Sewing My Widowed Oats

Okay.

So let’s just do it.

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about love and dating and sex.

Yeah, I said it.

Sex.

And widowhood.

Lets not forget widowhood.

I need to talk about this.

It’s time.

The first thing that I will say about this, is that each of us is completely different, when it comes to our feelings about love, dating, and sex – after becoming widowed. And often, those feelings change and shift, depending on our circumstances, or with the passing of time.

Some people start dating again right away. Other people wait a very long time. Some people choose not to date at all. Some of us use dating sites. Some of us meet people through friends, or by socializing and going out. Others leave it to chance or fate. All of us do these things in fear. All of us.

When it comes to love, some of us really want it again. Some of us don’t. Some of us might want it again, somewhere deep inside, but are too terrified or too heart-damaged to believe that it can happen. Some of us want to love again, but are so scared that our new love will end the same way our other one did – with them dying and us being left here to pick up the pieces. Again. Some people will close their hearts off forever, because they are so afraid of getting hurt. Some of us will open our hearts again and again, because we really don’t want to be alone for the rest of time. Some say they will love their person who died forever, and they will never love anyone else. Others say they will love their person forever, AND they would also like to love someone else. Some are doing a fragile dance, when it comes to love. A balancing act of shutting down and opening up. All of us are living and loving, or not loving, in fear. All of us.

When it comes to sex, everyone is different. Some can seperate sex from love, and enjoy the physical act of it. Some use sex just to feel something again – or to zone out from the pain of grief and feel nothing. Some find comfort in sex, because of the intimacy, the skin-to-skin touch with another human being. Some need to feel sexy or wanted or desired again.

Some of us turn off sex like a light switch, and don’t even think about it after our loss. Some of us feel sick to our stomachs or nauseous, at the very thought of anyone else who is not our dear husband, ever touching us again. Some seek out safe and fun “friends with benefits” situations, so they can have the intimacy without the worries of love creeping in. Some people don’t have sex or want sex again after their loss. Some people convince themselves they don’t need or want sex again after their loss. Some can practice “self love” and be content with that. Others have trouble doing that, because when they go there, they think about their husband, who is now dead, so it kind of kills the mood. Some people change their minds about sex, or their libidos want it eventually, even when their stubborn brain doesn’t. All of us are in fear. All of us.

Why do I feel the need to talk about all of this today, right now, in this moment? Because it’s time. Because I’m scared. Because Im lonely. Because I miss my husband every single moment. Because I know the reality that he is never coming back. Not ever. Because the fear of being alone forever, and never feeling great love again, is now greater than the fear of having my heart broken into tiny little piece that shatter into oblivion. Because humans need humans, and because nothing is worth much of anything, without love.

It will be 6 years this July, since my husband’s sudden death. Six years since the life I knew ended, and this uninvited one began. For almost four years after he died, I was one of those very people described above, who felt nauseous and sickened by the very idea of “someone else.” For four years, I did not date. I did not have sex. I did not have intimacy in any way. Self-love did nothing except make me depressed, because every time I tried, my heart would start thinking about being with my husband. The pain and the realness of him being dead, overwhelmed any “turned on” feelings, and I would stop. And then I would cry. For a long time, I didnt like it when anyone touched me. I hated being hugged. By friends, by family. By men. Im not sure why. It just made me feel sick. I wanted to be alone with the thoughts of my husband, and if I could no longer feel his hugs, then all hugs were nothing.

One day, for no real reason whatsoever, the nausea feeling I got from thinking of dating or “someone else,” turned into more of a neutral feeling. It was around that time that I began what turned into a beautiful friendship with a widower that used to know my husband, and contacted me after reading my blog. We got close. I felt connected. I felt a kinship and a bond with him. It felt like it was coming from my husband, like he wanted me to have this person in my life, so that we could help and support each other. I experienced my first “feelings” for someone – someone that wasn’t my husband. I had my first kiss. Held my first hand. Felt my first butterflies. Made my first mistakes. Did so many things wrong. Didnt know what I was doing.

Last summer, I had my very first relationship, post-loss. It was while still living in NY, and it was with another widower who I met on a dating site. We were together about 5 months or so, and he was my “first time” after my loss. Sleeping with a man, who wasnt my husband. I think it was made easier, and less weird, because he was also widowed, and understood the strangeness of sex for the first time after loss. This person ended up hurting me pretty badly, because I trusted him and he chose to throw that away and disrespect me in the way he ended things with us. My self-esteem took a hit, and my walls went back up, into protection mode.

Last month, I flew to Tampa for Camp Widow, and my heart was broken again, when I was blindsided by my dear widower friend not only refusing to see me again while I was in Florida, but by his non-response to my every attempt to contact him. This is the last time I will mention of him in my public writing, because even though he hasn’t spoken to me in months, I told him I would stop writing about him publicly, and so I will. I dont know what happened between us, why it fell apart. It breaks my heart into a billion pieces to speak of it, because I miss him every day. It feels like he is dead, because Im no longer allowed into his world. And I truly thought we were friends. I thought we were life-long friends. Im not giving up. I cant make him be my friend, but I can still have hope that he will reach out to me again, and that I can hear his voice, and sigh from the relief that I still know him. The ache in my heart from missing him, stabs with a dull pain, every day. I dont think that will ever go away.

When I returned from Tampa in mid-March, my heart was hurting. I had gone from talking with this person almost every single day, to nothing. And I didnt understand why. I still don’t. It just felt like yet another person who chose to leave me behind again. Another person who disappeared out of my life with no explanation, with me not having a say about it. I felt like I didnt matter enough to them, to deserve a conversation. It hurt. It still hurts. It will always, always hurt.

I got back on the dating sites, and soon after, met a great guy. We went on a couple dates, shared some really great moments, and have decided to keep things casual and always be friends. Soon after, I met another great guy. This time, everything happened fast, but it didn’t feel fast. It felt good. It felt right. We connected on many levels. We bonded over our different experiences in life with trauma and loss. He made me laugh. He brought me Easter lillies. We saw each other several times in just a few short weeks, because we simply loved spending time together. We had breakfast together at a mom and pop little local place, where everyone knew him. He cried in front of me while talking about his 2 sons being proud of him for a recent accomplishment. He lived on a farm. We kissed in a barn with donkeys and chickens watching. We kissed more on his couch in the dark. We got intimate, but not fully. But enough for me to care. Enough for me to feel very real feelings. I know he felt real feelings too.

He loved sunsets like I do. He made me feel safe, like my husband used to. He was a paramedic, just like my husband. The day his life changed forever and the day that my husband died, was the same day on the calendar. July 13th. There were so many signs that we were meant to connect with each other. I had never gotten closer with someone, in such a short period of time. We talked and texted all day long. We flirted and made each other feel good, all day long.

And then it was over. Just like that. He ended it with a text message, informing me that he was still in love with his ex-girlfriend, and that he was devoting all of his energy into a relationship with her. He wished me well in finding someone, and said I was a “good person.” Just 2 hours before that text, everything was normal. And then it was gone. It felt like a business letter. It felt like shit. I felt blindsided. Another death. Another person who brought me into their life, and then snatched away access. Another person who didnt choose me. Why do people keep leaving me? Why is my love either not enough, or too much? Why am I never the one?

Which brings me to today.

My heart has been shattered. Torn apart. Busted open and cracked and damaged.

Yet I still keep trying.

Because for me, I do not want to live a life with no more love.

I do not want to live a love-less life.

I do not want to live alone, or grow old alone, or die alone.

I want my next great love, and Im not stopping until I find it.

