people to put me first. Reading this, though, I see how that is pretty much impossible. I lost the person who put me first. You nailed it. Thank you for what you share. <3

  18. I lost my husband four months ago and had reached the ‘what’s the point of anything’ stage when I found your blog. I connected with so much of what you have said. Your Wednesday 13th is my Monday 16th. Yesterday I found myself watching a couple – just doing the ordinary thing of getting into their car after taking their dog for a walk – and felt so empty and sad getting into my own car alone. The triggers are everywhere; waves of grief wash over me every day and I weep everywhere – pathetically – in the car, walking in the park, in church – it doesn’t take much to set me off. Your blog really really helped somehow , it was so honest and true. I am sorry that you and I and all the widows and widowers out there are having to walk this rubbish path. It does help to know that you are not alone so thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. People who have not experienced this stuff do not ‘get’ it and that is good in some ways – this is all so horrible – it is better that they do not understand. But it is a comfort to find someone who does. God bless.

    • Thank you so very much Jan. This is the reason I share and write, because it makes me feel so, so good to come home to messages like this one. Like yours. Thank you for reaching out to me today.

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