Soon after the sudden death of my husband, almost 8 years ago now, I began trying to navigate my new reality and world that I never asked for or wanted.
I didnt know what the hell I was doing.
There are no guidelines or handbook for how to "widow" properly. I hadn't even put away all of our dishes and kitchen items and gifts from a few years prior, when we got married. Things were still in boxes. We were talking about having a family, moving out of Jersey, things that married people talk about in the first few years of their marriage. I hadnt even begun to figure out the rest of our life together, and now, I was left to figure out how to cope with my husband and my world and my future being dead?
I didnt know how to do that.
Looking back now, I see that I made a lot of mistakes.
I made a lot of mistakes that I will now call "grief mistakes."
I am probably still making them, but hopefully way less often.
Sharing a few of these mistakes and lessons with my grief community may be helpful or beneficial for some to read.
Last week, I wrote about dealing with fear. More specifically, the fear of more bad things happening. Of the feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I think it’s normal when you’ve experienced any major loss to begin to fear another one coming. So for the past six months or so, I’ve been having an increasingly big fear of someone else in my life dying or some other horrific thing happening.
Since writing last week’s post, I feel a little bit better about all of this. They’re still there… but it felt kind of like giving myself permission to have those feelings by sharing them aloud.
I think that’s the great thing about sharing our fears and struggles… it takes some of the heaviness out of it. It gives us permission to feel how we feel. I definitely felt a weight lifted off having shared those feelings out loud. And maybe even more importantly, it helped me to accept that I felt that way.Read more
In July, it will have been 8 years since my husband's sudden death from cardiac arrest bulldozed into my life.
There are so many days when I trick myself into thinking that Im really okay now and maybe this wont affect me anymore.
And then I get knocked over by something such as this .......
On Wednesday, I went to the gym (YMCA), where I have been exercising with a pool workout routine, 4 to 5 times per week. On Wednesday, I did my workout routine with my water weights and laps and such, then went out to the adjoining room for my favorite part - the post-workout hot tub sit. While sitting there with the water jets on my sore joints, one of the older ladies walked in from the pool area. She had left the class early because her chest felt tight, she was really hot, and she "didn't feel right." That's pretty much the only "warning" my husband gave , according to the staff at Pet-smart , where he collapsed that day while working his part-time job and his volunteer work with animal adoption, almost 8 years ago now. He told his manager casually, after coming out of the restroom: "I dunno, I just don't feel right." The manager asked if he wanted to go home. Apparently, Don being Don, said "Nah, I''m fine. Ill stay until my relief comes." Half-hour later, he was lying on the floor, in cardiac arrest.Read more
This past six months or so I’ve been noticing a bit of a looming feeling in the background of my mind. Things in my life are relatively dialed in for the time being. I have a new life, a family, a routine of day to day things. I have dealt with enough of the bigger stressors that I now have more time and energy to tackle and explore smaller things like organizing the house and my own mind better. Essentially, the fires have been put out and I feel like it has opened up some space to explore a little. For me though, that also comes with an incredibly challenging sense of doom.
When things start to feel calm and in order, I start to get scared. I guess I start looking for what’s going to go wrong. I’ve had that feeling my whole life really, not just since being widowed. My mom died when I was nine. I struggled with depression for about 2 years after that, with no one to really talk to about it. My dad fell into drinking pretty bad when I was in my late teens and thru my twenties. Then he died when I was 27. Three years later, Drew died suddenly in a crash.
From the time I was nine years old, I have not gone more than 7 or 8 years without something catastrophic and life altering happening to me. Much more of the time, it has been every couple of years. It is currently nearing year seven since Drew died… so I guess it isn’t surprising that I am dealing with these feelings of impending doom.Read more
I have always hated change. Especially when something would change drastically or quickly, and I didnt have much choice in the matter. Like that time when I was about 7 years old and we went on a class field trip to a Maple Farm, and I somehow ended up with a gigantic ball of maple syrup in my long, curly, gorgeous hair. And then my dad, for reasons I cant quite remember (maybe my mom was away on business or something), took scissors, and CUT OFF MY HAIR so that it went from being down to my waist, to just below my ears. He couldnt get the huge ball of syrup out, so he cut it all off without telling me first. It was just suddenly gone.
Or that other time when 3rd grade ended, and the town decided that the street we lived on would no longer have bus pickup to school, and that instead we would be "bussed" over to the new school that was on the other end of town, because we were considered part of that district or county or whatever. So with no notice at all, I had to leave all my friends and go to this other school that I didnt want to go to.