In the meantime, the heartbreak I went through in Tampa, led me to a new feeling. Its a feeling of courage. A feeling of taking risks, when it comes to men and dating. Its a feeling of “why the hell not?” The day before leaving Florida, I took a last minute boat tour of Tampa Bay. The co-captain on the boat was flirting with me, which I was completely unaware of, until my friends pointed it out. Upon learning of this, I went back and gave him my card. He called, admitted to the flirting, and we have been in touch ever since. He sends me pictures of the Florida sunsets, and we talk of maybe spending some time together the next time I make a trip down there. That wouldn’t have happened without my new brave attitude.

Lately, on the dating site I am using most often (Plenty of Fish), I have had an endless stream of men who are interested in meeting me, dating me, talking with me. Some are nice, others are weird, some are not for me, others might be. The point is, something has changed inside me, to where Im attracting people toward me. Im not sure what it is exactly, but it wasnt there before. Ive also been reaching out to guys on there, if I find them appealing or attractive. I never would have done that before, but now I figure, who the hell cares. What do I have to lose? Right now, Im talking with 2 potential future dates, and we will see what happens. Im trying like hell not to take anything too seriously, or too personally. Im trying to not get hurt, and the fact is, I will probably get hurt many more times. That’s life. Im terrified. Im lonely. Im ready.

And now, almost six years later, the same woman who didnt want anyone touching her or hugging her, is feeling incredibly sexual. (sorry, mom – if youre reading this) Maybe its the fact that I had zero intimacy for FIVE years after my husband died. That I waited five years before I slept with someone. Maybe its the fact that lately, I have had “some” intimacy, but it got stopped short for various reasons, before turning into intercourse level. Maybe its the fact that at age 45, my sex drive is through the roof, and I have nobody to share that with. I don’t know what it is, but I can tell you that while Im waiting for the next great love to appear in my life, Im having a lot of fun. It is not the kind of fun I ever wanted, because what I want, is for my husband to not be dead. But since thats never going to happen, there is a lighthearted and carefree release in flirting. Flirting and chatting and accepting words from men who want to call me sexy or beautiful, or who spend time talking with me online, or on a phone call, where we make each other feel really nice for awhile, and then continue on with our forever friendship. It is respectful, it is harmless, and it is very much necessary, when you have been starving for male companionship for so long.

A lot of this type of flirting, happens between widowed people. There is a special bond that exists between widowed men and women. Its a friendship, but its more than that. Its a deep understanding of all that is missing, when you lose your spouse or partner to death. The person who used to call you handsome or pretty. The person who used to cuddle with you. The person you said goodnight to, and good morning.

There are private, secret groups on social media, filled with widowed men and women. We talk. We flirt. Sometimes people find love with one another, and the rest of us cheer and applaud. But other times, men and women can provide some innocent flirtation in the middle of the night. Or some words of intimacy or comfort. I have many widower friends in this new life. Some are just friends. Others I have dated at some point, or maybe even just once. Some, I have an understanding with, that if we are both ever single at the same time, maybe we can spend some intimate time together, no strings attached. Some live in other parts of the country, and some live international. They are all special to me. They are like brothers, in a way. They are protective of me, they want good things for me. They know the pain. They know how hard it is to open your heart again. They know that not every non-widowed person understands the loneliness, the isolation, the judgment. They know, and so they become like anchors we can hold onto, until we find our way again. When one of us finds love, we send them off bitter sweetly, wishing for them, every good and beautiful thing.

I want to find love. Im here. Im ready. Im looking.

But until it finds me,

my heart has been damaged,

my wings are torn,

It hurts to fly.

There’s a lot of birds out there,

all trying to find their piece of the sky.

So until i find mine,

maybe I’ll just keep fluttering around,

and enjoying the view.

There’s really a lot of lovely birds up here.

The Duality of Widowhood

The definition of the word “duality” is as follows:

1. the quality or condition of being dual

2. an instance of opposition or contrast between two concepts or two aspects of something; a dualism. “the photographs capitalize on the dualities of lightness and dark, stillness and movement.”

I think it is more than safe to say that every widowed person understands the concept of duality. Maybe you didnt know the exact definition, or you weren’t sure what to call it, or it was maybe more subconscious than conscious in your own mind – but at just about every moment in time, some more elevated than others, widowed people are living and existing in a dual reality. The above definitions describe it perfectly. After all, what is grief and loss and widowhood, if not the duality of stillness and movement? Joy and pain? This life, and that other life?

When I started my blog 4 years ago about this tsunami of grief (I still refuse to call it a “journey”- it’s a tsunami, dammit!), there were many things I could have named it. My Husband Is Forever Dead came to mind. Or maybe Widowed at 39. Or lots of other things. But none of those fully encapsulated the concept and the very real truth that when your spouse or partner suddenly dies, you are not just losing and grieving a person. You haven’t “only” lost your husband to death. The truth is, while all loss is impossibly hard, the death of a partner or spouse is the only kind of death that literally affects EVERY SINGLE aspect of your life. There is no piece of your life that this loss does not touch or affect. Where/how you eat. Where you shop. Your living situation. Your finances. Your job. Your parenting (if you have kids). Your loss of the dream of a family (if you didnt get to have kids). Your friendships. (Some grow stronger. Some grow weaker. Lots disappear altogether. ) Your dreams. Goals. Desires. Your sex life. Love. Your daily habits. On and on and on …

When my partner died, I not only lost my husband, but I lost my best friend. My biggest fan and supporter in life. My teammate. My car and computer and everything-else repair-man. My kitty-cat co-parent. My lover. My home nurse who took care of me always. My “run to Wal-Mart at 2 am because my wife is out of printer ink and has a writing deadline in the morning” guy. My sounding board. My gentleman, who treated me with such kindness and respect. My helper. My resident dork who guaranteed that I laughed at his silly humor at least once a day, and who guaranteed that I always knew how he felt, and who called me beautiful at least once a day.

When you lose the person you thought you would spend the rest of your life with and grow old with, it is not just the loss of a person. It’s the loss of that life. Everything you planned. Your future that wont ever happen. Your past that now sits in only your memory bank. Memories that the two of you shared, and now there is noone to turn to and say: “Do you remember that time when we ….” Your day to day life, that was taken, stolen away by thieves. Everything. All of it. Gone, in one horrifying moment, when you know that his heart stopped beating, and that the life that you knew is no more. That is why my blog was appropriately titled: RIP The Life I Knew.

So, with a loss such as this, one that affects every fiber of your being forever, it becomes a part of you. They become a part of you. And there are moments, often actually, where the life you have right now and that other life, merge together on the strangest bumpy path, and you are left there to navigate. You are standing there, inside of it, and yet, none of it makes any sense. This is not a negative or a positive thing – most things aren’t. Its simply a thing that happens when the life you had and the life you have, begin to marry.

This feeling of duality begins to happen more and more, as time goes by, and as you begin to live your life instead of just existing. It happens right in those very moments of passionately living. It has happened to me quite a bit lately, and each time is no less strange or surprising than the last.

Having my first “time”, post-loss, (last July) and right in the middle of it, hearing my dead husband’s voice literally cheering me on and saying: “Yes! Good for you! You deserve this! Finally!”, in that hilarious way that he might teasingly say such a thing. And yet, somehow, being able to completely get lost in the feeling, 100%, and enjoy it’s every wonder.

Doing my TED talk last month, about my husband’s death, and about the power of sharing each other’s stories to keep the people we love alive, and knowing that my husband would be so damn proud of me in that moment. And then immediately wishing he were there to see my talk. And then realizing there wouldn’t BE a talk, if he wasn’t dead. And then crying in the backstage dressing room area, because he IS dead, and I just gave a talk on a big stage about him being dead. And then wishing he were there to give me my favorite yellow roses and lots of his amazing hugs. And then shaking my head in confusion, for the one hundred billionth time in the last 5 years, that Im really, actually, truly a widow, and that my husband really did collapse and die. That was a thing that actually happened. And then laughing at how ridiculous and all over the place the inside of my brain can be.

