Backward is Forward

So Tuesday was my wedding anniversary. It would have been 9 years married this October 27th, but of course, we were right smack in the middle of year 4 in our marriage, when my beautiful husband suddenly dropped dead. The reality of this event – someone being there one second, and then the next second, not – has become more and more baffling to me with time. One may think it would be the opposite – that as time marches on, there is an acceptance of the death that has happened. But with sudden and shocking death, it is not that simple. Yes, I have logically “accepted” that he has died. I’m not an idiot. I live and breathe the reality of his death every second. However, the very idea that my husband literally just disappeared from this earth with absolutely no symptoms or warnings or big neon signs reading: “Okay, Im going now! Thought I should let you know!” – I am not sure that will ever make any sense to me. The concept of someone leaving that abruptly, in the time you can say “Poof! Gone!”, will always leave me with a sour taste in my mouth. It’s like Bindi Irwin said a couple weeks ago on “Dancing With the Stars”, about her late dad, Steve Irwin’s sudden death: “I think I will always half expect him to come walking through the door.” Yes.

My wedding anniversary has become my hardest “grief day.” Even harder than the death anniversary day, which is usually filled with more purpose and support from friends and family, and I give honor to it and to Don with my annual “Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day.” Of course that day is also excruciatingly hard too, but at least I dont feel so alone.

My wedding anniversary makes me feel like the most alone person walking the earth.

I would imagine the reason that day makes me feel so very alone, is because it is about US. That day is about me and my husband, and the only thing I want to do on that day is to be with him, and I can’t do that. Not in the way that I want to. It is not a day that I want to spend with friends or in a big group. I would actually prefer to not be around other humans on that day, but because it fell on a Tuesday, I had to work. I’m a part-time professor at a university, and I teach Acting and Comedy Courses, so in my job, I have to be very “on.” My students have no idea about my husband’s death. My comedy students know, because we talk in that class about the connection between pain and comedy, so it’s relevant for me to share it with them, but my acting students have no idea. And none of them knew what Tuesday was for me. I woke up that morning already feeling defeated and incredibly sad. I woke up and started crying. The knowledge of what that day was and the knowledge of him still being dead – it just punched me in the gut the second I woke up and I cried. After driving myself to campus, I had to sit in the parking lot for a good 20 minutes and get myself together emotionally, before I could go in and be a human person with a job who has to talk to other human people. I could not stop crying. Nor could I stop telling the steering wheel over and over again: “I miss you. I just miss you so much. My heart hurts, Boo. It just hurts. ”

I did get through the teaching hours, somehow. Next up was driving to Sea Cliff, also on Long Island, to the venue where we married, and to where I have his ashes scattered across the street in the bay. Every year, on my wedding anniversary, I go back there and just sit with him. Or with his ashes. Or his energy. Or whatever you want to call it when your husband is no longer here on earth to actually sit with. I go there and I try like hell to feel close to him, to talk with him, to walk along the sand and just be in the essence of him. I also write a message in a bottle letter each year, directed at whoever finds it, telling them a bit about our story, and then encouraging them to somehow pay forward love on this day. In the letter, I talk about how I believe we are all connected somehow, and that the person who finds this letter is probably a person who needs to hear these specific words right now, today. So I toss that into the water, and watch it float away. The only sound I hear out there are my own breathing, and the seagulls. It is a beautiful place to be, and I find myself struggling to leave.

bottle

After that, I had a really nice dinner with my best childhood friend Sarah, one of the very few humans I find acceptable to be around on that day. We shared Don stories, quotes, and memories, and we felt the missing of him together. And then I went home, finally, after feeling like I had just run a marathon inside my brain, and I snuggled under the covers in my bed and just cried. The next day, I was still so emotional. It was as if I had reserved this day and week for specifically grieving the future we would never get to have, and all those feelings were coming out on full blast. I had made a phone session appointment with my grief therapist, because I figured I would need to talk to someone during my anniversary week. But somehow, we ended up missing each other’s calls and emails, and I didnt get to talk with her.

