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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you know who did all of those things?

My husband.

Don Shepherd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pray to Live

I’ve been thinking a lot the past few weeks about something other than death.

Life.

I’ve been thinking about life, and the true meaning of it, and how that meaning is different for everyone, and how maybe that meaning changes and shifts when you have been through trauma or loss or grief. I have been thinking about what it all is, what it all means, really and truly means.

I know. Pretty deep stuff for a Friday morning. But let’s go with this thought process for a few minutes, and see what comes of it. Like many days and weeks in my life after loss, I woke up this morning with a feeling that I needed to write today, but had no idea what to actually write about. And then these jumbled, yet somewhat clear thoughts, appeared in my head about life, love, death. So I followed my brain cells, and I started writing about that.

In my jumbled up mess of a brain, I was also thinking about loneliness. Well, not so much thinking about it, as feeling it lately. Feeling that intense loneliness that happens when you have lived FOUR whole years of life without intimacy – without a partner – without a best friend. Since much of this past four years has been spent just trying to exist/live/get through the day, and grieve at the same time for the loss of that life I knew, the loneliness sort of got pushed to the side for awhile. It was there, but I pretended for a long time that it didn’t matter to me. I told myself I didn’t need to have anyone in my life anymore, that my dead husband was it for me, and that I would live my life alone. I told myself that nobody would ever love me again anyway, and nobody would ever be able to put up with this version of broken-down and battered me, and how on earth would I be able to feel anything again for anyone who wasn’t him, ever? I told myself that maybe he WAS the only person who thought I was worthy of love, or that I was beautiful, or that I was any other good thing. All of the relationships and situations I had with men before my husband, were complete shit, so I talked myself into the idea that having more love, just didn’t matter.

It didn’t seem possible, so I kicked it away and focused on work and other aspects of my life that didn’t involve the idea of “someone else.” I didn’t date. I didn’t think about dating. I didn’t think about sex. Truly. I honestly didn’t think about it, or even want it. I just somehow shut off that piece of myself from life, as if shutting off a water faucet and then exiting the room. And if a person of the male species dared to look my way or flirt with me, or god forbid, ask me out in some ridiculously overbearing and out of line manner, I felt sick to my stomach. A few times, after being hit on by a random guy, or feeling uncomfortable in a situation with a man who was showing interest in me, I actually would go home and throw up. I’m not joking. That is how sickening the very idea of someone that was not my dear husband, was to me. It made me feel ill. So I stayed alone.

And let’s be clear – being alone is very different than being lonely. I can do alone. I have been alone most of my life – all the years before my husband, and now, the 4.5 years after his death. I left small town Massachusetts home at 18 years old, for my big dreams in New York City. I lived alone in apartments for years. Ive paid all my own bills, walked home alone at night from subways and trains and busses, lifted my own damn suitcases and bags and everything else, for years and years and years. I’m fiercely independent, and I know how to survive alone.

But that is very different than being lonely. And what I have discovered in the past 4 plus years, is this: I don’t want to be lonely anymore. I don’t want to live a life of loneliness. Even if every single dream I have ever had for myself, career-wise or other, were to come true, I would not truly be happy if I were alone. For what is the point of living, what is the point of anything – if you have nobody to share it with? Nobody to come home to at the end of the day, and say: “Honey, I’m home.” Or “Honey, I had the worst day today. Can we just sit on the couch and let the world fall away?” It reminds me of a scene from the Kevin Costner film: “For Love of the Game”, where the main character, a major league baseball pitcher, has the best career day of his life. He pitches a perfect game. He is being interviewed, and the bright lights are on him, and he is the star in everyone’s eyes. He is all over the media, his name is everywhere, his dreams have just been realized. And then, after all the hoopla, there comes that moment when it has finally reached “the end of the day.” He goes “home”, to his hotel room, alone. He doesn’t have anyone in his life with him to share this major achievement. He sits on the corner of the hotel bed in silence for a few minutes, and then he just cries. Best and happiest day of his life – ruined and stolen by loneliness.

What made me start thinking about life, death, and loneliness so much, you didn’t ask? Well, dear readers, I will tell you. Recently, I have been “talking to someone”. I have “met someone”, in the sense that I have physically met them, and in the sense that, to me, they are someone very special. I am not going to call it “dating”, or whatever else, because things are rather complicated with this situation, and we are moving in very slow motion, which includes not labeling things just yet. Also, I am very protective of this person’s privacy, because he is way more private than I tend to be with things such as this, so it’s important that I respect that right now and keep things vague in public forums, until we have shifted into more of a place of knowing what this actually is, and what it might become.

I will say this – the act of talking with this person and then meeting them and spending some really good quality time with them – has made me start to think a lot about the meaning of life after loss. It has awakened that part of me, that I truly thought was dead inside. It has made me feel joy again in my personal life, and made me see that while I will ALWAYS love and miss my husband and that life, the life I have now is still very much happening, whether I like it or not. And even though I could survive alone and be alone, I don’t want to be. I want more memories, more life, more love. I don’t want the good pieces of my life to be tarnished and stolen by loneliness. I want to love my beautiful husband who died, forever and ever, while also feeling love for someone else, who is very much alive, in the very same breath.

