The other night, on the eve of my 42nd birthday, I went to a Yankee game with my friend Lori. We had an amazing time. We laughed, we ate cheesesteaks, we saw a beautiful tribute to Andy Pettitte, we delighted in the magic that is Yankee Stadium, and the perfect autumn weather we were given, and we parted ways.
As I was walking home from the subway later that night, alone, an intense wave of sadness came over me, and I suddenly burst into tears. They were the kind of tears that made me gasp out loud and catch my breath for air, and then sit down on the steps of the local library, and just cry.
And so I cried. And cried. And then I cried some more. And some more. Nope, still not done. A little bit more. A lot more. Minutes went by, until the minutes became an hour. One full hour of nonstop crying. Crying, crying, crying …….
And then, when I felt like I was all done crying, or when I knew I was all done crying, I got up, took a deep breath, and kept walking home. There was no drama. No fear of being seen crying in public. No parade of people asking me why I was crying. No anything, really. The world continued to move around me, and I was just a woman crying on the Queens library steps, because her husband is dead, and she misses the life she had with him, just 2 years and 3 months ago.
It has happened a lot lately. The spontaneous crying. Sometimes it erupts out of me like kernels of popcorn pushing their way out of the bag, and other times the watery tears fall slowly. Silently. Thoughtfully.
Since losing my husband to the sudden crash of death, I have never been one to hold in my emotions. I have always let them flow. But this – these tears of recent weeks and months – this was different. The tears in my first year or my first 20 or so months of grief, were filled with guilt and anger. Resentment and bitterness. Judgements and questions. Questions like: Why does this STILL hurt so much? Why is this so hard? When will the pain go away? Will it ever go away – ever? Why do I feel so alone? Why can’t I feel him close to me anymore? When will I stop feeling like shit everyday? When will I want to live again? When will I stop being scared of everything? WHEN? WHEN? WHEN???
And then something changed. Something shifted, slightly. I do not know when, as the question of “when” seems to have no answer. But the gradual, grains of transformation began forming sometime around and after my first trip to Camp Widow. April. Then May. More life happened. June happened and I performed my Comedy presentation for the 2nd time at Camp Widow San Diego. When I returned, it was July, and it was time for my husband’s “death month.” And just like the year before, my first year without him, my brain went into overdrive with frightening and horrific thoughts about the days and weeks surrounding his death.
The shock. The panic. The fear. The crippling voice on the other end of the ringing phone that woke me, saying: “We have your husband”. The 3-minute cab ride I took to the hospital that felt like 4 hours. The 5 or 7 nurses telling me to “please sit down”, followed by words that sounded like they were being said to somebody else, instead of me. The animalistic, unrecognizable sound that came out of my lungs, when the one nurse said: “He didn’t make it.” The phone calls I somehow made; to his sisters. My parents. The tiny room they put him in, to just lie there dead, and look like he was napping. The fact that for those first few hours of sheer and utter hell, I was 100% alone. I woke up alone. Went to the hospital alone. Sat there and heard the news that would change me forever – alone. My family and friends were all on their way and getting to me the second that they could – but before they all arrived – it was just me. Alone. And the life I knew was gone.
So this past July, when the flashbacks came and the horror of that day re-surfaced, like it always does during those sticky and humid summer months, the pain was just as terrible as the year before. Everything hurt the same amount. But something had changed. There was a shift. Me.
No longer was I judging myself for my own grieving process. No more was I asking myself why this still hurts so much. No longer did I feel the need to question or hate the grief for existing. Whatever emotions and feelings and thoughts came out of me, I simply let them flow. All of them. Without judgement. No critique. No convincing myself that there’s something wrong with me because I’m still in so much pain after 2-plus years. Because I still don’t want to date after 2-plus years. Because I still feel married after 2-plus years. So what? Who cares? I lost my world, just as my world was beginning. And now, I have to build a new world. Alone. And the only real way to do that, is for me to go through this tunnel of hell and pain. Step on each nail with my bare feet. Sit inside of the volcano. Feel each shift of the earthquake. Breathe it. Live it. Do it.
The thing about change is that you almost never feel it as it’s happening. You are so engrossed inside your own pain, that it’s tough to really see your own progress. But lately – recently – I see it. I see it, and I feel it. And not only do I feel it, but I feel the connection between love and death. Joy and hurt. Life and loss. In the past few months, I have cried openly and felt more sorrow than ever before. I have missed him more deeply than ever before. I have sobbed more intensely than ever before. I have never been more sad about the loss of my husband, than I am right now. Right here. This month. This week. This minute. Today.
But that’s not all.
With my deeper sadness, comes greater joy. With my intense tears, comes genuine laughter. For every hour spent crying on the library steps, there is another hour of peace. Tranquility. Clarity.
Joy and pain are like siblings. They fight. They clash. They co-exist. And in order to truly grieve in the healthy way, the only way that will get you through – you must feel every single emotion. All of them. No skipping ahead. No shortcuts. Whatever you feel, let yourself feel. And then, eventually, you will feel something else. To be doing this is one thing, because I have been doing it for some time. But to finally recognize it is something else.
Tonight, I was telling all of this to my grief-counselor, in our weekly session. It felt good to tell her that I had recognized this shift. That I could feel the difference.
“It is so great that you are the one pointing all of this out to me, instead of the other way around,” she said. “Normally, I am telling you all the ways you have grown and changed. I’m so happy that you are able to feel and see the shift. I am really proud of you.”
And with those words, I felt another tiny shift.
It was me. Finally able to view things from a slightly different angle. Finally noticing the tiny, enormous ways I am learning to cope. Finally able to see myself, and be brave enough to live inside of everything that comes next.
And finally …..
To be able to stand next to myself, in a room filled with every fucked up thing that grief and death and life have thrown at me, and to say out loud to whomever is listening: “Look at what I made out of this pile of shit.”
And for today, right now, this minute – I think I might be proud of myself.
But that’s today. Tomorrow I may feel different.