I Will Never Move On

Last night, I was talking to a new widower friend of mine on the phone, when he suddenly shifted the topic of conversation and posed a huge challenge to me. Im not sure if he saw it as a challenge, but I did. He asked me to do him a favor. When I asked him what the favor was, he said, very matter-of-factly, as if it were the simplest of things to accomplish: “I want you to change the world.” Oh, IS THAT ALL??? Should I do this right in between my morning coffee and my teaching job? Or perhaps I could fit it in right after cleaning out the kitties litter box and my second load of laundry. Maybe I can multi-task and get this done while I simultaneously file my taxes. Sure. Change the world. I will get right on that. (Can you sense my sarcastic tone?)

In all honesty though, after I got off the phone and stopped to think about it some more, the challenge did peak my interest in many ways, and I was somewhat flattered that anyone would think that little ole’ me could ever be capable of something as huge as world-changing. This friend of mine finds me inspiring, mostly due to the honest way in which I write about grief. What he doesn’t know (until right now, when he reads this) is that him giving me that challenge has inspired ME. He has inspired me to try and do better. The fact that he believes I am capable of such a thing, is providing me with the fuel to light the fire that sits inside. I would have never thought to make it a goal to change the world all on my own, but now that it’s been planted in my head and heart by someone else, I might as well give it a shot, right? I heard a quote somewhere recently, that really stuck with me. It said: “Change the world, by changing your mind.” Or “change your mind, and change the world.” I can’t remember the order that it was said in, but it almost doesn’t matter, because it pretty much means the same thing. It all comes down to perception. The way that people see or perceive something, has to first change, in order for everything around it to also change.

So, with that in mind, I am going to write about something that truly needs to be written about. I am going to put it all out there, and hope that the message gets passed around as much as it needs to be passed around. I am going to count on my widowed community to help me share this very important and vital message, by sharing this blog piece with any person who has ever told you or implied to you in any way, shape, or form, that you need to “move on.” I am going to write the truth, and then wait for that truth to become contagious. Just as this false idea that people who lose their spouse or partner need to “move on” has spread like wild fire, this new message needs to cause a fire ten billion times bigger. This fire needs to put that old one to shame. It is time to make a change.

Any widowed person will tell you that we have heard time and time again, the endless parade of well-intentioned, thoughtless comments that come our way, within minutes of losing our life partners and the life we knew. These comments include such classics as: Everything happens for a reason. // Time heals all wounds. // God never gives you more than you can handle. / It was God’s Plan. // God Needed Another Angel. // I know exactly how you feel. // You need to get over this. That is not the full list of whoppers – just a few of my favorites. But what all of these comments have in common is this: they make us feel worse, not better. They make us feel like our emotions aren’t real or don’t matter, because they are dismissive and they don’t validate what we are actually going through. The truth of the matter is, nobody could ever know what we are going through or what this IS, until they themselves have gone through it. Most people want to help. Unfortunately, most people are pretty clueless as to how their words can affect us, and most people don’t stop and think about just how insensitive these cliches can feel, when heard by someone who is in tremendous and very real pain. On top of all that, we, the ones who are in the tremendous pain, are told over and over again to just put up with these thoughtless comments. We are told that people are “only trying to help”, or that “they don’t know what to say”, and we should smile and nod and be grateful that they care. I’m sorry that people don’t know what to say. But I also feel like it’s time to change the conversation from “they don’t know what to say” to “let’s teach them what is not so good to say, so that we can stop using that as a convenient excuse to say hurtful and unhelpful things.” As the brilliantly smart and world-changing Maya Angelou famously said: “When you know better, you do better.” I think it’s time we do better.

