I Forgot You Died

My husband’s sudden and unexpected death happened on a Wednesday.
July 13, 2011.
We had gone to sleep the night before, and I still don’t recall saying goodnight.
Or saying anything.
We simply fell asleep, in the exhaustion of having two jobs and being busy and life.

A few hours later, he had left for his volunteer job at the local Petsmart,
helping out with cat adoptions, and then stocking pet food.
But he never got around to any of that.
His manager found him collapsed on the cold, hard floor instead,
about 90 minutes after arriving to work.
(Just a side note; I don’t actually know for a fact that the floor was cold, but for some reason, whenever I describe it to anyone or write about it, I always describe it as a cold floor. I just picture it and see it as being cold. These are the kinds of things, big and small, that trauma puts into our heads.)

My very healthy and active husband,
who was a paramedic and saved other people’s lives daily,
suffered from a massive heart attack at only age 46.
No symptoms. No warnings. No goodbyes.
Here one second,
then
POOF!
Gone the next.
On that morning, I literally woke up to my new reality and the new life I didnt want, as my husband was gone from our apartment, and gone from Earth.

And since that catastrophic day,
I have been counting,
both consciously and subconsciously,
every month, week, hour, minute, and second,
since he died.
On the 13th of every month,
Every month,
my heart would automatically know it was the 13th.
On the rare occasion that I didnt know within minutes of waking up,
my body would remind me.
I would feel “off”,
or sick,
or really, really awful.
If it was the 13th of the month, and a Wednesday,
that was even worse.
I would re-live “that day”,
again and again
and Again.
Every 13th.
For over 2 years.

Until this week.
This week, someone innocently asked me,
“How long has it been since your husband died?”
And instead of blurting out, like a robot,
my completely normal response of:
“It has been 2 years, 4 months, 5 days, 17 hours, and 3 minutes since my love died” –
something bizarre happened.
I forgot.
For a few seconds in time,
I could not recall the exact time that had gone by since his death.
I had to think about it.
It required math.
I had to use my fingers, and carry the one.
That had never happened before.
Not ever.

And then I remembered something else,
that I had forgotten.
The 13th.
Wednesday.
For the first time ever, since his death,
the 13th of a month, that happened to fall on a Wednesday,
creeped by,
without me even noticing.
The only reason I even thought about it,
was because this person had asked me,
“How long since he died?”
So I counted. Did the math. Remembered.

But here is the best part:
I didn’t feel any guilt.
No guilt.
I didn’t feel bad or guilty,
for momentarily forgetting the exact date in time
that my world exploded.
Because why should I?
It is insane to think,
that I could ever really forget.
That’s not possible.
His death is in the rhythms,
of everything I am.

No.
I felt something else.
JOY!
Relief.
A new way of breathing.
I was happy to forget,
even for a few moments,
because in my world,
this is progress.
Achievement.
Healing.
I was excited.
I almost felt like singing.

And after that day, this week, where I had forgotten what I had always remembered, I noticed other things happening too. Small things, but still things. I noticed that lately I have been sleeping in the range of 3-6 hours per night, instead of the 0-3 hours range that used to be my normal, for the first 18 months or so of this new life.

I noticed a couple walking down the street, holding hands and kissing, clearly in love – and for the first time in a long, long time – I didn’t want to simultaneously trip them and watch them fall into a manhole, never to be seen again. I mean, I didn’t want to throw them a goddamn party or anything, but I didn’t feel massive rage at them for having time together, when my time with Don was up. It’s a start.

I also noticed that this year, on the upcoming Thanksgiving, which will be my 3rd one without my love – that I’m not filled with anxiety and fear and dread, as the day approaches. I wouldn’t say I’m “excited”, because, well, let’s not get crazy – but it’s not looking like the black, dark hole it used to be.

The other day, I was in the car, driving to meet my best friend Sarah for dinner somewhere, and I had the car radio on. Now, that in itself, is something that is very recent for me, in my new “after” life. Music is still very hard. Music was my husband, and my husband was music – so it’s very, very hard. Only recently have I been able to even listen to music of any kind in the car, and still, lots of times, many songs will send me into random bursts of sobbing, and I become an emotional dishrag. But on this particular day, for whatever reason, it was different. Not only did they play music, they played Christmas music. “Let It Snow”.

