A few days ago, I returned from Camp Widow San Diego, where I attended and gave my 10th comedic presentation. Since 2013, I have been a presenter at Camp Widow in all three locations; Tampa, San Diego, and Toronto. Last weekend was my 10th time standing in front of over a hundred widowed people, and hearing them laugh. It is truly one of my favorite sounds.
The week that I spent in San Diego was incredible. It was filled with friendships, old and new. I learned lessons, I experienced realizations about my grief and my process, I had moments of helping another person through their tough emotions. There was dancing and drinking and swimming and relaxing and healing and laughing and crying and loving. It was absolutely wonderful.
And then I had to come home.
There is this feeling that those of us who attend Camp Widow refer to as “Camp Crash.” It is a very specific sort of deflated and depressed feeling that one gets, after having been in the supportive, loving, understanding “everyone here is just like me” bubble of a camp widow weekend. It is a very real and powerful set of emotions, and it can truly mess with your head. Well, my crash began the second I stepped outside of the Marriott Hotel in San Diego, about to get into the cab to the airport back to NYC. As I stepped into the taxi, my face felt the PERFECT weather of San Diego, and instantly I got very sad.
Then, on my red-eye/overnight flight home, the WiFi wasn’t working. I was seated next to a couple who argued and fought with each other in a cruel manner, the entire 5 hours. The TV’s weren’t functioning either, so I had no way to escape my own panic and anxiety that comes with every single flight. I hate flying with a passion. It terrifies me.
Suddenly, in mid-air, and seemingly out of nowhere but not really, I started to miss my husband who is dead. I mean, I really started to miss him in that visceral, all-consuming, pit-of-your-stomach way, where you just want to find the nearest corner and sob your guts out. Except I was in mid-air, on a plane.
My husband Don was in the Air Force. Years before I met him. He was Flight Crew Chief and Mechanic, for the F-16 planes. He made the planes safe, just like he did with everything else. His job in life was to make things safe, and he made me feel safer than anything, just by being near me. When we flew together, he would put his arm out and say: “Just hold onto my arm, Boo. I got you. Nothing’s going to happen to you. Just squeeze my arm, or dig your nails into it. Whatever you need to do. And if something scares you, ask me about it and I’ll explain it. Nothing is scary once you understand it better.”
But those days of grabbing my husband’s arm and feeling safe were gone. This time, I grabbed at the arm-rest to my right in the aisle seat I was in, as I tried really hard not to cry out loud. The couple next to me kept arguing and screaming at each other with the attitude and clueless-ness of two people who know nothing of the sudden shock of death, and I sat there, like a child, on the verge of a tantrum stemming. Suddenly, I couldn’t think of any other thought than how much I missed my husband, and how much I wanted him and only him back, right this minute. Suddenly, the unfairness of how HARD my life is now without him, how hard EVERY SINGLE THING is, and how exhausted I feel after doing every goddamn thing ALONE and by myself for 5 years, came rushing into me. Suddenly, I just wanted to run far away, except there is never anywhere to run when you are in mid-air on a plane, and your husband is forever dead.
The last 90 minutes or so of the flight were awful. There was something like turbulence, but worse. I don’t even know what it was really. The plane kept dipping over and over again, dropping really fast in altitude, and making my stomach do flips. Nobody else seemed to notice or care, and I was alone in my panic, holding onto the arm-rest for dear life. The plane shook and made weird noises – noises that my patient and loving husband would have explained to me in a calm and non-condescending voice, if he were alive. Noises that wouldn’t stress me out, if he were still here to make sense of them. Nothing is scary once you understand it better.
Once we finally landed, my luggage ended up on the wrong carousel for almost 2 hours, and when I finally retrieved it, I had to walk with it half a mile throughout the airport to find where the taxis were to get home, due to construction in the airport. My phone was dead and not functioning right, and my brain was even worse. I plopped down in my bed, fixated on the picture of my beautiful husband in his EMS uniform that says “Everyday Hero” in the frame that his work gave him, and sobbed my guts out.
Suddenly, and finally, I couldn’t stop crying. This was more than just camp crash. This was life crash. I lost my Summer teaching job last month, so I have no job or income until September. I’ve been stressing out about this for the past month, and looking everywhere for work before my cash supply officially runs dry, and my stress and emotions finally came to a head the second I landed in NY. As did everything else. The reality of my situation. The exhaustion of living life without my husband for almost 5 years. The confusion of dating and trying to find love again, and being in situations that involve other people’s fragile emotions, and that I have no control over. Wanting things that I can’t have, and not knowing how to make my heart feel differently about them. Knowing that the heart feels what it feels, and I can’t stop it. The frightening thought of hurting someone, or hurting myself, or trying to do everything right and still ending up alone anyway. Trying to just be in the moment, but always terrified of the future and what’s around the corner. The feeling of having absolutely no idea what I’m doing, where I want to be in life, or what comes next for me. In life, I feel exactly as I did up in that plane – suspended in mid-air, and terrified.
I feel like a failure. I feel scared. I feel like I should know what Im doing by now, or like I should have it more together than I do. I feel like a fraud – like someone that people look up to, and really they shouldn’t , because I’m just as clueless as everybody else. I feel tired of making decisions, and I feel sick of struggling. I seriously feel like I cant make one more decision, after 5 years of making EVERY decision, big and small. I just want somebody to say: “Relax. I got this. Let me take care of this for you.” I feel like dirt when I can barely support myself. It feels bad. When you don’t know how you will pay your next bill or next month’s rent, it makes you feel less human. I feel shaken up by life and trauma and grief, and I feel like that shaky feeling will never leave. I feel like having a temper tantrum. I feel, I feel, I feel …….
And then I remind myself, I MUST remind myself, that I am not what I feel. I am not my feelings. They are just feelings, and they matter, and they are revealing, but they don’t mean that is who or what I am. Just because I feel like a failure right now, does not mean I am a failure. Just because I feel terrified, does not mean I will be terrified my entire life. All of these feelings and thoughts are frightening for me right now, because I have never felt them before, and therefore, I dont understand them. And things that we don’t understand are scary. Nothing is scary once you understand it better.
I no longer have my husband here to make me feel safe in the world. And that sucks. Sometimes it REALLY sucks. And I don’t have him to lean on when I’m scared, or to help me when I can’t pay the bills, or to say: “Its okay, Boo. I’ll pick up some extra shifts this month, and we’ll get through this together.” That is no longer a thing. Nobody says that anymore. And I do not want to go through the rest of my life with nobody saying that anymore. I can’t do it. I want to have that teammate in life again. But until then, I need to remind myself that I am not what I feel.
Maybe if I keep repeating it enough times, I will finally, actually believe it. Or, if anything, I will understand it better. And nothing is scary, once you understand it better.