Here is a riddle:
What is more sad? Going to the movies alone, or going to the movies with a group of friends, who barely speak to each other or acknowledge each other’s existence?
This past weekend, I had lunch with some new widowed friends in the city, and nobody else wanted to see a movie afterwards, so I went by myself. It was 3 blocks away from where we had lunch, it was a gorgeous day, and I really wanted to see Gravity. So I went alone. Going to the movies, or anywhere really, by myself, is not a big deal to me. I left my small town home in Massachusetts at 18 and moved to NYC – alone – to go to college for theater and pursue a career in entertainment. Then I lived in different buroughs throughout NYC for years, and was single, for years, and had many roommates and apartment changes, for years. Then I found my very own place in New Jersey and lived there – alone – for 3 years before my husband, who was then my boyfriend and about to be my fiance, moved in with me. And even then, after we married and shared our life together, I did lots of things alone. And he did too. We were two very independent people, who each loved and valued our time alone, and who also loved and cherished spending time with one another. We loved each other’s company, but neither of us had any issue with doing things by ourselves sometimes. So, I have been to the movies, several times, alone.
But here is something that the “non-widowed” world doesn’t quite understand. Going to the movies – or anywhere – by yourself, because you feel like it and because it’s a choice while married or partnered up – is completely different than going places alone because your husband is dead, and everyone else is coupled up, or has plans, or doesn’t want to – and so you have to. The first one is a decision you make within the luxury of a relationship. The second one often results in severe loneliness, intense sadness, guilt, anger, annoyance, and the kind of soul-crushing isolation that not many people comprehend.
And if you’re thinking to yourself right now: “What’s the big deal? It’s just a movie!”, then clearly – and lucky for you – you must still have your soul mate walking this earth with you, and so you don’t really get it. But that’s okay. Because it is impossible to get it – until you get it. Until you have been forcibly inducted into this horrific Widowhood Club, be thankful that you couldn’t possibly understand how seeing a movie alone when your partner is dead can play with your insides; churning them and spitting them out into the hot, humid universe, until you are left in a corner, weakened and defeated yet again by your new life.
That is how it was for me. In the beginning. The first year and a half or so of this new “after” life. Every time I left my apartment to venture out and do something, was like being dropped off inside of a haunted house. My heart would race, not knowing what emotions or unexpected terrors would be lurking in the corners, waiting for me. I would panic that the movie or the dinner or the Broadway show or the night out with friends or the whatever – would bring up flashes and scenes and fragments – that would further put the focus on my own solitude, or my marriage that was gone, or my future that would not be, or the day that I woke up and he had already gone to work, and then already gone from earth.
So I would go out into the world during these early days of grief, and after awhile, the panic and the earthquake brewing inside of me, just became part of my new normal, the new me. And sometimes I would get so tired of sitting in the apartment alone and feel so suffocated, that I would force myself to take a walk or see a movie down the street. And then sometimes that walk or that movie would just make things worse, watching the couples laugh hand in hand or having a storyline in a film take me to a place emotionally that I was not yet ready to go to.
And in those early days of grief, people everywhere, all the time, constantly, would say to me, in response to me saying that I feel so alone: “You are not alone. He is always with you.” Most of the time, this remark would be coming from someone who was probably typing or saying those words while their life-partner stood right beside them or sat in the next room or nearby – breathing air and living life. And so, most times, when this was said to me, my immediate reaction (privately) was that I might enjoy throwing this person into the nearest lake or hitting them repeatedly in the eyeball with a 2×4, because it is such a lame and cliche’ and thoughtless thing to say to someone, and the fact that YOU think he is always with me, means absolutely nothing if I can’t feel it.
And I couldn’t. I couldn’t feel it. I could not feel him with me, no matter how many times people said it, because the pain and the grief and the thick fog of the air I now breathed in this new life – was too overwhelming to let anything else in. Nothing could get in. Only pain.
