I Am Not What I Feel

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.

Prince Died and I Can’t Tell You Because You are Dead Too

When the person you thought you would spend your whole life with is dead, there’s this weird thing that happens each and every time a person of fame or celebrity dies. It kind of goes something like this:

“Holy Shit! Prince died! I have to tell Don, he LOVED Prince! Oh, shit. I can’t tell Don that Prince is dead, because Don is dead too. Well, FUCK!!!!! ”

It is an odd feeling to crave and long to share the death of someone else, with your husband, but then realize over and over, that you can’t, because he is also dead. And then you start to wonder weird things, like, does he already know that Prince is dead? Maybe he knew way before I did. Maybe his Purple energy showed up somewhere nearby my husband’s energy and their energy hung out together. I don’t know if I believe all this stuff people say about them “playing guitars together in Heaven”, or anything like that – it just seems rather silly. But I do know that energy exists forever – it cannot be destroyed and it cannot end – so if we are made up of energy, and energy lives on and on, then Don is energy, and he is somewhere. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I know that on some level, it helps me to keep going when I tell myself that.

So maybe Prince and his genius mind and musical talents have somehow met up with Don and his passion for all things guitar. Maybe their souls are chatting, if souls can do such things. Actually, I know souls can do such things, because Don’s soul has chatted with me many times. So who the hell knows what goes on after we die? I do not pretend to know such things. I just know that whenever someone dies here on earth, I always long to tell my husband. To share in the experience of processing their death, together. And each and every time it happens, it always feels weird to me that I can’t share it with him. There are so many weird things about loving someone who is dead. This is one of the weirdest.

Also, the way that we, as a people, treat a celebrity or icon’s death, is so very strangely different than the way we treat a civilian death. I always LOVE what immediately happens when an artist of some kind dies – people start collectively sharing every single thing that artist has ever done. They share it on social media, from their phones, their computers, posting links to all of the massive talent everywhere and anywhere, sharing it with the world. Eventually, people find long lost clips of this artist, and they share those too. Longtime fans of this person bask in the memories of their talent, while newer and younger people become fans for the very first time. This artist is remembered in the healthiest and most beautiful way possible – by sharing the legacy of what they left behind. It is in this way, that a true artist never dies. They live on for generations, through their albums, movies, videos, dance routines, songwriting, epic guitar shredding, and whatever else. This is a beautiful thing that people do. Sharing with the universe, and keeping these people alive forever.

So why on earth do people NOT allow us to do this same thing with people we love who have died, people who are literally a piece of our very soul? Why is it that it’s perfectly acceptable and normal and celebrated, to share the work of famous people who have died, and share their legacy – but when a widowed person shares a photo or a memory or anything at all about their spouse – they are told to “move on”, or made to feel as if they should put those pictures away. They are shamed into thinking that remembering and honoring the person who was their very heart, is somehow wrong and unhealthy, and that they must not be grieving properly if they can’t let them go by now. There have been so many times where I have shared a photo or a memory or even written a blog post about my dear husband, and some person who knows next to nothing about losing a spouse and knows nothing about my life, feels the need to condemn me or give their baseless opinion about how “unhealthy” it is to be sharing that stuff. Really? Is it unhealthy to love your person forever into eternity? Is it unhealthy to make damn sure they are never forgotten by the world at large? Is it unhealthy to live your own life in honor of theirs, and in honor of the love you will always and forever share? I don’t think so. I think it’s goddamn beautiful.

We, as a society, should be embarrassed at the ways in which we make people who are grieving feel. If you have shared video links of Prince or David Bowie or anyone else famous who touched your soul and recently died, yet you are uncomfortable or judgmental toward someone who shares pieces of the person they lost who died – you should be rethinking your behaviors. Everyone leaves behind a legacy. The ones who are famous just get seen on a larger level. But everyone is a legacy to someone. Just because a person isn’t known to the world, doesn’t mean that perhaps they were someone else’s world. And that person wants to share them with the universe, so that their soul stays alive forever. When the people we love die, that is all we have – our memories, and that eternal soul connection. Our relationship with that person continues on a soul level, and that literally means everything to us. Don’t ever take that away from someone.

Keep sharing the people you love who died.
Share them with the world, and NEVER be ashamed.

RIP Prince – legend of guitar, innovation, and beautiful lyrics.

“I feel like Im looking for my soul,
like a poor man looking for gold.”

“When the day turns into
the last day of all time,
I can say I hope you are
in these arms of mine.

And when the night falls
before that day,
I will cry.

I will cry tears of joy
cuz after you,
all one can do,
is die.”

“In this life,
Things are much harder than in the after world.
In this life,
You’re on your own.
And if the elevator tries to bring you down,
Go crazy, punch a higher floor.”

– PRINCE

(COMMENTS ARE SO WELCOME AND APPRECIATED)

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.

Backward is Forward

So Tuesday was my wedding anniversary. It would have been 9 years married this October 27th, but of course, we were right smack in the middle of year 4 in our marriage, when my beautiful husband suddenly dropped dead. The reality of this event – someone being there one second, and then the next second, not – has become more and more baffling to me with time. One may think it would be the opposite – that as time marches on, there is an acceptance of the death that has happened. But with sudden and shocking death, it is not that simple. Yes, I have logically “accepted” that he has died. I’m not an idiot. I live and breathe the reality of his death every second. However, the very idea that my husband literally just disappeared from this earth with absolutely no symptoms or warnings or big neon signs reading: “Okay, Im going now! Thought I should let you know!” – I am not sure that will ever make any sense to me. The concept of someone leaving that abruptly, in the time you can say “Poof! Gone!”, will always leave me with a sour taste in my mouth. It’s like Bindi Irwin said a couple weeks ago on “Dancing With the Stars”, about her late dad, Steve Irwin’s sudden death: “I think I will always half expect him to come walking through the door.” Yes.

My wedding anniversary has become my hardest “grief day.” Even harder than the death anniversary day, which is usually filled with more purpose and support from friends and family, and I give honor to it and to Don with my annual “Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day.” Of course that day is also excruciatingly hard too, but at least I dont feel so alone.

My wedding anniversary makes me feel like the most alone person walking the earth.

