Year of New Eyes

Im not sure quite how to say this without sounding all "Oprah", but for me, this year of 2016, feels like an important year. It feels like it already is and will be an important year in my life, for many reasons. And when I type that, a small part of me gets the chills, because I really need to be more specific when I say things such as that and put them down in writing. After all, the year of 2011 felt like an important year too. It just did. Don and me would be coming up on our 5th year wedding anniversary that year, in October, and my September birthday would mark "the big 40." I remember sometime in February or March of that year, I had a feeling, much like the feeling Im having today - that it was going to be a big year for us. So I put up a status on Facebook that said: 

2011 is going to be a big year for me and my husband. Big things are going to happen. I can just feel it. Bring it on! 

Well, life certainly "brought it on" alright, when my beautiful husband left for work on July 13th, and never came home. I remember looking back at that status update and sobbing and cursing at myself, saying: "Dammit! Why did you write that? You should have been more specific! You should have said GOOD things are going to happen this year! Not BIG things!!!" As if somehow, what I had written controlled or set in motion my husband's massive and sudden heart-attack. Obviously, what I wrote that day had nothing to do with what ended up happening, but it sure felt like it did. I remember being so excited that year, along with my husband, that we would be married 5 years. We were planning a special trip for that anniversary - maybe a weekend getaway somewhere new and different. Months after he died, I found his research online for romantic getaways in Cape May, Montauk, and a few other places he was looking at. He also was teasing me endlessly that year about the fact that I would be turning 40, and I was teasing him that my presents better be good. "It's a surprise, Boo!" He would say, smiling. Yeah, well, "Surprise!!! I'm dead!" 

My husband was very excited about seeing me turn 40, as he was 7 years older than me, and was always teasing me about being younger, and warning me with almost devilish excitement about all the aches and pains coming my way the minute I turned 40. "You just wait - this will be you in a few years and Im gonna ust laugh and laugh and laugh," he would say, as he got his latest prescription for contacts or reading glasses, or had another back ache, or picked up his "Just for Men" hair dye to keep the grays away. (He would kill me for telling you that, but he's dead, so he can't. I win. ) We were struggling big time in those early years of marriage, always working our asses off to pay bills and feeling like we could never get ahead. Don had picked up a second job at Pet Smart, on his days off from EMS. He was exhausted and worn down, but also excited about the idea of getting us out of that New Jersey apartment, maybe moving someplace a bit bigger and nicer, and putting away some money in savings to buy a new car that wasn't always breaking down. We had many talks while lying in bed at night, about having our own family, having children, and when the best time would be to make that happen. We were at that time in our life where things weren't YET happening for us, but they were about to. Or we wanted them to. We were trying to build a life for ourselves, and we were starting to envision what that life might look like together. 

That life never happened. Don never got to tease me even once about turning 40, because he died while I was still 39. We didn't get to take our anniversary trip, because we missed the 5 year mark of marriage by 3 short months. Instead, he died well before any of our dreams could be realized, or even begin, really. I was left with that shitty car that always broke down, a crappy Jersey apartment rental, no savings, no life insurance, loss of health insurance (was covered under his), and absolutely no clue how I was supposed to keep going - keep living - keep breathing. In one traumatic second, my world went from one of hopes and possibilities, to "what the fuck am I supposed to do with THIS???"  

Now, here I am again, with those two big and important milestone dates coming up and staring me in the face. This July 13th will be the 5-year mark of my husband's death, and it is also the first one that falls on a Wednesday, which is the day that he died. The 5-year mark, to me, just feels like a huge deal. I cant articulate exactly why, but it does. It feels that way in my soul, in my heart, in my mind. It feels like it's going to affect me in a different way, a new way, than any of the past death anniversaries. This is neither a positive or negative thing - it's just a thing. 

This year's wedding anniversary also feels like a very big deal to me. It would have been our 10th wedding anniversary, this coming October. Ten years. It stings everywhere inside, even just to type it. The fact that we didnt even get HALF of a decade, never mind a decade, will always hurt with a pain that is difficult to describe. The tears are forming as I type this, for the loss of our future that never was. 

