What to Do With Your Anniversary When Your Husband is Dead

Today is my wedding anniversary.
October 27, 2006.
It is late at night now, and I have gone through the entire day,
of my anniversary,
alone.
Without my husband.

This would have been our 10-year anniversary.
An entire decade together.
All the things that might have happened,
in those 10 years.

The house we might have searched for together,
and bought.
Or the condo,
because my husband always vowed that while he would move his entire life from Florida to New Jersey for me,
he drew the line at having to shovel snow.
So, he wanted a condo, so that someone else would do the snow-shoveling.
The family we might have had,
the kids we may have birthed,
or adopted,
the sons or daughters that would have played with my brother’s kids,
and would have made me a mom,
and made my husband the best dad any kid could ever have.

The job changes,
the moving to new locations,
the decisions of a marriage.
The rough times, the struggles,
the continued financial hardships that we were so used to already.
The beautiful, ordinary days where nothing special happened.
The possibility of new things on the horizon,
the excitement and wonder and comforts and fears
in slowly aging together,
marinating our love together,
exploring and re-discovering each other,
again and again and again.

All of that and more,
so much more.
The “would have been’s” that a decade of marriage brings.
Ten years.
The ten years that never were.
The ten years that I will never know.

We used to talk of renewing our vows every ten years.
This is something that my husband wanted to do,
something that he looked forward to.
“Our life will change a lot in a 10 year span,”
he would say.
“It would be really cool to re-write our vows every ten years,
and to see how much they change, what we would say.”
So today,
on my 10-year wedding anniversary,
I should be renewing my wedding vows,
in some beautiful and serene location,
with my wonderful husband,
and then perhaps sharing an elegant dinner together,
and going home to one another,
to express our undying love.
Lying in each other’s arms,
Safe.
Happy.
Loved.

But no.
That is not what I did today.
I went to work, because as a widowed person holding down the fort alone,
I cannot afford to take the day off on my 10-year wedding anniversary.
Even though it’s so very hard to get through the day,
to pull myself together,
to be out in public with other humans.
Humans who still have their partners and families,
co-workers and people on Facebook,
who get to take trips and vacations together,
or have a vow renewal,
or whatever other lovely thing they might want,
as they celebrate their love.

Humans who post about doing these things,
or post their sentiments on their own anniversary
or birthday,
or whatever other day,
on their Facebook pages,
sharing their happy moments,
as they should.
But it hurts.
Holy hell, does it hurt.
To read those posts from inside the car,
staring at the water,
where pieces of my husband are floating,
or disappearing,
into the calming tides,
in the form of ashes.

I went to work,
and sobbed in the car the whole ride there,
and taught classes and faked my way through it,
and then got back in the car and cried some more,
and then drove to Sea Cliff, Long Island,
across the street from the venue where we married,
ten years ago today.

To the bay and the water,
where I sprinkled and let go some of his ashes,
his cremains,
5 years ago,
on this day,
our wedding anniversary.

I went there,
today,
with the intention of walking around in the sand,
talking to the seagulls,
trying to feel some gust of wind or some shift in the sky or
something,
ANYTHING,
that might, maybe, sort of, could it be,
a sign from my husband.
Something that would tell me he was there,
with me,
always.
Something,
just something,
that felt like a tiny fragment,
of being with him.

But instead,
I had to stay in the car,
and not get out at all,
and not walk around in the fall breezes that we married in,
the gorgeous colors of the leaves,
that were the backdrop on our special day.

boo on florida beach

No.
The one thing I wanted to do,
the sad and pathetic thing,
the only thing I could do,
to go sit on the bench and be one with my husband,
in the only way I know how,
I could not do.
Even that, I could not do.

It was pouring rain.
Absolute downpour.
So I just sat there,
and I talked on the phone to my dear widower friend,
and we talked about the death of our spouses,
and about the unfairness of it all,
and about the “Why?” –
that never-ending question,
that we both desperately want an answer to,
but there is no answer,
or if there is,
apparently we are not allowed to know it.
Which just creates another “Why?”
to another question,
that has no answer.

If you haven’t been through this,
if you haven’t sat inside a car,
unable to get out and sit closer to the ashes,
that are now what your husband is,
but isn’t,
then you just don’t understand.
You don’t understand
That ACHE,
that longing,
that thing where you can’t swallow,
or can’t quite breathe right,
because the grief sticks in your throat,
and because the way you used to breathe,
when the person you love was alive,
no longer exists.

If you haven’t sat in a cemetery,
at a grave site,
with some wine for you and your love,
or some flowers,
pulling up a lawn chair,
or sitting up against the headstone,
or on top of it,
in the grass,
just to get a little closer,
to where they are,
or aren’t,
or sat by some water somewhere,
where you tossed some ashes once,
because maybe,
possibly,
those ashes are still floating,
somehow,
nearby,
and maybe his essence is still there …

If you have never done those things,
then you don’t understand,
don’t comprehend,
the intense and forever sadness,
the not knowing of what to do on this day,
this day that represents forever,
and love,
and a life together,
and vows,
and future years and plans together,
and every other damn thing,
that you will never, ever get to have.