Last Sunday. Standing in the kitchen of my parent’s house, which is not the same kitchen and not the same house that they lived in 5 years ago, in that life where my husband wasn’t dead and where my parents still had their home in Groton of over 45 years. Standing there, in a daze, as if frozen, as my date rang our doorbell. Watching as my mom answered the door, because I was too paralyzed by my fog to handle that task, and invited him inside. Giving him an awkward hello with a half-glance in his direction, as I accepted the beautiful Easter lilies he brought for me. Somehow not comprehending that they were, in fact, for me, and not for some other confused widow. Retreating back to the corner of the kitchen, hiding myself without realizing it, as this man who I was meeting for the first time, and who was about to take me out on a lunch date, had a conversation with my parents. Hearing only snippets of that conversation, but also not hearing anything at all. Noticing that sounds and words were happening, but being stuck in that duality of this life/that life. Looking right through the three of them, and into the television set, while thinking to myself every bit of this:

“Who is this man standing here talking to my parents? How did I end up here, on a first date, at age 45, living with mom and dad in fucking Fitchburg, Massachusetts? Who lives in Fitchburg? Just a few years ago, my husband was talking to my mom and dad, and I was happily and newly married. How is this happening? Is this real? What are they talking about, anyway? I think I heard something about Cape Cod. That’s where we honeymooned. The best week of my life. This man in my kitchen seems familiar to me, and I cant figure out why. I feel like I have met him somewhere, somehow. Is that possible? Thats probably not possible. Maybe its just because he’s a fellow paramedic, like Don was. Why do you keep putting EMS guys in my life, Don? Whatever message youre trying to send me with that, I GET IT! You can stop now with the EMS theme. He seems to be getting along with my parents really nicely. How long have we been standing here? It feels like a long time. Should I say something? He seems really genuine and really sweet. I like him already. I feel like Don would like him too. I wish he could somehow know Don, or that Don could somehow meet him, and know that Im hanging out with a truly good guy today. Maybe he DOES know. Maybe he is the one who is making all this happen. I hope he knows. Im excited to spend time with this person. But Im also not going to get carried away in my head. Its just a date. Stop overthinking everything. Okay, my sweet dead husband, let’s do this. We can do this. Hopefully he won’t run away screaming after being held hostage by the shit that goes on in my brain. He’s cute. I feel myself smiling around him, even just on the phone or in text. Im going to shut up now, and try like hell to just be in the moment. ”

This life, and that life. Merging together, as if stuck in traffic and down to one lane. Co-existing in the same space. The past. The future. The now. Like my friend Michele says about widowed life: “Finding a way to blend what was, with what is, with what will be.” A tapestry. Chaotic and calm. Tranquil and stormy. Heartbreaking and joyous. Death and life.

Living the life I have now, and being excited and hopeful about it ….

While always acknowledging and honoring, and yes, always missing,

that life I used to know.

They can breathe together.

They can marinate.

Everything is connected.

The joy. The grief. The hurt. The death. The love.

All of it.

Together.

Sometimes, in the same, complex and wonderful second.

Ain’t life a beautiful thing?

Seaworthy

Sea-wor-thy
ˈsēˌwərT͟Hē/
adjective
“(of a vessel) in a good enough condition to sail on the sea.”

Sometimes, something unexpected happens, and it gives you a new look at something, or a new look at yourself maybe. Sometimes, everything just lines up in the way it is supposed to, so that the universe can deliver to you, exactly what it is that you need in that moment. I want to tell you all a story, where that happened.

So, I recently returned home from Tampa, Florida – where I attended as a presenter once again at Camp Widow. It always seems impossible to even begin to describe the experience of what goes on during those few days at that Marriott Hotel, because it always feels so special and so big and so life-changing, and something that just cant be seen or felt or understood, unless you were there inside of it. Each and every time.

And I figured out the reason for that. It’s because we are living life every day. Sometimes we are living life poorly, other times we are barely hanging on, and still other times we might feel like we could be doing okay. The pieces of our life are in constant movement. Each time we attend camp, and are surrounded by a couple hundred other widowed people – our tribe – things have changed in our own lives. We are in a different place than we were the last time, even if its not a good place. Grief does not stand still – its always shifting – as is life, whether you fight the changes of it or not. They still keep happening. So each time I attend, I receive brand new messages, gain new knowledge, and walk away with something I didnt have just a few days earlier. I also meet more new people that are on this path of loss, and I reunite with my friends that I met there last year. Not to mention I have the amazing honor of providing laughter to a room filled with widowed people – and widowed people laughing, has become my very favorite sound to hear.

At each camp, the founder of Soaring Spirits International, my dear friend Michele Neff Hernandez, widowed at age 35 when her husband Phil was hit by a car while cycling – delivers a Key Note Address. It is always the perfect message for us to go home with, and always something to make us think in a new way about something. As it turns out, this one hit home for me, in ways that were quite unexpected. She normally uses some type of metaphor or image as part of her overall theme, and this time, that image was boats.

Michele spoke about how common it is to hear people comparing grief to the ocean. She then noted that she liked to think of it more as a boat. That when our loved one dies, we are left with this boat (our grief, our “after” life, all of it), and it is our mission, eventually, to make sure our boats were seaworthy – in good enough condition to sail on the sea. She talked about what a ginormous task this was, and how all of our boats were in different conditions and some of our boats had other passengers to take care of (children), while others were completely alone in their boats. She talked about having to fix our boats over and over, and how new holes would appear and how we had to keep starting over, and how sometimes, you just wanted to sit there and tread water and not deal with this boat or deal with anything. Or how you wanted to just give up and sell your boat, but you couldntt, because you have the deed and its yours forever. You had no choice but to take your boat, your life, and make it seaworthy.

Later that day, after the Key Note Address, I did my presentation, which went very well, and then attended the big party that night where we both honor our forever loves with a message release, and celebrate our own lives, and love and life itself. Everything was great, and I felt such a sense of life-affirmation and hope – the way I always feel when around my widowed family.

The next night, Sunday, I was hit with a huge emotional breakdown. A panic attack. It happened at a random moment, while sitting in my hotel room alone. The reasons as to why it happened aren’t important here and cannot be shared here, so I will only say that it was an extremely emotional week for me in Florida, and it was very difficult being there for personal reasons. My heart was hurting all week long, and in that moment, it all came to a head.

So, on that Sunday, I found myself on the floor of my hotel room, crumpled up in a corner, sobbing hysterically and barely able to catch my breath. It was that kind of crying where you start hyperventilating, and where you are absolutely positive that the severity of your crying and your pain, will indeed kill you. You are positive that you will die from this pain, and you sort of very much want to die, in that moment. Here I was, 5 and a half years from my loss, and still, grief and life and pain was attacking. But because I am over 5 years from my loss, I knew enough, somewhere deep inside, that I was having a panic attack, and that I probably would not die from it. I knew enough that I needed a friend to help me breathe through this, and I needed to talk with someone I could trust with all of this pain. So I texted Michele. It just felt right. She was the person I needed in that moment, to say the words I needed to say out loud, that would be kept between only us.

I got through the night somehow. I cried hysterically for a long time that night. Hours, maybe. With the help of a sleeping pill, I finally drifted off into crying sleep. On Monday morning, I woke up with a headache, and a return text from Michele that she had been asleep the night before and just received my text now. I was still in a very bad place, and asked her if she could somehow spare even just a few minutes for me in person, because I felt as if I was going to collapse from pain. I wasnt sure how to get through the next minute, never mind the day. This woman, this beautiful friend of mine who was literally in the middle of packing up all of Camp Widow into trucks, several meetings, and things other than my sobbing ass – scheduled a private conference room for us to meet in, and was there waiting for me when I arrived at the appointed time.

