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.