And whether or not that turns out to be this person or someone different, the important thing right now is that I have finally let these feelings in. In 4 years time, I have gone from pushing them away, to welcoming them with a warm, yet terrified embrace. For so long, I was not ready. And the people that were approaching me, were not even close to worthy of me being ready. Then, about a year or so ago, something shifted, for no reason whatsoever, and I suddenly and finally felt ready to let the concept of “my next great love” into my heart. There was no new person in my life at that time. I just all of a sudden felt different about it. The idea of someone else no longer made me sick to my stomach. About 5 months later, this person showed up, and we began a slow and beautiful friendship. I believe it is much like what my friend Tom Zuba says: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

Yes, Im scared. Losing the person you thought you would spend your life with to death, makes a person very scared. I’m terrified that I will open my heart and then be rejected. I’m terrified that this person will disappear entirely, either via sudden death, or because they just decide they don’t feel like doing this with me anymore. Both of those things have happened to me in my life, so it scares me every single day. I am walking around a terrified mess. But I’m also happy. And I’m emotional too. Letting someone into that vulnerable and soft part of yourself, it brings back the grief. Caring about someone new brings back the intense missing of your person, and the missing of the life you had. I’m not really sure why, but it does. In moments that are hard with the new person, you start to think things like: “Well if my person didn’t DIE, I wouldn’t be having to deal with this right now! DAMMIT!” I have learned that all of this is normal. I have learned to sit with 37 emotions at the same time. That is what this widowed life is. That is what it does. Instead of fighting that, I have decided to just let it happen. Sure, its exhausting and all kinds of complex and really, really hard. But it’s also a hell of a lot more fun and meaningful to actually be alive inside my own life, instead of just sitting around waiting to die.

Which brings me to the title of this piece. Pray to Live. I am not a religious person. I do believe in God, but I believe that God is whatever we want God to be. A concept, a symbol of love and all things good, a power or force of energy that nobody can really ever totally understand. I am not big on religion, as I feel it generally seperates people more than not, and that it uses itself to promote hate and judgment more than love. But that’s another post for another time. Today is Good Friday, and Sunday is Easter, so I want to leave my widowed friends or any friends who are struggling, religious or not, with these thoughts to ponder …..

There was a time, for a long time, after my husband’s death, when I kept just wanting to die. Or, to be slightly more accurate, I was not interested in living “this” life, the one without my husband in it – the one that was shoved at me without my permission or consent. There was a time when I begged and begged, and maybe even prayed and prayed, even though I am NOT the praying type, that God or nature or the universe or whoever, would just take me in the middle of the night while I slept, so that I wouldn’t have to wake up to yet another day of this unbelievable pain.

The only thing that stopped these thoughts, or made these thoughts come less often, was making tiny and microscopic movements toward life. At first, it was taking a shower that day, or getting an errand done that my husband would have normally taken care of for me. Later, it was accepting lunch invites from friends, or getting through my workday without falling apart. Right away, I began writing everything down, because it felt like a lifeboat to me, to be able to put my emotions into words and then release them. Slowly, I began meeting other widowed people, and finding many ways to honor my husband and his life. For a long time, that is what my life was about. Honoring him. It gave me something to do, something to look forward to. Creating a one-woman show about him or doing a benefit concert in his name, or walking a 5K to raise money for Organ and Tissue Donation – anything that kept his name alive and out there and relevant. I didn’t really see a life for myself personally, so I would live for him. I would live because he did not have that choice. This is what kept me going in those early days, for the first couple of years, actually, until, eventually, I started to be able to see pieces of life , mixed in with all the pain. I was still in tremendous pain, but there was life. Still there. Lurking.

Now, 4 plus years later, there is still pain and grief. There always will be. And there are still days and weeks and moments when it overtakes me again, or when I feel like Im going backwards again. But Im not. That’s just grief, and that is just what this is. It is ALWAYS going to be hard. And now that I know that, I can handle it better. Recently, I have heard a lot of my widowed friends having these same thoughts that I had early on. I have read their words or heard their voices, and the ones who are religious, they keep saying that they keep praying to God that they would just die, and that God never answers them. They say: “Why cant I just go and be with my love in eternity?”

Well, I don’t know why. I don’t know if anyone does. But praying for death and praying to die – it doesn’t work. I don’t think it works that way. I don’t know what the reason is, and none of us do, but I do know that life has meaning, and life has the meaning that YOU give to it. For me, being here on earth is all about connecting with people, loving as much as you can possibly love until your last breath, and then leaving behind something good in the world, something that made a difference to someone, or to lots of people. It is in this way, that we all live eternally, through the beautiful lives and stories of other people. I don’t think we were brought to earth to live a life of loneliness and sorrow. There is a lot of sorrow in life, and there is a lot of grief – but there is also Love. So much beautiful, neverending love.

So what Im asking from you today, those of you who are struggling – is this: Instead of praying for or begging for death, or for God to end your time here, maybe you could begin a new thought. Maybe you could start praying for life. Pray for the courage or the strength or the shift to happen, where you begin to see more life. Pray that you are able to see or smell or feel a simple little joy today. Pray that you are alive to hear a gorgeous piece of music, or to witness a beautiful sunset, or to accomplish something new and strange that you never saw coming. Pray for the day to come, where your grief and your loss does not rule every minute of your day. Pray for the scales to tip to more joy instead of hurt. Instead of praying for the desire to die, pray for the desire to live. And then just keep living, one microscopic moment at a time.

It is what your loved one who died wants for you. If they could be here themselves to live with you, they would. They would move mountains and heaven and earth to be here. But they can’t. And yet, here you are. Still alive. Still on earth. Learning and growing and connecting with humans everyday. Living life to the fullest. It is what they would want for you. It is what any person who loves another person, wants for them. And eventually, it is what you should and will want for yourself.

Pray to find that meaning of life for yourself. Pray for more love to enter your heart, when you are ready to accept it. Pray to be able to blend new love with forever love, and to know that having both is very, very possible.

Pray to live.

And then go live.

I promise you won’t regret it.

P.S. If you just read this, please leave me a comment!!! I looooove comments!!! They are like a bunch of little Christmas presents, just waiting under the tree. I will try to do better at replying to them as well. Please comment!