I sat down next to her, and just collapsed into her. I let myself cry horribly and loudly. I let everything that was inside, come out. And she sat there, holding me, and giving me the space I so desperately needed, to let all the hurt escape out of me. I needed a private place to feel safe, away from everyone and everything, and she gave me exactly that. We talked for a long time, and many things were said that I can’t get into in a public forum, but this was the part that is important to this story, that I will share here.

She looked me in the eyes, as I cried and cried and cried, and she ordered me to go outside. “You can cry all you want, but you are not allowed back into your room until tonight, to sleep. I want you outside in the fresh air. Take a walk, sit by the pool, whatever. If I find out you went back to your room, I’m going to be really upset with you.You have to find a way to release this from your heart, at least until your TED talk is done at the end of the month. You have to focus on that. This is a huge deal, a huge opportunity and platform, and you cannot let this thing, steal that away from you.”

I cried some more, and she wiped my tears and asked me if I had any sunglasses. I shook my head no. She took her own beautiful sunglasses, and put them on my face gently. She said: “Here. These are yours. Now you can go outside, and see yourself through my eyes. Youre beautiful. Youre so worthy. You cant see that right now, but I can. Look through my eyes. You are allowed to grieve and mourn and feel everything that’s happened, but do it outside, and put these on so you don’t have to face questions about why you’re crying. When you get outside, you never know what could happen, who you might run into, what new perspective you might see. Go outside. I love you.” I walked down the hall, still crying, and said: “I love you too.” And I went outside.

Minutes later, I got a text from one of my widow friends, Leah. “A few of us are going on a boat cruise around Tampa Bay. Wanna come?” Without thinking about anything other than the words that Michele had just spoken to me, I texted back: “Yes.” Because I was ordered to stay outside. And because her Key Note was all about boats. So the idea of a boat ride seemed absolutely perfect.

So off we went, onto this boat ride, which was supposed to be a dolphin watch, but there were no dolphins. There was a captain, and a co-captain. The co-captain was at the back of the boat, where me and my friends were sitting, and he was chatting it up with us and being friendly and personable, because that’s his job. I was telling my friends about how I never took my late husband’s last name, Shepherd, an how I was going to now use it as a pen name in my book about him – Kelley Lynn Shepherd. The co-captain/2nd mate heard me and commented: “Thats a really beautiful way to honor him, by taking his name for the book. Wow. I like that.” He then asked us if we wanted to request any songs for the boat tour, so I requested “Sailing” by Christopher Cross. He yelled out to the captain my song request, and the captain responded: “You got it, Phil.” Then this man, Phil, who has the same name as my dear friend Michele’s late husband – just minutes after she ordered me to go outside and I ended up on a boat – says out of nowhere to me: “I love your sunglasses. Those are really great sunglasses.” Really.

When the boat tour was over, my friends and I started walking down the pier after saying our farewells to the captain and co-captain. He shouted out to me, something about “next time, I hope I can be your shepherd.” And then winked. My friend Rhonda turned to me and said: “Wow. He was really into you, huh?” “What?”, I responded, completely clueless. Leah and Tara agreed. “How could you not know? It was so obvious! He was listening to everything you said. He was standing over by you the whole cruise, talking to you.” I was stunned. “Really? I thought he was just doing his job and being nice. You really think he was flirting with me?” “YES!!!!”, they all practically screamed at me in unison.

So, with my new sunglasses on where I could see myself through Michele’s eyes, and with my new-found “who gives a shit and why the hell not” bravery, I said: “Well, I dont think he was flirting with me at all, but if you guys really think so, Ill go back there and give him my card. Why not, right? He was super nice. And his name was Phil! And he commented on my sunglasses that Michele just gave me. On a boat! Just like her Key Note! I mean, come ON. That HAS to mean SOMETHING!” So I fished through my bag to find my card, and then sprinted back toward the boat. But it was too late. The next cruise was already taking off – they had literally JUST left the dock. “Dammit!”, I said, genuinely disappointed.

We walked back to the hotel, and sat outside on the patio, because I was ordered to stay outside. Leah came up with a plan. “Lets find the boat tour company, see if they have a Facebook page. Then find him, and send him a message that you just took the tour and thought he had a great sense of humor, and that you were wondering if they give private group tours, because its something you may look into for our widowed convention next year. This way, if he wasn’t flirting with you, then you wont feel like you’re putting yourself out there or feel silly. And if he was, it will be obvious.” So I did. And I was pretty damn proud of myself for having the courage to walk back there and give this total stranger my card, AND follow it up by reaching out with this message.

The next morning, he did not reply, so I assumed that I was correct and that my friends were crazy for thinking he was into me. But the morning after that, after my flight had been pushed back a day due to snow back home, he did reply. Saying that yes, they do private group tours. He then asked me if I had some time right now to talk about it further. I was in the hotel, with a couple hours before having to leave for the airport to head back home. So I said sure. And then my phone rang (apparently people can call you from the Facebook Messenger thing, without having your number. I had no idea because I suck at technology).

And then, we were suddenly talking, for a very long time. The subject of boat tours only came up for a few minutes, if that. The rest of the time, he asked me about my late husband, and about the widow convention, and he noted how it must be “very comforting and validating in a way” to be part of an event such as Camp Widow, and to know that you aren’t alone. I then decided to take a chance and just come out and ask him if he was, indeed, flirting with me during the tour. Because I still didn’t really know for sure. Because I suck at knowing those types of things, and I suck at reading men and their intentions, apparently.

So I asked him. “My friends insisted that you were flirting with me on the cruise. I told them they were crazy.” He paused a few seconds, as if collecting his thoughts, and then said: “Oh, I was totally flirting with you. You’re absolutely beautiful. I have a thing for sexy brunettes with long hair from Massachusetts, who change their name to author a book about their husband, and who have a great personality and sense of humor and gorgeous eyes, and who are half Italian and half-Finnish. Oh, and the cleavage didn’t hurt anything either. ”

I could literally feel myself blushing through the phone. He really WAS listening to everything I said on that boat. To be feeling so horrible and awful and low and hopeless just hours before and the day before, and be literally crumpled up on the floor not wanting to do anything but die in my sorrow – and then to hear these words, coming from a total stranger named Phil, who has nothing to gain by lying to me, who I met on a boat, with my new sunglasses on, – it was magic.

It was the universe giving me the exact thing that I needed, at that exact moment. We talked about how I love sunsets, and how they do a nightly sunset cruise on the boat, and how beautiful the sunsets are in Florida. We talked about how we didn’t see any dolphins on our dolphin tour, and he lightly mocked me for being in a bathing suit and tank top on a “chilly” and windy day in the high 60’s, while all my friends were literally covering themselves up with blankets and coats and things, as I yelled out mockingly to them: “Wimps! It’s beautiful out here!” And then he said: “Its too bad you have to leave today. I’m off work, and I was going to see if you wanted to spend some time together.”

In talking with him further, his life situation is extremely complicated, and it’s the kind of complicated that makes him rather “unavailable” – and because of that, I doubt this will ever be any kind of relationship with us. And just a week before leaving for Florida, I had a first date with someone I recently met on the dating sites here in Massachusetts, and our date went quite well, and I really like him and would like to see him again. And that situation, or THIS situation, or ANY situation, could all turn out to be absolutely nothing.