I would imagine the reason that day makes me feel so very alone, is because it is about US. That day is about me and my husband, and the only thing I want to do on that day is to be with him, and I can’t do that. Not in the way that I want to. It is not a day that I want to spend with friends or in a big group. I would actually prefer to not be around other humans on that day, but because it fell on a Tuesday, I had to work. I’m a part-time professor at a university, and I teach Acting and Comedy Courses, so in my job, I have to be very “on.” My students have no idea about my husband’s death. My comedy students know, because we talk in that class about the connection between pain and comedy, so it’s relevant for me to share it with them, but my acting students have no idea. And none of them knew what Tuesday was for me. I woke up that morning already feeling defeated and incredibly sad. I woke up and started crying. The knowledge of what that day was and the knowledge of him still being dead – it just punched me in the gut the second I woke up and I cried. After driving myself to campus, I had to sit in the parking lot for a good 20 minutes and get myself together emotionally, before I could go in and be a human person with a job who has to talk to other human people. I could not stop crying. Nor could I stop telling the steering wheel over and over again: “I miss you. I just miss you so much. My heart hurts, Boo. It just hurts. ”

I did get through the teaching hours, somehow. Next up was driving to Sea Cliff, also on Long Island, to the venue where we married, and to where I have his ashes scattered across the street in the bay. Every year, on my wedding anniversary, I go back there and just sit with him. Or with his ashes. Or his energy. Or whatever you want to call it when your husband is no longer here on earth to actually sit with. I go there and I try like hell to feel close to him, to talk with him, to walk along the sand and just be in the essence of him. I also write a message in a bottle letter each year, directed at whoever finds it, telling them a bit about our story, and then encouraging them to somehow pay forward love on this day. In the letter, I talk about how I believe we are all connected somehow, and that the person who finds this letter is probably a person who needs to hear these specific words right now, today. So I toss that into the water, and watch it float away. The only sound I hear out there are my own breathing, and the seagulls. It is a beautiful place to be, and I find myself struggling to leave.

bottle

After that, I had a really nice dinner with my best childhood friend Sarah, one of the very few humans I find acceptable to be around on that day. We shared Don stories, quotes, and memories, and we felt the missing of him together. And then I went home, finally, after feeling like I had just run a marathon inside my brain, and I snuggled under the covers in my bed and just cried. The next day, I was still so emotional. It was as if I had reserved this day and week for specifically grieving the future we would never get to have, and all those feelings were coming out on full blast. I had made a phone session appointment with my grief therapist, because I figured I would need to talk to someone during my anniversary week. But somehow, we ended up missing each other’s calls and emails, and I didnt get to talk with her.

I felt so very exhausted by the day, and by the day before the day, and the day after the day. I was also very confused and a little bit mad at myself, for how much this was affecting me right now. It’s been four years! This is my fourth anniversary without him – why is this one so much harder? Why was I sitting in the parking lot at campus, in year four, sobbing with the fierceness of someone in month four? Why was I crying so much? What the hell is wrong with me? Why am I going backwards in this process? I thought I was doing so well.

And then I remembered something. And I remembered it instantly, almost as if it was completely obvious all along, but something abruptly allowed my brain to see it. I remembered this: I wasn’t going backwards. It only felt like I was going backwards, but sometimes, backward is actually forward. Several things happened on my anniversary day that proved how much I have shifted and changed and grown:

I was able to know ahead of time that I might need assistance, so I made an appointment with my therapist ahead of time. When that appointment didnt happen, I didnt flip out about it or go into panic mode. It just was, and it was okay.

I was able to get through my work day, without calling out sick, and without having to leave the classroom several times in order to break down crying, like I did all the time during month four (and five and six and seven) of this new life. I made it through all of my classes, and came out of there in one piece.

I recognized what I wanted to do with the day, and I did that. The first couple of anniversary dates, I had gone to Sea Cliff and dinner, but had included several close friends in both of those outings. So we had about 6 or 7 of us for dinner, and for hanging out in Sea Cliff. (the first year, we actually went there and spread his ashes on that day together). The past couple of years though, I have come to realize that while I really want and need a huge support system of friends on the death anniversary each year, I really would like to be more by myself on my wedding anniversary. No big crowds, no big group of friends. Just me and Don. The day feels like its about us, and I want to honor that in whatever way I can.

My message in a bottle thing was about reaching out, and lately, my instinctual response to pain has been to reach out in some way. Sometimes that means writing about it and posting it publicly – other times it means helping someone else directly in some way – other times its about letting people know what Im feeling and being okay with that. When I tossed that bottle into the sea, I somehow felt a little bit better, like something had been lifted from me and sent into the universe, to the place of residence where it was always meant to be.

What I realized more than anything else, is that on this really hard day, there was one thing and one thing only that ultimately got me through it.

ME.

sea cliff

It was me. I am the one who got me through it. Yes, I had support and messages of comfort from some really amazing friends and family, but in the end, all of the obstacles or tough emotions I faced, were dealt with and coped with by me. I figured it out. Who cares that I sobbed for hours this week? Who cares that I couldnt stop crying in the car, or that I came home and fell into a sub-conscious half-sleep and missed my therapist’s phone call? Who cares that it’s Friday and Im STILL feeling emotional about all of this? You know what? That’s just grief. That’s just what this is. I am done feeling ANY type of guilt or feeling bad about days when I feel bad. I am finished with questioning why I am still not ready to even think about “someone else”, even after 4 years. I refuse to feel bad about any of that. As my grief-therapist once told me: You are exactly where you need to be. And she was right. And where I am right now, is not where I was 4 years ago. Or even 2 or 1 year ago. Not even close. Where I am now is way different, and I am getting better at figuring out this “death inside life” thing, every day. I just needed to see that for myself.

There are times when in order to go forward, you might have to go backwards. Or maybe it just feels like backwards, when really, it’s just a direction you can’t recognize, because you haven’t been there ever, until that very moment.

That is what this was. It was an entirely new feeling for me. Something happened while I was doing all that sobbing this week. Right there, in the midst of deep and painful crying; in the middle of missing him and our life with an intensity hard to describe; there was something else.