If you haven’t been through this,
and your future
and your present
and your past,
have never been yanked from you,
for no good reason,
or for reasons you will never comprehend,
you might have said to me today,
with wonderful and every good intention,
“Happy Anniversary!”
But, no.
That phrase makes me cringe,
and want to cry without stopping.
What is happy about it?
What is happy, please tell me,
about it being my anniversary,
and my husband being dead?

You might have said to me today,
“He is still your husband!
He will always be your husband!
Celebrate that today!”
But, no.
Love never dies,
and so our love lives within me,
forever.
Yes.
But he is not my husband.
As much as it hurts with a stabbing pain to type that,
as much as I hate it with every fiber in my being,
it is the truth.
He is not my husband,
and I am not his wife.
Not anymore.
I was his wife,
and it was my honor,
every precious and too-short moment.
And now,
I am his widow.
And it is my honor,
and my responsibility,
as his widow,
to keep him alive,
to keep his soul alive,
in all the ways that I live.
To live my life fully and with purpose,
because he doesn’t get to have that choice.

Last year, on this saddest day ...

Last year, on this saddest day …

But he is not my husband.
Husband’s are alive.
They breathe in and out.
They rewrite their vows on their 10th wedding anniversary,
they take their wife out for romantic dinners,
on this day,
and then they come home together,
and fall into each other’s embrace.
My husband exists only in my memories,
my stories,
and that certain shift in the wind,
that I question and doubt,
and wonder if it was ever really him.

You might have said to me today,
“Celebrate the memories! All the love you shared on that day!
Think about what a beautiful day it was!
Go and do something nice for yourself!
He would want that for you today!”
But, no.
The memories are beautiful,
but they always end the same way –
him being dead.
Me not getting to have that life we promised each other,
not getting to live those vows we said,
not getting to grow old together,
or create little humans together,
or adopt little humans together,
or keep learning about each other,
in sickness and in health,
until forever.
(thats the phrase we used to replace
“til death do us part.”)

So,
when I think about the memories,
I cant yet smile.
Maybe 5 or 7 years from now,
maybe never.
I don’t know.
But today,
right now,
I can’t think about my wedding day,
without sobbing.
I can’t watch our video,
without breaking down.
I can’t see him moving and laughing and talking,
and ALIVE,
without immediately thinking,
that the second I turn that off,
he will still be,
forever dead.

And I don’t want to treat myself to anything,
on this day.
I don’t want to pamper myself,
or take a vacation, even if I could afford such a thing.
No.
What I want,
the only thing I want,
is to spend this day,
this day that is solely about US,
and our union,
and the beautiful world where we chose each other,
I want to spend this day,
with my husband.
And I can’t.
Not in the way I want to.
And right now,
today,
I haven’t found a way to be okay with that.
I haven’t found a way to handle that.
I want to love my husband,
on my anniversary.
I want to hold him and kiss him,
and tell him how much I love him,
and that I would choose him 100,000 times,
again and again,
forever.
I want to laugh with him,
and watch our wedding video together,
and go to our venue and drink peppermint hot chocolate with candy canes,
and lie in bed together and read our new vows to each other,
or recite our original ones.
I want to be in that world,
where I chose him,
and he chose me,
and everything was going to be okay always,
because of that fact.

But, no.
When your husband is dead,
on your anniversary,
you have all these feelings of love,
that you want to express to him,
and things you want to do with him,
and say to him,
and you have nowhere,
NOWHERE,
to put any of it.
So it just aimlessly wanders,
and stays,
meandering around inside your soul.
And you don’t know if he knows,
or if he will ever know,
that he was
Everything.
That he will always be
everything.
The only thing you know,
is that your husband is no longer your husband,
and he only exists in that shift of the wind.
So you hold onto that,
you hold onto anything,
ANYTHING,
that brings you,
just a little bit closer to him,
and just a bit further away,
from the Hell of life,
without him.

Today is my 10-year Wedding Anniversary,
and my husband is dead.

kissing

You Said You’d Protect Me, But You’re Not Here

This week, I released a piece in this blog, sharing that 20 years ago this year, in the middle of the night, in my apartment, I was raped. (if you want to understand more about that post or why I chose to speak up about it now, you can find it right here, in the post previous to this one, or all over my Facebook page by doing a quick scroll)

The reactions to this piece, and to what I went through, have been, for the most part, unbelievably supportive. I have heard from family members, friends, and people I haven’t spoken to in years, in some cases, sending me private Facebook messages or emails or comments on my blog, just to say slightly different and heartfelt versions of “I’m so sorry this happened to you. I had no idea. ” It has felt like one big, giant hug, at a time when I definitely most need that. In addition to that happening, I have also received countless private messages and comments and texts, from other women who read the piece, and who, in return, chose to then share the details of their own horrific and heartbreaking stories of rape, sexual assault, harassment, and other awful things that happen to women every single day. I have also heard from men who are fathers, brothers, husbands, or just really good and decent men who love and protect the women in their lives and who hate that this is happening anywhere, to any woman. Ever since writing the post and publishing it, which was an absolutely terrifying thing to do, I have had the craziest mix of emotions going on inside my head and heart. I am equal parts thankful, humbled, intensely sad, angry, shaken, fearful, worried, determined, disgusted, scared, anxious, nervous, inspired, and nauseous.