And if there is one thing I have learned over this past year or so, in the most painful way possible – it is that you can spend a whole lot of time and emotions and put your whole heart out there on someone, only for it to turn out to be absolutely nothing. And so Phil, or the really nice guy from back home, or anything else, at any given time – could all be just a whole lot more nothing. But that does NOT erase the moments that happened. It does not mean that what you experienced and what you felt and what happened, was not 100% real, when it happened. Moments like that are real, and they are fleeting, and they live in my heart, and nobody can ever take that away from me. You can NEVER take that away.

What’s important to me is this: Phil and I have kept in touch, and he has been sending me nightly sunset pictures from the boat cruise, and they make me smile and feel peaceful and calm and tranquil. And he sent me and my friends a video of jumping dolphins from the cruise the other day, with the message: “Now you can see your dolphins.” And he called me beautiful. And on a boat filled with lots of other people, he chose ME to flirt with, he chose me to interact with. And when that was pointed out to me by my friends, I took a chance and tried to give him my card. And when that didn’t pan out, I took another chance and sent him a message. And that felt brave, somehow. Because just hours before, I was crumpled up in the corner, and I truly felt like nothing, and like my heart would fall right out of my chest, and I just wanted nothing more than to die right there in that room.

And then I went outside.

So even if all of this, all of these situations, all pan out into nothing,
– they are still not nothing.

The universe giving me hope and a new perspective, in a moment where I felt like everything was gone,
is never nothing. It is the furthest thing from nothing.

And in those moments,

with the wind in my hair,

and the music sounding like a lullaby,

and the water drinking up pieces of life and sky ….

In that one moment,

for that one measure of time,

I was more than Enough.

I was Alive.

And I was Seaworthy.

I Am Not Okay

So last night, I got home from Tampa, Florida, after attending Camp Widow for the 11th or 12th time, I think. I honestly have lost track of how many times I have attended as a presenter and given my comedic talk / performance on grief and loss. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s a bad thing, maybe its just a thing.

Who cares.

At the end of this month, I will be traveling back to NYC for a few days, so I can give my TEDx talk, about grief and love and loss. It will be a huge honor, I am anxious and excited about it, and it will hopefully be something that, in time, will lead to other opportunities to speak.

And, of course, I am still and always in the midst of writing my book, about the love story of me and my husband, his death, and about grief and loss.

Anybody seeing a pattern here?

In this “after” life, the one where my husband is forever dead, I talk and write a LOT about grief and loss and death. And really, sincerely, it is my absolute honor to do so, because it helps ME, and it helps other people to know they are not alone in their crazy thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It is also a healthy way for me to cope and to process what’s going on inside me.

But the truth is, just because I write and talk about these things publicly, does not mean that I somehow have it all together, or that I even know what the hell I’m talking about. I don’t. I’m just a person who is willing to put it all out there in word form, and to take off the plastic mask of widowed life – and tell the brutally honest truth about it. I’m like that with everything. That’s just who I am. If I can’t tell the absolute truth about something, what’s the point in saying words at all?

This public side of me, however, is just one side of me. It’s a small side of me. Yes, it’s the side that most people see, and for most, it’s the only side of me they see. But I have a private, vulnerable, scared little girl, fragile-heart, just wants to be held and protected and loved side – that hardly anyone sees. That my husband saw. That side would come out for him, with him, and around him, because I knew I was safe to let it out.

Right now, I don’t have anywhere or anyone safe to let that side out again. I don’t have someone I can trust or talk to every day, to let that out and release it with. I just don’t have that. And it’s awful to not have that. It’s pretty much the most awful thing in the world.

And so, I don’t feel much like me. At the end of my days, if I can’t let the day fall away with someone, it just all stays inside and burns to a crisp. It creates this hollow feeling in my soul, and that hollow-ness just sits there and lingers. It leaves me crying and aching everywhere, for no reason, and for every reason. I start feeling like everything I do has no point, because I can’t call someone up who is not my parents and not friends who have their own person to do that with – but someone who is mine to call up and share those things – and share it with them. I still talk to Don all the time and I tell him things, but its just not the same as telling someone who is alive aand breathing and listening to your words and then saying words back. I love my husband and I will ALWAYS talk to my husband, but my husband is dead, and this world gets lonelier by the minute as I face all of life’s happenings without someone I connect to, to say words with.

What is the point of anything, if you have nobody to tell it to? Nobody to hear your words. Not family or friends – but that person who makes you feel safe enough that you can let out that little girl who is scared, and who just wants to sit in the stillness and not have to do or BE anything for anyone. Im exhausted from being things. I just want to be nothing and do nothing, and sit in the peace and quiet of that for awhile with someone who understands me.

Those of us who “create something from our pain” – we are an outlet to many. But who do we go to? Who is our outlet? Who is our sea of tranquility, where nothing needs to move or be hopeful – where we can just float and exist and focus on nothing but the swishing of the water, back and forth and back again?

I am like a volcano, with nowhere to erupt.

I am a child, with nowhere to have my temper tantrum.

I am a pillar of strength, a warrior, they tell me – that just wants to curl up into a ball or into the arms of a man, who will protect me and keep me safe. Where is that man for me? Where is that person who will just be there, and nothing more?

Just because I write, just because I share, just because you see me strong and laughing and smiling and living –

that does not mean that you know me.

You know some of me.

The rest of me sits here, in pieces, waiting to explode.

Despite what you might think about me –

most days,

and especially lately,

I am struggling.

Hard.

Very, very hard.

You might not see it,

but that is only,

because I don’t show you.

But here it is:

I am not okay.

I am not okay.

Now, I will get up and I will focus and I will somehow find the damn strength
to do what it is I need to do these next few weeks, and in the weeks after that.
Because that is what I always do. So I will do it again. That is what is expected.
That is what “strong” people do. Over and over and over again.

But each time I have to do that, and then I come home with nowhere to release that vulnerable,
scared, little girl who just wants to be held –

I die just a little bit more.

The truth is,

I have absolutely no fucking idea what the hell Im doing.

I never did.

I’m tired.

I’m sad.

I’m lost.

And I’m not okay.

Do You Remember?

My Dearest, Most Dead Husband,
Today is your Birthday.
But it’s not.

Not only because you are dead,
and for me,
saying Happy Birthday to someone,
who is, in fact, dead,
and does not get to live that birthday,
or see that new age,
or feel the warmth of the candles,
melting on their cake,
or laugh or cry or
hear beautiful music,
makes no sense.
How is it ever a happy birthday,
when you are forever dead?

Also, today is not your birthday.
Not in the factual sense.
This is the day
that everyone celebrated,
as your birthday.
Your friends,
your family,
and even you,
for awhile.

And then,
years later,
you found out,
that your birthday
was not your birthday,
and that you were actually born
on the 6th day of November,
and your childhood,
and your life,
had played out
like some sort of unbelievable soap opera,
a drama of sorts,
where your mother,
tried to keep you
a secret,
from your father,
because you were the product of an affair,
and he had his own family,
and she had an agenda,
and so birth certificates,
and lives,
and hearts,
and little boy’s souls,
were changed that day,
forever.

Do you remember,
how we used to go along with everyone,
celebrating your birthday today,
and then have our own
private celebration,
just Us,
and chocolate cake made for you,
by me,
and you would laugh,
with your shoulders moving
up and down,
and it would be you and me
against the world.

Do you Remember,
how we used to joke,
all the time,
about you having TWO birthdays,
when everyone else,
only got one,
and how I used to say,
“It’s not fair! You don’t even
LIKE your birthday! And you get TWO?”
And then you would laugh,
and shake your shoulders,
and shake your head at me.
And you would make a joke,
about your dysfunctional mother,
and your absent father,
and you would be hurting
inside,
but you would never feel sorry
for yourself,
and you would instead
thank me,
for being your family.