It was me. My own voice. And it was saying, rather clearly, in fact: “Stop worrying. You are going to get yourself through this, and you are going to be okay. ”

Pinata

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the middle of a phone session with a grief-coaching client, and I found myself talking with her about that feeling you have when you realize that your “other” life has ended, and a new one must begin. We were talking about what it’s like to have to literally stand in the middle of nothing, and learn to pick up every single thing that has shattered around you. That feeling of being totally lost as the whole world moves around you. Immediately, a very specific image of what this was, came into my head, and then later that night, I had a dream about it, where the images were laid out for me like a home movie, and this is what I saw ….

Pinata.

Life after losing your spouse or partner is like a pinata. Think about it. The pinata is your life. Your new life. The one you never asked for. The one that came crashing into your old life, uninvited. The one that mocks you everyday with it’s loudness and bright colors, when all you can see is grey. Your new life sits there, perched up above you, lightly swinging back and forth in the wind, messing with your sense of balance and steadiness. You are standing below it. Below your life. You look up at it, and nothing about it is familiar to you, because it is not the life you had just five hours ago, or five days ago. Your tired eyes are trying like hell to adjust to this oddly-shaped thing above you, and you are trying to focus, when suddenly, out of nowhere, another shock to your system.

Suddenly, someone is behind you, and you don’t know who it is, and they begin to put a blindfold over your face. So now your new life that you don’t want is above you swinging in the wind, and you can’t even see it. In fact, you can’t see anything. Nothing. Your world is completely dark. There is no light anywhere. The worst and most alienating part is that life is going on around you. Literally all around you, on every side, kids are laughing and people are dancing and life is singing and humans are having a party. They are having a party while your life is suspended in mid-air, and you have been blindfolded.

So now you are terrified. You are shaking and your mouth feels like it’s filled with dirt and mud. You want water but everything around you is sand and dryness. You can’t stop sweating, and then this horrible stranger who blindfolded you grabs you by your shoulders, and starts to spin you around. They spin you around in a circle. You go in circles for a long time. A really long time just moving in circles, ending up right back where you began. No focus. No purpose. No point. Just dizzy and nauseous from all the spinning and all the confusion. Where did everybody go? Where did my life go? Where are my friends? They were here just a few minutes or hours or weeks ago. You ask all these questions and more, but nobody hears you. You are left alone. Spinning.

The stranger puts a bat in your hand. It feels like a baseball bat. Why would they do that? You are about to pass out, and you feel like you cannot possibly accomplish one more task. You just want to sleep forever or stop feeling pain and hurt, but the voices come and so you can’t sleep and you can’t stop the hurt. The voices come from the thin, dry air and from all around you, and you can’t really make out what they are saying. It doesn’t sound like words. Nothing sounds like anything in this world where you are blind and spinning without your anchor. You feel the hand guide your arm up toward the strange colorful object. You still can’t see and you feel insane. But now, now suddenly and with a fire that scares you, you are filled with rage. You are crying and you are pissed off at this life and these questions and this God you believe in, if you believe in a God – suddenly the space around you grows silent, and you start blindly swinging. You swing and you swing and you swing, and at first, you touch nothing. Your arm starts to hurt and you start to question your sanity again. Is there anything up there? What am I swinging at? What am I reaching for? I don’t have the energy. I can’t do it. I can’t do it, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t …

But you do. You do, because you are so tired and so disoriented now, and in so much grief and pain, that you don’t know what else to do except stand there with your limp in your legs and your Jello arms and swing like a motherfucker at your life. You do this for hours or weeks or months or years, sometimes taking breaks for work or other obligations you are forced to still take care of, even though you can’t see and you have been blindfolded and left alone in a foreign space. You scream and you cry and you beat the shit out of the ground in front of you with your bat, and you stab at the air over and over and over, still feeling nothing except the cracks in your own joints from swinging.

Finally, there is a swing you take that has such intensity and such lack of direction and such violence in it, that you somehow magically actually make contact with something. You have made contact with your life. You try and center yourself, and you swing again through the darkness and the blackness and the hopelessness and the fear. You feel the tip and the middle of the bat hitting on something, and it makes a thud sound, once and then twice and then once more. You swing harder and faster now, even though you are seconds from passing out. You swing and you swing and you swing, and you hit and you hit and you hit. And then there it is, all of a sudden, and why did it take so long. You hear the final thud of your life, as it shatters in pieces around you. There is no applause or cheering. Just a subtle loosening of your blindfold, as it makes its way down your eyes and then falls down around your neck. You look around you, and there is your life.

You are broken open. Everything is scattered in pieces, and the fragments lie all over the hot ground. Your blindfold is off, so you can finally see, but your vision is still impaired. Everything is fuzzy and out of focus. Everything looks like shapes. You don’t know where to look first, what to deal with first. Your life has been broken open all around you, and you are still alone.

Eventually, after some weeks or months or years, you start to aimlessly wander around the space that is near you, searching for something. You have questions and there are no answers. But there is hope. There are shifts. There are changes. There is joy. There is laughter. It is somewhere, and now and again, you remember or feel what that was like. You can recall it, for a few seconds. But it disappears again because you are not ready. You have not picked up the pieces that are all around you. You realize that you have to start …….

pinata

Everything lying on the ground around you looks weird and unfamiliar. It is not candy or anything like that. It is all the pieces of what you must work through, what you must analyze and break down and feel. Sometimes you step on the pieces because they are sharp, so you have to then deal with them. Other times you bend down and pick up a piece of your grief.

This piece is the guilt. That piece is the anger. This piece is the jealousy and envy . That one over there is my future, the one I don’t get to have. The one I must grieve. That piece sitting in the rubble is the pieces of my children – the ones that were only born in the minds and hearts of me and my husband, as we dreamt of our someday family. That piece takes a long time to handle. That piece is a killer. This piece is loneliness. That one is the one that misses him. This one is my best friend being gone. That one near my foot is about the safety and security I felt with him, and no longer have in his absence. That jagged edged piece that I can’t seem to pick up still, is the one where I am no longer someone’s priority. The one where nobody is asking me what time I’ll be home tonight. And still, there are so many more pieces. The pieces of my life that I hit with a baseball bat came down in a flood, and there are too many right now. That one is old age and this one is getting sick and that one is dealing with more loss in my future without my husband. This one is my dreams. Our dreams. That one is the house we never got to buy, and the places we never went, and the anniversaries and vacations and kids and grand kids and retirements and years we will never ever have. The pieces are endless, but there they are. And you cannot fully life your life until you work through all these pieces. Some you come back to again and again, because they are just so hard and so painful to face. Others you are able to let go of or move through with a bit less harshness.