I sat there. Driving. There was a slight pause in my tiny, ginormous world. Nothing happened. And then, something did happen. I turned it up. Loud. And for the first time, in a long, long time – I sang. It has hurt too much to sing since he died, because I’m not singing with him. I’m not singing while he strums his guitar. I’m not singing to chords that he learned, just for me, that would sound melodic, blended with my voice. Music was my husband, and my husband was music. And we, together, were music. Like a duet. When he died, the music stopped. There just didn’t seem to be a point anymore.

And then there was. In the car. When I sang “Let It Snow”, all alone, and with him.
For about 25 seconds in a row, I decided to let Christmas in again.
It hurt.
It hurt a lot.
I’m still not ready for all of Christmas.
But maybe just a verse.
So I sang.
And then I cried.
But first,
I sang.

The Shame of Sadness

It starts really early;
this obsession with shaming people’s sadness.
“Don’t cry, or I’ll really give you something to cry about!”,
a parent says to their child.
“Real men don’t cry”,
many young boys are lied to.
“Never let them see your tears. It makes you look weak”,
women are told in the workforce.

And when someone dies,
Religions will offer up this gem:
“Do not grieve, for when you grieve,
you are not allowing their soul to be at peace.”

Doctors and experts and therapists,
will try to put you on meds,
or “diagnose” your sadness,
calling it “depression”,
or “complicated grief”,
as if death and loss and grief
could be anything but,
Complicated.

And then,
There is this other gem:
Something,
some group of “experts”,
who have probably never lost their soulmates,
or had their world come crashing down
in a matter of seconds,
something called
“The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders”,
has decided
that after six months,
six months,
your grief
my grief
our grief
becomes “complicated grief”
and that we are now not just grieving,
and sad,
and people who have to rebuild their world
from nothing
and start over,
We are “depressed”
We are “mentally ill”.
These people,
these unknown faces,
want to label grief
after 6 months,
as a mental illness.
At six months,
I hadnt even BEGUN
the hard, hard work
of processing
what the hell had just happened
to my life.

Friends and family and outsiders,
will put timelines on your pain,
and their sympathies end,
long before your grief will.
Because grief doesn’t end.
It only Shifts.
Changes.
Moves.

But the people of the world scream
Suppress! Deny! Ignore!
Don’t feel!
Push away!
This seems to be the message,
coming at us from society,
from elders,
from the mental-health industry,
from doctors,
from friends,
from every single corner,
of the world,
in which we live.

“Don’t be sad. He wouldn’t want you to be sad”,
they say with good intentions.
“Aren’t you over this yet? It’s been a year,”
they cluelessly judge.
“Happiness is a choice. You need to decide to be happy”,
they offer condescendingly.

They just don’t know,
until, of course,
they know.
And the shaming goes on …

In the first few hours and days and weeks and months after my husband’s sudden death,
just 2 years and 3 months ago,
I was a swirling tornado, surrounded by a cloudy grey sky.
I had never lost the very person, who was my whole world,
until, of course,
I did.

And so I didn’t know how to feel, or mourn, or be.
Every breath I took felt entirely different,
than the air I had breathed before.
I could not see in front of me, could not find my way.
There was crying,
yes.
In the beginning.
But the crying, the sobbing, the hysterical fits of emotion,
they flooded out of me like a wail,
like an animal,
making terrifying sounds, I had never heard before,
coming from myself.
These sounds, were the sounds
of a human being
in Shock
because her husband
was Here,
and then Gone.
Just Gone.

So while I cried, in those first few hours, and days, and weeks, and months –
they were not the cries of sadness.
Not yet.
I wasn’t ready for that.
They were the cries of
Why did this happen?
and panic
and chaos
and unbelievable
horrible
crippling
FEAR.
Because like C.S. Lewis wrote,
so truthfully,
so candidly,
“Noone ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

In the beginning, you just don’t know,
and so everything,
Everything
is terrifying.
You are frightened of today,
tomorrow,
the next hour,
the next breath.
You are frightened of
your own emotions,
because you have never, ever
felt anything
with this much intensity
again and again
and again.
You start to think,
in the beginning,
that the pain will
literally
definitely
kill you.
That you will just collapse
on the floor
Alone,
like he did,
on that day that he died,
because how can someone,
one person
feel that much pain,
and not die?