I felt so very exhausted by the day, and by the day before the day, and the day after the day. I was also very confused and a little bit mad at myself, for how much this was affecting me right now. It’s been four years! This is my fourth anniversary without him – why is this one so much harder? Why was I sitting in the parking lot at campus, in year four, sobbing with the fierceness of someone in month four? Why was I crying so much? What the hell is wrong with me? Why am I going backwards in this process? I thought I was doing so well.

And then I remembered something. And I remembered it instantly, almost as if it was completely obvious all along, but something abruptly allowed my brain to see it. I remembered this: I wasn’t going backwards. It only felt like I was going backwards, but sometimes, backward is actually forward. Several things happened on my anniversary day that proved how much I have shifted and changed and grown:

I was able to know ahead of time that I might need assistance, so I made an appointment with my therapist ahead of time. When that appointment didnt happen, I didnt flip out about it or go into panic mode. It just was, and it was okay.

I was able to get through my work day, without calling out sick, and without having to leave the classroom several times in order to break down crying, like I did all the time during month four (and five and six and seven) of this new life. I made it through all of my classes, and came out of there in one piece.

I recognized what I wanted to do with the day, and I did that. The first couple of anniversary dates, I had gone to Sea Cliff and dinner, but had included several close friends in both of those outings. So we had about 6 or 7 of us for dinner, and for hanging out in Sea Cliff. (the first year, we actually went there and spread his ashes on that day together). The past couple of years though, I have come to realize that while I really want and need a huge support system of friends on the death anniversary each year, I really would like to be more by myself on my wedding anniversary. No big crowds, no big group of friends. Just me and Don. The day feels like its about us, and I want to honor that in whatever way I can.

My message in a bottle thing was about reaching out, and lately, my instinctual response to pain has been to reach out in some way. Sometimes that means writing about it and posting it publicly – other times it means helping someone else directly in some way – other times its about letting people know what Im feeling and being okay with that. When I tossed that bottle into the sea, I somehow felt a little bit better, like something had been lifted from me and sent into the universe, to the place of residence where it was always meant to be.

What I realized more than anything else, is that on this really hard day, there was one thing and one thing only that ultimately got me through it.

ME.

sea cliff

It was me. I am the one who got me through it. Yes, I had support and messages of comfort from some really amazing friends and family, but in the end, all of the obstacles or tough emotions I faced, were dealt with and coped with by me. I figured it out. Who cares that I sobbed for hours this week? Who cares that I couldnt stop crying in the car, or that I came home and fell into a sub-conscious half-sleep and missed my therapist’s phone call? Who cares that it’s Friday and Im STILL feeling emotional about all of this? You know what? That’s just grief. That’s just what this is. I am done feeling ANY type of guilt or feeling bad about days when I feel bad. I am finished with questioning why I am still not ready to even think about “someone else”, even after 4 years. I refuse to feel bad about any of that. As my grief-therapist once told me: You are exactly where you need to be. And she was right. And where I am right now, is not where I was 4 years ago. Or even 2 or 1 year ago. Not even close. Where I am now is way different, and I am getting better at figuring out this “death inside life” thing, every day. I just needed to see that for myself.

There are times when in order to go forward, you might have to go backwards. Or maybe it just feels like backwards, when really, it’s just a direction you can’t recognize, because you haven’t been there ever, until that very moment.

That is what this was. It was an entirely new feeling for me. Something happened while I was doing all that sobbing this week. Right there, in the midst of deep and painful crying; in the middle of missing him and our life with an intensity hard to describe; there was something else.

It was me. My own voice. And it was saying, rather clearly, in fact: “Stop worrying. You are going to get yourself through this, and you are going to be okay. ”

25 Clueless Comments Said to Me as a Widow, and 25 Responses I Wish I Could Have Said

In the just over 4 years that I have been a widow, I have had to sit in silence and bite my tongue through an endless array of insensitive or just plain stupid comments coming from both friends, family, acquaintenances and co-workers, and yes, even total strangers. As the person who is grieving, we are told over and over again by society that “people just don’t know what to say” and they are “only trying to help”, and that they “mean well”, so therefore, we are supposed to just nod politely, smile and get on with things. Okay. I can do that, if that is what the world wants from me. However, I do think that just continuing to brush off people’s hurtful and often rude comments as “not knowing what to say” is unhealthy. The only way that people will ever learn what NOT to say to someone who is grieving the life they had and the person they loved most in this world, is to educate them. And since I’m a comedian, I choose to offer up my education in a comedic tone. So if you are reading this and you have no sense of humor, please go out to Wal-Mart or somewhere and get one. Then come back and have a good laugh.