So let us begin with the King of all Insensitive Comments: “You Need to Move On.” “It’s time you moved on.” Or any other of the many variations that include the phrase and the idea of “moving on.” Of all the many comments that are said to widowed people, this is by far the most common one, and also the most harmful. The reason it is so harmful is that this message is implanted into the widowed person’s heart and soul, over and over again, at EVERY stage of their grieving process, by many different people. We begin to hear this “move on” mentality on the very first day that our person dies. Just hours after my husband’s sudden death, I was informed that making the decision of whether or not to donate his organs would help me to “move on.” Then, at his funeral, I was told that the services and the wake would all help me to “find closure and move on.” A week later, when I was being held captive in the four walls that used to be our home, I was being told in condescending voices that it was “time to donate some of his clothing, so that you can start to move on.” Four and a half years later, and people are still beating me over the head with their chants of moving on. “Why aren’t you dating anyone yet? You need to move on.” “Why are you still going to that Widow Camp? Don’t you think it’s time to move on from that?” “Why are you still talking to his family? He is dead. You aren’t his wife anymore. So they aren’t your family anymore.” (Yes, someone actually said this to me. Really.)

These awful ideas are repeated into our souls, as if stamped onto our foreheads by people who have no idea of what they speak, and this becomes harmful. Because we start to believe it. We start to believe that there is something wrong with us for NOT wanting to forget about our person. We start to think that maybe we are doing this all wrong, and maybe we are weak and stupid and not well, because we still love them and we don’t want to place them on a shelf in our past, to collect dust forever. We start to very slowly lose pieces of ourselves, and unwillingly lean into what society is telling us instead. All of this is extremely harmful to our souls. Why?

Because none of it is real.

Because it doesn’t exist.

Let me say this as simply as possible:

There is NO SUCH THING as moving on.

It’s a lie.

It’s a fairy-tale concept, invented by those who don’t know what to say.

It is invented out of ignorance and fear.

They want you to move on, so that they can feel more comfortable with your presence.

If we can all just pretend that this scary death thing never actually happened, then it would all simply go away.

Except it doesn’t ever go away. Not for you. Not for the person living inside of it. It becomes you, and you become it, and you become wrapped up in each other. Death and life become one, and everything is different forever. The death of a spouse or partner is different than other losses, in the sense that it literally changes every single thing in your world going forward. When your spouse dies, the way you eat changes. The way you watch TV changes. Your friend circle changes (or disappears entirely.) Your family dynamic/life changes (or disappears entirely). Your financial status changes. Your job situation changes. It effects your self-worth. Your self-esteem. Your confidence. Your rhythms. The way you breathe. Your mentality. Your brain function. (Ever heard the term ‘widow brain?’ If you don’t know what that is, count yourself as very lucky.) Your physical body. Your hobbies and interests. Your sense of security. Your sense of humor. Your sense of womanhood or manhood. EVERY. SINGLE. THING. CHANGES. You are handed a new life that you never asked for and that you don’t particularly want. It is the hardest, most gut-wrenching, horrific, life-altering of things to live with.

To top it all off, people who still have their partners beside them, treat you differently. People like to think that they suddenly know what is best for you. People treat you like you are a child who cannot make decisions. They want to treat it as if it were maybe a divorce instead of a death. They want you to put that person in your past, like some “ex” lover or some regretful mistake. These insinuations are beyond hurtful to the widowed person, who is still and always will be very much in love with their person who died. And so, what ends up happening, most times, is that the widowed person feels more and more alone as the months and years go by, until eventually, they just stop talking to their friends about their loss altogether. Their friends and family then wrongly assume that because they don’t talk about it anymore, they must be “over it”, and therefore, everything is fine. Meanwhile, the widowed person continues to suffer in silence and mounting isolation. For us, it is a very scary place to be. And this is how the cycle of unhealthy perceptions of grief and death continues.

In the past four and a half years since my husband died, I have become friends, both online and in-person, with a lot of widowed people. We help each other. We call each other family. We are the family that you gain, when the family you knew is gone. We talk to one another about the pain and the heartbreak, and the changes and the shifts, and the complexities of life after death. A huge part of the reason I am writing this blog today, is that I have seen countless upon countless posts in the closed and private widowed groups, where a widowed person has been forced to hear from some family member, friend, or acquaintance, some form of “you need to move on.”