Do you Remember,
on your birthday,
that isn’t your birthday,
but your “fake” birthday,
your “Un-birthday”,
that time we saw Paul McCartney
in concert?
Or that time,
we went to the Yankee game,
or that time,
we went to the BlueNote Jazz Club,
to see your favorite,
Larry Carlton,
and you met him,
and got your picture taken
with him,
and you said to me,
on the bus ride home,
in your adorable way,
“Who has the bestest wife ever?
I do!!!”
And I put my head down,
and rested it,
on your shoulder,
as you hummed softly,
to yourself,
like you used to do sometimes,
when you were content,
as the bus drove us home.

And do you remember
that time, on that day,
when I woke up,
and you were already
dead,
but I didnt know,
and my phone
was ringing,
and ringing,
and ringing,
and then they said,
“We have your husband”,
and I didnt know,
but somehow I knew,
what that meant,
even though,
I couldn’t fathom it.

Not when I was on the phone,
or in the cab,
to the ER,
and not when,
the doctors and nurses,
all came to me,
at once,
in a gaggle of terror,
spewing words,
I did not understand.
“Found collapsed on the floor.
We did everything we could.
He did not make it.
We are so sorry.”

And then I too,
collapsed on the floor,
in a puddle of terror,
right there in that
private room,
where they bring you,
and make you sit down,
when they want to tell you,
that your husband,
has died,
and that your soul
is changed
forever.

And then do you remember,
when that nurse picked me up
off of the floor,
and handed me water,
and said the words,
that I didn’t comprehend.
“Do you want to see him?”
And then she held me up,
walked me to another tiny room,
and left me there alone,
with you,
and closed the door so I could be
with my husband who was dead.

And do you remember,
how you just laid there,
silent,
looking like you,
with your shoes off and socks on,
fully dressed,
as if you were napping after work,
but there were tubes in your face,
and you weren’t humming anymore,
like you did sometimes,
when you were feeling content.

And then do you remember,
how I just stood there,
next to you,
like a stunned blob of confusion,
failing at the one thing I was supposed to do,
in that moment.
Something.
Anything.
But I just stood there.
Because I couldnt comprehend,
what I was seeing.
Did I tell you I loved you?
Did I say Im sorry?
I think I said Im sorry.
Sorry you were dead.
Sorry that Im not better at this.
Sorry that your life was robbed,
of more life.

And do you remember,
how I put my head on your chest,
and felt nothing beating,
and just cried,
for seconds or minutes or hours,
or until the nurse came in again,
and said the words that made no sense,
“Are you ready?”

Do you remember?
No.
Because dead people
can’t
remember,
the hell
that the living
are left with.
The trauma,
the pain,
the attempts,
and fails,
at trying to live again.
Trying to find
something,
Anything,
that makes sense,
in the way
that you made sense,
and we made sense.

I know you don’t remember.
The hurt,
the candles,
the love,
the death,
your lifeless body,
being given your wallet,
your cell phone,
your keys,
in a plastic baggie.
The car ride home,
to nothing.
To the empty shell,
that would be my life,
with you not in it.

I know you don’t remember.
But I do.
I Remember.
I remember it all.
and I’m alive.
And it’s so very hard,
to be alive,
sometimes,
When you remember.

The Hell

I’m halfway through the 5 year mark since your death,

sweet husband.

I have been to hell and back,

and then back around again,

never really actually fully leaving.

Its not possible to leave

the Hell.

Its just not possible.

Because the hell,

Is that you died.

You are dead.

That will always be

the Hell,

no matter what I do,

who I’m with,

where I am,

whatever.

That is the Hell,

forever,

and it is the nucleus,

and the center,

of all things.

So,

since I cannot escape

or run,

from the Hell,

that you are dead forever –

I have to work around it.

Move through it.

Find ways to get along with it.

Some days, some months, some years,

are easier than others.

Some days and years and months,

feel impossible.

The hell of your death

makes me tired.

The more time that goes by,

the more years that pass,

the less people I have,

in my life,

who understand.

The only people who understand,

truly,

are other people who are also

In the Hell,

of their person being dead forever.

We do our best to be there for each other,

and its my honor to do that,

to reach out to anyone

In the Hell,

who needs it.

Anytime.

Anywhere.

Forever.

But,

I miss you most of all,

I need you most of all,

Sweet husband,

when I am churning inside

The Hell.

When the Hell is raging like a storm,

and I call out to you,

and there is no answer.

When I want to collapse into you,

but there are no arms to catch me.

When I cant be strong for one more second,

when I want to turn off the world,

and just be together.

Just be alone,

but Together.

I know in my soul

that I can never be with you,

in that way,

ever again.

And that hurts everyday.

But Im pretty sure,

quite sure, in fact,

that you have sent someone to me,

someone that you approve of and knew,

someone who can maybe catch me

when I want and need

to collapse into them.

When Im tired,

just so tired,

and they are so tired too,

because they are also in

The Hell,

and so we can be tired,

and shut out the world,

and just sit with each other,

and just BE.

Alone,

but together.

Being inside

of The Hell,

is so much more tolerable,

when you can rest your head,

on someone’s shoulder,

or their chest,

and just do nothing,

but breathe,

and breathe Alone,

but Together.

I so miss being your priority.

I miss you checking up on me,

when I don’t feel well.

I miss you saying you miss me,

when we haven’t talked for awhile.

I miss the ease and the comfort I had,

with you.

How everything just fit,

and everything just was.

I miss not having to question,

if you loved me with everything,

inside you.

I just knew.

I miss being your everything.

I miss you being mine.

I miss you being the nucleus,

of my life,

and I miss saying out loud,

and knowing,

“I am your wife.”

Being your widow,

although the saddest,

and most Hellish reality,

keeps me attached to you,

forever.

I am your widow.

Which means I was your wife.

Forever.

And whoever I love,

going forward,

doesn’t erase

or negate that,

it adds to it.

It multiplies it.

Being in love again,

multiplies our love,

and makes it grow

and grow,

forever.

It is the only thing,

perhaps,

that brings you closer.

The only thing,

that brings you

back to me,

in some form,

in some way,

forever.

So i will live,

inside the Hell,

because when I live,

you live too.

And when I am tired,

and when I feel needy,

and want to be comforted,

and loved,

like I do now,

I will talk to you,

even when you don’t answer.

You are still there.

You are always there,

sending me signs,

and people,

and putting love

in my path,

in many different forms.

I will keep paying attention,

and keep knowing,

that the nucleus,

of your death,

will be the center,

always.

But,

a circle has no end.

Nor does love.

So with Love,

I will live inside

the circle,

and watch it,

go round and round,

as life and love,

enter into death,

Alone,

but Together,

Blending and spinning,

and making,

something beautiful.

To Wait, to Nurture …

There are lots of things in my life that haven’t happened yet.

Things that are on the verge of happening, hopefully.

Things I am patiently, or impatiently, waiting on.

Things that still need to marinate.

Things that are still in development.

Things that haven’t quite been defined.

Things that have no guarantee of happening at all.

Things that I have to choose to have faith in.

Things I am taking a risk on, with my heart.

For me, 2016 has been a year filled with transitions.

Really huge transitions.

And lessons.

And taking risks.

Coming to a new place,

in year 5 of this “after” life.

A place of many shifts.

A place filled with complex and intense emotions.

Year Five.

Doing things I hadn’t done before.

Trying things I couldn’t see myself trying before.

Meeting someone,

through fate, or through divine intervention,

that I never expected to meet.

Feeling a deep connection with that someone.

My first kiss, with that someone.