I am also unbelievably exhausted. I’ve had an off and on migraine since publishing the piece, and my heart has been pounding outside of my chest in a field of anxiety and panic. I feel rattled and re-awakened to the traumas of what actually happened, because sitting down and writing it all out took so much out of me, and was so very hard. What has been even harder, is reading all of the countless stories from others, who bravely shared them with me, and who continue to do so. It is my honor to read them and to hear them, and to be that person who finally makes it feel safe enough to let it out – because I went for so long without that, and so I know how invisible that feels.

But hearing story after story about sexual trauma – the details, one after the other, the horror of it all – it hurts my heart. It stings at my soul. It makes me ache in a way that is not possible to describe. On Wednesday, after reading through and responding to the 11th or 12th or 23rd story that day, I finally lost it. I just sat in my room and cried. I cried for that girl that I used to be before this happened to me. I cried for the way that I have to live now; a life-long insomniac who freaks out at any sound in the night and who flinches with terror when someone touches her suddenly. I cried for all the many, many women out there like me, who have been living with the deep dark secret of having been molested, or attacked, or abused. I cried, I cried, and I cried…..

This thing that happened to me 20 years ago – it is not something that defines me, nor is it something that I even think about most days anymore. In fact, most of the time, it just sits in the back corner of my soul and my person, lying dormant. But now, it’s back again, because I made the choice that didn’t really feel like a choice, to bring it back, and with it, comes all of those old feelings of trauma and triggers and terrors in the night and feeling unsafe in the world. Except this time, I’m alone.

And before you say anything, such as “you’re never really alone”, or something like that, please just don’t say that. I know that I have so much support from so many people, and believe me, that does mean the world to me. But none of those people are there with me in the middle of the night when I cant sleep, or when I wake up sweating or feeling like I’m being choked or restrained. None of those people hold me when I wake up screaming, stroking my hair and gently repeating: “Youre okay. Youre safe. I’m here, and I’m never going anywhere. Nobody is going to hurt you like that ever again. I wont let them. I will always protect you.” None of those people have sat with me for minutes or hours, in total silence, just holding me or letting me cry, after an unexpected trigger or flashback of the trauma occurs.

Do you know who did all of those things?

My husband.

Don Shepherd.

My knight in shining armor. The man who saved my life, in all the ways that matter, every single moment that I knew him. He sat with me in that darkness. He wiped my tears. He dealt with my crazy. He was my safe place, my tranquility, in a world that was filled with chaos and bad things and no hope at all in sight. He was that little light that kept shining, when I thought that I would never see light again. He lived with me and accepted me and loved me, when I had no ability or desire to love myself, or anyone else. He loved me into believing in love again. He sat with me in the place where I was, and waited until I was ready to move. He reminded me over and over that he cared, and that he wasn’t going anywhere. He was my anchor. My life boat. My raft.

Today, as I deal with all of this trauma that is once again re-emerging, and all of the emotions that have overwhelmed me, he is not here anymore for me to lean on. When I wake up in the middle of the night, its just me. When I need to be held and told that I’m safe, nobody is there to tell me that. And all of the people who have been so supportive and wonderful and amazing – they keep telling me over and over again how strong I am. “You’re the strongest person I know”. I have heard this over and over again this week.

But its not true. And I don’t like hearing it. Because I don’t want to be strong. I don’t want to be this pillar of strength. I just dont want to. I dont feel like it. It took everything inside of me to simply put all those words down in type, and write that post, and put that out there to the universe. THAT took every ounce of strength that I had left.

And now, I would just like to sit in a comfy room and be wrapped in a blanket, and be left alone for awhile. Just until this feeling of nausea passes. Actually, that’s not true at all. I don’t want to be left alone. I want to be with my husband. God-fucking-dammit, I want to be with him, and for him to lay with me and whisper in my ear as he strokes my hair that it’s going to be okay, and that I’m safe, and that I will be safe forever because he will make sure of it. But that’s not true, is it? It’s just not true anymore. Because he’s dead. He said he would protect me forever and not let anything happen to me ever again, but it’s kind of hard to protect someone when you’re dead. Why did I have to go through this awful, terrible, horrible thing in my life – and then meet someone who I FINALLY felt safe with, only for them to DIE??? Why??? The whole thing just seems incredibly unfair.