Eventually, you look out at the space all around you, and maybe you can finally see parts of the earth again. Maybe there are sections where all of your stuff and all of your fragments of grief aren’t taking up all of the room anymore. And then maybe you even have space for some of those things you felt in the distance before – things like hope, joy, beginnings.

When your life is taken from you without your consent, and a new one is forced upon you with zero notice, you are broken completely open and all the pieces of what lies before you emotionally, is scattered all over the ground. You are forever changed from this loss. This death. This is true. But the way that you change is up to you. At first, and for a long time, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like nothing is a choice, because it isn’t. But much later, once you work and move through the pain and the hurt and the pieces all around you, you get to decide how you might transform, and what that will look like. You get to decide, because you are finally able to see.

This Monday, July 13th, is the 4 year anniversary of my husband’s death. One of the things I have decided to do as part of this version of my life, is to use that day to honor who Don Shepherd was and is. He was the most selfless person I ever knew. And so because of him, I have created “Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day.” This will be the 3rd annual Don Day, and all details can be found on my public Facebook page for the Event. Anyone can participate:

https://www.facebook.com/events/828325530596844/

Coming up on 4 years, I am still working through the pieces that remain on the ground. I have picked up and moved through and stared in the face of many of those pieces, but there are still a few left to conquer. These days, I feel love more than I feel loss. I feel life more than I feel death. I feel joy more than I feel pain, but then again, my joy has pain inside it now. It’s different. Everything is different. But it is a thousand times more beautiful and meaningful than it ever was before, and my relationship with my husband is more profound these days than ever before.

It’s not ideal. But I’ll take it.

I spent almost 3 years swinging and swinging and swinging at that pinata.

When that bitch finally pulled apart and fell out all over the earth, it became mine for the taking.

In the distance, there are people having a party.

I think it’s time for me to join them.

(Note: If the above link doesnt work, Pay it Forward blog posts can be found right here on my blog, or search “Avalanche of Kindness: 3rd Annual Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day” on Facebook. The page is public so anyone can participate and join the page. Also, Where is everyone lately? I know I havent written as much as normal, and Im sorry for that, but I used to get at least a FEW comments. Whered you all go? Its like crickets in here… Miss you all!!! )

Happy Fake Birthday, Husband. You Are Still Dead.

Something that I really do not like is that each time my dead husband’s birthday rolls around, (and yes, I will always call him my dead husband, because that is what he is. He is dead. He is not “late” for anything. He is just no longer here) people all over the atmosphere say things such as:

“Happy Birthday, Don!”, or “Happy Birthday in Heaven!”, or “I bet he is having a party in Heaven!”

Yuck. Just yuck. First of all, it’s not a “HAPPY” birthday. He isn’t here with me anymore. So it isn’t happy for him, it isn’t happy for me, it isn’t happy for anyone who loves him. There is really nothing happy, to me anyway, about having to breathe through and crawl through a birthday for a person who is not alive. A birthday – the day celebrating their very life – yet they are not here to do that. For me, it still stings each and every time it comes around. It hurts. And I have tried handling his birthday in different ways. The first one without him, someone gave me the advice of: Just do everything you would normally do together on that day, but do it yourself. If you normally go out together, take yourself out. Buy him presents, get him a cake, and talk to him. He is with you. Okay, I thought. I will give this a shot. It sounded corny as hell to me at the time, but I tried it anyway because I was so desperate to have something not feel horribly awful for 10 minutes. So I went to the store, bought the traditional 3 cards for him – one from me, and one from each of our kitties – and wrote in them and signed them. I bought all his favorite candy, and I left everything on his favorite recliner chair. Then I got in my car and drove to the nearby restaurant we would often go to on the Hudson River with the beautiful city skyline view, and I ate dinner with my husband.

Except I wasn’t with my husband. I was alone. In a public restaurant. On my husband’s birthday. Now, I am an extremely independent person. I love going places alone. But there is a huge difference between going somewhere alone because you have the choice and you feel like it, and going someplace alone because today is your husband’s birthday, and he is dead. After my depressing as hell dinner alone, I went home that night, saw the card and gifts I had left on the table sitting on his chair, and just cried. Then I cried some more, and then a lot more after that. When I was finished with the crying, I began crying, and then some more crying. It is amazing just how many times you can keep having the realization in your heart, that your husband is really, actually, truly gone.

I live in a world of extreme reality. This I know about myself. I cannot “pretend” like my husband is still here with me, and just act accordingly as if he is in the room. That may work for some people, and it may comfort them, but it sure as hell doesn’t do anything for me, except make me cry endlessly looking at the sad cards written out to nobody, and having candy that I dont even like in my fridge, because it was his favorite. (Special Dark Bars. That is what he loved. He is literally the only person ever to exist who eats the Special Dark bars FIRST, in those bags of Hershey miniatures. I would eat the Krackel and Mr. Goodbar, because everyone knows those are the best ones, and that Special Dark Bars suck and are not good on any level. But he would eat the Special Dark bar, and boy, did he love those things.)

This is also why I cringe at the “he is having a party in Heaven!” type remarks. Again, if that comforts you, great. But it does absolutely nothing for me, except make me think to myself: He isn’t on some cloud partying it up and playing his guitar and eating dark chocolate cake. He is just gone. If anything, he is energy floating around in space somewhere, but I truly don’t believe he is happily enjoying his birthday, or that he is even aware of his birthday, as a spirit or soul or energy particle. I am not religious, and so any kind of general Heaven remark never comforts me on any level. I do believe and feel and hope that when people die, their energy lives on, because energy never dies. But again, that thought does little to comfort me either, because energy can’t sit here and laugh with me and open birthday gifts with me and age and grow older with me. So, a birthday really isn’t much of a birthday when the person is dead.