The following is a list of 25 (in no particular order) actual comments that actual people actually said to me after my husband Don died very suddenly, with zero warning or symptom, in July of 2011, from a massive heart attack, at age 46. Below each actual comment, I have listed what I wish I could have said in response at the time, but of course, didn’t. Some of these comments were said to me right away after the death, and others were said as recently as last month. So, what does this accomplish? Well, for one thing, it’s fun to come up with pretend, smart-ass replies that I could never actually say in real life to these people. And secondly, the next time me or any of my dear brothers and sisters in widowhood have to put up with one of these or other insensitive comments, they can now laugh their asses off, thinking of what they wish they could say in response; as they nod their heads politely like a good widow (er) should. Here is the dialogue that I wish could take place as part of normal and acceptable society:

IT WAS GODS PLAN.

Oh, you mean my husband going to work and then never coming home? Or did you mean the part where he collapsed on a cold hard floor just an hour after getting there? Or the part where Im woken up traumatically by a ringing phone at 6:30am and then rushed to a hospital in a cab to be taken to a private room and told by a bunch of nurses that my husband went into cardiac arrest and didn’t make it? Or all of that? Was that all part of the plan? That’s really good to know, thanks for telling me that. It takes all of the pain and hurt and PTSD and trauma and anxiety and panic away. Really. By the way, what will God be doing next? What is the next part of the plan? I figured I’d ask since you seem to be the spokesperson for God. I didn’t realize. Congratulations on that promotion. Out of everybody on earth, God chose YOU to be in charge of dissecting his thoughts and words and passing them on to the rest of us. Wow! Thats impressive. And I thought you were merely a civilian, like me. Good to know.

YOURE YOUNG. YOULL FIND SOMEONE ELSE AND GET MARRIED AGAIN ONE DAY.

I will? Oh, wow!!! That is such a huge relief, because THAT is, of course, what is on my mind and heart right now, after my husband’s death and all. Im thinking about marrying someone else, as soon as possible, in fact. So Im glad you picked up on that . I didn’t realize you had become a psychic and that you were now able to predict the future. How else could you possibly know that I will remarry? What else will happen to me, oh great one? Do tell!!!

YOURE TOO YOUNG TO BE A WIDOW.

You know what? You’re so right. So they must have made a mistake then. I will make sure to go straight to the widow authorities in the morning and return my black veil and my 6 cats.

GOD NEVER GIVES US MORE THAN WE CAN HANDLE.

You’re so correct. (punches them in the face) Oh my! I am soooo sorry that you are lying face down on the ground after me punching you in the face. Was that more than you could handle? Sorry about that. But please don’t blame me. I had nothing to do with it. It was part of God’s plan.

EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON.

Yes. Exactly. Like, how I punched you in the face just now? The reason was that you’re an asshole.

GOD ONLY TAKES THE BEST.

So, what does that make me? Chopped liver? A horrible person? And you too. And the rest of us walking around on earth. Do we all suck as human beings, since he only takes the best ones? That doesn’t seem logical to me. I think what makes more sense is this – people die. Lets go with that.

WE MAKE PLANS, AND GOD LAUGHS.

Wow, this God that you believe in sure sounds like a prick! I believe in a higher power too. I believe in the concept of a God. But the God I believe in is all about Love and kindness and goodness, not taking people away for fun, and mocking us and getting off on our pain. That is not a God that I believe in. Sorry. But good luck with that.

HE IS IN A BETTER PLACE.

Really? Better than here with me, happily married and looking forward to our long future together? No, I don’t think so. He was very happy here, and he was not suffering, nor was he in pain of any kind, since he was not ill and his death was sudden. I have an idea though. Since you seem to like this “better place” so much, why don’t we bring my husband back here, and YOU can go there instead? How does that sound? Here, I’ll help you pack …..

YOU NEED TO GET OVER THIS.