But then, with that pain, something happened during grief. Time. Time happened. And time does not heal all wounds. That is more bullshit cliche’ said by those who don’t know what to say. No. But time happened, and while it was happening, my heart and my brain and my skin and my toes began to finally process what had happened. Really, actually process it and sit with it and watch as the fog lifted, up up and away from my soul. And once that happened, the pain was still there – but I was no longer terrified by it. The grief monster still lurked – but I stared him down and waited. The sobbing still took place regularly, but I stopped fighting with it and let it flow through me like rain tap-dancing on an umbrella.
And once all of that happened and that shift occured, something else did too – I could feel him. I could feel him with me. Not all of the time. But some of the time. A lot of the time.
And so, that brings me back to Saturday. At the movies. Alone. I sat there, on the end seat of an aisle in a very crowded theatre – feeling peaceful and anxious to see the film. A group of 4 girls all sat down in my row, one of them next to me. They were loud and obnoxious and rude and clueless about life’s struggles. They all took out their phones and put them on silent, and began texting and playing games and using Apps and shoving their teenage faces into their devices, never once looking at or addressing one another, the very people that they chose to spend time with and see a movie with. One of them looked in my direction, and then texted the other one, and they both giggled. I can only imagine that she was texting about me, saying something like: “Who goes to the movies alone? What a loser.”
And yet, as that movie went on and it became clear that floating around in space was being used as a brilliant metaphor for living, dying, and then living again, I actually started to feel sorry for these idiotic girls next to me. Because here they were, in this beautiful theater, in the greatest city in the world, lucky enough to have a group of friends to spend time with, and to be seeing this film that had so much to say and teach about finding the strength through pain to live again – and they didn’t get any of it. They were right there, inside of it, and they were missing it. They were missing all of it. They couldn’t see any of the beauty or the pain or the truths or the glorious, ordinary moments that were surrounding them right that very minute. Their eyes were glued to their phones, and their souls were lying dormant.
In my chair, something else was happening. Something that felt like home. I was watching a beautiful and thrilling movie alone, and I was watching it with my husband. His entire spirit and personality and being felt like it was inside of me, like it had entered my veins and sat in my bloodstream. I could almost feel his touch next to me. Almost feel his arm brushing up against mine, see him smiling at me, hear him sipping his root beer and leaning over to whisper like he would sometimes: “This is awesome!”
And for the first time in a long time, instead of me thinking to myself or telling others: “He would have loved this movie so much! I wish he was here!”, I had no need to tell anyone anything, because he did love the movie, and he was there. Not because someone told me so, but because I could feel it.
And no, feeling my husband with me in spirit or soul is not even close to the same as him actually being here with me, for real, in our life together. It’s a pretty shitty substitute, honestly. But it’s a hell of a lot better to feel him with me, than to not feel him with me. And it took 2 years and 3 months for me to feel him around me on a more regular basis. For me to talk to him out loud and not feel like a complete jackass, or like a lunatic talking to myself. It took all of this time just to come to a place where my insides aren’t spinning, and where the dizziness stops. The pain and the grief that was once pounding on my temple and stabbing at my heart – now lies a bit further away, like background music that I hear faintly as I live my life. Finally, the noise has been turned down enough to let other things in besides pain. Things like laughter that feels real again, taste-buds that crave foods again, and eyes that see the fall colors again. Now that the pain isn’t pushing its way into every available crevice, there is room for me to feel my husband. To feel and know that he is with me, even though he can’t be with me.
So back to that riddle. What is more sad? Going to the movies alone, or going to the movies with a group of friends who barely speak to each other or acknowledge each other’s existence?
Well, the answer is a matter of opinion, so I will leave that one up to you. But the question itself is not really valid, because it’s a trick question. I went to that movie alone, but I was never really alone. None of us are. Not really. Not entirely. Not truly.
For when I close my eyes really tightly, and I push away the hurt and the fear and the death, I find that there is just enough space leftover, to let one more thing inside.
Come sit next to me now. For I am alone. I am with you.