Add to all of this, the fact that my husband’s birthday is extremely unique and has much history behind it. Today, February 28th, is, to most of the world who knew him, my husband’s birthday. But in the world of extreme reality that I live in, my reality, the absolute truth – today is not my husband’s birthday at all. No, today is the day Don and I used to refer to as his “fake birthday.” You see, my husband had 2 birthdays. Sort of. He was the product of an affair, and at the time, his mother did not want his father to know that he had a son, because his father had a family of his own. Also, Don’s mother was batshit crazy. She was head nurse at a hospital, and she had access to birth records and files and things. So she somehow toyed around with Don’s birth certificate, and changed the date on it so that her pregnancy and his birth would not match up with the time of the affair. So, my husband’s actual birth date is November 6, but that is not what is written on all his paperwork or birth certificate. All of that says February 28th. And no, what I just described is not this week’s latest plot on General Hospital. Like I said, I live in reality. And this story is the absolute truth, and it is my husband’s life. Don and I always joked about how, because he was so awesome, he got to have two birthdays. He would say “I want two parties! And two cakes! And two presents!” Each year, on today’s date, we would celebrate his birthday with friends and family, because most of them did not know about his real date of birth. Then, in November, we would always do the real celebration privately. Just us. That was always a really special day in our world. The world where we existed alone, just the two of us.

So now, in my world of extreme reality and truth, I get to crawl through his birthday each year, not one – but TWO times. And this year, this year I get to realize two times, that this is the year my husband would have turned 50 years old. He died at 46, and in just 4 months, he would have been 47. And if he were here, this November, I would most likely be throwing him some huge party with our family and my parents and all our friends for his 50th birthday. Instead, I am finishing and publishing my book about us, and having a huge book-release party on November 6 in NYC. I wish like hell that I had him to celebrate life with, instead of a book – but that is not my reality. So I take my reality, and do the best I can with it. But it still isn’t him, and he still isn’t here, and he he never will be again. The weird thing about death is that it’s forever. It still floors me that my husband will be dead forever. It still feels like it can’t be true. But it is true. And it always will be.

So, if it makes you feel better or comforts you somehow to wish my husband a happy birthday today, or in November, or both – then go ahead and do that. If that works for you, that is what you should do. For me, I will be quietly reflecting on the reality of what this day is, and what it isn’t. And in between my crying sessions each time I realize all over again the forever-ness of his death, I will laugh. I will laugh because I know my husband, and I know what he would say to all the people wishing him a happy birthday. He would say with a laugh: “Happy Birthday? Seriously? What’s so happy about it? I’m dead. It figures I would be dead on my own birthday. Twice. I don’t get any cake when I’m dead. I can think of a lot better ways to spend my time than being dead and not eating yummy cake. This sucks.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman – What a Waste

“How could he be so selfish? He had a wife and 3 kids. Didn’t he care at all about them? Why would he throw it all away to do drugs? Life gave him everything. He had money, opportunity, talent. He had it all, and he still chose to do heroin anyway. Why didn’t he just stop? What a waste.”

Pretty harsh, right? Yeah. Just writing it and then reading it back gave me shivers. I didn’t really feel how cold and judgmental and superior the above thoughts sounded, until I wrote them out and then sat back and read my own words. Yes. These are my words. My thoughts. Well, sort of. These are the thoughts of the “old me” – the one that existed before July 13, 2011 – the early, earth-shattering morning of my husband’s sudden death. If actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death had occurred back then instead of now, the words typed above would have been some of the very first thoughts that popped into my mind. Of course, the “old me” wouldn’t have been brave enough to share thoughts like that, so instead, I would have jumped on the much easier bandwagon of posting careless and borderline cruel jokes about the famous person’s shocking and untimely death. The comedian in me would have been pining away for that best tweet or that most shared Facebook status of the day, ending, of course, with a very sincere #RIP so-and-so. And although my joke of choice would not have been of the cruel type, (mean-spirited humor has never really been my thing) it still would have been my only immediate instinct – to post a silly pun about it, get a cheap laugh, and make it go away. After a day or two of posting my favorite clips online from some of Hoffman’s best acting roles, and saying to other friends in a concerned whisper: “Can you believe it? He was only 46 years old!”, I would have then, very quickly and without much confetti or fanfare, proceeded on with my otherwise self-involved, naive little life.

It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know anything at all about hurt or loss or death. I didn’t know that one second I could be ecstatic and in love and planning our life together, and the next second, riding in a taxi cab on my way to being told by the E.R. nurses and doctors at the hospital, that my very healthy, paramedic, 46 year old husband suffered a massive heart-attack an hour after arriving at work, and that he didn’t make it. I didn’t know that in one moment, the word future would be replaced with the phrase “What the hell just happened to my life?” I didn’t know that losing my spouse would transform every cell in my being, and that it would change every single thing, forever. I didn’t know the first thing about being a 39 year old widow. I didn’t know that there was a pain this deep, this all-consuming, this frightening. I didn’t know that my husband’s death would cause me to not want to be alive any longer, and I didn’t know that it would take so long to no longer feel that way. So please forgive me, universe, for my past behaviors. I didn’t know a damn thing.

Until, of course, I did.

The thing about knowing something that you didn’t know before, is that once you know it, you cannot unknow it. It is impossible. Instead, it sits inside of you and it alters the way that you see the world around you. For me personally, once the shock and fog of my own pain finally began to lift some, I could suddenly see and feel all of the pain that others held in their hearts. Where there used to be judgement, there is now compassion. Where there was assumption, there is now empathy. Where there was celebrity, there is now human being. In my “before” life, I saw the death of someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman as the death of a famous person. In my “after” life, he is just a person. He is a person struggling and crawling and wailing and guessing through life, like all of us. He is a person with addictions, and unless you are a person with addictions yourself, you cannot possibly comprehend the hell of that particular demon, and the control and the hold that it must have over you. This person, this extremely talented and flawed and real person- had been clean and sober from drugs for 23 years. And then, just like that – he wasn’t. I am not an expert on addicts, but to me, that says a lot about how fragile the world of an addict has to be. I would imagine it is something like living your life inside a house of cards, just always waiting for that one card to topple over and ruin all your hard work. A simple gust of wind, an unexpected emotion, or even something as ordinary as a doctor’s prescribed pain medication – could be that card that knocks your house down, and sends you once again running toward the familiar destruction that you unconsciously run toward.