The way they say it comes in many forms. One widow parent who I know, was judged and lectured by her family, because she dared to share memories with her own children about her husband /their father. The family told her that she shouldn’t do that because she wasn’t helping her children to “move on from him. ” They told her it was not healthy for them to be “sad” over his death. Another friend was offered money by a relative, for every picture he took down from his nightstand, of his deceased wife. Another friend was pushed into a new relationship before she was ready, because her buddies thought she should “get out there again and start dating.” Another friend was judged because she still goes to the cemetery often, to visit with her husband. On and on the judgments come, each one breaking my heart more than the one before it. And while I cannot stop these people from giving their clueless and harmful advice, I can hope that maybe some of them are reading this somehow, and I can ask them to do me a favor.

I can ask them to ask themselves what kind of message do they think they are sending to their widowed friend or family member, with this type of “move on” mentality? Really. If you are reading this now, I would like for you to think about that for a minute. By telling a widowed mom or parent that they shouldn’t share stories with their children about their dad, isn’t that sending a message that their dad’s life meant nothing? Isn’t that sending a message that they should simply forget he was and IS their father – just pretend he never existed? And what about the widow or widower who goes to their spouse’s grave-site – whether its on special anniversary days, or a couple times per week? What message does it send to tell them to stop going there? Isn’t that like telling them their love didn’t matter? Isnt that like implying that erasing them from their hearts is better than honoring and remembering them with love? Why on earth are we shaming people for loving others eternally? Why are we making them feel as if that is not normal, when in fact, it is not only normal, but probably the most beautiful thing in the world. When a celebrity dies, we gather on social media and we share their pictures, their art, their music, their talents. We celebrate them and remember them, and we say “Hey, remember when he did that one film? That was a classic that will last until the end of time.” Yet, when the person who was the center of our universe dies, and we dare post a picture of them or speak of them a few months or years after their death, we are looked at with judging eyes. We are given pity and lectures about how “stuck” we are, and we are made to feel as if it is very, very bad what we are doing. This is so wrong, and so backwards. We should not have to shamefully love our people. The entire message of the move-on mentality, seems to be this: forget about them. Its in the past. Pretend it never happened.

But here’s the thing. That is not possible. You cannot forget love. You cannot pretend it away. The death of the person you love, only ends a life. It does NOT end a relationship. The truth is, LOVE is the only thing that we get to keep forever. Love is the only thing that we can take with us. Love is the only thing that never, ever dies. To take that away from someone, is not only unhealthy – it is cruel.

I will never move on from my husband. I will never NOT love my husband who died. I will never leave him in my past, like some forgotten old shoe I never threw away. This applies forever. Even if I should fall in love again. Even if I should marry again. Even if I should live every dream that I have ever dreamed possible. Even when I am old and gray and ancient, should I have the honor of being allowed to live that long. Even then. I will NEVER not be connected to my husband. He lives within me now. Whatever I do, wherever I go, I carry him with me. He is a piece of my very soul. There is no moving on.

Here is what I WILL do:

I will live the biggest and brightest and most colorful life that I can, because my husband does not have that choice. I will cling to every new joy that I feel in this life, because I am still alive to feel it. I will honor the life and the love that my husband and I shared, by being the person that he fell in love with. I will always find ways to keep remembering him and sharing his story with the world, because that is my duty and my HONOR to do as his wife, and his widow; and because sharing their story is how we keep them alive and relevant. I will continue to grow and to learn and to hurt and to feel and to fear and to fly. I will scream when I need to, cry when I have to, and laugh as much as my body can handle. I will tell all the people that I love, that I truly love them, and I will make sure they know this as often as possible. I will leave behind something of importance in this life, something of value, that someone , someday, can read or look at or see or feel, and it will make them think in a different way. I will love harder than I have ever loved before, and I wont feel guilty for loving again, because I will know in my heart that my husband’s love is inside every love I have going forward. I will choose to believe that he is somehow still here with me, and I wont question or doubt all the many times that I feel him. I will embrace his energy inside the music, and I will dance to the rhythms of our forever connected hearts. I will speak his name whenever I want to, and I will do this proudly, because that is what he deserves. That is what we ALL deserve – to not be forgotten, and to be spoken of with laughter and joy and remembrance, by those that will always love us. I will move INTO my future, step into my life, and I will carry him with me at every turn. I will take risks, and be afraid to fail, but go for it anyway, because I know that in the end, none of us get out alive. I will know that life is terrifying and chaotic and unfair and filled with sorrow and pain, but also exhilarating and wonderful and surprising and incredible, and a beautiful gift that keeps unwrapping, each and every time I make the decision to get out of bed. I will promise to do all of these things and more, and if I’m very lucky, maybe I can even change the world.