The only thing I want, the ONLY thing, just happens to be the only thing I can never have again- to be in my husband’s arms, my head resting on his chest – knowing that everything will be okay, that we are together, and I am safe. And I cant ever have that. Not ever.

Who is going to lay in bed with me, and love me through this now? Who is going to be the strong one, so that I don’t have to, because I don’t want to? Who is going to care, really care, that this is a dark and awful piece of my life that isnt ever going away, and that because of that, I will always need to be handled and treated with extra kindness, tenderness, and in a gentle way?

Our “would have been 10 years” wedding anniversary is this Thursday, and the churning inside my stomach has already begun. I need him more than ever, and more than I have in a very long time. I need to feel safe, in this world where I suddenly feel so unsafe. I need for somebody to make me feel safe and to tell me I’m safe and to just sit with me and next to me in the dark spaces and let me just BE, in that silence. For some reason, whenever my husband sat in the darkness and told me simply: “You’re safe with me”, I believed him. I always believed him. And therefore, I was.

Now I just feel wide-open, lost, and alone.

Happy Anniversary, my beloved husband.
Why the fuck did you have to go away?

Sexual Assault Survivors – Stand With Me – Say NO to Trump

“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” – Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo.

There are only 3 people in this universe that know the entire, full story, with details, of what happened to me 20 years ago this year. One of those people is a dear, fellow widowed friend, whose very presence in my life makes me feel safe and protected and heard. The other is my incredible therapist and grief-counselor. And the other is my beautiful, but forever dead husband. And now, today, in just a few minutes when I hit that “publish” button after writing this, however many of you read it, will also know too. The details surrounding what happened will still remain in the confines of these above 3 people, for now, but the rest of it must be said out loud. Or typed out loud. Finally. Today. Before this election happens.

My hands are shaking, and each individual finger is shaking, as I type this. I’m pretty sure my eyeballs are sweating, and the inside of my throat has the texture of 900 cotton balls, sitting stagnant.. Every time I try to breathe in and out with purpose, it feels as if I have swallowed a nail. I’m absolutely terrified of the varied and shocked reactions that will certainly come from many friends, family members, and lots of total strangers on the internet. There will be judgments, assumptions, people who just will never understand, and probably even some cruel and horrific comments. Some people might even accuse me of using my trauma to further my political opinion or “agenda.” But those people would be very wrong. Despite the title, and despite the topic, this is NOT a political piece. It is a piece about the human heart, and about preserving and protecting our collective soul as a nation. Which is why I genuinely feel that I have a responsibility, as a female, a voter, and a human being, to type the following truths, through my very shaky fingers, and to express the importance of how those truths pertain to the upcoming election. Despite all my many fears, today feels like the exact right day, to let free this caged and horrific monster of a secret. So here goes …

20 years ago this year, in 1996, while living in my first NYC apartment and just 2 years out of college, I was raped. It happened inside my apartment, while I was sleeping, in the middle of the night. It happened by the hands of someone whom I was dating for a few months, and had just broken up with a week prior. In my post-break-up haze and innocent ignorance, I had forgotten that I’d recently given him an extra key to my place. Or, to put that more clearly, I had forgotten to get it back when I ended our relationship.

Things between us were a whirlwind from the start. It all happened so fast, and it shouldn’t have happened at all. He wasn’t my type. He was very quiet, kind of mousy and small-framed, and a rather serious, humorless, business man on Wall Street. A little bit possessive, a lot entitled. The only thing I saw back then, however, was that he was interested in ME. Everything else, I was blind to. We had almost nothing in common, but he made me feel wanted and pretty and sexy, and I was insecure, frumpy, and awkward. He would say things like: “Your eyes are going to get me into trouble one day”, or “I can’t control myself around you. You just give off this vibe that makes me want to do things.” I was too young and too inexperienced and too green to know that what he was saying, was a form of control, and dangerous. A few months into the relationship, he had casually asked me one day if he could have an extra key, just temporarily, so he could get into my apartment while I was still at work, and surprise me with a romantic dinner. I gave him the key, the dinner never happened. A couple weeks later, a series of events took place within a few hours, that opened my eyes to the reality that I had been dating a pathological liar, and someone who was quite possibly psychotic. So I had a very hard conversation with him, where I ended things between us. He said he understood, but he walked away with a cold and unfeeling look in his eyes. And, unbeknownst to me at the time, he still had my key.