In my new life as a widow, I have met many other widowed people, lots of them way too young to even be thinking about or using that awful “W” word. Many of my fellow widowed friends lost their partners to alcohol or drug addiction. Some of the deaths were suicides, some were overdoses, all were the result of someone being in a massive amount of pain. I am a 42 year old woman, and I know way too many people whose partners lives ended because of addiction. I have sat with widowed friends on the phone or in person, holding their hands and comforting them as they try and live with the torment and the guilt and the feeling of helplessness that addiction leaves in its wake. It is heartbreaking. It is terrifying. It is real. The demons are beyond powerful, and sometimes the demons win.

Every single one of us has demons. If you look inside of yourself – really look – you probably know what yours are. We all struggle with something, and some of us win that struggle. Others don’t. But the very fact that we all have a struggle makes us all the same. And in that way, you are only a few threads away from being Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s true. You are him. He is you. Or, he could be.

I am still a comedian, and so I will probably always make silly jokes when someone dies. Comedy is a huge part of how I cope with my own husband’s death. But now that I am a widow, posting a funny comment is no longer the first thing that pops into my head when a famous person dies. The first thing that came into my head when hearing about Hoffman’s sudden death was this silent conversation that I had with myself: “His wife. His poor wife. I wish there was some way I could connect with her and just tell her that I get it. I wonder where she was when she found out. Was she alone like I was? Did somebody tell her personally? Were there cameras on her and her children in that moment when they found out the absolute worst thing you could ever find out about your loved one? What will happen to them? How will they live inside of the pain?” The very next thing that came into my head was about Philip Seymour Hoffman. Not the brilliant actor part of him, but the man himself. The son. The father who had two daughters and a son. The partner to long-time girlfriend and costume designer Mimi O’Donnell. I thought about the fact that this man was sober for over 20 years. And then he relapsed on prescription pain medication. And he knew. He was an addict, so he knew the slippery-slope was eminent, and he checked himself into a rehab facility in May of 2013. I didn’t know the man, but I am guessing that he loved his children and his partner very much. And I do not think that he, or any addict, chooses their particular drug or addiction over their family or their life. But sometimes the addiction is just a little bit stronger. Sometimes the demons win.

Believe me when I tell you that I wish I didn’t possess this new knowledge. I wish like hell that I could go back to the days when a celebrity death was just a blip in my radar, and when I thought it had nothing at all to do with me. I wish that I could talk to my husband about what a great actor Hoffman was, and that we could watch his favorite Hoffman movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” together, and remember him with fondness. But I can’t. That life is gone now, and so is that naive person who was too quick to judge people and make assumptions.

I am different now. I know better than all that, and I know that I cannot unknow what I now know.
And now that you’ve read this, neither can you.

Resurrection

So, this new ABC show “Resurrection” has already caused me to have two seperate dreams, and has filled my mind with anxiety, and this is before even seeing the show itself. This is solely from accidentally catching a few seconds of a commercial for it. (I will not be watching one more second of this show. Obviously.)

The first dream I had about this show was great. In the dream, my husband, who was dressed in his E.M.T. uniform and had white light around him and was clearly a spirit/soul, kicked down the door and walked onto the set of “Resurrection”, (which, in case you don’t know, is a show about people that die and then ‘come back to life’ for good) in the middle of filming, and said angrily: “Enough already with this premise. What are you doing? I understand this is fiction and all, but you’re hurting REAL people with this shit. Real people, like my wife, with REAL loss. She was trying to get to sleep tonight after a long day in a long week, sat down to watch a bit of TV, and your ridiculous commercial made her cry for 20 minutes while clutching my photo. You are asking your audience in your ads to “imagine the impossible” – their deceased loved ones coming back to life. Well, guess what? It IS impossible, and it’s never going to happen for her or for anyone else that has lost their spouse or their child or anyone they love dearly, so why on earth would they ever want to IMAGINE it??? Don’t you think that my wife has had that fantasy millions of times? That I somehow come back? That it was all some horrible nightmare? But that isn’t ever going to happen, because in the real world, when people die, they actually DIE. So to ask people to “imagine the impossible”, that is just asking for heartache on top of heartache.”

In the dream, he continued his awesome rant on these people: “Film this shit at your own risk, it’s a free country, but just know you are hurting my wife, and millions of others, and I don’t like people who hurt my wife. She is hurt enough already. Good Day. (pause) I SAID, GOOD DAY!!!” Then he knocked over an expensive camera and kicked the door again on his way out, shouting as he left: “And how about casting her in something already? She is massively talented, unbelievably funny, and since I’m DEAD and all, she is really struggling. You asshats!”

Don has visited me in my dreams quite a few times, but this was the first time he came into my dream to communicate with someone other than me. And “asshat” was his very favorite insult term, as was the “I said GOOD DAY!” line from Willy Wonka. So although it was quite a silly dream, it made me feel protected by my husband, who could somehow see that just watching a commercial for this new TV show made me so upset and shaken up. Obviously the producers and directors and creative people involved with this show have every right to make such a show and air it, but I truly do not understand who their target audience would be. It would have to be people who have never experienced death – people who have never felt the trauma, devastation, and intensely horrific pain of losing someone very close to them. I just cannot imagine that anyone who has felt the earth-shattering quake of death, would have any interest in watching a show such as this. I truly cannot think of a premise or TV-idea that would be more painful than this to sit through.

Back to the two dreams. The second one happened last night, and it almost destroyed me emotionally. This time, I had a dream that my husband was alive, just like in the premise of this cruel new TV show. That this was somehow all a nightmare. That he never really died, and it couldn’t be explained how or why he was alive, but he was now alive, and back for good. In my real life, on the morning he died, after I was told by the nurses in a closed room what had happened after I rushed myself to the hospital in a car service, not even knowing WHY I was being summoned there – I sat in the hospital bathroom, after calling our immediate family and a couple friends – and I typed into my phone on Facebook: “This is the worst day of my life. My dear husband had a heart attack and died. I don’t know what to do next.”