And I will never, ever move on.

25 Clueless Comments Said to Me as a Widow, and 25 Responses I Wish I Could Have Said

In the just over 4 years that I have been a widow, I have had to sit in silence and bite my tongue through an endless array of insensitive or just plain stupid comments coming from both friends, family, acquaintenances and co-workers, and yes, even total strangers. As the person who is grieving, we are told over and over again by society that “people just don’t know what to say” and they are “only trying to help”, and that they “mean well”, so therefore, we are supposed to just nod politely, smile and get on with things. Okay. I can do that, if that is what the world wants from me. However, I do think that just continuing to brush off people’s hurtful and often rude comments as “not knowing what to say” is unhealthy. The only way that people will ever learn what NOT to say to someone who is grieving the life they had and the person they loved most in this world, is to educate them. And since I’m a comedian, I choose to offer up my education in a comedic tone. So if you are reading this and you have no sense of humor, please go out to Wal-Mart or somewhere and get one. Then come back and have a good laugh.

The following is a list of 25 (in no particular order) actual comments that actual people actually said to me after my husband Don died very suddenly, with zero warning or symptom, in July of 2011, from a massive heart attack, at age 46. Below each actual comment, I have listed what I wish I could have said in response at the time, but of course, didn’t. Some of these comments were said to me right away after the death, and others were said as recently as last month. So, what does this accomplish? Well, for one thing, it’s fun to come up with pretend, smart-ass replies that I could never actually say in real life to these people. And secondly, the next time me or any of my dear brothers and sisters in widowhood have to put up with one of these or other insensitive comments, they can now laugh their asses off, thinking of what they wish they could say in response; as they nod their heads politely like a good widow (er) should. Here is the dialogue that I wish could take place as part of normal and acceptable society:

IT WAS GODS PLAN.

Oh, you mean my husband going to work and then never coming home? Or did you mean the part where he collapsed on a cold hard floor just an hour after getting there? Or the part where Im woken up traumatically by a ringing phone at 6:30am and then rushed to a hospital in a cab to be taken to a private room and told by a bunch of nurses that my husband went into cardiac arrest and didn’t make it? Or all of that? Was that all part of the plan? That’s really good to know, thanks for telling me that. It takes all of the pain and hurt and PTSD and trauma and anxiety and panic away. Really. By the way, what will God be doing next? What is the next part of the plan? I figured I’d ask since you seem to be the spokesperson for God. I didn’t realize. Congratulations on that promotion. Out of everybody on earth, God chose YOU to be in charge of dissecting his thoughts and words and passing them on to the rest of us. Wow! Thats impressive. And I thought you were merely a civilian, like me. Good to know.

YOURE YOUNG. YOULL FIND SOMEONE ELSE AND GET MARRIED AGAIN ONE DAY.

I will? Oh, wow!!! That is such a huge relief, because THAT is, of course, what is on my mind and heart right now, after my husband’s death and all. Im thinking about marrying someone else, as soon as possible, in fact. So Im glad you picked up on that . I didn’t realize you had become a psychic and that you were now able to predict the future. How else could you possibly know that I will remarry? What else will happen to me, oh great one? Do tell!!!

YOURE TOO YOUNG TO BE A WIDOW.

You know what? You’re so right. So they must have made a mistake then. I will make sure to go straight to the widow authorities in the morning and return my black veil and my 6 cats.

GOD NEVER GIVES US MORE THAN WE CAN HANDLE.

You’re so correct. (punches them in the face) Oh my! I am soooo sorry that you are lying face down on the ground after me punching you in the face. Was that more than you could handle? Sorry about that. But please don’t blame me. I had nothing to do with it. It was part of God’s plan.

EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON.

Yes. Exactly. Like, how I punched you in the face just now? The reason was that you’re an asshole.

GOD ONLY TAKES THE BEST.