Get over what? Love? Get over loving the person that I vowed to love forever and spend my life with? I should get over love? No. That’s not a thing. That’s not possible. I don’t think you’ve ever been in love before if you would say something like that to me. This wasn’t a divorce. He DIED. I will always, always love him – until the day I stop breathing, and beyond.

YOU NEED TO MOVE ON.

Again, that’s not a thing. Move on from where? Where should I move to? What does that mean? If it means that you want me to stop talking about him, and just act like he never existed – that’s never going to happen. We keep the people we love alive by carrying them with us and telling their story. If you cant understand that, then I think you’re right. I think I need to move on. From you, and from our relationship.

MY GREAT GRANDMOTHER DIED. WE SAW EACH OTHER ONCE A DECADE, AND SHE WAS 107. I KNOW EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL.

Yes, of course you do. Because that is EXACTLY the same thing as losing your husband, best friend, the life you knew, your past, your present, your future, your dreams of a family, your rock, your security, your stability, your heart, your soul, your identity, your everything – in the blink of an eye. Its exactly the same.

AT LEAST YOU DIDNT HAVE CHILDREN.

Hey, that was awesome of you to remind me, JUST as I had stopped thinking about it for five seconds, that I will never be a mom and that my husband will never get to be a dad. So nice of you to remind me of that trauma and that intense pain I feel every single day. Its also really kind of you to imply that because we didn’t have kids, that my marriage was somehow not valid enough or that my hurt and grief aren’t as important. Thank you so much!!!

ANYTHING YOU NEED, JUST ASK. ANYTHING AT ALL. CALL ANYTIME. NIGHT OR DAY ….

Okay, relax there, casual Facebook friend whom I barely know. I know youre trying to be nice and you think this is what you should say, but you don’t mean it. I highly doubt you will actually be there for the many, many things I am going to definitely need over the next few weeks, months, and years because of this life-altering loss. But since you offered … Id love some help with my laundry and with the car, and also all my lightbulbs need changing and the ceilings are too high for me to reach them. And then, usually around 4:30 am when I cant sleep and Im sobbing hysterically, you could come over and just sit with me, or I’ll give you a call everytime that happens. You cool with that? Awesome. P.s. Whats your phone number again? I don’t even think I know your full name ….

YOU SHOULD BE GRATEFUL FOR WHAT YOU HAVE.

And you should be grateful that Im not a violent person, and that I don’t particularly like jail cells as places to reside after knocking you over the head with a 2 by 4.

IT COULD BE WORSE.

Could it? Really? I don’t know about that. My husband is dead forever. Im pretty sure this IS the very definition of “worse.” And what is the point of saying that anyway? Is that supposed to make me feel better somehow? Because it doesn’t. At all.

THIS HAPPENED BECAUSE YOU DIDNT PRAY HARD ENOUGH.

Oh, okay. Is that why it happened? I thought it was part of “the Plan.” What happened to the almighty plan? Im confused now. Also, if you could explain to me, oh great one and spokesperson of God, WHEN exactly was I supposed to be doing this praying? You know, considering the fact that I basically woke UP to the reality that my husband had gone to work, and then died. So, having ZERO knowledge of the fact that he was going to die, before he was actually DEAD, when was I to do this praying that you speak of? If I thought that prayer worked, I might pray for you to go out and buy some common sense or a brain.

AT LEAST HE DIED DOING WHAT HE LOVED.

Yes, yes. Because my husband absolutely LOVED being at work and collapsing alone on a hard cold floor while his heart gave out on him. That was his favorite thing.

LIFE IS FOR THE LIVING.

Well, thanks for that pointless little gem of nothing. And being condescending is for the jackass!

NOBODY SAID LIFE WAS FAIR!

That’s true. And nobody said you’re not a douche-bag!

YOU’RE SO LUCKY THAT HE IS DEAD. I HAVE TO SEE MY EX ALL THE TIME.

Yes. “Lucky” is the word that comes to mind immediately when I think of my situation. Also, just FYI, he isn’t my “ex” anything. He was my husband and he died, and I would give just about anything in this world if I could see him again. And thanks for the anxiety attack I’m now having inside, as I try my hardest NOT to kick you into the next galaxy.

I WISH MY HUSBAND WAS DEAD. HAHAHA!!!!