Four days later. My roommate had gone away for a week to visit family, so I was alone in the apartment. Apparently I had told him this weeks before, or he knew of it, or something. I don’t recall. I went to sleep that night sometime around 2 a.m. or so. The next thing I remember is lying in my bed, with a long t-shirt and underwear on, and my eyes opening to the sound of a key in the door, then a hand clasped over my mouth, and a sweaty body lying over my own. As I slowly realized what was happening, I tried to scream, but it came out silent. I think I kept screaming, but everything sort of went white, and I was only half awake. He was holding something over my mouth and nose. A rag or something, with it pressed up into my nostrils. It smelled like chlorine or alcohol rub, and I was in and out of consciousness. My insides were begging to get up from under him, but my legs felt paralyzed, like jello. And then it got a lot worse. He took a lighter, holding it onto different parts of me for a few seconds at a time, creating fear and scarring and skin irritations that are still there today, and emotional scarring that will last even longer. I don’t know why he was burning me, but he was burning me in slow motion, placing the fire for just a second or two at a time, underneath my breasts, on my hips, and around my labia area. I felt like I kept falling asleep, and so I would wake up in the middle of this horror, over and over again. I don’t know how to accurately describe what that is like, to keep waking up, literally, in the midst of hell on earth in full attack. Somewhere in between fog and half awake, he took my key, the one that he used to break into my home with, and he shoved it into me violently, over and over and over. I kicked and I yelled and I cried, and noises came out of me that didn’t sound human, but it all felt quiet and muffled and ignored. I was invisible forever, and nobody could see me.

He started talking as he held me down and forced himself into me. I will never forget lying there, tears sitting still on my cheeks, half-seeing my floor lamp and focusing my eyes on it, trying to form a plan to grab it and hit him on the head with it. He saw my stare, and he moved the lamp so that it was out of my reach. He took my one escape plan. And then he raped me and he stole every piece of my soul with his violence and his illness and his blackness. He said that I was nothing. That I was a fat worthless pig. I was a bitch and a whore and he had been lying to me for months and sleeping with his ex and living with her off and on. And how dare I break things off with him, when I should be honored and grateful that someone like him, would even sleep with someone like me. That I should be dead, and that he would leave me for dead in my own apartment and nobody would care, but that I wasn’t even worth killing, so instead, he would just leave me torn up and bleeding and broken everywhere, forever. That if I told the police or anyone at all, he would come back and find me and actually kill me. He said that if I told anyone, he would find my family and harm them or kill them. He told me these things as he was choking me and hurting me. I don’t know how long it went on, because time became meaningless, and it just kept happening. I remember wondering when he was going to end my life. I think he got off on the promise, the threat of doing so, because it just kept going. And then he spit on me. He SPIT on me. Like I wasn’t even a human being. Like I was this pile of trash that he was forcing himself onto and into. I was this “thing” where he could dump his liquid sickness, his disease and his evil. And in that moment, I died. I just died. I lost the person that I was before that night, and I didn’t know how to get her back again. She was gone, and nothing would ever be the same again.

In the days and weeks and months and years that followed, I told NOBODY, except for when I tried reaching out on a rape hotline, and it was a total disaster. When I told the person on the phone what happened, they implied that it was my own fault for giving him my key, and that because he used that key to get in, it was never a break-in at all. Nobody was interested in helping me. Nobody said things that didn’t sound condescending or like they were somehow blaming me for what happened. I stopped looking for help, I became silent, I told nobody. I became a different person. A dark one. A person my friends or myself did not recognize. There was emptiness in my eyes. I spiraled and gained almost 100 pounds and acted in destructive ways with more horrible men that I met in destructive places, and put myself in more horrid situations that were dangerous or just plain stupid, because somewhere inside, I thought that is what I was worth. My life felt pointless, and his threats to kill me or hurt my family stuck with me and kept me from speaking out loud. I felt useless and stupid and non-human and humiliated and like I was made of all things bad. My life was spinning out of control. I didn’t even know who I was, and I was fatter than ever. Over 300 pounds. Probably more. 350. I was sick in every way that you can be sick. I just wanted to disappear.

And then one night, in the darkest of darkest places in my life, I met the beautiful man that would become my husband. Don Edward Shepherd. He made me feel safe and protected and loved from the minute he typed hello in the 1980’s Music Chat Room on AOL, and he made it his life’s purpose to take care of me in all the ways that you take care of someone’s soul when you love them the way that he loved me. Something about him, his heart, his patience, his energy – made me know I was safe with him, and I could tell him what had happened to me. So I did. And when I was done, he said: “You’re safe with me. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to leave you or abandon you. You’re safe and you’ll always be safe with me, from now on. ” This became his mantra with me. No matter how many times I warned him to run away from me, no matter how fucked up I felt or was, he wouldn’t go away. He refused to leave me. He told me I was beautiful, worthy, smart, sexy, and that one day, I would feel like me again. But until I did, he would just have to keep reminding me.