After the first year or twelve or fourteen or sixteen months
of my husband’s sudden Death,
the tornado became more of a windstorm,
and the fog lifted,
just enough for me to see,
enough to find my way.
And so there was more crying,
Yes.
But they still were not the cries of sadness.
Not yet.
They were pushed down tears
stuffed away feelings
held inside,
so as not to make others
uncomfortable.
They were sobs of hurt,
seeping out in a closet,
or a bathroom,
in my car.
Running away from social events,
Leaving the party early,
Crying like a criminal,
filled with guilt
and Shame.

And so,
sometime around the two-year mark or a few months later
or today,
Right now,
Lately,
the tornado that was a windstorm,
has become something else.
Something that allows me to see,
Finally,
for the first time
since he died,
Since I died,
the Color in the leaves,
on the trees,
in my favorite season
of Autumn.

And there is crying,
Yes.
Lots and lots of crying.
Crying in the streets,
on the stairway,
in counseling,
with friends,
By myself,
On a bus,
at a show,
In my life.
Crying,
Finally,
because I miss him.
I just miss him.
I miss him with so much
Force
and Intensity,
that I just cry
and cry
and cry.

But my sadness
is finally not filled with fear,
or consumed with Shame.
It is just
Sadness.

And now, the outside world,
and the people in it,
want to label me and judge me
for this sadness,
as if to say:
“It’s been over 2 years. You’re
still sad?”
No.
Not still.
Finally.

I have finally reached the kind of sadness,
that is truly about sadness.
Pure, raw sadness.
The kind that only comes
from deep, deep love.
So every time I cry,
more pain is released,
and this leaves a corner
of my Sky
Open.
for Joy.
for Happy.
for Life.

I have never felt more sad,
about the death of my husband,
than I feel right now.
Today.
In this breath.
And yet,
because of that sadness,
I have never been more convinced,
or confident,
that I am on the path to Healing.

So why?
Why is the world so fiercely afraid,
of Sadness?
Why does my sadness make people run
and hide
and Judge
ordering me,
demanding me,
repremanding me,
to “Be Happy”
and pushing my sadness away.
Is it really so difficult
so hard
to understand
to comprehend
that darkness brings in light,
that Evil brings out Love,
that sadness is the freeway to Joy?

I have never been more Sad
than Now.
Never cried more often.
Never felt the pain
quite like this.
But it’s different.
Because that’s what grief is.
Not better.
Different.
And every time
that I cry
and cry
and cry,
it is not a bad thing.
It is not a negative thing.
It is not a Shameful thing.
It is not something that needs “fixing.”

Can’t you see
the Validity
the Beauty
the Neverending,
Honoring,
Loving
Gift
that is
Sadness?

I see it.
I see it,
and it looks like
Healing.

Your Divorce Is Not a Death

Okay.
It is time.

I have been wanting,
needing,
to write this piece for a long while now.
A long while.

But every time I start,
I end up stopping,
because I am unable to word it in a way
that won’t piss off and alienate
lots and lots of people.
And my intention is not to alienate lots and lots of people.
My intention is to try and help people understand better.
To make them see and even feel,
just a little bit,
that the words they choose to use are important.

So, here I go again.
Writing it.

I can only hope that this comes across with the right tone,
and I can only hope that people will receive it,
in the genuine spirit with which it is being delivered.
Because really,
this needs to be said.
Or written.

It needs to be talked about or written about,
because it is already being talked about and
written about in the widowed world.
It is being posted about in private chat rooms,
and Facebook Groups and conversations,
between widowed people,
who have to hear the divorce/death comparisons
again,
and again,
and again.
And whenever they hear them,
the many,
many times that they hear them,
they come to their fellow widowed friends,
frustrated,
angry,
defeated,
misunderstood,
and they say furiously,
and silently,
behind closed doors,
as to not upset anyone:
“It happened again.
Someone compared their divorce
to my partner’s death.”

If you really think about it,
it does make some sense,
why the comparisons might be made.
Divorce and death are both types of losses.
Divorce and death are both the end of something.
Divorce and death are both
frightening, isolating, lonely.

But, for me,
that is where the similarities end,
and where the many, vast differences
begin.

You will often hear people say that divorce is
“like a death.”
It is something that people say.
It is something that is “not supposed to bother me”,
because it’s “just a saying.”
But it does bother me.
Because it’s not true.
Divorce, to the person going through it,
might feel like a death,
but not really,
because the only thing that is like a death,
is Death.
And the death of a marriage is not the same thing,
as the death of a person.
I will say that again.
The death of a marriage
is NOT the same thing
as the death of a person.