In this dream, there was a knock at my door, I opened it, and it was Don. He said: “I’m here, Boo. It’s going to be okay.” I fell to the floor with shock and he picked me up, and we held each other for an eternity. Then I typed on Facebook: “This is the best day of my life. Don is back. He is ALIVE! I don’t know how, but its true. The past 2.5 years were all a big lie. I got my husband back!!!!”

Then I woke up. Shaking. In shock. Feeling sooooo confused. It was so, so, so real – that I actually thought he might be alive, and that he never died at all, and maybe THAT was all a nightmare, the thinking that he was dead. I sat in my bed just baffled and trying to figure out where I was. Those of you who are widowed and reading this will totally get what I’m about to say next – this morning, I went RIGHT back to those first few weeks and months after the death, where each morning you wake up confused and scared, and thinking “Wait, what happened? What is real? Are they really gone, or was that just some weird dream?”, and you have to get up and physically find something tangible that PROVES to you they are actually dead. So that is what I did. I searched for my box that is hidden away in my closet, the one containing the funeral cards and the Death Certificate, and the autopsy report. I was actually saying out loud to myself: “Please be empty. Please be empty, box. Please, please, please …..”

It wasn’t empty. Of course it wasn’t empty. Saw the certificate and collapsed into sobs. Dreaming that my husband was somehow alive, was probably the most painful of all the dreams I have had so far since his death. Because at two and a half years, I KNOW he is gone. I know he is dead. I know and live inside this reality every single day. But there are STILL flashes of moments in my life, seconds or minutes, where my heart and mind just doesn’t want to believe it. STILL. Ever. So all it takes is a silly premise from a new show to place my exhausted and stressed mind back into that place of “Well, just maaaaybe ….”

Since the next 6 months of my life are unbelievably stressful with overlapping jobs, gigs, writing projects, my book release, and too many things to name here – I’ve been having LOTS of horrible, awful nightmares lately. Caitlin, my counselor, tells me that is VERY normal and that because Im so stressed and busy, that is when the PTSD-related stuff from “that day” and other days will come back just like it was yesterday, because sleep-time is the only time that my brain has to process everything going on inside. I called her 2 weeks ago, frightened, because I had a VERY REAL nightmare where I was in a Christmas tunnel with Don, like a Disney ride with all Christmas-themed things, and then suddenly a dark cloud pushed us into this room, and he collapsed right in front of me and died. Then I was forced to WATCH as he was burned and cremated, and it was VERY violent and graphic. I couldn’t stop sobbing on the phone with her, and one of the things she told me was that, even though it feels incredibly awful and terrifying, it is actually a GOOD sign that I’m having these types of dreams now, because it means I’m processing things and working through them,and that my heart is now ready to work through them. So if we take each dream and break it down and talk about what feelings I’m processing with that one, I will be able to let go of some of the guilt and the fears that I have always had, surrounding the time around his sudden death.

The cremation dream was the most frightening dream I’ve ever had, but dreaming that he was still alive and that his death was all a big mistake – was so much worse. For a few minutes and hours today, I was living in complete torture, not knowing what was real, and yet not wanting to find out and realize, all over again, that my husband was actually gone. How many times must I be forced to realize, again, that he is actually, really, truly gone?

Crumb of Cake

Call me crazy, but I’m starting to feel like maybe I’m a little bit crazy.
Is that crazy?

Is it Nuts-ville Crazytown that I feel like I am more in love with my husband now, than ever before? That I would rather have one-way conversations with his spirit or soul, than put any real efforts into possibly finding a new partner who I could actually speak to, human to human? Is it insane that looking at his picture on my nightstand before going to sleep, and saying out loud, in a faint whisper: “Goodnight BooBear – I love you” seems to make more sense to me than saying nothing at all? Seriously – level with me, people – is it time for me to just go and get the straightjacket and try it on for size? Or is there a place that I can go to exist, where there isn’t all this pressure to “move on” or “get myself out there again”, and where having a continued relationship with my dead husband isn’t universally frowned upon?

I know, I know. It sounds crazy. But is it? Is it?

This is the man I chose to spend the rest of my life with. This one. Not another one that I have to go find all over again at age 42. Not someone new that I would have to date, get to know, figure out, play the stupid games, live the “single” life, read their mind, know their heart, and trust with everything. If I already trust everything with the person that I already chose, why should that have to change? How can it? How can I just not be deeply and powerfully in love with my person anymore? How do I train myself to fall out of love with him? How? And if the answer is that I don’t have to, and that I can still love him forever – then how do I go forward in my life having this all-encompassing love for a person who no longer walks the earth? My heart hurts with how much I love him, and with the reality that our time together here is gone. Four and a half years of marriage will just never be enough for me. Not ever.

Imagine being a baker, and spending 7 years of life creating the most delicious, incredible, perfect chocolate cake – that took you until you were 35 years old to get the recipe just right, and you were so proud of your cake and you just wanted to savor in it and taste it over and over and over until time ended – and one quarter of the way through your first, tiny bite of enjoying all your hard work and your creation, before your taste-buds could even react – a large and menacing hand snatches the cake away abruptly, and proceeds to smash it into tiny crumb bits, all over the floor. “But I only got one quarter of a bite!”, you scream in protest. It’s too late. Nobody cares. You only got a crumb of cake, and the rest was taken away for no reason at all. Time’s up. (Leave it to the fat widow to come up with a cake analogy.)


I don’t know how to do this. My heart is with my husband, and my husband is not here. And even though it is never fair or never enough, to have this new, other-wordly relationship with him – and it’s not even close to the same thing as actually having him here with me – this is what we have now. We have this. And there is a very large part of me, that would rather have this with my husband, than have something unknown with anybody else.