So, what does that make me? Chopped liver? A horrible person? And you too. And the rest of us walking around on earth. Do we all suck as human beings, since he only takes the best ones? That doesn’t seem logical to me. I think what makes more sense is this – people die. Lets go with that.

WE MAKE PLANS, AND GOD LAUGHS.

Wow, this God that you believe in sure sounds like a prick! I believe in a higher power too. I believe in the concept of a God. But the God I believe in is all about Love and kindness and goodness, not taking people away for fun, and mocking us and getting off on our pain. That is not a God that I believe in. Sorry. But good luck with that.

HE IS IN A BETTER PLACE.

Really? Better than here with me, happily married and looking forward to our long future together? No, I don’t think so. He was very happy here, and he was not suffering, nor was he in pain of any kind, since he was not ill and his death was sudden. I have an idea though. Since you seem to like this “better place” so much, why don’t we bring my husband back here, and YOU can go there instead? How does that sound? Here, I’ll help you pack …..

YOU NEED TO GET OVER THIS.

Get over what? Love? Get over loving the person that I vowed to love forever and spend my life with? I should get over love? No. That’s not a thing. That’s not possible. I don’t think you’ve ever been in love before if you would say something like that to me. This wasn’t a divorce. He DIED. I will always, always love him – until the day I stop breathing, and beyond.

YOU NEED TO MOVE ON.

Again, that’s not a thing. Move on from where? Where should I move to? What does that mean? If it means that you want me to stop talking about him, and just act like he never existed – that’s never going to happen. We keep the people we love alive by carrying them with us and telling their story. If you cant understand that, then I think you’re right. I think I need to move on. From you, and from our relationship.

MY GREAT GRANDMOTHER DIED. WE SAW EACH OTHER ONCE A DECADE, AND SHE WAS 107. I KNOW EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL.

Yes, of course you do. Because that is EXACTLY the same thing as losing your husband, best friend, the life you knew, your past, your present, your future, your dreams of a family, your rock, your security, your stability, your heart, your soul, your identity, your everything – in the blink of an eye. Its exactly the same.

AT LEAST YOU DIDNT HAVE CHILDREN.

Hey, that was awesome of you to remind me, JUST as I had stopped thinking about it for five seconds, that I will never be a mom and that my husband will never get to be a dad. So nice of you to remind me of that trauma and that intense pain I feel every single day. Its also really kind of you to imply that because we didn’t have kids, that my marriage was somehow not valid enough or that my hurt and grief aren’t as important. Thank you so much!!!

ANYTHING YOU NEED, JUST ASK. ANYTHING AT ALL. CALL ANYTIME. NIGHT OR DAY ….

Okay, relax there, casual Facebook friend whom I barely know. I know youre trying to be nice and you think this is what you should say, but you don’t mean it. I highly doubt you will actually be there for the many, many things I am going to definitely need over the next few weeks, months, and years because of this life-altering loss. But since you offered … Id love some help with my laundry and with the car, and also all my lightbulbs need changing and the ceilings are too high for me to reach them. And then, usually around 4:30 am when I cant sleep and Im sobbing hysterically, you could come over and just sit with me, or I’ll give you a call everytime that happens. You cool with that? Awesome. P.s. Whats your phone number again? I don’t even think I know your full name ….

YOU SHOULD BE GRATEFUL FOR WHAT YOU HAVE.

And you should be grateful that Im not a violent person, and that I don’t particularly like jail cells as places to reside after knocking you over the head with a 2 by 4.

IT COULD BE WORSE.

Could it? Really? I don’t know about that. My husband is dead forever. Im pretty sure this IS the very definition of “worse.” And what is the point of saying that anyway? Is that supposed to make me feel better somehow? Because it doesn’t. At all.

THIS HAPPENED BECAUSE YOU DIDNT PRAY HARD ENOUGH.

Oh, okay. Is that why it happened? I thought it was part of “the Plan.” What happened to the almighty plan? Im confused now. Also, if you could explain to me, oh great one and spokesperson of God, WHEN exactly was I supposed to be doing this praying? You know, considering the fact that I basically woke UP to the reality that my husband had gone to work, and then died. So, having ZERO knowledge of the fact that he was going to die, before he was actually DEAD, when was I to do this praying that you speak of? If I thought that prayer worked, I might pray for you to go out and buy some common sense or a brain.