Lastly, this year, on April 13th, to be exact, marks the year that I will have been widowed, longer than I was married. My fingers want to run away from the keyboard as I type that sentence. It pains me inside every cell to say that and to BE that, but that is what it is. On April 13th, which also will fall on a Wednesday, I will officially be a widow for longer than I was a wife. Holy shit. 

It feels like 2016 is a year for my soul. A year for my soul to think with new eyes, to see with new eyes. All of these milestones and dates on the calendar, they make me incredibly sad and they feel like a big deal to me. But they also feel like the most important reason ever to live in color, find some fucking joy, and go after the things I truly want. Right now, its only April 1st, and already, this year has provided so many new and exciting things for me. I filmed a movie in Los Angeles. I presented in my 9th Camp Widow event. I had my first kiss since my husband's death. My first anything really - my first real feelings for someone that isn't my husband - and the best part is there is zero guilt or weird thoughts about that. It's a complicated situation, yes, and Im still not quite sure what it will turn out to be, but it feels really good and really nice, and it feels like something that Don would want for me. This year, I have really started to feel what it means to have joy and pain in the same breath. I have started to understand that whole "bittersweet" thing, and what it truly means with life after loss. This year, it has been cemented in my soul, that we only get one life. And yes, Im going to love and grieve my husband forever, but Im also going to honor our love and his short life, by living mine. 

In February of 2005, that man moved mountains so that he could be with me. He moved his entire life into a Pensky moving truck, and left Florida to come live in New Jersey. (I will never forget his self-written wedding vows to me. He said: "My love for you defies all logic. After all, who moves to New Jersey? On purpose?" He was so proud of the huge laugh that one got from the crowd.) And not only that, but he met me during a time when I was nowhere near ready for a relationship. I had been through a trauma, and I was filled with anxiety, fear, and self-loathing. But he waited. That man spent THREE YEARS talking on the phone and computer with me, without meeting in person, because that is what I was comfortable with at that time. And then, when I was finally ready, we met. And we fell in love. But it was slow, and for him, it must have been painstakingly slow. I have always seen these actions as huge sacrifices. All the waiting on his end, and then moving his life for me, for us. But now, all these years later, and being in a personal situation myself that is eerily similar - I understand. It is as if I can see through the lense of Don's eyes now.  For him, these things werent a sacrifice. I mean, they WERE, of course, and they took great patience and great hardships and change. But he never saw it as a sacrifice. For him, it was simple. It was this is what needs to be done in order for us to be together. If he hadnt have thought in that way, and if he hadnt have been courageous enough and beautiful enough to be the one to offer to move his life, then we would have never had the 4 years and 9 months of marriage that we had. In so many ways, he gave us the life we had together. 

Thank you, Don. For loving me. For showing me how to truly live again, and for putting me on the path I am on right now. Thank you for always remaining beside me, and for giving me sign after sign that you really, actually haven't gone anywhere at all. I love you so much, and I will never stop. And Im going to take that love, and with it, create more love. Isn't that the whole point of this thing called life? To love and to connect as much as we possibly can, and to create something beautiful out of the amazing love foundation that you left with me. 

This feels like an important year. A year of GOOD things happening in my soul. I'm still terrified about what's going to happen next, and I still fear losing everything all over again, and I still long for that life I had. But I think all of that will always be true. Things will always be complicated in this "after"-loss world. It's going to be one big, giant cluster-fuck of massively beautiful chaos. And I'm so ready for the explosion. 

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  • Richie Santos David
    commented 2016-04-07 11:14:54 -0700
    hi kelley! your story is so inspiring. My husband passed on less than a month ago . He had pulmonary hypertension and chf. Progressive diagnoses but not expected that his life would be taken at age 39. I am a brand new widow. This is the hardest of the hardest life could ever give. We have two daughters ,11 and 7. We’re married 11 years and 10 months. He passed on on the 7th bday of our youngest daughter :( . Everybody tells me that I need to be strong for my kids but there were times I had to break down and cry. But your story helps me realize that there’s still rainbow after the rain.
  • Cathy
    commented 2016-04-02 07:46:30 -0700
    So understand that feeling of “joy and pain in the same breath”. Glad you are feeling both, I’ve learned that you can’t have one without the other. Your positive outlook about the year will make it happen!