There are so many other examples, but these two were the first that came into my mind.
So you can tell Im not bitter about them or anything.Read more
It hangs in mid-air,
swaying through the trees,
like an echo,
and other times,
like a scream.
That life unfinished,
the one we didn't get to have,
because you died.
It lingers there,
in the breeze,
like a hundred-thousand question marks,
and never any answer.Read more
It’s been a little over a month now since Mike proposed. I’ve had a few hard triggers. Trying to think about planning a wedding has been tough at first. The last time I was going to marry someone, he died before we ever got to the big day. He died before we ever even got into the true planning. So needless to say, that part of me that remembers is very aware. I’ve had a few moments of just bursting into heavy, deep sobs because sometimes it feels like reliving the past and it gets very scary to imagine it all disappearing again.
I’ve worried this whole process would be too much to handle, and too emotional to deal with, and that I wouldn’t even be able to manage the idea of planning a wedding ever. But aside from those moments where the fears get big and scary, most of the time, I’ve felt a new awareness of time and a new appreciation for each day.
Just last week, I told Mike, “I’ve gotten to be engaged to you for a whole month now! That’s more than I ever got to before!” And it’s true. Just as with each anniversary year we have hit (4 YEARS next week, wow!)… there is a feeling of thankfulness that we’ve somehow gotten this far. Part of me is still expecting it all to fall apart at any moment like it did when Drew died. But instead of being so afraid of that, I just feel excited for every small piece. Excited to ask one of my best friends to make our wedding cake. Excited to ask another of our closest friends to be the one to marry us. And honored, so honored, that I get the privilege to have had one whole month of planning such a special day, so far. Even if all went wrong and it didn't happen, I still got this part. I still got to spend all this wonderful time dreaming of the day - which is something that was taken from me the last time I was going to marry my person.Read more
The year was 2005, and it was a cold day in February.
I looked out the window of my New Jersey apartment, which sat on the Hudson River. NYC looked back at me.
I put the coffee pot on, and started making the meatballs and sauce. My Nana Mary's lasagna recipe, with bow tie pasta and meatballs and ribs on the side.
I had made it for Don the first time we met in person, about 3 years after we began talking in that music chat trivia room.
He had flown all the way from Florida to Jersey, to meet me, to stay with me for a few days, to fall in love.
I took him into my apartment on that day, and we sat at my kitchen table and shared our first meal together.
That was the first time he said to me: "My Boo makes the bestest food ever! I could get used to this!"
So, here I was , a few years later, making it again, in anticipation of his arrival.
Except this time, I would not have to say goodbye at the end of a few days.
This time, he was staying.
Don Shepherd was moving in with me on that day.
He had his whole life inside that Penske truck that was attached to his 1997 Grand Prix car -
soon he would be pulling up onto my street, and emptying out everything he owned out of that truck and into my small apartment.
Soon, my small apartment would become "our" small apartment.
His cat Isabelle that sat in his lap while he drove, would become "our" cat.
Soon, we would begin our life together.
It was Superbowl Sunday,
and the start of a brand new life.
This afternoon, I was honored to be a guest-lecturer / speaker for a large class of mostly pharmacy students at Ohio State University, who will one day be future practioners. Due to the magic of the inter-webs, I spoke to the large class of students and the professor, from the comfort of my room in smalltown Massachusetts.
They are learning about emergency codes and patient care and medical emergencies, and wanted me to speak about how I was treated by the E.R. staff and the hospital, on the day of Don's sudden death. I got to read a bit from my book about that day, speak with them about the life-altering after-effects of sudden loss and losing your partner to death, and then do a Q&A, in which they asked some really intelligent and thoughtful questions about my story.Read more
It’s an instruction that Sarah has given to me as I walk out the door to work more times than I can count. Sometimes, it’s fairly innocuous. Other times, it’s said with a fervent, if not pleading “PLEASE don’t die today”; usually after waking up from a particularly emotional dream.
It’s not a “tic” or meaningless, repetitive saying. She means it. She is constantly and consciously aware that at any moment, I could be gone. Any of us could, for any reason. Is saying it going to change fate? No, but it does indeed absolve her from responsibility in the event the worst occurs...like a pre-emptive “I told you so”.
Interestingly, I don’t say it nearly as much. I do say the far less instructive “Drive safe” often, but it is rarely “Don’t Die”. I think there are a few observations I’d like to make.Read more