Yes, that’s hilarious. Making stupid jokes about your shitty marriage and your crappy husband to someone who just lost theirs to death is exactly what should be happening here. Awesome.

HE WOULDNT WANT YOU TO CRY.

Yes well, he is dead, so I guess it doesn’t much matter what he would want, now , does it? But if we are going to play it that way, then he probably wouldn’t want people like you saying dumb shit that upsets me and in fact, makes me cry. So go away now.

GOD MUST HAVE NEEDED ANOTHER ANGEL.

This God of yours is very needy, dontcha think? And, not for nothing, but he is GOD. He is the all powerful and mighty, and he lives in Heaven. So, since we have established that you are obviously God’s spokesperson for all things, can you tell him to make his own damn angel? They gotta have at LEAST one aisle of Heaven reserved for Angel-making purposes. There must be an arts and crafts station or something up there. How many angels does this guy need anyway? He’s getting a little selfish.

WELL, LIFE GOES ON!!!

Wow, does it? Well thanks for that useless drivel. I was not aware that life was to continue in it’s natural form. Thank you for pointing that out to me.

YOU ARE LOOKING BETTER. GLAD TO SEE YOU ARE FINALLY ALL BETTER.

Holy shit. What the hell did I look like before??? Im looking “better?” Better than what? And yes, thankfully, I am ALL BETTER NOW. I took my medicine and I rested up, and wouldn’t ya know it, the pain and the grief and the hurt just all went away, just like that!!! It’s a miracle!!! Now if youll kindly excuse me, I need to go take my “GRIEF BE GONE” pills, so that I can remain “all better” from now on.

Now, in the interest of not ending this article on a negative note, I would like to tell you all that there have been plenty of people in the past 4 years who have said things that did NOT make me want to throw them out the nearest window. There have been people who have said some really great things – things that stuck with me. Things that I will list here, so that the next time you run into a person who has just lost everything they knew, maybe you can make the choice not to be a douche-bag by adding to their pain.

In the end, if you knew the person well who has suffered the loss, just be there for them. Don’t judge them or give them advice or tell them how they should be feeling or grieving or coping. If you haven’t been through it, you really don’t know, and your job should be to support them and not disappear from their life. If you didnt know them well, a simple “I’m so sorry” works just fine. Thanks for reading.

Good Things People Have Said to Me:

I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say.

This is not what I dreamed for you when we were kids. (my best childhood friend)

He would be so proud of you.

He loved you so much, and he always will.

You were the love of his life, and the last person he will ever love.

You will always have his heart. You get to hold onto the love forever.

Love never dies.

Here is a story / memory / picture of your husband Id like to share with you.

I miss him too.

Lets honor him /have a toast / share stories about our friend. Lets say his name and talk about him.

This sucks.

This really fucking sucks.

I can’t believe this happened. This is so unfair.

I wish I had known him better.

I might not do everything right, and I might screw this up, but Im not leaving you, and Im around whenever you want me to be.

If you need someone to talk to , I promise Im a really good listener and I will never judge you.

I love you.

Disappearing

I’m in a state of panic. This happens now and again – one of the frightening realities of sudden and shocking death. Sometimes a few weeks or months will go by with me able to escape the panic and anxiety. Then, just like that, something happens – or doesn’t – and I am shaking back and forth and my skin is on fire and I’m pacing the floors of my apartment and unable to breathe correctly or get a thought out.

I forgot the song. That’s what caused the panic this time. I was in bed last night with our two kitties Sammy and Autumn, that we adopted together years ago, and I was doing my normal (or abnormal, depending on how you see things) routine of singing to them all the songs that my husband Don and I used to sing to them together. The songs that we made up ourselves, and that we would sing to them as part of our nightly routine before going to sleep. As crazy as it might sound, I have continued to sing these silly songs to my kitties, just about every night, as they lie there in my bed with me, all cuddled up and ready to sleep. I want them to still feel like he is here in some way, like he is still and always a part of things, and for them to hear my voice singing to them those same notes and words that I would always be singing with him. It’s comforting. It’s ceremonial. It keeps him alive in some way.

Except I forgot. I forgot the words. I forgot the words to our song.