Our relationship was beautiful, our marriage, a love story. We were 4 years and 9 months into our amazing and precious life together, and we were so unbelievably, nauseatingly happy. And then, on an ordinary Wednesday, July 13th, 2011, my husband left for work, and never came home. And for the second time in my life, I was jarred awake to the most horrific thing a person could ever imagine – in this case, a ringing phone over and over and over, that would lead me to the news that this beautiful man who saved my life everyday that he was in it, was unfairly and forever dead. And me? Well, I was dead too. Again. And creating a different version of myself has taken years, and will be something I keep doing for the rest of my life. My safe place, my sense of safety in the world, was stolen from me. Twice. I cannot imagine it being stolen from me a third time, by having a Commander in Chief, who makes me feel uneasy, and unsafe.

When a woman is sexually assaulted or raped, there are many reasons why she might not come forward, why she might not tell a soul. There are so many valid reasons why a person might not say one damn thing for a year, or five years, or ten, or even twenty, like me. It is terrifying. It is embarrassing. Sometimes your job is at stake. Or your reputation. Or there are fears, such as your rapist threatening you or your loved ones. Or you stayed silent for too long, and so now it feels almost pointless to mention it, because people will question you or make you feel even dumber for your decisions. Or the person who assaulted you is famous, and you are not. Nobody will believe you over them, nobody will care. And when these thoughts are reinforced by the very people who are supposed to be helping you, that is what leads to hopelessness and darkness and feeling like the loop of hell will never end. When society’s first reaction to a victim coming forward is doubt, accusations, and pointing fingers back in her direction – you come to a place where you almost assume that saying it out loud will only lead to more awfulness.

When the Republican candidate for President of the United States, is accused of sexual assault by multiple women, just weeks before one of the biggest elections in our time, and the victims are met with these same type of judgments and questions from the public about “why are you coming out about this NOW?” – it becomes easy to ask yourself where this country and this society places the value of females, and our voices. It becomes easy to feel invisible once again, powerless once again, and violated once again. When people question the truth of the fact that a Presidential candidate who refers to women as “pigs”, “disgusting”, and as objects that he can just kiss by force or “grab them by the pussy”, can and does in fact bring back very specific moments of a victim’s own personal rape or assault, it becomes easy to lose faith in the empathy and compassion of mankind. When that same Presidential candidate’s reaction to the accusations is not to apoligize, but to comment and further insult these women with: “look at her”, implying that said victim is not attractive enough for him to sexually abuse, this reinforces the idea that rape and assault have anything at all to do with sex or with being “attracted to” a person. They don’t. They have nothing to do with that, and everything to do with the need to have power over someone, and to make someone feel small and insignificant, while under the spell of that power. When the male candidate who is running for President, speaks about women with such absolute carelessness, disgust, and aloofness, it is easy to not only worry for what this orange lunatic might do in a place of power with access to that nuke button, but also what he might do to the collective souls and hearts and spirits of females in this country. Not to mention the men in this country, and the boys and girls who are growing up and looking at our next President as a role model, or something to aspire to. Having a President who refers to a woman as “piggy”, or rates women with numbers according to the size of their chest, seems like something out of The Twilight Zone.

So why did all these women come out now, so close to the election, with these allegations on Trump? For the exact same reason I wrote this blog piece, 20 YEARS after this horror happened to me. Because it was eating at my soul not to write it. Because him saying “grab em by the pussy” DID, in fact, bring up all that trauma from two decades ago, and I couldn’t just let it sit there, like a nail in my throat. Because we cannot have someone of this ridiculous and insane character, in our Oval Office. Because this very dangerous person, in many more ways than one, is just weeks away from either being our next President, or going back to whatever wacky universe he lived in before. Because, we, as Americans, have the choice to either create a chain of hatred, violence, and sexism – or a chain of love, empathy, and compassion. Because our First Lady was right in her speech, when she said: “Enough is enough.” Because when a Presidential Candidate doesn’t stand up for me and who I am and what I hold dear, then it’s time for me to stand up against him and speak my truth. And I hope I am not the only one who will do so. For I truly believe that when we have the courage to tell our story, our deepest and darkest story, it gives others permission to do the same. Maybe if everyone who is reading this who has also been through a sexual assault or trauma, would be brave enough to speak up and say something in the comments or in their own blogs, then we could use our collective voices as an instrument of power. We could show people that this is not a joke, or casual “locker room talk”, but an actual and very damaging thing that is happening to women, every day, all the time. We could demand to be heard and demand to be seen, and for society to stop making us appear invisible. We could share this piece all over the internet, and we could keep adding our own stories to it, creating a gigantic wave of powerful truths, that demonstrate what beautiful strength humans are capable of, when faced with adversity.

As I said at the start of this blog, this is not a political piece. It is a piece about the human heart. It is about the power of what can happen when we make a decision to move toward light, or toward darkness. Donald Trump represents everything dark and bad and frightening in our world. He comes from a place of divisiveness and anger and temper tantrums on Twitter. If he is leading our country, then that tone is being set for every single one of us, on a minute to minute basis. We will become a country of ugliness. We will destroy ourselves. We will suffer a Soul Apocalypse. Why am I telling my story today, right now, before this election? Because if I wait any longer, it just might be too late. We might find that we suddenly have a man in charge, who doesn’t wish to hear our voices, and who refuses to listen. And he will continue to ignore us, until we slowly disappear into nothing. That kind of regime terrifies me, and I’m quite sure I am not alone in that terror.

