Flowers, Cake, and Change

When you are busy living and surviving and struggling inside your own life, it is often hard or damn near impossible to be able to recognize your own progress, shifts, and changes. Time goes by and you may feel stuck in place, or like things are moving in slow motion or not at all, when the reality may be quite different. Living life and grieving all at once, every day, for long periods of time – it can often feel like nothing is happening.

It’s sort of like if you have 100 pounds to lose, and you lose an average of 3 pounds per month. 3 pounds per month is a very healthy way to lose weight, and it will probably stay off if you do it that way. But, when you are inside of that and doing all the work, and you look at your own body or reflection in the mirror, you might not notice any difference. You might look at yourself, get frustrated, and say: “What is the point of all this?”

Change happens in pieces, and in very tiny fragments. You know that term “overnight success?” Yeah. Not really. Most of those people have been working their asses off for years. This night just happened to be the night where they clicked on the right thing, in the right moment. The night when all their back-breaking work, finally began to pay off. Becoming who you were meant to be, isnt always glamorous or obvious or quick-paced. But it sure is something to be proud of.

Yesterday was strange. I woke up feeling defeated by grief, trauma, and pain. I felt as if so many of my old demons were coming back to visit, and would they ever really go away? The unhealthy ways in which I used to cope with grief or trauma, such as isolating and gorging on sugar and carbs to the point where I would feel physically sick, were starting to re-emerge after the holidays. It had been 6 whole years since I had enjoyed Christmas or wanted it, that this year it felt almost urgent, my returning love for all things Christmas. I didn’t want to miss out on even one Christmas cookie or traditional dish, dammit! I was going to show myself, and grief, and the world, that I could let Christmas back in again with a vengeance! I was going to eat up life at full volume, and nobody could stop me!

The problem was, I was gorging on life. Hoarding it. Shoving it down with no thought or meaning to the end result. Delighting in the frenzy of it all. I guess I forgot about moderation. Or logic. I started to feel lazy, tired, and cranky. I went overboard, and I could feel myself drowning, and reaching that place where I stop caring. Where I do things out of habit, and then my unhealthy ways become the norm. I started feeling scared of losing control. I needed to stop before it got a hold of me.

So I stopped it. I called up my boyfriend of 7 months, who Im very much in love with, and told him that I wanted to talk with him about some of my demons and insecurities, and how it might affect him, and us. It was not an easy thing to talk about. I felt embarrassed. I recalled stories and times where I didnt feel proud of myself, but hated myself and acted accordingly. This man I love, his reaction was to talk me through it, share some things with me about him and how he could relate to my issues, and then ask me what he can do to help or be supportive.

I talked about it, I didnt isolate, and I’m now in a relationship with a mature, caring person, who strives to be the best version of himself, and inspires me to be the best version of myself, every day. So because I made the decision to reach out and talk to him, I was rewarded. And because I decided to hang in there, and keep giving love another shot, after all the heartache, I was gifted this great man. And because I spent all those hours and weeks and days and months and years, sitting in grief therapy shredding apart and analyzing my life after loss and sitting inside the pain of it, I was now in a place where I could receive and give love in a healthy way. And so my hard work paid off. I got my “overnight success” moment, out of the ashes of death and chaos. This was my time of realized change, after giant chunks of life where it felt like nothing was happening.

After we talked for awhile in his car, he dropped me off at my part-time job, and then onto my weekly widowed group that I recently joined. In there, one of the topics was change – how when change happens TO us, as widowed people, such as having no choice in the fact that your person is now dead – it sucks. You feel resentful of that kind of change, because you never asked for or wanted it. You liked things the way they were. Then we talked about another kind of change. The kind that you work hard at. The kind that is so slow, you may not know its happening, until you are sitting in your boyfriend’s car crying and telling him why the trauma of being raped, or finding out your husband is dead, causes you to find yourself hoarding and hiding food, and isolating in your self-loathing and pity. Telling him how it took you years to not feel guilty for sleeping, or how you are now the same age your husband was when he dropped dead for no reason, and you are terrified.

My guy came into my house with me, and then he said: “I forgot something in the car.” He came back with, quite literally, the biggest bouquet of multi-colored roses, I have ever seen or been given. I tried counting them, but I keep losing my place. There must be 6 or 7 dozen, as some of the budding ones fall hidden underneath the larger ones. He posed the question: “Have I told you today that you are absolutely beautiful, and that you deserve dozens and dozens of flowers?” In that moment, I felt like: “Hell yes! I DO deserve this! Ive certainly been through enough pain and worked my ass off to get here. To get to right now!”

roses nick

roses bucket

As we stepped into the house, there was a small box waiting on the doorstep. A package for me. By the size of it, I knew exactly what it was. Cake!!! About a month ago, in one of the many widowed groups I hang out in on Facebook, a widow named Trinity, told the story of how she used to make this particular chocolate cake every year, for her husband, on his birthday. He loved the cake. When he died, she decided that instead of NOT making the cake any longer, she would instead make lots and lots of smaller cakes, and send them in the mail all across the country, to a bunch of widows, who are also missing their person. Instead of isolating in her pain, she decided to share her love forward, and keep celebrating his birthday in this strange and beautiful new way. Love Grows Love.

cake

I dont think it was an accident that I received dozens of unexpected roses, delicious unexpected chocolate-fudgey cake, and a deep feeling that something in me was changing – all on the same day.

This is not the life I wanted or asked for or expected, and I will always deeply miss my husband, that life, and all of the things we will never get to do or live together.

But as I continue to grow into it, and work hard to create and build connections and goals that are meaningful to me – I fall into this life more and more, and I might just begin to love it.

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!