My first kiss, period. (since losing Don)

Holding hands in a restaurant,

saying goodnight at the door,

and feeling like a teenager,

who just happens to be 44.

My first entrance into feeling special again,

my first taste of that heart-pounding feeling,

where you realize that you can’t stop smiling,

with that someone.

Learning that I am in a different place,

than that someone.

Knowing and accepting,

that I can’t fast-forward or rush the path of that someone.

Meeting them right where they are, instead.

Taking a new direction.

Taking care of myself.

Giving breathing room and alleviating pressure,

with that someone.

Joining multiple dating sites.

Feeling ready to “date” again.

Wanting to be held again.

Having that part of me woken up again.

Going out on some horrible dates.

And some good ones.

Meeting someone on such sites,

that I didn’t expect to meet.

Going on dates with that someone.

Falling into a relationship with that someone.

Doing lots and lots of kissing with that someone.

Feeling attractive and wanted again, with that someone.

My first intimacy, with that someone.

My first intimacy, period. (since losing Don)

Losing my “widow virginity”, with that someone.

Trusting that someone.

Being very gentle with that someone’s widowed heart.

Always being honest with that someone.

Finding out that someone wasn’t being honest in return.

Introducing that someone into pieces of my world,

that are important to me.

Letting that someone into my circle.

My community.

Feeling blindsided by that someone.

Losing trust in that someone.

Feeling the pit of stomach stabbing thing,

when that someone tries to make a fool of me,

right in the middle of my circle.

My community.

Feeling invisible,

when that someone chooses not to even acknowledge this,

or acknowledge me.

Feeling like a complete idiot,

for believing in that someone.

For thinking that he really cared about me,

as I did about him,

and realizing that he probably never did.

Feeling hurt and sadness and pain at that someone.

Breaking away from that someone.

Trying to process what it all meant,

or didn’t mean,

with that someone.

Making major life decisions.

Like moving out of NYC,

after 26 years of living here.

Returning to my home state.

Living with my family.

Having a place of peace and tranquility,

to finish writing the book,

about death and grief and love.

Mostly love.

Changing everything,

knowing nothing,

feeling uncertain,

feeling scared,

trusting instincts,

and hoping,

and longing,

and wanting,

for the future that I so desire,

to hurry up and get here today.

But knowing,

I have little control,

and I have to just keep going,

keep loving,

keep having faith in the outcome,

and knowing,

that good things,

take time.

All the things in my life,

that haven’t happened yet,

that I so want to happen,

are waiting on the horizon.

Maybe.

Hopefully.

If I keep growing them.

Nurturing them.

They will grow into

the things

that they always were,

before they were aware,

of what they were.

And so I nurture,

Patiently.

Impatiently.

But always,

with Love.

Pure,

Almighty,

Love.

Criminal

As I lay here in the night,
I miss what was.
What is, but isn’t.
What would be,
if it was.
What could have been.

I miss the Us,
that was,
that would have been,
that never got to be.
Our past.
Our now.
Our future.

I miss what I never knew.
I miss what I always knew.

And I miss you,
saying that you miss me.

Death comes in,
like a criminal,
a robbery,
that keeps happening,
over and over again,
stealing your life,
slowly,
painfully,
piece by piece by piece.

And so you lie there,
in the night,
with the nothingness,
with the missing of everything,
that can never be again.

(just a tiny something I wrote up while lying awake in the middle of the night last night. Put it on my Facebook page, where people seemed to love it and relate, so decided to post it here too. Thanks for reading and as always, for your awesome comments. )

Stop Telling Me To “Get Over It”: Why Trump’s Win Feels Like My Husband Died All Over Again

In probably one of the truest statements I have ever heard about grief, author C.S. Lewis says of his wife’s death, in the first line of his brilliant book: A Grief Observed, “Nobody ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”

Yes. And nobody ever told me that a Trump-President-elect, felt so much like grief.

On the morning of Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, around 4:30 am, I was jarred awake by the sounds of my TV, still on from just hours before, when in my half-sleep and dazed state, I could have sworn I heard that Donald Trump had been elected by the electoral college, our new President. No. But that can’t be true. That must have been some insane dream I had, like the one I had the week before where I slept with Brad Pitt and he was really bad in bed. This was like that, right? This wasn’t a real thing. Right? My heart kept pounding as Trump’s orange-tinted face smirked on my TV, with the words “President Elect” underneath his “huuuuge” mug, and my hands shook with terror. What was happening? I tried to get out of my bed, but I couldn’t get my footing. It was like, suddenly, I had forgotten how to walk. I was breathing differently too. Thinner. Catching each inhale as if I was shocked by it. My eyes were blurry and they hurt, and I had that feeling like the world had just ended, or was ending, or like I didn’t comprehend which world I was living in. I sat on the edge of my bed and just sobbed. More sobbing. Still more. Then, the feeling of exhaustion from the sobbing. This was then followed by feeling as if I had just swallowed a nail, but the nail was stuck inside me, and so I couldn’t swallow. Just trying, over and over again, to swallow.

And that was when it hit me.

I know this feeling.

On the morning of Wednesday, July 13, 2011, around 6:30 am, I was jarred awake by the sounds of my phone ringing, over and over and over again. My husband Don and I had just gone to bed a few hours earlier, I think. I still don’t really remember the details of that previous night, except that he had left around 4:30 am to go to his second job at the local Pet Smart, helping out with pet adoptions, feeding kitties, and stocking pet food. He did this a couple days a week, when he was off from his regular job as a paramedic. He always wanted to let me sleep when he had to leave that early, so I was sleeping when he left. I never said good morning. Never said see you tonight. Never said anything. That phone just kept ringing. I got up and checked my voicemail, and had 3 urgent-sounding messages from Palisades Hospital, down the street. Why are they calling me? That’s weird. When I called them back in my groggy state, they would only say: “You need to get here now. We have your husband.” “Why do you have my husband? He just left for work 2 hours ago. I don’t understand.”

The rest of that day plays out like a horror film in my brain, and I can’t quite make out the details, but somehow I called myself a cab and then found myself running into the E.R. waiting room. A gaggle of nurses and one doctor surrounded me in a small, private room, and asked me to please sit down. I started shouting the word “NO!!!! No, no, no, no, no!!!! ” before they could even get to the punchline. “Cardiac arrest. He was rushed here by ambulance. We did everything we could. He didn’t make it. We are so sorry.” My beautiful husband, age 46 and the best person I ever knew, was dead. And the life I knew was gone.

Now, please understand that I am NOT saying that Donald Trump becoming President-elect is even close to the same thing as my husband’s death, nor am I saying that it’s even close to as painful. NOTHING will ever be as painful and as life-altering for me, than my husband’s sudden death. Nothing. What I am saying, however, is that there is a very real and very surprising similarity in emotions, feelings, and reactions with these election results – and the morning that I woke up and my husband was already dead. And I am absolutely not alone in feeling this way. Several of my widowed friends, and friends who have lost other people they love to death, have told me: “It feels like he died again”, or “I feel like I’m grieving. This feels so much like a death, and I didn’t expect that at all.”

Yes. I did not expect this at all. I didn’t expect my husband to die until he was really old. This was a man that literally never called in sick to work, ever. (He called out for 3 days when his cat died, because he couldn’t stop crying or get out of bed.) And yet, he died. Just like that. In an instant.