AT LEAST HE DIED DOING WHAT HE LOVED.

Yes, yes. Because my husband absolutely LOVED being at work and collapsing alone on a hard cold floor while his heart gave out on him. That was his favorite thing.

LIFE IS FOR THE LIVING.

Well, thanks for that pointless little gem of nothing. And being condescending is for the jackass!

NOBODY SAID LIFE WAS FAIR!

That’s true. And nobody said you’re not a douche-bag!

YOU’RE SO LUCKY THAT HE IS DEAD. I HAVE TO SEE MY EX ALL THE TIME.

Yes. “Lucky” is the word that comes to mind immediately when I think of my situation. Also, just FYI, he isn’t my “ex” anything. He was my husband and he died, and I would give just about anything in this world if I could see him again. And thanks for the anxiety attack I’m now having inside, as I try my hardest NOT to kick you into the next galaxy.

I WISH MY HUSBAND WAS DEAD. HAHAHA!!!!

Yes, that’s hilarious. Making stupid jokes about your shitty marriage and your crappy husband to someone who just lost theirs to death is exactly what should be happening here. Awesome.

HE WOULDNT WANT YOU TO CRY.

Yes well, he is dead, so I guess it doesn’t much matter what he would want, now , does it? But if we are going to play it that way, then he probably wouldn’t want people like you saying dumb shit that upsets me and in fact, makes me cry. So go away now.

GOD MUST HAVE NEEDED ANOTHER ANGEL.

This God of yours is very needy, dontcha think? And, not for nothing, but he is GOD. He is the all powerful and mighty, and he lives in Heaven. So, since we have established that you are obviously God’s spokesperson for all things, can you tell him to make his own damn angel? They gotta have at LEAST one aisle of Heaven reserved for Angel-making purposes. There must be an arts and crafts station or something up there. How many angels does this guy need anyway? He’s getting a little selfish.

WELL, LIFE GOES ON!!!

Wow, does it? Well thanks for that useless drivel. I was not aware that life was to continue in it’s natural form. Thank you for pointing that out to me.

YOU ARE LOOKING BETTER. GLAD TO SEE YOU ARE FINALLY ALL BETTER.

Holy shit. What the hell did I look like before??? Im looking “better?” Better than what? And yes, thankfully, I am ALL BETTER NOW. I took my medicine and I rested up, and wouldn’t ya know it, the pain and the grief and the hurt just all went away, just like that!!! It’s a miracle!!! Now if youll kindly excuse me, I need to go take my “GRIEF BE GONE” pills, so that I can remain “all better” from now on.

Now, in the interest of not ending this article on a negative note, I would like to tell you all that there have been plenty of people in the past 4 years who have said things that did NOT make me want to throw them out the nearest window. There have been people who have said some really great things – things that stuck with me. Things that I will list here, so that the next time you run into a person who has just lost everything they knew, maybe you can make the choice not to be a douche-bag by adding to their pain.

In the end, if you knew the person well who has suffered the loss, just be there for them. Don’t judge them or give them advice or tell them how they should be feeling or grieving or coping. If you haven’t been through it, you really don’t know, and your job should be to support them and not disappear from their life. If you didnt know them well, a simple “I’m so sorry” works just fine. Thanks for reading.

Good Things People Have Said to Me:

I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say.

This is not what I dreamed for you when we were kids. (my best childhood friend)

He would be so proud of you.

He loved you so much, and he always will.

You were the love of his life, and the last person he will ever love.

You will always have his heart. You get to hold onto the love forever.

Love never dies.

Here is a story / memory / picture of your husband Id like to share with you.

I miss him too.

Lets honor him /have a toast / share stories about our friend. Lets say his name and talk about him.

This sucks.

This really fucking sucks.

I can’t believe this happened. This is so unfair.

I wish I had known him better.

I might not do everything right, and I might screw this up, but Im not leaving you, and Im around whenever you want me to be.

If you need someone to talk to , I promise Im a really good listener and I will never judge you.

I love you.