The Knowing

When you lose your beautiful husband to sudden and shocking death at age 39, just four years into your happy and flourishing marriage, one of the biggest things you are left with is something that I call "the knowing." What is the knowing? It is having the knowledge about a whole host of things regarding life and death, that your previous self had no clue about. Sure, you can read books on these things or witness them through watching people close to you go through something, but until you experience the violent assault of sudden death pushing it's way into your life, you really just don't know. And then, one day, you do.

Lately, for whatever reason, there has been a lot of impending death looming in the air for some of the people in my life. A good friend whom I met online back in 2005 or so on a wedding planning website message board (we were both planning our weddings, and a group of us became friends off the site) is watching and fighting as her dear and very young husband might be facing the final stages of a very long battle with cancer. For them, the fight began only days after their wedding when he was diagnosed, and so to think that this familiar war may be ending soon, in the most terrible of ways, is simply incomprehensible. Another friend received a very sudden and out of the blue diagnosis for a brain tumor, while yet another friend recently lost their teenage son to suicide. Another friend is losing her dad, when only just a couple weeks ago, he was okay. And finally, a freak car accident took the life of a friend's sister, only 3 days after her college graduation. Yup, that's a lot of death happening. It almost doesn't seem real. And yet, I know. I know that it is very real. I know that death attacks your life whenever it feels like it, and there's nothing you can do to stop it. I know that really bad things happen to really good people every single day. I know that one second, you can be asleep in your bed, and the next second, you have lost everything you have ever known. I know, I know, I know ...

And yet, the knowing of all of this does very little for me or the people in my life currently sitting inside of these hells. Sometimes the knowing feels a lot more like a curse than a blessing. I still have to sit and watch as the people in my life hurt, and then hurt some more, and process, and go through their very real and awful pain. As much as I want to, I cannot fast-forward any part of their grief, or give them a shortcut to face this mess any quicker. And even though I can hold their hand or be there for a hug or some hopefully comforting words, I cannot dictate or control how they choose -or not choose - to cope. Watching somebody else go through what you have already been through, or something similar to it - reminds me of those scenes in movies where a person is standing directly in front of their own home, watching as it burns to the ground. Being told by the firefighters, who are doing the running inside to try and save those still in there, "Stand back. There's nothing you can do."

And yes, watching my friends enter the world of grief brings up triggers for me. Yes, it brings it all right back to the forefront again. Those first moments of absolute hell when I discovered my husband was actually, really, truly, gone. That ringing phone that jolted me into my new life I didnt ask for. The rushed and surreal ride in a cab to the ER, not knowing why I was going and what I would find when I got there. Falling to the floor in front of me as soon as they said the words: "Massive heart attack ... he didn't make it ... we are so sorry." Being led to that tiny room where I had to go and "identify" my husband, and sitting in there with him not having a clue what to say or do in that moment. The feeling of not being able to catch my breath, feeling like I would surely die from the pain, not really wanting to live. On and on and on .........

It isn't all bleak and depressing though. Not at all, actually. Along with all of the above, the knowing also means many other things. There are many other things that the knowing provides. I know that my life, or yours, can literally change in one second. I know how to adapt to those changes now, and I am no longer terrified by them. I know that grief is complicated, unpredictable, and louder than anything else in your life when you're inside of it. I know that I can turn up or turn down the volume sometimes, and that I have much more control than I ever did in the beginning, when it was new for me. I know that when other people go through horrible loss and death, and the triggers happen for me, that I can choose when to step up and when to step back and take care of myself a bit. I know a whole big list of things NOT to say to someone who is hurting and grieving, and I know the things that might give them a tiny bit of comfort or hope. I know that we need to love our people and tell them we love them whenever we can, and live life with brightness and adventure, or however we choose to live it. I know that today matters so much more than tomorrow, and that while making plans is nice, sitting in the "now" means more. I know that when somebody we love dies, we go through a transformation of sorts. We change. But HOW we change is up to us. It really, truly is. I know that it is hard, hard work to grieve and process and heal in a healthy and productive way, but I know that if you make that choice, there is joy on the other side. I know that love never, ever dies - and I know that I carry my husband with me in the rhythms of everything that I am. I know that the relationship I have with him now, today - is more profound than anything I have ever felt before, and I know that I am the one that made that kind of relationship possible. I have earned every snippet of joy and laughter and LIFE that I now have, and Im going to hold onto it at the highest volume.

My friend Michele, the founder of Soaring Spirits International and it's many programs, including this blogsite I am writing on, has said many times in her writing and her Key Note Addresses to the widowed community: "You can't unknow what you already know." You cannot go backwards. You cannot unlearn what you have learned in going through losing the person you love most. It's just not possible. So you can take what you know, and put it aside and ignore it, so that you don't have to feel the hurt again, or -  you can take what you know, and find ways to pass it on to all the people who need it; all the people who don't yet know. 

Life is messy. So insanely gorgeous and messy. Life will kill you with pain and hurt, it will break your heart, and it will envelop you with a love you have never imagined. Life is not for the weak, if you truly want to live it. It's brutal and hard as hell some days, but in the end, it really is up to you. Your choice. Your life . Your move.

This, I know ......... 


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  • commented 2015-06-01 18:59:49 -0700
    As much as I know, I cannot fast forward anyone through their grief. But I can sit with them and listen. —True words, Kelley. And I’m thinking that before your grief you wouldn’t have been able to do this.
  • commented 2015-05-29 17:38:02 -0700
    This is so incredibly beautifully written and friggin TRUE. Thank you Kelley.
  • commented 2015-05-29 17:09:31 -0700
    Freakin BEAUTIFUL. I loved this one. Powerful ending. So so proud of how far both of us have come. And so honored to be your friend.
  • commented 2015-05-29 08:53:04 -0700
    I love this. Deeply. Since my 38 yo husband died 23 months ago, I’ve said to my friends/family that my children and I now know something about life that very few 38 yo’s & small children know - the depths of a human pain and the purest form of true love…and you’ve outlined many of them beautifully.

    Truth be told, I’d prefer to not “know”, particularly, the depths of my children’s pain or my own…but I do. I also know what and how the truest form of love looks, feels and moves around me. My intention is to take my “new knowing” and build a richer life that reflects the amazing man I knew and woman I am today. #easiersaidthandone #itsajourney #onestepatatime #itsawidowthing