I am only one person, and my story is just one small story. But if you tell your story, then we are two people, and then three, and four, and ten and eleven, and on and on and on. My story is your story, and your story is my story. Whenever we connect as humans, we usually come to find that our similarities are greater than our differences. And as we sit inside of that knowledge, that our collective stories can help change the world, we have to know that we deserve so much more than Donald Trump. We have to know that hate grows more hate, and love grows more love. And just 20 seconds of insane courage, will always bring something great.

When you vote on November 8th, please keep all of the above in your heart, and bring that 20 seconds of insane courage with you to the polls.

Thank you for reading, and thank you to anyone who joins me in telling their story, or in sharing mine.

The Scenic Route

I just ended a relationship with someone I had been seeing for about 4 months. Like me, he is widowed, and I met him on a dating site. I guess you could say we “broke up.” Is that still what the kids call it these days? I have no idea. I didn’t word it that way when I ended things between us. The phrase “breaking up” almost sounds too childish and immature and teenage-like, for everything that we both have been through in our lives up to this point. “Breaking up” doesn’t really gel for two middle-aged people who have suffered through individual trauma, grief, loss, illness, and the death of their beloveds.

No. Instead, I worded it like this: “I think it’s time that we transition this relationship into more of a friendship, and no longer a couple. I don’t see a future for us, and it feels unfair and wrong at this point to continue in this way.” It was all very mature. I was mature, he was mature in the way he handled it, everything was mature. But it still hurt. Inside of my soul and my heart, it did hurt. It hurt him, I am quite sure, even though he downplayed it. And it truly hurt me to be the cause of pain to a fellow widowed person, and someone I care about very much. But if we had stayed together any longer, with me not being able to reciprocate the feelings in that “you have my heart” way that everyone deserves, the pain would have been multiplied down the road, and so I ended it.

But please don’t spend any time feeling sorry for me or feeling sad for me, or for him. Yes, it was difficult. And yes, I will miss a lot of things about dating this person, and the time we spent together. However, we mutually feel like there are good things waiting on the horizon for the both of us, individually – things that are still yet to be discovered, that haven’t fully formed yet, or that can’t quite be seen at the moment, because they are too far off in the distance – hiding behind the foggy mist of fear and uncertainty. And this person and myself – we will remain friends – always. Which is why I prefer to call this a “transition.” Not in that Bruce to Caitlyn Jenner way, but in that “adult and widowed” way that two people have to collectively decide what is best for them, and their hearts.

To be completely honest (and when am I ever NOT in my writing), I am very proud of myself, and it usually takes a LOT for me to say that. The first four years after my husband died, I had no interest in dating, and the very idea of “someone else” made me sick to my stomach. Nauseous. And even though all around me, other widowed people were getting into relationships and dating and finding ways to “get out there again”, I didn’t do any of that. I didn’t even think about it. For over four years, thoughts of intimacy or loneliness or being part of a couple again, didn’t even cross my mind really. I was much too busy grieving, and in massive amounts of pain from the loss of my husband, my forever love, to even consider the idea of anyone else. People judged me constantly. I was asked weekly and sometimes daily by strangers, friends, family, EVERYONE, over and over and over again: “So, are you dating yet? Why not? You should be dating. Be happy. You’re not getting any younger. He would want you to be happy.” Yes. He would. I do know this. But he would also want me to do things when I’m ready, in my own time, when it feels right, and not on some fictitious, made-up timeline, or because people who are well-intentioned but clueless, are pressuring me.

So I waited. I lived my life. I tried to get by. I existed and breathed in and out as best as I could. And then in June of 2015, I received a beautiful email from someone who had just found my blog, and who happened to be widowed also, and who also happened to know and worked with my husband , many years ago, as fellow EMS / paramedics. He told me he found my blog, and he thanked me for the words in it. He said lovely things about my husband, and told me how him and his wife who died and my husband who died, all knew one another and worked together all these years ago. And we started talking via email, and then on the phone. And thus began what has turned into a lovely connection, a wonderful friendship with so much potential for more, one day. We met in person, in March of this year, and it was organic and natural and real. It was effortless and familiar and new. It was a blanket of warmth and safe things, and all things good. It was that place that felt like home.

We spent a few days together, hanging out, connecting, getting to know each other more. The connection we had on the phone was even more undeniable in person, and we marinated inside of the moments spent honoring our forever loves, while also finding peace and joy in one another’s company. But because we are “adult and widowed”, emotions are complicated, and hearts are damaged from ill-intentioned people and the wake of self-doubt and darkness they leave in our souls. And so, our connection and our bond and our “what could be” remains in neutral, idling in the driveway – or like a pot of Sunday sauce, that just needs to simmer a lot longer before it’s truly ready.