I did not expect Donald Trump to ever be elected President. Not ever. This was a man who ran a fake board-room and fake-fired people for a fake-company on a reality-show about a fake apprentice. This was a man who produced beauty pageants and owned failed casinos and liked to golf and be rich and lived in a gold Tower. This was a man with orange skin and tiny hands who called women “pigs” and insulted just about every race, culture, and group of people, during his campaign. This was a man who refused to show us his tax returns, and doesn’t pay taxes. This was a man that none of the living Presidents endorsed, and who IS endorsed by the KKK and various other hate groups. This was a man who was known for not paying his own workers, for multiple bankruptcies, for being sued multiple times for fraud, and for taking people’s money to attend his fake University. This was a man who has zero years or experience in government or politics. And yet, he is President-elect. Just like that. In an instant.

So yes, for a lot of us out there, this feels very much like another death. It feels like grief. It is grief. But why? Why is it grief? Why is it so personal to so many people? Because this is not about politics. This actually has very little to do with politics. For many of us – for minority groups, for people of color, for Latinos, for Muslims, for LGBTQ-people, for sexual assault survivors, for many women – this is about our lives. This is about survival. It’s about people no longer feeling welcome in their country. It’s about people feeling the tone of hate and racism, rearing it’s ugly head. It’s about a gay couple finding a note on their car windshield that says: “Can’t wait for Trump to take away your rights. Your love is sick.” It’s about my friend’s 10-year old daughter getting pushed to the ground at recess by a group of boys, as they laughed and yelled: “Ha ha! Grab her by the pussy!”,and: “Trump that Bitch!” It’s about my college students of color, being forced to “call out black” from class, because they were threatened and told to “Stay in your dorms, niggers!” by some drunk Trump supporters “celebrating” their victory. It’s about school children chanting “Build that wall!” at immigrant students, while sitting in the cafeteria. It’s about my Jewish colleague-friends finding a Swastika and the words “Trump is our Hitler!” spray-painted on their garage door. It’s about people, real people – being bullied, harassed, assaulted, pushed, demeaned, and threatened. It’s about fears of losing civil rights, basic women’s rights to things like healthcare and birth-control. Fears of being deported. Fears of losing marriage-equality rights. Fears from my HIV-positive friend, or my friend with multiple life-threatening diseases, who will lose her Obamacare insurance, which pays for her $4,000 per month medications to keep her alive. Fears about this man, who has run a campaign built on hate, who has the temperament of a 5-year old, who has vowed to ship out 11 million immigrants, “ban” all Muslims, and repeal the Affordable Care Act, reverse marriage-equality laws, and “punish” women who get abortions.

It’s about my friends.

So when you say, in your accusatory tone, “Why are you getting so upset over politics? Your side lost. Get over it!”, you are asking me to “get over” everything I just said above. You are asking me to just “get over” hate. No. I will not. I cannot. It’s not possible, and there is no such thing.

And when you said, after my husband died, in your accusatory tone, “Why are you still upset about this? He died 2 / 3 / 4 (insert period of time here) years ago. Get over it!”, you were asking me to just “get over” love. No. I will not. I cannot. It’s not possible, and there is no such thing.

So yes, this is a form of grief, and it is very personal. A lot of my friends are in very real danger of their lives changing drastically because of this election. And truthfully, white males in this country, who have the “privilege” that comes with being white and male – it is insulting to hear you say things like: “Whoever the President is, it won’t affect my daily life. I will still get up and go to work everyday and come home and have dinner with my wife and put my kids to bed.” Well, hurray for you! It sure is nice when racism and sexism and other “ism’s” don’t make any real dent in your life. What about the millions of familes that are made up of immigrants, people of different races, same-sex parents and couples? Do you really not realize that not everyone can say the same thing? That these results WILL affect the daily lives of a whole slew of people, in very big ways? That everything they know and love and count on, is now on the brink of changing, or being taken away? Think about it.

As for me personally, in addition to being widowed at age 39, I am also a rape survivor. So yes, electing a man into office to represent our country – who has been accused by 11 different women and counting of assault, who feels it is okay to grab women whenever you feel like it, and who refers to women using words like “pig” and “disgusting” – is something that is making me nauseous and sick lately. For me, hearing him say these things, and especially hearing him insult the women who accused him of these crimes, by implying that they were not “attractive enough” to be raped – it sends chills down my spine. Hearing this man speak makes me feel sick to my stomach, and the things he says about women and TO women, are oddly similar to the things my rapist said to me. The idea of him representing our country is not only frightening, it’s sickening. He does not respect women. He will not fight for women. He will not fight for anyone, really. But he will continue to demean and exploit women in that special way that he knows how to do best. In addition to that, this man and his sexual assault accusations – they transport me back to that time right after it happened to me, 20 years ago. That feeling of invisibility. That feeling of being totally unsafe. I feel unsafe now, in this Trump America. I feel unsafe.

So yes, this feels personal. And yes, when people very close to me, people in my own family, know the specifics and the horrifics of my rape, and what I went through – and they know my feelings about Trump as a human being – and yet, they decide to vote for him anyway – I will not lie. That hurts. If what I went through is not reason enough to NOT support him, that feels bad to me. And at some point, I have to come to a place of peace with it, because I love my family and I cannot let this tear us apart. But please know that it will take some time, and it is not easy for me. This election, and this man, has brought up so many unexpected triggers and emotions and feelings of intense grief and pain for me, and right now, I need to be around others who understand that pain. Just like when I lost my husband, I needed to be around others who lost theirs too. This is the same thing for me. Like-minded and like-hearted people, and their stories, are the only thing right now that is giving me any sense of hope.

So, dear friends and people of earth who voted for Trump, when you reduce these very real and painful emotions I am having and my friends are having and half of a nation is having, to “whining” or “being spoiled brats because we didn’t get our way!” or whatever else you think this is, that is insulting and completely untrue. This JUST happened. The election was literally 3 DAYS ago. People react and grieve and cope differently. Please don’t tell us how to act. Don’t tell us to stop posting things on our Facebook pages, or to “deal with it, because we dealt with Obama for 8 years!”, when all I heard for the past 8 years was total and complete lack of respect for our current President and the First Lady. Do not lecture me about how I need to show respect for Trump, when you spent every waking hour calling our President and his wife unspeakably racist and horrid things. Do not tell me how to deal with this, when you have no idea what I’m going through or what this brings up for me, or how emotional this is for me.

Perhaps some empathy would be better. Perhaps you should give us a second or two – give us some time – to process that this has actually happened. The man is not our President until January 20th. Please allow us some space to let this all sink in. Let us grieve. Believe me, we are just as surprised as any of you, at how deeply this is affecting us. We did not expect this to happen. We did not expect to be grieving on such a personal level, or to find ourselves sobbing in the middle of the day for no reason other than feeling the gaping hole of emptiness, or feeling isolated, terrified, misunderstood, alienated. Nobody ever told us, that Trump would feel so much like grief.

So please don’t condemn us. Don’t call us childish. Please don’t compare this to that time when you had to deal with Obama in the White House. This is not the same thing. It’s just not. Have some heart. Reach out to the other side. Don’t gloat or lecture or ridicule people who are already scared. We are scared. We are fragile. We have good reason to be. And please know that every single one of us, who does not support this man, hopes upon hope, that we are WRONG. I hope every day that I am somehow wrong about him – and that he is a highly successful President. It’s just that, deep down, in that place where you can feel things very intensely, I really don’t think that I’m wrong about this. But either way, we just ask you sincerely – to be nice. Be kind. Give us time. Space. Let us adjust to this in our own way. Let us come to terms with this. For me personally, I will accept this man as our President, because I believe in democracy, and I believe in our process, no matter how flawed it may be. I will accept this outcome, but I need some time to wrap this around my head. I need to “sit with it”, as my grief-counselor likes to say. So please, Recognize that for some of us, a good number of us, this is a grieving process. We need to find our own path to healing.

And if, after reading this, you still think this is about politics, you haven’t heard a word I’ve said, and you need to start listening.

Thank you.

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