And this is why the comparisons,
from people going through divorce,
directed at people who are widowed,
and who have lost our spouses,
our partners,
to Death,
are so hurtful.
So painful.
So raw.
So inaccurate.
So wrong.

Now,
Not every person going through divorce
makes these comparisons.
But enough people do make them,
for widowed people to be talking about it,
constantly,
and hurt by it,
constantly.
Enough people make them,
for me to be writing this piece,
about people comparing
their divorce
to the death
of my spouse.

Many, many times
since losing my husband,
to sudden Death,
I have had things said to me,
by divorced people,
that cut me like a knife,
that punched at my open wounds,
that set my soul on fire.
And of course,
they don’t mean to say them,
and they don’t mean to hurt me,
because they don’t see,
that it is simply NOT
the same thing.
At all.

They don’t see this,
So they say things,
that are incredibly insensitive,
or inappropriate,
or just awful,
Like:
“I know exactly how you feel”
or
“I think divorce is worse because I still have to see him all the time,
and that’s painful”
or
“I wish my husband was dead!”,
or
“We should go out to the clubs and meet guys together,
now that we are both single again.”

You do not know how I feel,
At all.
Just like I do not know how you feel.
I have never been divorced.
I was married.
Very happily married.
My marriage did not end due to anything
that was of my choosing.
Or his choosing.
There was zero choice involved.
By anyone.
He died.
He stopped breathing.
He was here,
and then he wasn’t.
Your partner breathes air,
and lives life,
and gets to have birthdays,
and see his or her kids,
if they were lucky enough,
to have them.
My partner was not that lucky.
Because he died.
So you do not know how I feel.
At all.

If you did,
you would never say to me,
that it’s painful for you to have to see your ex-partner.
My partner is not an “ex”-anything.
He died.
I am still in love with him,
and I probably always will be.
And he loves me,
from somewhere different,
in a different form,
but he loves me.
And I will never, ever
see him again.
Not ever.
Never.
I would give anything,
ANYTHING,
to be able to see my love again,
So for you to tell me
how painful it is,
to be forced to see your ex,
tells me that you don’t know,
how I feel.
At all.

You got a divorce,
so you are now single.
My life partner died,
so I am now widowed.
Not single.
Widowed.
This is a title that I both loathe,
and protect.
It is a word that I detest,
and appreciate.
I am a Widow,
and please trust me,
you do not want to know,
what it is like,
to be me.

And if I were a parent,
which Im not,
because he died,
suddenly,
without warning,
before we could start our family,
but if I were a parent,
I would now be an ONLY parent,
not a SINGLE parent.
And any ONLY parent,
will tell you,
that there is a ginormous difference.
Divorce and death
should not be compared,
because only one of them,
involves the actual death
of a person.
Period.

It seems that divorced people,
some of them,
not ALL of them,
but some,
want to put themselves in the same category
as us,
to commiserate,
with us.
But why?
Why?
Why would anyone want to be
in this club?
This horrible, awful
soul-sucking club.
Why?

The most painful thing that a divorced person said to me,
is something that shows me,
just how much they don’t get it.
I was talking to this person,
about my husband’s funeral,
and I said that there is nothing
in the world
more horribly awful
than having to see your own husband
lying in a casket.
This person’s response,
was to compare his divorce,
to the DEATH of my husband,
by callously and casually saying:
“Yes, well, mine was more of a
Metaphorical Casket, so I get it.”

I was stunned,
by this phrase.
“Metaphorical Casket.”
I sat in my car,
and sobbed,
for an hour straight.
What is that?
It is nothing.
There is no such thing,
as a metaphorical casket.
You have either seen your love
in a casket,
or you haven’t.
And if you haven’t,
why on earth
would you want to even pretend
that you have?

If you have not seen your husband,
or wife,
or partner,
the person you will love forever,
until the end of time,
lying there,
still,
Dead,
forever,
never to come home again,
then you do not know
The endless trauma,
the flashbacks,
the nightmares,
Panic,
Anxiety,
Terror,
Fear,
Grief,
Longing,
the endless,
bottomless,
hopeless,
pit of your stomach churning,
that used to be your life.
You just do not know.
And so I am kindly asking,
that you stop pretending,
or insinuating,
or saying,
that you do.

And I am not saying that Divorce is not
incredibly painful,
or life-changing,
or complicated,
or frightening,
or brutal.
It is all of those things,
and I am truly sorry,
that you are going through it.
We can even talk about it,
if you want.
If you are a friend of mine,
and you need someone to listen.
I will be there.
As long as you don’t compare.
Because I don’t.
Compare.
Because I have never been divorced.
So I do not pretend to know,
what that might be like.
I do know,
that it is not a death.