In the meantime, meeting this incredible person made me realize that I was now in a place where I was missing having intimacy, dating, being part of a couple, having someone to do things with, having someone to hold hands with and share kisses with, and cuddle with, and hang out on a weekend with and watch movies or walk around a lovely neighborhood on a nice summer day with. Just having those few days with this new person who felt so familiar, made me so very aware of life again, and of that feeling when someone makes you feel alive. So because he wasnt ready to further explore that with me, I did something I never in a million years ever thought I would do – I joined dating sites. Plural. Three of them. All the free ones. I started chatting with people. I met some people. I had dates. Some were total disasters. Others were total assholes who literally called me “fat”, and others would build a phone relationship with me for weeks, only to completely fall off the face of the earth and stop all contact. I learned, in the dating world today, there is a term for this. It’s called “ghosting.” How ironic, for a widowed person to be ghosted. I also learned that some people just plain suck. The site called “Plenty of Fish” should be called “Plenty of Fucking Douchebags”,but that’s another story altogether. There were endless jerks and weirdos on these sites, and a whole slew of people who just want to crawl into bed with anything that moves. Or doesn’t move. I don’t think they much care, as long as it’s female.

But while sifting through all of the garbage, I was able to find a bit of my own self-confidence again. I was able to SEE firsthand, actual proof, that there were real men out there in the universe, who actually found me attractive. And lots of them were very nice men, too. We didn’t click or connect or things didn’t work out for whatever reason, but they were good, decent men, who thought I was beautiful. This shocked me. One of my biggest fears after losing Don, was always that not only would I not be able to love again, but that nobody out there would ever love me. I was pretty convinced that nobody would be interested in old, overweight, broken, traumatized and with issues, PTSD and anxiety-ridden, forever in love with my dead husband, weird, me. But the more people I talked to, the more I understood that having someone who was actually attracted to me again, might be possible. Maybe Don isn’t the only person in the universe that doesn’t find me repulsive, but who thinks I am special and worthy and pretty and amazing. Making that discovery was worth all of the douchebags I had to meet along the way.

And then, after a few dates with others on the site, I met the guy who I just ended things with, and we were the exact right thing in each other’s lives, in the exact right moment. There was a chemistry there from the start, and it felt so incredible to feel wanted again in that way. We gave each other confidence again. We gave each other confirmation that others would find us desirable again. I had my very first relationship post-loss, my first full intimacy, my first entering into the world of being a couple again. We also helped each other heal in many ways, and provided each other with some new tools on the road of widowhood. And now, I am very certain that the dating I have done and the experiences I have had these past 5 months or so, were all necessary for me in my process. It was time. I was ready, and now because of these experiences, I know with absolute certainty, where my heart lies. It was not easy. It was extremely messy. I didnt know what the hell I was doing. There were times where I was getting to know 3 or 4 guys at the exact same time, and I didnt know how to stop it. I didnt understand how this was all supposed ot work. But I was doing it anyway. There were lot of tears, triggers, grief-attacks, and mistakes made. But I have never really put much stock into “mistakes.” All they are to me, is the universe telling you that you are supposed to be somewhere else. Sometimes you just have to take the scenic route to get there. But you do get there – in time. When you’re ready. When the time is right. And when you grow tired enough of where you currently are.

So, I’m proud of myself. Anyone that knew me in my first 3 years or so of widowhood, could tell you how cynical I was and how negative and non-believing I was, at the idea of even the possibility of ever loving or being loved again. But what I have learned is that sometimes, you have to go the wrong way for a really long time, in order to find the right way. A different way. And that “wrong way” isn’t even wrong, technically. It’s just not the right path for you. So after all of this traveling down all of these scary and foreign paths, I now know for sure, where my heart wants to be. And it’s going to take awhile to get there, because it’s still very far off in the distance, and there are never any guarantees. There is no guarantee that I will get there at all, or that I will be welcomed with open arms when I do get there. Nothing is guaranteed, and there is a whole lot of this that I have zero control over. I might get my heart shattered into a million pieces. But the heart wants what it wants, and feels what it feels. I am powerless to stop it. And so I’m willing to take that risk.

Because my heart, my intuition, and my beautiful dead husband, are all pointing me in that direction – to that place that felt like home. So I don’t much care how long it takes to arrive, or how long that Sunday sauce needs to simmer – because being inside of the adventure and appreciating every tiny moment of what it is right this very minute, is really all that matters to me. I will worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. Right now, I just want to stay inside this warm blanket place, where my heart feels everything good.

For I keep hearing my dear, dead husband’s voice, whispering in my ear:

“You’re on the right track now, Boo. Keep going. I got this. It’s going to be okay.”