The first Valentines Day without my husband was torture. Everything that existed in the universe felt like a personal attack. The cheap-looking bears holding heart-shaped balloons on a stick at CVS, the conversation heart candies, the kissing and giggling couples around every corner. It all felt like one, giant personal attack on me and my loss.
The second Valentines Day was a little bit softer, but not much. I tried to busy myself and pretend the day wasn't happening, but that didn't work, because last year I had to work on that day, and I teach at a college. So it seemed as if everywhere I turned, guys were presenting their girlfriends with flowers and gifts and hugs and love; as the sad widow professor darkened the hallways with her every heavy step. I wanted to sit in my car and sob, which I did, after my last class finally ended.
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 mywords. 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.
After two and a half years of feeling this soul-changing, earth-shattering loss, I just realized something sort of huge. Well, I always knew it, but I just stopped and actually thought about it, and now I am able to put it into words. It is this: I grieve on behalf of my husband more than I grieve for my husband.
My husband and I used to have those silly magnetic letters on our kitchen refrigerator back in our New Jersey apartment, and we would leave each other cute and often ridiculous or random messages on the fridge like: "I love you Boo", or "Yankees won", or "UR cute." One of his favorite things to spell out for me in colored letters was "Don 'N Kelley" or sometimes "Don Wuvs Kelley." He could be syrupy sweet to the point of nauseating, at times, because he knew I would be rolling my eyes at the gag-inducing baby-talk and he loved to annoy me. So it was sort of his way of being sarcastically romantic.
Fast-forward to 8 months ago, when I moved out of one apartment in Queens, New York after my roommate kicked me out, and moved into another apartment in Queens, New York after finding another roommate. I walked over to the 99 cent store and got 2 packs of the magnetic letters, because spelling out little messages makes me oddly happy somehow, even though it also makes me really sad. It is the "familiar" and the "routine" of doing something and having something that we had together, and now continuing it alone.
There is a space where my husband’s voice once lived,
a big empty hole that sits in the center of my hours,
It mocks me by following me wherever I go,
And it feeds off of it’s own nothingness,
Sipping on the hollow void,
A cruel silence where there used to be sound.
I got an email today that made my heart do a little dance. It was from a fellow widow friend of mine, whom I've only met online, and who also happens to be a therapist. This was what her email said:
"I was with a client yesterday, and I asked her where she has found support online. She sighed and then said, 'Well, most of the stuff is useless. But I like 'Whats Your Grief' and 'www.ripthelifeiknew.com. (my personal blog). Those are really the only two.' So, there you have it. Not only one of a woman's Top 2. But one of her only 2. "
Talk about powerful. Somebody out there, someone I have never even met, read my words on a page and found "support" in them. And someone else whom I've never met, is this person's therapist, and decided to share that information with me, so that I would know it. And now I share it with you, so that you will know it too. Because if we don't tell people that they have made a difference to us, affected us, shaped us - how on earth will they ever know? All it really takes for isolation to become connection is for someone to say the first word.
The following was written in my personal blog just a few days ago, so those of you who may follow my writing over there, may have already read this. Really wanted to post a shorter version here too, though - because I know that so many of you can relate to the devastation and feelings that this brings up. Nothing has changed. Nothing has been found yet. I keep hoping .....Read more
About a week or so ago, my mom found this great quote from a much older widowed lady who was featured in a photography / interview project on a website called "Humans of New York." She saved the quote for me because she thought it sounded exactly like something that Don would have said to me, if his death wasn't sudden, and if he had the chance. It is this:
"When my husband was dying, I said to him, 'Moe, how am I supposed to go on without you?' He said to me, 'Take the love that you have for me, and spread it around.'"
So, eight years ago this past Sunday, December 18th, Don Shepherd got down on one knee on a freezing cold night, in front of hundreds of cheering tourists, underneath the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, and said, among many other things: "Kelley, in the middle of the best city in the world and with all these people watching, at the biggest tree in the world and because you love Christmas so much, will you be my best friend forever and ever and marry me and be my wife? Please?" I screamed yes as the tears froze to my face, and he slid the engagement ring on my finger, right over my mittens. Then we called our family and friends from the city, told them everything, and sat in a nearby cafe drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows and looking across the table into the eyes of our future. But that future never came. Death took it away.Read more
I don't do drugs of any kind.
I rarely drink. Wine gives me headaches and makes me fall asleep, I think beer tastes like gasoline (not that I've ever consumed gasoline, but if I did, I know it would taste like beer), and I'm way too wimpy for hard liquor type-stuff.
So, two and a half years ago, when life pushed me at 100 mph onto this freight train called grief, it was never even a thought in my brain to use alcohol or drugs as part of my coping mechanisms. This is not a judgement on anyone who has - it is just a statement of fact.Read more