I was lying there, in the bed, singing to Sammy the “Sammy-Sam Song”, when all of a sudden, right in the middle of verse two, I forgot everything. All of it. My mind went blank. What’s the next word? How does that song go that we made up? How could I possibly not be remembering this? I sing this every damn night. How can I forget? But I did. And as I sat there, not remembering what came next, I started to sweat. I started to panic. My arms started shaking and my eyes began twitching. I felt like I wanted to throw up. I began to pace the room, back and forth, back and forth, trying to somehow jog my memory into finding the melody and lyric again of what we created. But it was gone. Just like that, it was gone.

Those of us who have survived the completely sudden death of our loved one, the kind of death where there was literally NO warning whatsoever – no illness – no good morning – no symptom – no anything – know that this is our greatest fear. Our greatest fear is that everything will just disappear into thin air, like they did. Because we know it can happen. We know that you can go to sleep and then wake up in the morning and your husband is randomly dead. We know what that is, for their death to feel like a magic trick or some cruel prank, and to constantly wrestle with the concept of how can someone be here one second, and then gone forever the next second? How is that possible? So we fear the disappearing of things and people, and we panic or jolt ourselves awake at the sound of a ringing phone, a door closing, an ambulance siren, and so many other things. And we panic when we begin to forget – because it feels like they are disappearing all over again, piece by piece, until they are just gone entirely.

Logically, I know I probably will not ever truly forget my husband, or forget the important pieces of him. I know I will carry him with me forever. But, forgetting ANY part of him, no matter how small it may seem to others looking in, feels like a punch in the gut or a kick in the soul. When the very person of him has been taken away from me, I MUST hold on so tightly to every piece that was left behind for me. They are like little crumbs of him, and they are all that I have.

I don’t want to forget anything. Not ever. And just the idea that I possibly could and probably will forget some things, sends me into fear and panic mode. Sometimes I have to try really hard and actually focus to recall the way he sounded when he laughed, or when he talked. The last time I heard his voice on one of the few videotapes I have of him, it sounded foreign to me, almost like I was trying to search for him inside his own voice. It was familiar, but felt far away. I know he is with me always. I actually feel him with me lately, now more than ever. He sends signs and I feel his energy around me all the time.

And yet, that is the problem. He feels so far away, even with the signs and the energy and carrying him inside my soul. I think it’s because I am tired of living in metaphors. I am tired of living in spirit. I am sick of feeling him in music, or in a good joke, or a new film he would have loved. I am exhausted by trying to locate him with every star and every moon, and every sunrise and every body of water. I don’t want him to be just ashes anymore. I don’t want to be writing a goddamn book about him being dead. I don’t want to tell his story over and over again, so that I can keep him alive. I don’t want to have to keep asking his friends and my friends and family, begging them, to give me tiny snippets of him – to please tell me about that time that he did that thing or said that thing – please help me keep him relevant because I cant do this alone anymore – I don’t want to be desperately singing songs to our cats because we don’t have children and I have nobody’s eyes to look into that look like daddy’s or that act as evidence that he was here. I don’t want any of that. It’s been four years of trying to find him in a gust of wind or a guitar solo, and I want more, dammit. I want so much more.

I just want him to be human again. I just want him to be my husband.

The Road to Forgiveness

The face of grief is always changing. Grief never ends – it just shifts and changes, over and over and over again. The past few months, my grief tsunami has turned into something very different than ever before. I almost want to call it “profound”, but that sounds too pompous. I do feel as if this past year or so, I have been able to dig deeper into the abyss than ever before. I have reached inside, pulled out pain, and then started to make some sense of it, like solving a puzzle. Piece by piece, the joy inside the life that I have now, today, is starting to emerge.

It is my belief that in order to get here, I had to feel and analyze and break down and sit with every single fragment of my grief. It was probably the hardest thing I ever did. I am not finished. I might not ever be. There is no finish line – only sharp turns of major growth and awakening. But every single day, I wake up in a new way, all over again. I wake up with the knowledge that I am still and always learning.

At first, and for a long time, the death of the person you love most tears you apart and rips you in half. But if you do the grief work and face the pain head-on, eventually, it reverses. You take the pieces of the hurt and you tear THEM apart. You rip THEM in half over and over again, until you start to figure out what to do next. Until the pain is no longer suffocating you and ruling your life.