My whole life, nobody was ever in love with me. Nobody ever returned my feelings back. Nobody ever protected me or made me feel safe or truly, deeply loved. Nobody. Not until I met Don. Not in high school, not in college, not after college – nowhere. Nobody. I dated a lot of idiots over those young years. I had boyfriends. Some were nice, some were not. But none of them were deeply, madly in love with me. When I finally, FINALLY met my person – I was almost 29 years old. He was in Florida, I was in New Jersey. We bonded in a music chat room online, and became instant friends. And then more. He flew out to meet me, and then we were in love. I told him things about me that nobody else knew, or knows. I shared with him my soul and my fears and my heart. For 7 years, we dated long-distance, until he packed up his life and moved to New Jersey for me. Because he loved me deeply and madly. He supported me and cheered me on in my dreams. We were a team. Always a team.

Now he is gone. I know how to live without him. I’m learning, and it isn’t easy, but I know I can do it, and I know I will be okay. I know how to live without him. But how do I love without him?

If I’m being totally honest, and I always am in my writing, I will say that I am terrified. I am scared to death of growing old all alone, and dying all alone. Even more, I am frightened beyond words that he was my only person. That for the rest of my years, nobody will ever love me in that beautiful, amazing, trust-you-with-my-life sort of way, ever again. I live in terror that I will be granted a long, healthy life – never being allowed another bite of that cake.

I Forgot You Died

My husband’s sudden and unexpected death happened on a Wednesday.
July 13, 2011.
We had gone to sleep the night before, and I still don’t recall saying goodnight.
Or saying anything.
We simply fell asleep, in the exhaustion of having two jobs and being busy and life.

A few hours later, he had left for his volunteer job at the local Petsmart,
helping out with cat adoptions, and then stocking pet food.
But he never got around to any of that.
His manager found him collapsed on the cold, hard floor instead,
about 90 minutes after arriving to work.
(Just a side note; I don’t actually know for a fact that the floor was cold, but for some reason, whenever I describe it to anyone or write about it, I always describe it as a cold floor. I just picture it and see it as being cold. These are the kinds of things, big and small, that trauma puts into our heads.)

My very healthy and active husband,
who was a paramedic and saved other people’s lives daily,
suffered from a massive heart attack at only age 46.
No symptoms. No warnings. No goodbyes.
Here one second,
then
POOF!
Gone the next.
On that morning, I literally woke up to my new reality and the new life I didnt want, as my husband was gone from our apartment, and gone from Earth.

And since that catastrophic day,
I have been counting,
both consciously and subconsciously,
every month, week, hour, minute, and second,
since he died.
On the 13th of every month,
Every month,
my heart would automatically know it was the 13th.
On the rare occasion that I didnt know within minutes of waking up,
my body would remind me.
I would feel “off”,
or sick,
or really, really awful.
If it was the 13th of the month, and a Wednesday,
that was even worse.
I would re-live “that day”,
again and again
and Again.
Every 13th.
For over 2 years.

Until this week.
This week, someone innocently asked me,
“How long has it been since your husband died?”
And instead of blurting out, like a robot,
my completely normal response of:
“It has been 2 years, 4 months, 5 days, 17 hours, and 3 minutes since my love died” –
something bizarre happened.
I forgot.
For a few seconds in time,
I could not recall the exact time that had gone by since his death.
I had to think about it.
It required math.
I had to use my fingers, and carry the one.
That had never happened before.
Not ever.

And then I remembered something else,
that I had forgotten.
The 13th.
Wednesday.
For the first time ever, since his death,
the 13th of a month, that happened to fall on a Wednesday,
creeped by,
without me even noticing.
The only reason I even thought about it,
was because this person had asked me,
“How long since he died?”
So I counted. Did the math. Remembered.

But here is the best part:
I didn’t feel any guilt.
No guilt.
I didn’t feel bad or guilty,
for momentarily forgetting the exact date in time
that my world exploded.
Because why should I?
It is insane to think,
that I could ever really forget.
That’s not possible.
His death is in the rhythms,
of everything I am.

No.
I felt something else.
JOY!
Relief.
A new way of breathing.
I was happy to forget,
even for a few moments,
because in my world,
this is progress.
Achievement.
Healing.
I was excited.
I almost felt like singing.

And after that day, this week, where I had forgotten what I had always remembered, I noticed other things happening too. Small things, but still things. I noticed that lately I have been sleeping in the range of 3-6 hours per night, instead of the 0-3 hours range that used to be my normal, for the first 18 months or so of this new life.

I noticed a couple walking down the street, holding hands and kissing, clearly in love – and for the first time in a long, long time – I didn’t want to simultaneously trip them and watch them fall into a manhole, never to be seen again. I mean, I didn’t want to throw them a goddamn party or anything, but I didn’t feel massive rage at them for having time together, when my time with Don was up. It’s a start.

I also noticed that this year, on the upcoming Thanksgiving, which will be my 3rd one without my love – that I’m not filled with anxiety and fear and dread, as the day approaches. I wouldn’t say I’m “excited”, because, well, let’s not get crazy – but it’s not looking like the black, dark hole it used to be.

The other day, I was in the car, driving to meet my best friend Sarah for dinner somewhere, and I had the car radio on. Now, that in itself, is something that is very recent for me, in my new “after” life. Music is still very hard. Music was my husband, and my husband was music – so it’s very, very hard. Only recently have I been able to even listen to music of any kind in the car, and still, lots of times, many songs will send me into random bursts of sobbing, and I become an emotional dishrag. But on this particular day, for whatever reason, it was different. Not only did they play music, they played Christmas music. “Let It Snow”.

I sat there. Driving. There was a slight pause in my tiny, ginormous world. Nothing happened. And then, something did happen. I turned it up. Loud. And for the first time, in a long, long time – I sang. It has hurt too much to sing since he died, because I’m not singing with him. I’m not singing while he strums his guitar. I’m not singing to chords that he learned, just for me, that would sound melodic, blended with my voice. Music was my husband, and my husband was music. And we, together, were music. Like a duet. When he died, the music stopped. There just didn’t seem to be a point anymore.

And then there was. In the car. When I sang “Let It Snow”, all alone, and with him.
For about 25 seconds in a row, I decided to let Christmas in again.
It hurt.
It hurt a lot.
I’m still not ready for all of Christmas.
But maybe just a verse.
So I sang.
And then I cried.
But first,
I sang.