I am a Widow.
You got a divorce.
They are two different things.

We all share pain,
but our pain is not the same.
It is individual,
and personal,
like snowflakes,
or stars.
Floating and existing,
in the same sky,
but not the same.
Different.

So I hope that we can be there,
for each other,
in our very different circumstances,
and find our way through the dark tunnels,
that we need to crawl through,
for as long as it takes,
to live again.

Because this needed to be said,
or written,
and now it has been.
And I hope that you see,
that an ocean is not a river,
an apple is not a grape,
a question is not a sentence.

And a divorce,
is not a death.

In Between

JERRY: You rented ‘Home Alone?’

GEORGE: Yeah. Do you mind if I watch it here?

JERRY: What for?

GEORGE: Because if I watch it at my apartment, I feel like Im not DOING anything. If I watch it here, Im out of the house. Im DOING something.

– Seinfeld 

Today is a nothing day. Nothing important.
Well, today is Halloween.
And since my husband and I didn’t have kids, and we never really “did anything” on Halloween,
today is a nothing day.

All of the days surrounding today, however, are filled with emotion.
The days that have passed, and the days coming up.
Lots and lots of emotion.
This past Sunday, October 27th, was my wedding anniversary.
Would have been 7 years.
hate that I have to say “would have been.”
We didn’t even make it to 5.

I spent the day Sunday driving to the road where our venue was, and still is.
Sea Cliff, Long Island.
I sat by the water where we took our pictures.
Where his ashes are scattered.
I walked along the sand. I sat on a bench and stared.
I tossed a message in a bottle into the bay.
I sobbed. For 2 hours straight. I really did.
It just kept coming.
The tears.
They shot out of me like a flood or a tidal wave,
fighting and begging to be heard.
So I sat.
And I listened.
And I talked.
But mostly,
I listened.
To the silence.
To the low tide.
To the hope, that I could somehow hear or feel his love, somewhere deep inside.
I listened.

Tomorrow, just 7 years ago, we left for my parents beautiful time-share on Cape Cod, to spend our 10 day honeymoon. While there on the Cape, we celebrated his birthday, which happens to fall on November 6th, Election Day. After that, other emotional future days will also come up. Such as Thanksgiving. And the day he proposed to me underneath that Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in NYC, one week before Christmas. And then, of course, Christmas. My favorite day of the year, that I now dread with every fiber of my being. New Years Eve. And then we get to start the whole damn thing all over again ……..

SeaCliff, Long Island, Oct 27, 2013.

But today,
right now,
tonight,
in these moments of silence that I sit here and write,
while my roommate is out celebrating the holiday,
and while my new life often leaves me alone on nights,
exactly like this one,
Tonight,
is a nothing night.

And it is nights like tonight,
these nothing nights,
these days that fall in-between 
other relevant nights,
it is these evenings and these hours,
that I feel the loss most of all.

For tonight,
just 7 years ago,
on Halloween night,
we were not doing anything at all.
We were doing nothing.
Together.
and doing nothing, together
is so very delicious and incredible and sexy
and boring and wonderful and adventurous
when you are deeply in love.

We were watching “Its The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”,
and we were packing for our honeymoon,
and we had ordered some take-out Italian,
and we sat on our couch in our living room,
with our legs and our hearts intertwined,
loving our newly married life,
that was only 4 days old.

And we did nothing at all.
and nothing was everything.
But now,
nothing,
is just
Nothing.
And doing nothing,
All alone,
is not the same,
as doing nothing,
with your person.

And so these nights,
these nights of nothing that are
In-Between other nights,
they Hurt.
They remind and they bring back to the surface,
and they wound and they push in all the places,
that you don’t want pushed.

On these nights,
being left alone here,
with only my thoughts and my heart,
it is dangerous.
It is painful.
It is vulnerable.
I am naked,
sitting next to grief,
Inviting him,
Enticing him,
Enabling him,
to come out and play.
And when he does,
and he always does,
I will be ready,
and I will be silent,
and I will sit still,
and Listen.
Just listen,
for that small, tiny, important moment
right before the wave crashes
right after the wind blows
right before the grief starts howling,
and yelling,
and berating,
and overwhelming,
and controlling.

I will listen,
for your love,
Inside
of the In Between.