When this major shift happens, suddenly, there is room for love. In the past year or so, I have felt my husband’s love stronger than ever before. I have had signs from him, both literally and metaphorically, time and time again. I have felt his energy around me constantly. The best way for me to explain it, is that in the past 4 years since his death, I have gone from feeling like he is “nowhere”, to knowing he is “everywhere.” This does NOT make it somehow “okay” or “all better” that he isnt here with me on earth, and that I don’t get to live my life with him. Not at all. But knowing that he is everywhere, and actually feeling that on a constant basis, makes my daily life go from one of just existing, to one of truly living again. I no longer question or doubt my husband’s presence in my life. It just is, and I know this. The feeling has become so constant now, that it almost never goes away. People have asked me when or how do I feel him or know he is around. My answer is all the time. Everywhere. Always. I feel him right this second, as I type this. His soul is inside everything, and he lives in the rhythms of who I am.

Don with his friends on our wedding day

Don with his friends on our wedding day

Lately he has been talking to me. I actually hear his voice and he says very specific things. He has been talking to me a lot this year about forgiveness. There are so many people I have needed to forgive, starting with myself. In a story too long to share here (it is in my book), he actually took me somewhere and showed me what it would have looked like, if I had watched him die. He showed me why I needed to stop blaming myself for being asleep while he was collapsing. Then he led me to begin to forgive his father. His father, who never had much of a relationship with him, and who I blamed for a long time for Don’s death. (again, too long of a story for here, but in the book) He led me to begin forgiving his dysfunctional family, for not being there enough for him or for me, after his death. He made me see that their abandoning me wasnt actually about me. It was about their dysfunction and their pain.

I had to forgive so many people. People in my own extended family, and friends, for not knowing what to say or for not being there in the way I wanted or needed. Recently, a friend who was like a brother to me and who disappeared from my life soon after Don died, came back into my life again. We talked it through and we got emotional and we dug deep into it, and it was a hard conversation (or three) to have, but once again, I heard my husband’s voice, telling me: “It’s time, Boo. Just listen to what he has to say.” Tonight, I met up with him and our small close group of friends from before my husband died, and I saw him for the first time in over four years. I was so nervous, and scared, and really really excited to have my friend back, but in a completely different way. Our meetup went very, very well. It was like old times again, but yet not. We all felt Don’s presence there with us, almost as if he was the one who brought us back together. The whole night I just wanted to cry, because it just felt so damn good to be with my friends again. It was like a huge sigh of relief.

Our reunion, today

Our reunion, today

Forgiveness is so hard. Its one of the hardest things in life. I never really understood why, until this week, when I read an excerpt from Brene Brown’s latest book, that gave me goosebumps everywhere on my body, and suddenly it all made sense. For those unfamiliar, Dr.Brene’ Brown is an author, brilliant speaker, (look up her many TED talks), therapist, and researcher. She researches human emotions – things like anger, grief, empathy, shame, and forgiveness. She actually takes something like shame, and interviews thousands of people about it, and researches it, like science, to then break it down and figure it out. This amazes me. Her words have always moved me, but after losing Don to sudden death, they sometimes became a lifeline. This is the passage that made me go “WOAH!”, and that made me see forgiveness in a whole new light:

“In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die. Forgiveness is so difficult for this reason, because it involves death and grief. The death, or ending, that forgiveness necessitates, comes in many shapes and forms. We may need to bury our expectations , or maybe our dreams about something. But whatever it is, it has to die. It has to be grieved. Forgiveness is not forgetting or walking away from accountability, or condoning a hurtful act. It is the process of taking back and healing our lives, so that we can truly live. So the question then becomes: What has to end or die so that we can experience a rebirth in our relationships?”

I never saw forgiveness as connected with grief before, and that understanding of it has changed everything for me. Now that I get why it is so difficult to forgive, and that it actually involves grieving and allowing something to die in order for something else to be born, I can more easily move forward with making the choice to forgive. Every day when I wake up, I wake up in a new way. I am learning, and always in the midst of becoming, whoever it is, I am going to be. Thanks for reading.